by Jamie Carter-Logan, Bryan Roche and Peter Anania
It was only at the age of ten that Luke Nielson got the entrepreneurial itch.
He started a landscaping business complete with memorable branding – Luke’s Lousy Lawns. Taking care of numerous houses through his teen years, Luke thought he would have a career as a landscape architect. But his entrepreneurial instincts have led him in a completely different direction. He now works for one of Maine’s more notable tech companies — all while having a few startup projects of his own.
Since 2015, Nielson has been operating a subscription service called Seasonal Maine, which sends local products to people across the country four times a year.
The business came about as a result of Nielson’s own research into subscription commerce – and his lifelong desire to be in business. He tells the story of his mother digging up an old assignment from first grade about what people wanted to be when they grow up. Other kids said firefighter or astronaut. Not Luke. He wrote “I want to be a millionaire businessman.”
He’s on his way.
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Nielson has always had a business-focused mindset, even beyond just his willingness to work. His college choice was based in large part on his analysis of the return on investment he’d be likely to get from the degree. Rather than go in debt for tens of thousands of dollars, he opted to stay in the home state that he loves, and get a good education for a fraction of the cost, at Castine-based Maine Maritime Academy.
Nielson’s natural instincts, study of business and experience working in marketing for a Portland-based tech company have helped him build Seasonal Maine from the ground up. After two years in business, he had well over 100 subscribers and wanted to see his list of customers grow even more. So he opted to try traditional marketing, dropping $5,000 into newspaper and magazine ads.
“We’re conditioned to think that newspapers and magazines must work. We get them every week or every day overflowing with ads,” he explained of his decision.
But when Nielson looked at the results of his investment, he didn’t like what he saw. Traditional media just wasn’t worth the money.
So he looked to digital media. Here, for pennies on the dollar, he could reach thousands. He approached the owner of a Facebook page entitled “Maine,” and asked to post on the page. The post ran, and within a day he had made $6,000 in sales.
From then on, Nielson knew digital would give him the best chance at success.
He also saw another business opportunity pop up before his eyes. He realized that he could create a digital media company by uniting people through their love of Maine.
“People are really passionate about Maine,” he says simply of his idea.
After taking over the Facebook page entitled just “Maine,” Nielson rebranded it as “Best of Maine.” He also took over a popular Maine Instagram account, igersmaine, and built an email list. All told, his efforts to share photos and stories of life in Maine have attracted over 175,000 organic followers/subscribers with a reach of over 1,000,000 monthly.
The social media work helps drive business to Seasonal Maine while creating a buzz around the state and its brand as a whole. Nielson and a team of freelancers run the social media pages, but the operation for Seasonal Maine is even smaller.
Nielson currently runs the Seasonal Maine business with the help of only two part-time employees – his parents.
As he showed as a teenager, Nielson never stops working. He runs Seasonal Maine and Best of Maine — and owns rental property — in addition to working full-time at a tech company in Portland.
The tech job was Nielson’s first job after he graduated from Maine Maritime Academy in 2012, and he’s been there ever since. Though he earned an international business and logistics degree from Maine Maritime, he started as a marketing specialist. He was quickly promoted to marketing manager, and even as his own business grows Nielson wants to continue to grow with the company. He has friends there, takes advantage of the office’s yoga and ping-pong offerings, and, perhaps most importantly has learned a lot from working there.
Recently acquired, the tech company will likely have room for Nielson to grow.
With a successful career with a company he enjoys, why does Nielson keep adding work to his plate? For one, being an entrepreneur is just what he enjoys.
“There is a natural urge for me to be self-reliant and not have to be beholden to some other schedule and be in control of my own destiny. All of that is what I look for.”
He also has a larger mission for being in business.
“Businesses should do more than just create wealth for the owners. Businesses are uniquely more sustainable than non-profits because they don’t have to rely on donors, so the charitable aspect of business has been a part of every business I’ve ever started, owned and run,” Nielson explains.
In the first two years of Seasonal Maine, ten percent of profits from the company went to charity. And now, for every box that is sent to a subscriber, a toy gets donated to Toys for Tots to help children in need.
Nielson is a savvy businessman with a clear vision for what he wants to contribute to his community. He loves Maine, and made a point of staying here for college and for his career. Now, he’s sharing the products and stories of our state and helping to build the Maine brand as he builds a life as an entrepreneur.
That’s why Luke Nielson is an Emerging Maine Icon.
All photos by Peter Anania