Emerson grad MAPs a successful life after graduation

by Beacon Staff • September 12, 2007

With classes officially beginning this week, many Emerson seniors may be feeling anxiety that their last "first day of school" has just come and gone. May will be here before you know it, and life after graduation is a scary thought. But there are some encouraging success stories out there.

Morgan First, president and CEO of 1st Publications, graduated from Emerson in 2005 with a major in marketing communication and minors in publishing, photography and entrepreneurship.

Putting all of her courses of study into one endeavor, First is the mastermind behind the MAP Boston planner that has been flying off the shelves of the Emerson book store and other locations around the city.

"Map your city. Map your life," so reads the front cover of the Motion Affairs Planner (MAP) Boston, the weekly agenda and city guide in its second year of print. The book features a weekly planner side-by-side with a colorful guide to Boston, featuring shopping, sights, and food that may typically be overlooked by other guidebooks.

The first few pages feature important phone numbers and local information (24-hour Kinko's, anyone?), while the back of the book is filled with several maps of Boston, Cambridge and other neighboring suburbs.

First developed the idea for MAP out of frustration with other Boston city guides.

"I was [always] traveling with my planner and a Let's Go guide to Boston. I got tired of carrying both, and of feeling like a tourist when I pulled out my guide book," said First in an e-mail interview with The Beacon. She wished for a way to combine the two for the sake of both convenience and her own non-touristy image.

"In addition, all the places Let's Go highlights are perfect for tourists, but my book instead would highlight what was cool for locals," she said.

Gabi Conti, a junior broadcast journalism and TV production double major, also likes how alternative the locations in MAP are.

"Not everyone knows the spots, but those who do are worth getting to know," Conti said.

Senior writing, literature and publishing major Julia Kaganskiy co-edited the book and wrote some of the blurbs about the locations. She said working on the book gave her a chance to explore Boston in a new way.

"I basically lived what the planner is intended to do," she said. "It gets people to treat their own city like they are tourists and look at it with a fresh and excited pair of eyes."

In Emerson's entrepreneurial class, Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship (E3), First learned the fundamentals of business from professor Karl Baehr.

E3 teaches students the various aspects of starting a business, from the artistic to the financial. Industry professionals and guest experts come in and share their personal success stories with the students as well.

Baehr, who was recently named one of the top entrepreneurial professors in the country by Fortune magazine, is very proud of his standout student.

"Morgan had several ideas when she came into E3 and they all sounded promising. As she learned to assess her ideas critically, what has become the MAP came to the fore, and the rest is history," he said in an e-mail interview.

After taking Baehr's class, First put even more thought into her MAP idea. In December of her senior year, she knew she had to take the risk and turn her planner into a legitimate business venture. She filed early for graduation and dedicated all of her time and resources to MAP.

She funded the project with help from her father. He agreed that he would use the money he would have originally spent on her final semester at Emerson toward financing MAP.

"That and every penny in savings I had, plus the money I got when I sold my car after coming to college," she said.

The first edition of MAP Boston was released for the 2006-2007 school year. This year, the second version emerged, with more pointers, photos, and complete maps. Steps toward future improvements are always on First's mind.

"I am also looking forward to making next year's MAP Boston even better, and spreading even more awareness about it across Boston so that we can print even more copies. Just about every day I think of new ways to make the next book better," she said.

First has also considered expanding 1st Publications. She has thought about developing programs to sync MAP with Excel or iCal and bring a digital version of her paper planner into your computer.

In addition to her own hard work, First credits the so-called "Emerson Mafia," the tightly-knit network of Emerson students and alumni, with much of the success of MAP Boston.

"The Emerson Mafia is alive and well," she said. "I can trace just about everything from the beginning back to Emerson."

Articles in the Metro, Improper Bostonian, and BostonNOW as well as an appearance on MSNBC's "Your Business" were all thanks in part to First's connection to various Emerson students and alumni.

And although she admits that it sounds a little clich