What was your role when you started working for the company that would eventually become Tower Marketing?
I started as a contractor, doing a design for the two original partners of, what was then, Tower Data Systems. It was a nice relationship since I had other freelance accounts that needed programming, which Tower could offer back to me in trade. Once we realized that we were already the seeds of our own business, it was only a matter of time before we started dreaming bigger.
For those first several years, you were working a full-time job and getting Tower up and running after hours; what was that like?
Hell. We (at this point I was working with two other partners) were working forty hours at our day jobs and then another forty at nights and on the weekends. It was never a question of ‘if’ we were going to do Tower. It was always a question of ‘how soon.’ I guess that’s why we really ran ourselves ragged for the first few years. The faster we did things, the quicker our vision for Tower would become real.
In 2006, you become the sole owner of Tower Marketing. Now you had to find an office space and hire staff. What was it like doing all that for the first time?
That time was exciting and scary. We didn’t need to vote on decisions as a group anymore. It was just me. There was no instruction book for building a marketing agency. I just needed to follow my intuition and make decisions. That started with getting our office by Eden Road. It was small and gray, but, at the time, it was perfect. With that, I hired a few people to help me with the boat-load of work that I was backlogging. We could now host client meetings and sell the new suite of tools that we were developing. It all happened so fast!
One of your first major accomplishments as the “new” Tower Marketing was developing a suite of online products – Maestro, Shopkeeper, and Newscaster. This was before we had tools like WordPress, WooCommerce, or MailChimp. What was the process of building those from scratch?
We developed our own CMS tool back in 1999 when we got a big eCommerce job. The entire concept developed out of solving the problem of how to get 2,000 products into a website that was easily updated and could sell to customers online. Back then, people were actually scared to put their credit card information into a website. (Amazing to think now!) So, we needed something that worked simply and flawlessly for both the owner and the customer. Over the next four years, we constantly refined that system and it is actually still in use today. From that, came the idea that we could mass market a CMS, eCommerce, and newsletter tool, which really fueled our growth in the mid-2000s. Today, they’re an afterthought. Back then, they were the pillars for our growth.
Being in business for 20 years, you built websites in a world without Google. Admit it. When Google was introduced, did you think it was just a flash in the pan?
For years before Google, we were trying everything in our power to get rankings on Yahoo, which was the major search engine at the time. The big problem with Yahoo was that it couldn’t rank dynamic pages, which is how most of the world’s website pages are built today. The writing was on the wall for Yahoo. When Google came on the scene, it was just another player. But, with its simplicity, great results, and ability to index dynamic pages, it quickly became the leader. The first sign that it wasn’t a flash in the pan was when its stock went public and it shot through the roof. Everyone knew then it was going to be huge.
What was the biggest obstacle you had to overcome in getting Tower Marketing off the ground?
Like most businesses, gaining awareness was almost impossible in the beginning. No one knew who we were or even what we did. As we did more and more work, good word-of-mouth really propelled new business. To this day, we don’t have a dedicated sales person and rely heavily on client word-of-mouth.
What has been your biggest success?
I prefer to think we have gotten there yet! When I’m retired, and Tower has been handed over to a new crop of people, I can finally look back on it and say the whole experience was not only my biggest success but ours as a whole.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who wants to become a small business owner?
Do it because you love it.