Matt Kelley started his engineering business in a room above a detached garage with a laptop he had bought on eBay for $500. He had no customers, no employees and no equipment, but he had a dream and the drive to turn it into reality.
Little more than four years later, Kelley Engineering — which designs and builds custom automation equipment and provides CNC machining and metal fabrication services — had 22 employees, a freshly renovated shop, 30 pieces of equipment, at least $2.4 million in sales and plans to expand to a second location.
“Sitting in the Cooper Library my last couple years at Clemson,” Kelley says, “I’d think, ‘Man, I’d like to have my own engineering firm one day.’”
After graduating in mechanical engineering right before the Great Recession, Kelley accepted a job with a company that designs and builds automation equipment. He worked there for eight years and gained valuable experience in design and management but still remembered the dream he had years earlier.
He took the leap in October 2015, but success didn’t come overnight.
Kelley renovated a room above the detached garage at his Greenville home so he would have a place to meet with customers. By January 2016, he was networking any way he could, including with cold-calls, emails and LinkedIn.
Despite countless rejections, Kelley landed a few projects and made some capital investments. He bought a milling machine, an engine lathe, a bandsaw and a mig welder. In those early days, Kelley did virtually everything himself.
“I’d order the material, I’d machine it, I’d weld it together, I’d paint it and I’d deliver it,” he says. “I did that for about a year. When I got some bigger projects, I’d have some guys come in and do subcontract work for me.”