Friday, October 8, 2021
Carlson School alum Samantha Trottier brewed up a forward-thinking, profitable, digital agency during the pandemic.
BY CHRISSY SORENSON
She didn’t blend in at first. Of 102 exchange students in her spring semester of 2019, she was the only American studying in Brazil’s Fundação Getulio Vargas Institute, the largest private business school in Latin America. She stood six feet tall. She didn’t speak Portuguese. But for six months, Carlson School student Samantha “Sam” Trottier, ’20 BSB, became fully immersed in Brazilian culture. She lived in busy downtown São Paulo, ate pão de queijo (cheese bread made with tapioca flour), listened to samba, and overcame language barriers. By the time she left, the introvert from Bismarck, North Dakota, wanted more. “I realized how much of the world there is to see and explore,” she says. What she didn’t know then was how this experience would transform not just her worldview, but her career. Along with her now-fiancé, Hernán Regiardo, Trottier would launch a multinational, bilingual digital agency, Mate Society, during the throes of a global pandemic down the proverbial road. But first, detours.
Fall in Love with (and in) Indonesia
Feeling “strong and independent” after her experience in Brazil, Trottier planned a three-month solo trip to Southeast Asia. While at a café in Lombok, near Bali, she met fellow free spirit Regiardo, an Argentinian photographer and art director. After two weeks, they were in love and made plans to move to Bali after graduation.
Tourism-dependent countries such as Indonesia were especially economically hard-hit by COVID-19. Jobs were scarce. Trottier scrapped her plan to leave the U.S. and Regiardo moved to California. Trottier got hired at a major medical device company, using her computer programming and data analytics skills— she minored in business analytics—as an IT business systems analyst.
Kevin Kuhn, a Carlson School senior teaching specialist, remembers Trottier as an especially bright student, excelling in a difficult Information and Decision Science course. “[Her group] researched companies who are using data and machine learning to understand best practices and process variation,” Kuhn says. “Samantha not only understood the complex topic and research, but presented it in an engaging and compelling manner.”
Her business systems analyst role wasn’t what she expected, then a company layoff in July of 2020 forced her to rethink her plans. Again.
Brewing a Business Plan
Days after her layoff, the couple began brainstorming: Could there be a market, they wondered, for taking photos for other businesses (Regiardo’s specialty), and offering website design (Trottier’s)? The idea, says Trottier, “was the perfect marriage of coding and creativity.” The vision to become a bilingual branding and storytelling agency started to take shape.
It wasn’t an issue coming up with a name, either—Mate Society. Trottier explains: In Argentina, mate (pronounced MAH-tay) is a tea shared between two people, usually from the same cup. Knowing English-speaking friends might say “mate,” as in partner or friend, the pronunciation still works. “That’s why there is no better name for our agency,” she says. “We are both.”
"The idea was the perfect marriage of coding and creativity."
Today, Mate Society offers studio and lifestyle photography, videography, branding, graphic design, website design, TikTok video creation, social media management/strategy, memes, illustrations, and modeling to businesses too busy to handle digital marketing on their own.
From Plan to Profit
Like many entrepreneurs, they had a bit of a rocky start. For one, their main prospects—restaurants—didn’t have the funds to support digital marketing. “Looking back, we realize how silly it was to reach out to restaurants in the middle of a pandemic, when most of them were struggling for money,” Trottier says. “That was a big lesson learned.”
And their tiny efficiency apartment offered no space for photo props, let alone a photo studio. A desk a few feet from their bed served as the headquarters.
Everything started falling into place when they moved to a bigger home and redirected efforts to the consumer packaged goods industry. Sales grew. Their team grew. Their portfolio grew.
Today, they have worked with more than 90 clients, including Leapfrog, Lenox, Nike, Procter and Gamble, and Yogurtland, among others. Their small size, Trottier says, gives them an edge. They offer competitive pricing for high-quality work. They’re responsive. They understand the market. And they’re creative.
"Success is being able to live wherever I want, travel wherever I want, and work whenever I want."
Yogurtland, a franchise chain of self-serve frozen yogurt restaurants, hired Mate Society in 2020 when it became obvious that a digital presence and food delivery service would be essential to survive. Melissa De Guzman, marketing manager at Yogurtland, describes Mate Society as the “creative and lifestyle photography resource our small team needed.”
She hired the agency to take product shots and create a lifestyle campaign for e-commerce and social media. “They’re great to work with,” De Guzman says. “They’re capable of capturing just what we envision.”
By any measure—profit, growth, reputation—Mate Society is already successful. But that’s not the only measure of happiness, as Trottier learned back in Brazil.
“Success is being able to live wherever I want, travel wherever I want, and work whenever I want,” Trottier says. “My biggest fear is routine. Success, to me, is to be free.”