10 years

By Stephen Saugestad
July 8, 2014
Uncategorized

Wallop was incorporated in July of 2004, 10 years ago.

The same year Facebook started. The same year Britney Spears was married (twice). The year of Janet Jackson’s nip-slip and the start of a second term for George W. Bush. Needless to say, a lot has happened since then.

It’s a good time to take stock and look back on the decade-long journey that got Wallop to where it is today.

Double Digits

Funny thing – when you’re running a business, it’s easy to lose yourself in the minutia of the day-to-day. New faces becoming familiar, clients moving on, new clients moving in, making payroll in lean months, skipping meals to put out fires, and beer-inspired bowling – time flies when you’re in the trenches. Even so, 10 years feels hard to believe. We’ve done our best to put people before profit, to do right by our clients, and to do great work; all the while building a reputation for being the best at what we do.

How it all started

Wallop started the way most agencies tend to. A couple of senior people in a larger agency pull the Jerry Maguire and decide they can do it better than their bosses. They migrate down the street to a smaller office, determined not to make the same mistakes they saw at the old company.

It turns out running a business is a lot like raising a child. And raising a child is a lot harder than it looks. At the beginning it requires constant attention, or the child will die. As it gets older, you start to worry about the bigger picture. Things like direction, purpose, morals, ethics and whether the socially acceptable window to give that child up for adoption has passed. But you still have to make sure you manage the small details of the kid’s life. The job’s not done because your kid can walk.

Now here we are, with a full-blown 10-year-old on our hands – a veritable pre-teen.

The original Wallop was three people: Aubyn, Jeremy, and Rick. The first notable milestone was about two years in when Rick decided to leave the company. By that time all the work I was doing as a freelancer was for Wallop. It made a lot of sense for me to buy him out and take his spot on the roster, so I did. The three of us ran the company through 2010. That same year, Aubyn started to get worn down by the demands of running a business, because his passion was to do creative work. He’s an incredibly talented designer, and it’s largely his work that put us on the map. With a second baby on the way, he decided to relocate to Victoria. Jeremy became involved about a year before that with Houston Landscapes, grew the business immensely, and proceeded to buy out the owner with a group of investors. Jeremy is a brilliant businessman, completely self-taught, and the company benefitted tremendously from his intellect and business savvy. We were facing a highly amicable breakup, and it made a lot of sense to buy them out. So I did. I’m very grateful to Aubyn and Jeremy, they are both supremely talented and obnoxiously great people.

Finding our niche

Wallop has always done web development, but a lot of the work we were doing in the early years was in motion graphics. We were designing and building videos for large corporations, universities, and scientific ventures. In those days we would have to rent a stack of high powered machines (probably the specs of an iPhone today) and set them up to render over the weekend to output the final product. They were slick, but it was very time consuming and in a very narrow specialization.

We did our first hospitality project in 2006, for the Wickaninnish Inn. The brand had a high profile in the industry, so that project ended up getting a ton of referrals. I’d like to tell you that the niche we’re in today was selected by through a structured analysis of key opportunities in digital, but it was more about finding what we were good at, and building from there. Since then we’ve positioned ourselves as a digital agency that focuses on luxury brands in hospitality and travel. And we added filmmaking to the mix last year with the establishment of our sister company, Wallop Film. This was a key addition that allows us to do more content marketing, which today is a key component of a healthy digital marketing mix.

What’s happened more recently

I won’t sugar coat it; 2008-2009 was a tough year for us. When the meteor hit the side of the earth in 2008, digital marketing budgets for luxury brands all but disappeared. In fact “luxury” became a dirty word that year, which made our day to day conversations with clients a bit strange because we’re working with luxury brands catering to a luxury audience. Anyway we did our best to convince clients that it was a good time to gear up for the future, things will bounce back, that the luxury traveller was less affected than the rest of the market. After all this demographic is a very fast growing one, with projections for enormous growth in the coming years.

There were months where we were taking projects knowing we’d lose money just to keep the lights on. The “agency” had shrunk to just a few of us in a small office in Gastown. Things slowly started to pick back up, and we hired a few more developers and started to rebuild.

Geoff’s been my trusted deputy for almost 6 years now. It’s his creative prowess and dedication that’s allowed us to maintain the high standards for work and attention to detail, a very distinct legacy left behind by Aubyn and his artistic talent. And I don’t want to leave out Janice, who’s been with us for years. She’s a perfect fit for our culture, and has grown by leaps and bounds. Her coding and refinement of skills has helped us a great deal in transitioning to responsive design.

Before the buyout, Jeremy had always handled sales – which he was quite good at. After 2010, I handled the sales duties and relied on word of mouth and referrals from our work to fill our pipeline. But sales doesn’t come naturally to an introvert like myself, and I wanted to grow the business. So the next year I was fortunate to find Ryan to handle sales and business development. Not only is he an astute businessman with a knack for building relationships, he’s also armed with creative talent and deadly foresight. But above all, he was a perfect fit for the culture of the company. Did I mention he was in his early twenties?

So with me at the helm and my two senior deputies at my side, we’ve managed to double the business since. And at the risk of resorting to a well worn cliche, Wallop is nothing without its people. I had the fortune of having great staff with very little attrition over the  years. Assuming I could verify the requisite skills, I’ve always hired based on my gut. It’s a policy that’s served us well. It’s a remarkable thing to see people like Geoff, Ryan, and Janice grow into more senior roles at the company. There was a time when I felt the business relied too much on me, but that feeling has faded over the last few years.

The next 10 years

We’re continuing to grow as a team, while trying to work out the inevitable kinks that come with the growth of a business. We’re excited to see this 10-year-old turn into a teenager. In many ways, we’re just getting started.

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