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Alum Matt Watson started his own Portland creative agency in 2013. Now it’s thriving.

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Matt Watson '99 could have taken a job at a small agency after graduating with a design degree from Oregon State. But predictable and safe is not how he chose to begin his career.

November 21, 2022

Matt Watson ‘99 could have taken a job at a small agency after graduating with a design degree from Oregon State.

But predictable and safe is not how he chose to begin his career. 

Instead, he moved across the country to work at a firm in New York City. 

“Your first job out of college really matters,” Watson recalled. “Mine set up opportunities that far exceeded my skill set and my threshold to contribute.”

That bold move wasn’t his first. And it previewed Watson’s success in the design industry as he became the visionary optimist who would take another leap in launching his own company in 2013.

Now the founder/CEO and executive creative director of Watson Creative, research-based creative studio in Portland, Watson still dares to take risks, pushing himself and those around him to be better.

Watson’s version of entrepreneurship is results-driven, disruptive and steeped in an undeniable belief in possibility.

“With a lot of hard work and luck, we’re doing quite well,” Watson said. “I don’t see this journey ending. You’ll see this company around way past me.”

Watson’s forward-thinking, bold nature is one of the reasons he was the 2022 recipient of the College of Business’s Weatherford Award, which honors entrepreneurs and innovators who further Oregon’s pioneering spirit.

Watson Creative founder and CEO Matt Watson

More than making a lasting impact in his field, he and his wife, Jessica, also established the Design Thinking Scholarship Fund in 2019 through an endowment to award scholarships and create opportunities for future Beavers. He also supports the design and innovation management program in the College of Business.

“It’s art. But it’s art with a very strategic business objective,” Watson said. “That is what makes the College of Business unique.”

When Watson came to OSU, he dreamed of becoming an architect and studied engineering the first three years. But electives in painting and sculpture provided the gut check he needed.

“Am I going to be happy as an engineer?” he wondered. 

After an internship and job-shadow experience, he realized his strengths and what he wanted out of life.

“I wanted more color and flavor,” Watson said. But first, he had to tell his parents about his change in plans to study art.

“As long as you work as hard as you would if you were a law student or a doctor, I fully support it,” was his father’s reply.

Watson says design professor Andrea Marks was influential in his decision. 

“Matt was very engaged and eager to talk about design with classmates and instructors,” Marks said. “He had what it took to navigate a very competitive and challenging field. He showed curiosity, drive and a talent towards making very compelling visual solutions.”

The two reconnected after he returned from New York City, and Marks was again supportive of her former student when he shared a vision for starting his agency. Now Watson is a member of the college’s Design and Innovation Management Advisory Council.

“I guided him as a student, and now he is guiding me,” Marks said.

She attributes Watson’s success to his creativity and tenacity. 

“Matt is always asking ‘why not?’ and ‘what if?’ when tackling a new project,” Marks said. “He is always engaged and pushing those around him to work at being their best.”

These days, Watson is less involved with the design and more involved with setting strategy for clients including Apple, EA Sports, PlayStation, Disney Marvel, LEGO, Pendleton and more than 50 professional sports teams.

“My role is as visionary for the agency and business development, and I do still work on projects a couple of times per year,” he said.

Watson likes to tell his employees that the first minute of a project is as important as the last. 

“Good creative starts with a sound strategy based on discovery and insights,” he said. 

A self-described sneakerhead, he offers another sports analogy as advice. 

“Practice how you play,” Watson said.

It reminds him of the counsel his father shared with him when he changed degrees. “What he said resonated. Take any degree that you have seriously,” Watson said. “It can be an amazing springboard.”

Watson started his agency after leaving Nike to care for his father who was dying of cancer. September 25 this year marked 10 years since his father passed, and Watson has been dedicated to the business ever since.

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