Inside Track: Childhood business mapped today’s strategy

Inside Track: Childhood business mapped today’s strategy

Timothy Haines originally attended Hope College to become a teacher but ended up with a degree in sociology, which he puts to use in his digital marketing career. Courtesy Symposia labs

Timothy Haines, the founder of Symposia Labs, mastered the skill of strategic marketing at an early age.

The New York native began his own business, Tim’s Candy Store, as an 11-year-old.

Haines sold Airheads, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Kit Kats, WarHeads Sour Chewy Cubes and Honey Gummy Bears, to name a few, from his home in an apartment complex that housed approximately 2,000 residents. Haines said he would buy the candies in bulk at Costco and when he was at home people would ring his doorbell to buy candy from him. He took a bag of his candies to school to sell at lunchtime.

I would (make) $1,000 to $2,000 a summer,” Haines said. “Eventually it got too big and I had to shut it down. I would put signs all over the apartment complex and then one day I got an angry call from the landlord.”

With the backdrop of having an early business experience, Haines was fascinated with the evolution of the internet and the birth of social media like chatrooms and AOL instant messenger.

I was always obsessed with the internet,” Haines said. “I explored chatrooms. It was the first time of having the world at my fingertips. I spent a summer teaching myself HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) codes. In many ways, I was a nerd.”

After he graduated high school, Haines traveled over 700 miles west to attend Hope College. His collegiate choice came after attending a church camp in New York, similar to that of Camp Geneva in Holland, drawing people from across the country, including students from Hope College. He forged friendships and became intrigued by the idea of attending school in Holland while at camp.


Birthplace: Rochester, NY
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family: Wife Anne Hoekstra
Biggest Career Break: “Meeting the right talented people who were able to help me execute strategies I wanted to do.”


When he started at Hope College, Haines wanted to be a teacher, but instead of pursuing a major in education, marketing or computer science, in which he had some level of passion and familiarity, Haines majored in sociology and pursued a minor in psychology.

After Haines graduated, he traveled around the country to teach people how to file their taxes online through a United Way program called One Economy Corporation, and provided event marketing. He was in charge of getting people to attend the events. Haines said it was during that time he realized he really wanted to pursue a career in digital marketing, so he came back to West Michigan and began freelancing. One of his clients in 2012 and 2013 was the city of Holland, where he helped the city staff set up a social media marketing strategy and helped to train on Hootsuite, a social media management tool.

At that time, social media was really young and they were trying to figure out what to post on their Facebook page, what to do if they posted something that they shouldn’t have and how to handle those circumstances,” Haines said.

While he was freelancing in 2012, Haines was starting his digital marketing business, Techbridge. He was a one-man team for the first two years. His business was “without walls.” He worked in and out of coffee shops and would meet with clients at their place of business.

Millennials are just driven to work from anywhere, even to the point though we have offices, and really nice offices, we are still willing to work out of coffee shops,” Haines said.

To grow his brand, Haines participated in workshops with Local First and West Coast Chamber of Commerce. He also relied on connections from his alma mater and began networking.

Haines started to rebrand his business in 2015 and changed the company’s name from Techbridge to Symposia Labs LLC. Haines said he wanted to refocus his marketing business and specialize in certain types of industries like construction, transportation, SaaS and e-commerce. He said the services offered now include marketing strategy, pay-per-click, web optimization, social media, creative content and email and text marketing.

Symposia Labs now employs nine people at two locations, in Grand Rapids and Holland.

Symposia wants to be a small giant,” Haines said. “(We are) experts at digital marketing and we are determined to perfect and continually refine our craft. We are a close-knit group of individuals with specialties in various areas of digital marketing.”

Symposia’s marketing strategies include helping clients funnel sales optimization, by which one-time consumers can become regular customers; analytics and reporting; data collection used to better understand customers; how to better manage their businesses, budget and constraints; and educating clients on savings and balancing budgets.

Pay-per-click advertising is another way Haines helps his clients. He and his staff help clients to create and place ads on websites like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Adworks Search & Display, which helps to direct consumers to websites or places of business.

Similar to pay-per-click, Haines helps his clients’ businesses establish a presence on social media in order to gain more success. Clients choose those platforms most relevant to their businesses and Haines helps them create their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube pages.

Symposia also helps clients attract regular consumers through email marketing. Haines and his team help design custom HTML templates with coding. They design the background, color, tabs, image placement, types of texts, links and control how their clients transition from one page to the next.

Symposia helps businesses with their web optimization, which allows their clients’ web pages to appear higher in the internet search engine. That process includes making their clients’ websites easier to read by adding common keywords to captions of images, in URLs and content on their businesses websites.

Haines has hired copywriters to create content and build a continuous brand on the websites of their clients while making it easy to scroll through and quickly find what they are looking for. They design their clients’ websites with storytelling or advertising videos, using photographers to do photo shoots to create portraits, among other visuals for the website.

Haines said many of the strategies he is using now are rooted in what he learned as an entrepreneurial youngster. His childhood endeavor taught him to market his business, designing his own posters and placing them around his apartment complex. It was through that experience that he was able to create Techbridge and sustain the business for two years by going to workshops and marketing himself.

His fascination with the internet and social media and dedicating a summer to learning HTML codes helped him 15 or so years later to grow the services he offers at his digital marketing firm.

His degree in sociology also has helped in creating his business. “Sociology is a great help in marketing because sociology is the scientific study of society, including patterns of social relationships, social interaction and culture,” Haines said.

Haines said for the next few years Symposia Labs will continue to focus on the areas of specialty and will probably expand staff to 12 in the next year to two years.

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Danielle Nelson is the staff researcher who compiles the weekly lists. She also was a Grand Rapids Business Journal/Grand Rapids Magazine staff reporter who covered real estate and construction, architecture, agriculture, sports, law, education, travel and tourism, energy and sustainability, and arts and entertainment. Email Danielle at dnelson at grbj dot com. Follow her on Twitter @Dan_Nels

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