Courtney Ball has been interested in theater, writing and other creative pursuits since his childhood.
“I wanted to be an actor when I left high school,” recalled Ball, a former United Methodist pastor and now owner and CEO of Flow Media, a Cedar Rapids video production company.
“I went to the University of Iowa as a theater major and had a lot of fun, but I also started wondering if it was enough purpose for my life. My dad was a pastor and at that point my brother had started thinking about becoming a pastor.”
After getting involved in a campus ministry with his brother, he went to seminary school. In 2004, he became a pastor in Iowa City.
“While I liked the church, I did not like the job,” he said. “I felt too removed from the community because I was doing a lot of administrative stuff.”
In 2006, Ball helped his brother, Clint Twedt-Ball, to launch Matthew 25, an outreach ministry to help revitalize neighborhoods in southwest Cedar Rapids. After the 2008 flood, Matthew 25 partnered with other organizations to invest more than $6 million to rebuild 25 blocks in the community,
“That was like another grad school experience going through the flood,” Ball said. “We both talk about it like our second graduate degree.”
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In 2013, Ball began feeling the creative itch to do some writing. He left Matthew 25 and began working on several books as well as starting a blog.
“Six months into 2014, I felt so lonely,” he said. “I had gone from meeting with people in the community all week long at Matthew 25 to sitting in front of a computer by myself every day.
“I realized that I needed human contact and collaboration.”
In November 2014, Ball began interviewing people on the streets of Cedar Rapids. The result is Corridor Characters — at corridorcharacters.com — a blog he writes and publishes, with images provided by local photographers.
In late 2015, Ball and four partners formed Flow Media to write and produce videos for local clients.
“We kind of jumped in and started making things,” Ball said. “We had a couple of clients off the bat. We knew that we wouldn’t make a lot of money at first, but we just started growing the business.”
When Flow Media was unable to produce the steady, stable income a partner needed, she left the company in late 2016. Another partner left in 2017 and the company hired two people to replace them.
“In late 2017, we lost our biggest client,” Ball said. “We didn’t pick up enough new clients to make up for that lost revenue and we started struggling financially.”
In early 2018, the remaining owners decided to lay off Flow Media’s employees. Ball’s remaining partners left in succeeding months, and he had to decide in May 2018 whether he wanted to keep the company.
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“My first step was, ‘How do I finish the jobs that I have?’ I didn’t want people to think they had been screwed out of their money or left hanging,” he said.
Ball was able to subcontract some of the work and he also hired a business coach to learn how better to run a company.
“I learned how to be more intentional about sales,” Ball said. “I worked for about 10 months without a paycheck to pay off everything, get us on good footing and make sure I could pay our subcontractors and pay my bills.”
Ball said clients began giving the company work and the business is back on the upswing.
“I’m married to a very smart woman who has a great job,” Ball added. “She was able to cover our expenses when I was not making an income.”
Ball will share the successes, failures, challenges and lessons learned along his entrepreneurial journey on June 12 as part of the 1 Million Cups Founder Fireside series.
If You Go
• What: Courtney Ball, owner and CEO of Flow Media in Cedar Rapids, will be interviewed at the Founder Fireside presentation, part of the 1 Million Cups series
• When: Doors open at 8 a.m., with the program to begin at 8:15, Wednesday, June 12
• Where: Geonetric Building, 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
• Admission is free