When you first meet Mike ‘10 and Stephen Saulpaugh ‘17, you get the sense you’ve known them forever. Maybe it’s their witty banter. Maybe it’s their self-deprecating senses of humor. Or maybe it’s their mutual respect and admiration for one another or the way they draw you into their conversation. Whatever it is, it works.
Listening to them talk is like listening to a comedy act. They finish one another’s sentences. They engage in good-natured ribbing. And they share a dozen similarities and intersecting interests, including their alma mater, St. Thomas Aquinas College.
“We’ve been sharing the same brain for over 20 years,” Mike jokes.
Now they even share a business, SnuggleMud, a branding and creative house based in Fairlawn, New Jersey. Services include everything from high-level strategy and branding to social media, design and copy.
Neither earned a business degree. Mike earned his in social sciences education and Stephen earned his in communication arts. But their business is thriving, has landed a handful of high-profile clients, including People magazine, and has amassed a creative team that got its chops servicing Fortune 500 companies such as Pepsi, AMC and Mars, Incorporated.
But to understand how the brothers got here requires a step back to where they came from.
Mike ’10, is the older brother, a fact Stephen rarely lets him forget. He chose STAC because he was looking for a small school with a nice campus and a strong teaching program.
He says education has always been the “family business,” and it was something he had a feeling he’d be good at. After graduating in 2010, Mike landed a teaching position at Stephen’s high school. He currently teaches 11th and 12th grade U.S. history and philosophy at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey.
“Stephen was a freshman in high school, so I would stop by and pick him up,” Mike explains. “I got to know folks at the school, and when a position opened up, I interviewed and got it.”
“I don’t know if you heard this,” Stephen interjects, “but everything he accomplished, he accomplished because of me.”
Mike says that although he loves education, he has always been a “frustrated creative.” To scratch the itch when he wasn’t teaching, Mike began picking up freelance design work where he could and started dabbling in web design.
Stephen followed in his brother’s footsteps, enrolling in STAC’s education program before changing majors his sophomore year.
“Straying from the ‘family business’ was entering foreign waters, but my heart wasn’t in education,” Stephen says. “I knew I wanted to become a copywriter or marketing coordinator at an advertising agency, so I did everything I could to immerse myself in communication and interactive social media.”
He landed his first job as a digital media specialist at HAKS, a global engineering firm headquartered in New York City, where he was responsible for directing the company’s social media strategy, updating the websites, and overseeing branding initiatives.
No strangers to hard work and time management, both Mike and Stephen were involved on campus and off throughout their years at STAC. Mike served in the Student Government Association and worked as a resident assistant. Stephen kept busy with “eight million side hustles,” from drumming in a band to freelance marketing jobs.
The brothers filed business paperwork for SnuggleMud on July 17, 2017. Since then, Mike and Stephen have added two close family friends, both creative directors with Fortune 500 experience. But what does SnuggleMud mean? Good question.
“We were wondering what to call our business, and Stephen said, ‘I’ve been thinking about some words. I like Snuggle. What’s a weird word that can come after it?’” Mike said, “I like ‘mud.’ Stephen said, ‘That works.’ And SnuggleMud was born.”
Mike says the company is a team of freelancers who act as an end-to-end creative agency. Their focus is bringing big brand ideas to small companies. Current clients include chiropractic and physical therapy practices, retail outlets and entertainment destinations.
“We like to be able to say that our creative director from Time magazine can help your dry cleaning business,” Mike says. “When you’re running a small business, you might not have time to do social media or pay a huge agency for a marketing campaign. We can do it for them at a very competitive cost.”
As for the future of SnuggleMud?
“We’re not sure where it’s going yet, but we’re having a really good time,” Stephen says. “The potential to grow is there. We have a solid team and great clients and a passion for what we’re doing. We’re happy to go wherever the journey takes us.”