On November 4, 2019 in a bar on the northside of Indy, three friends excitedly signed some mundane paperwork to make 1909 DIGITAL a real, live LLC.
That was the easy part.
Our goals at the time were simple.
- By End of December 2020 we aimed to:
- Make enough money for the three of us to work full time on the business.
- Have 1 additional full time team member (2 would be fantastic!)
- To accomplish this we’d need 11 clients at an average monthly rate.
- In 2021 we aimed to have a full team.
- In 2022 we aimed to have a brick and mortar office.
Well, we smashed those goals.
- Within six months 2 co-owners were working full time
- Within six months we had 5 contractors working nearly full time
- We are now a team of 11, with all 3 co-owners working full time, 1 full time employee, and 7 contractors, hitting our 2021 goal well within 2020.
- We have 11 clients and have flown by our average monthly rate by 20%.
This year has been a rollercoaster of emotions, proud moments, and virtual camaraderie. While we are thrilled by the success of 1909 DIGITAL, we know without a doubt that we couldn’t have gotten here without the small army of friends and colleagues who supported us every step of the way.
From the first days that Jarred, Brandon, and I brainstormed the human-centered approach behind our business model, to the eerily relevant ways that philosophy has now guided our clients through the harrowing days of the pandemic, we’ve watched our hearts and our guts guide us in the right direction. This isn’t possible without connecting with our networks: colleagues with whom we seek advice, share the work, and give back. These are just good people. We’re lucky to have surrounded ourselves with these amazing humans (and their businesses) who deserve our thanks. By sharing what they’ve done for us, we’re actually sharing our story.
The Early Days
- Julie Heath, Jess Ernsberger, and the entirety of The Speak Easy family, THANK YOU.
(Also, “thank you” to my longtime mentor Richard McCoy who encouraged me to connect with this community when striking out on this adventure.) This Broad Ripple co-working space welcomed us in during our first months from November to February—before the pandemic hit—at a crucial time for our business development. We networked with community members, received mentorship and much-needed encouragement from Julie, brainstormed as a team daily, and held meetings with clients. It legitimized us when we needed it most. And I’ll never forget Julie telling me that 1909 was one of her quickest success stories. She not only gave us a “home,” but the strength to keep going.
- To the designers who helped build the 1909 DIGITAL brand identity, THANK YOU.
A series of local designers and artists are behind the 1909 brand, including Isaiah Johnson, who developed the 1909 DIGITAL logo and palette that references Indianapolis and Monument Circle. Local Indianapolis photographer Paul D’Andrea is responsible for capturing our personalities in multiple photoshoots, and Marc Ertel perfectly applied the look and feel of the 1909 brand to the design and layout for 1909digital.com. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to so clearly illustrate who we are on a day-to-day basis.
- To our fellow agency friends who are twenty steps ahead of us, yet standing beside us, THANK YOU.
- I was lucky to somehow get one run-in and two meetings with Rocky Walls (12 Stars Media) in a pre-COVID world. Rocky is a master storyteller, and he patiently listened as I practiced my novice pitch, articulating our differentiators at a time when we were fine-tuning them by the day.
- We surely won’t forget the literal back-of-napkin sketches that Josh Brammer (Lantern) walked us through as we chatted about business models and productization over burritos. Being the historian that I am, I’m sure I have those napkins somewhere…
- Having a superhero friend like Colleen Dilenschneider (IMPACTS) is an actual gift. She humbly stands by my side while sharing her lessons learned, affirmations, and super-detailed metaphors. (It’s probably why my management style is infused with ridiculously over-the-top metaphors. Sorry team!)
- During one of our lowest moments at our previous employer, Si Alhir (Transformation Leader), had our backs and believed in what we could be. He saw a bright future when, for us, it was hazy and distant. Months later, he built up our confidence when we needed it most.
Growth in the Times of COVID
- To those who’ve recommended clients to us, THANK YOU.
We can’t underestimate the value of those who have the understanding and faith in our abilities to point friends and colleagues our way. This includes Ryan Dodge, who is essentially our #1 business lead generator in Canada. We are immensely grateful for you and your insights for our team. Coach Kate Livingston, we so value you, your advice, and thoughtfulness. I also treasure your friendship and the initial momentum you gave me in Austin to take the leap. 1909 truly wouldn’t be here without you. Neal Stimler has a knack for knowing 1909’s pitch almost better than we do! You seem to always have our name swirling in the back of your mind while playing your own biz dev game. Melanie Allen and Meghan Martin of Green Loop Marketing were the first agency to pass a prospective client our way—a client who became a 1909 cheerleader in her own right, Ali Cudby of Alignmint Growth Strategies.
- To the friends and family who remind us we’re badass, THANK YOU.
