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How three cartoon animators built an interactive branding company from their basements that's growing over 50 percent annually.
As applications for the 2010 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.inc.com/inc5000apply/2010/.) One that caught our eye was Seattle-based Smashing Ideas.In 1996, Smashing Ideas was on the cusp of innovation when three friends, Ben Yenter, Glenn Thomas, and Evan Clarrissimeaux brought animation to the web. Working out of their parents' basements, they focused on making cartoons that used flash animation and helped bring Nickelodeon cartoons like Sponge Bob and Dora the Explorer to the internet. As technology changed, so did their company. Marketing played an increasing role in their projects, and eventually demand for this service sparked their growth to more than 65 employees. Smashing Ideas now focuses on interactive branded content, including games, websites, and phone applications. Only the studio's catchy name has remained constant."As you look at the transition of the internet itself, in 1996 we were fairly limited in what we could do in terms of file size, bandwidth and download speeds," says CEO Stephen Jackson, who was recruited for the top position in 2005 by the founders, all of whom remain active in the company. "As speeds increased, the company then evolved."Unlike many traditional advertising companies that have added digital branches, Smashing Ideas started in the digital space. Employing a bevy of illustrators, animators, programmers and developers, the company creates games such as "Penguins of Madagascar: The Revenge of Blowhole," which had over 3 million gameplays in its first three weeks on Nick.com. Branded content like this allows users to interact with the brand in a way that Jackson says other forms of advertising can't achieve."I don't believe in today's environment that an agency can survive without doing digital," Jackson says. "It's such a large portion of how to create an ongoing relationship with your customer that can be two-way." It's not just games that can be interactive. The other fifty percent of Smashing Ideas's revenue comes from creating sites, phone apps and user interfaces. The company is also making an effort to expand into multi-screen development. For instance, the company recently helped Sony Ericsson introduce a successful game to multiple devices. Smashing Ideas created a version of the game that came pre-loaded on new Sony phones, while created a web-based version that could be played on desktops and on Facebook. All three versions were tied together so that, regardless of how the game was accessed, users' scores were matched against the same high-score board.This is just one of many evolutions that have aided the company's 58 percent annual growth rate over the past ten years. And it expects to continue its growth trend into next year. The company is planning to grow its mobile and devices division by 45 percent in 2010 as well as add between five and 10 employees.