One entrepreneur's college start-up was never expected to expand past the walls of his frat house. Now it is doing business with Microsoft and other large companies.
As applications for the 2009 Inc. 500 | 5000 arrive, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. (For more information and to apply, go to http://www.inc5000apply.com.) One that caught our eye was Gainsville, Fla.-based 352 Media.
Geoff Wilson just wanted to pay his bills through college when he launched 352 Media 12 years ago as a student at the University of Florida. Wilson ran a 1-800 number through his room at the fraternity house to get the web design business off the ground. He had no intention of carrying the business outside his college campus. By the time he was ready to graduate, he'd built up a clientele of 30 customers and gained friend Peter van Rysdam as a partner in the company. With a budding business, it didn't make sense to stop there. Together, they've since created more than 1,000 websites and interactive media campaigns for clients such as Microsoft and CNN.
352 Media now has close to 50 employees, most of whom are also University of Florida alumni and started in the company's fledgling stages from 2000 to 2002.
Wilson believes his success came from his ignorance about software development, causing him to instead pay more attention to the business aspects of running a company.
"A lot of web design companies were started by technical people; others were started by creative people who can't offer much on the technical side," he explains. "Since Peter and I are neither good designers nor technically inclined, we had to focus on the business side, which we felt gave us a competitive advantage."
Though 352 started out doing work for small businesses, as the size of its clients grew, Wilson missed no opportunity to publicize it.
"Every time we did work for a slightly larger company, and as we did work for the University of Florida, we'd publicize it heavily by writing case studies about the project and updating the project portfolios on our website," he said. "This would attract the attention of even larger companies. Once we publicized our first contract with Microsoft back in 2003, it really opened the doors."
Now 352 Media is extending its expertise into interactive virtual worlds for kids. The company has already paired up with two big-name football coaches, Pete Carroll and Steve Spurrier, to create camp-simulation games. The project has already received unsolicited coverage by ESPN.
"When you type in 'web-design company' into a search engine, we come up on the first page," Wilson said. "That's not an accident; that's taken a lot of time and effort."