Today, STAUFFER was recognized as one of the 5,000 fastest-growing private companies in the United States by Inc. We are thrilled to join the ranks of companies like Microsoft, Oracle, Intuit, Dell, and Zoom, all of whom have earned their place on this list during their growth. The Inc. 5,000 honor is a testament to the collective efforts of all those who have contributed to this organization, both in the past and the present, as well as our esteemed clients who placed their trust in us over the years.
As the CEO of STAUFFER, I’ve had the privilege of leading its evolution from a “one-man band” to a full-service creative agency specializing in digital experiences and products for such clients as SpaceX, Billboard, UC Berkeley, the California Science Center, and the Screen Actors Guild, to name just a handful.
All I can say is, wow! It’s been a joyous, wild ride taking this company to heights I never could have imagined. The journey has come with its own hurdles, with far more successes than setbacks, and a wealth of valuable lessons learned along the way, which I’d like to share in light of this amazing honor.
LESSON ONE: IT TAKES A TEAM
In the early days of STAUFFER, there was more work than I could handle. Eventually, a realization dawned on me: contract help! After all, I had a network of peers and friends whom I could trust, and they excelled in disciplines where my clients were increasingly needing support. Growing my network is when STAUFFER truly began to thrive, handling landmark projects for clients such as Sony Music and Nestle Food Services. Not long after, in 2007, STAUFFER made its first-ever W-2 employee hire, who remains a part of the company. Subsequently, we added a few more full-time employees, and the firm started to grow steadily. STAUFFER wouldn’t have achieved its current status without the strategic decision to invest in people and, ultimately, expand our capabilities and thus profitability.
The moral of the story: teamwork makes the dream work! Being an army of one would have only taken the agency so far. Sure, the fiduciary duties that come with being an employer bring their own set of responsibilities and challenges, but the risk-reward in investing in people has been paramount to the success of STAUFFER.
LESSON TWO: THE SWEET SPOT BETWEEN BLEEDING-EDGE AND CUTTING-EDGE
These terms are often used interchangeably, but they differ. When we talk about “cutting-edge,” I am thinking of technologies truly at the forefront. The ones that give you a true market advantage. Conversely, “bleeding-edge” refers to technologies that show promise but have yet to realize their full transformative potential. They are risky; many fall flat. Advancing “bleeding-edge” tech to the “cutting-edge” takes innovative thinking, foresight, and most of all, timing. You can’t time the market, as they say, but with enough education and preparation, you’ll find that sweet spot. When you can leverage emerging tech before your competitors do, it can provide you with a real strategic advantage.
For STAUFFER, that technology was Drupal 5 just before the 6 version became mainstream. We immediately recognized its potential to streamline our workflow and enhance our ability to provide amazing enterprise level websites for a reasonable cost. Word spread fast about Drupal, and as early adopters, we were well positioned to leverage it ahead of many of our competitors. This marked a true turning point for our company as we significantly scaled up the business during this period, expanding our firm to approximately 20 full-time employees and boosting revenue.
The moral is to keep your eyes and ears open for the next disruptor in your industry and vet how you can strategically leverage it to grow your business. Evaluate the risk-reward before diving in head-first and ask, “How does this serve my clients first?” The rest will fall into place.
LESSON THREE: NEVER STOP BEING A STUDENT OF YOUR CRAFT AND EVOLVE
There’s a reason doctors and lawyers call their businesses a practice. From new medical studies and laws to analyzing effective treatments and strategies, the same rules apply even more so in the fast-moving tech and creative sectors. You must constantly discover, adapt, and evolve. We continually delve deep, experimenting and attending meetups and conferences to remain on the cutting edge. This ethos drives an ever expanding set of capabilities and enhanced services that produce smooth, soup-to-nuts solutions for our clients.
This idea is exemplified by our strategists’ ability to fluently speak the languages of design, creativity, and technology, which empowers us to effectively translate business strategy into actionable designs and implementations that drive results. That’s our sweet spot at STAUFFER.
LESSON 4: INTEGRITY AND PREPARATION IS THE MOMENT
I’d like to part with a word on the importance of preparation, reliability, and integrity. An illustrative example is our work with InfoSpace and the FOX team on the American Idol ringtone store in 2007. The project generated a staggering $20 million in sales within an hour for our client. Yes, you read that correctly – $20 million. The atmosphere at that moment was electric.
These were the days when STAUFFER was just me. The experience underscores the importance of timeliness, especially in the entertainment industry; moreover, it taught me how to be an executive, working under the mentorship of Ken Nowak. A single glitch or missed deadline would have been disastrous, a lost opportunity. Success in a brief window hinges on the right team and a thoroughly vetted plan.
At STAUFFER, every recommendation we make is well-informed, and in the service of guiding clients towards effective solutions that align with their business objectives. We don’t propose systems that don’t work. The moral is to protect clients even if it means pushing back. Suggest alternatives, explaining their benefits. Build client confidence with solutions grounded in proven results like case studies showcasing success.