Matt Staver, ’01, began his entrepreneurial journey with a $10 bag of Jolly Ranchers from Costco.
“It was huge, and I was just amazed,” Staver shared. “I convinced my mom to buy me the bag and then I took it to school and sold them for $0.10 each and ended up making about $30.”
Entrepreneurship was in his bones. Some of it came naturally, and the rest came from watching his dad work as a professional photographer. Photography and entrepreneurship were always one and the same for Staver.
He was a pre-teen when his dad brought him along on a gig and gave him the job of making sure Polaroid exposure tests only processed for one minute each. The technique was relatively new and working as a professional photographer required a different set of skills than it does today.
“It felt like a lot of responsibility at the time,” Staver said, smiling at the memory. “Occasionally, I helped, but most of the time, I imagine I just added to his workload.”
The photography business was all he knew and all he wanted to do. From his early days as his dad’s “assistant,” Staver knew he was going to continue the family tradition.
It’s no surprise that he found success freelancing for clients from The Washington Post and The New York Times to corporations with unique needs. To this day, he’s perfecting his art and striving to make an impact.
Building foundational skills at the College of Business
The College of Business enabled Staver to make his dreams a reality. He focused on entrepreneurship to ensure he was prepared to make it on his own.
“Some things were very specific, like classes on pricing and learning the difference between pricing goods and pricing services,” he recalled. “And how customers perceive value, and how we can influence that based on intangible cues. I never would have thought of those things on my own.”
Of course, studying accounting, business law and operations helped, too. Staver is still a one-man show; no lawyers to help review contracts or accountants to keep the books balanced. He prefers it that way.
“Part of successfully going through college for me was learning how to operate within a system,” Staver said. “I learned that there wasn’t a formula. It’s more taking real-world knowledge and examples and figuring out how they translate to whatever your goal is.”
Staver’s first freelancing gig was with the Denver Post while he was working for the Collegian and attending CSU’s College of Business. He would send photos to the Denver newsroom from Fort Collins and travel south on the weekends to work full days.
That was his first official business agreement: convincing his Collegian editor to let him use the darkroom to process his work for the Post. It paid off, setting him up for the rest of his career.
The ever-evolving opportunity of freelance photography
Two decades freelancing out of Denver have provided Staver with a wide range of meaningful work. He has documented historical moments, heartbreak and chaos. In 2012, Staver photographed the Obama-Romney debate at the University of Denver for The New York Times. Before that, he documented the Democratic National Convention for Bloomberg, but Staver’s work goes far beyond politics.
“I think the biggest photo I ever had published in a newspaper was an aerial photo I shot while on assignment for The New York Times over tornado devastation,” Staver said.
His work has been printed and published countless times, appearing above the fold of at least two New York Times Sunday editions. The CSU System magazine, STATE, is among his other clients.
In March 2020, pandemic restrictions shut down Staver’s work. The news outlets to which he regularly contributed had little need for photos shot in his home base of Denver as news coverage largely focused on the world’s COVID-19 hotspots.
So, he set out to do something meaningful on his own.
Amid the general feeling of helplessness and fear as the pandemic began, powerful demonstrations of humanity and togetherness blossomed around the globe. Staver wanted to document the collective experience of that moment in time. That’s when he came up with the Essential Worker project.
The goal was to give essential workers a voice and to safely share their stories. Staver and his subjects wore masks and kept their distance during the shoot. He deep-cleaned everything between people, and he consulted with emergency room doctors to ensure he wasn’t putting others at risk.
The series is emotional, and one day, Staver hopes that people will look back at his photos to learn about this historic moment in time.
“I am proud of the project. That was something that was initiated by me, and I still feel was an honest and powerful use of photography,” he said. “I don’t believe that there is anything more powerful than a well done photograph to create a little slice of permanence. Which is increasingly difficult as the years go by, it seems. Those photographs bring us back to that time of uncertainty, fear and high emotion.”
Finding creativity and inspiration through change
As the world tries to find new balance, Staver is doing the same. Instead of concentrating all of his time and talents in the high-stress world of editorial work and photojournalism, he has turned his focus to architecture and corporate photography which require a different mindset.
“Things are routinely different. I get to be creative and problem-solve,” Staver shared. “I’m really glad that I’ve been able to do some architectural work and some portrait work because I was missing some of that creativity.”
Staver’s innovation, inspiration and patience shine through in his recent work. He has captured modern architecture among a lightning storm, showcased Denver’s urban gardens and documented the Rocky Mountains’ endangered bristlecone pine.
“The mix of creative thinking and understanding the client’s needs to create something of value is really satisfying,” Staver said. “Every day, I’m out in the field doing something different or meeting new people, and that’s what I always wanted.”
About CSU’s College of Business
As an AACSB-accredited business school, the College is among the top five percent of business colleges worldwide, providing programs and career support services to more than 2,500 undergraduate and 1,300 graduate students. Faculty help students across our top-ranked on-campus and online programs develop the knowledge, skills and values to navigate a rapidly evolving business world and address global challenges with sustainable business solutions. Our students are known for their creativity, work ethic and resilience—resulting in an undergraduate job offer and placement rate of over 90% within 90 days of graduation.
The College’s highly ranked programs include its Online MBA, which has been ranked the No. 1 program in Colorado by U.S. News and World Report for five years running and Report and achieved No. 16 for employability worldwide from QS Quacquarelli Symonds. The College’s Impact MBA is also ranked by Corporate Knights as a Top 20 “Better World MBA” worldwide.