These are the people who quite literally pop up with a random message without prompting and say, “You’ve got this.” It’s that sort of support that carries us through. Like my former officemate and source of calm in the midst of every dumpster fire, Matt Todd. There are my Indy bloggers who are my constant support system, like Bryana Schreiber, who is always the first to cheer us on. Or the legends of mom communities in Indy, Katy Mann and Jeanine Bobenmoyer, who will be there for a virtual vent or brainstorm session at the drop of a hat. Or the humble yet famous-in-his-own-right Creed Anthony, who will always make me feel like he is my biggest fan. Then there’s Dr. Sam Juett, who has become like everyone’s adopted dad on team 1909, even though he’s just Jarred’s dad, and even though he’s a world away in Tunisia.
- To the clients who’ve gone on the journey with us, a big giant THANK YOU.
As quarantine hit in late March and everything became “real” for businesses, we had two unforgettable weeks accomplishing 180-degree flips on four client strategies. We helped turn the Chicago School of Musical Arts from after-school classes into a virtual community in nearly 72-hours. We launched Christel House International’s annual fundraising campaign with an entirely new message focused on getting technology to kids globally, now. In a single blog, we aggregated hundreds of online museum experiences at a time when the world was craving digital culture, ensuring Museum Computer Network’s relevance at a time when countless museum staff were losing jobs. We helped the Islamic Medical Association of America clarify and shift messaging as their doctors became the frontline of the pandemic even in the midst of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year. And that’s just four of the 15 clients we’ve had the joy of working with this year. We appreciate the trust each and every one has put in our team as we’ve dug deep with strategy, had tough talks to get through trying times, and built one-on-one relationships to smash goals.
The Work Fam
- To the 1909 team members who’ve joined us along the way, THANK YOU.
Of course original Co-Founder Brandon Williams deserves a special shout out. For six months, he worked tirelessly to develop documentation, finetune messaging, and pitch to prospects. While new opportunities took Brandon’s path in a different direction, we wouldn’t be 1909 DIGITAL without the foundation he helped us lay. Our first additional team member was college senior Vince Gulliver who committed volunteer hours at a key moment during tight capacity. He then grew to become our first part-time contractor. Ben Peterson was our first Project Manager who kept us organized, kept our accounts on track, and had a great knack for writing to-boot. The joyful and immensely-connected Sierra Holmes helped take 1909’s street cred up a notch with her nationally-recognized digital strategy skills and social media engagement experience. We had a powerhouse social content team over the summer, when Lucy Redoglia joined us—her Metropolitan and Webby-award-winning reputation preceding her. And Jesse Smith brought skills to our team that allowed us to redesign and optimize a number of client websites when this need became a top priority.
- To our current team, who’ve wholeheartedly embraced being authentic, transparent, and human with us, THANK YOU.
- Chris is that steady voice that arrived at precisely the right moment. Jarred and I are lucky to now officially have you as a co-owner of 1909, and where would we be without you balancing us out? Thank you for your willingness to step up and lead, for embracing our vision, and taking it to the next level.
- Eli, your sincere and constant enthusiasm is infectious. With every Slack-moji reaction or video chat grin and thumbs up, you’re the glue that holds our all-remote team together.
- Jason, you made sense of our many attempts to make sense of our project management. I thought I was pretty organized until I met you, and that’s just one reason why you’re exactly the perfect fit for 1909.
- Alli, we’re lucky to have you not only for your creative writing skills, but for your love of lifelong learning. For you, the sky’s the limit, and we’re happy to catch hold of your energetic coattails.
- Mary brings a subtle wit and a giant heart to team 1909. Your wisdom is invaluable and experience applicable to so many aspects of our team. Somehow you know exactly when to be perfectly polished and then drop the best zinger of the day, every time.
- Samantha, you’re our superhero who gets the job done, even with a whole other job! Your list of digital marketing skills is endless and also in-depth. Thank you for being our go-to brain for so many things.
- Logan, you are the brilliant artist and designer anyone would dream to work with. You have worked so hard to bring excellence and professionalism to our client relationships in ways only you could.
- And finally, to our partners and spouses—Jess, Dominic, Elizabeth, Laura, Kelli, Kovit, Devin, Brad, and Stefanie—THANK YOU.
You have been immensely patient with virtual “agency life.” While we espouse a hard core philosophy of Family First-Health First-Mental Health First, it doesn’t mean that it comes easily. We’re all living through an “always-on” digital culture that we each personally have to regulate. We promise to try to loop you into more Slack and Google Meet inside jokes in the future. Also please let the team see more kids and puppies. They’re always welcome.
For everyone who has made it this far, thank YOU. As you can see, our first year has been filled with many friendly faces and supportive colleagues. It’s impossible to consider a version of 1909 without them. One thing’s for sure, we’ll continue paying it forward. We can’t wait to see what year two will bring for 1909, and what we can do to repay this support to our network, colleagues, and friends.