If there is one thing that I've seen that stands out the most, it is how companies lose focus, can't get back in the game and grow to the next level. They hit a point where they are distracted or misled from who they are -- and it throws the business out of balance -- from their internal culture to their public persona. - Ernie Gray
In the fifth grade I transferred from a small East Tennessee county school to a larger and more diverse city school in Kingsport, TN. The school was producing a play about Benjamin Franklin called, "Frankly Franklin." They needed a backdrop of the inventive founding father and they wanted a student to create it. The art teacher suggested that I would be up to the task.
I was given a few large spools of paper to take home along with paints. Our house had a massive unfinished attic that I worked in. As an aspiring action comic artist who spent interminable hours practicing freehand pencil & ink, I decided to draw a huge comic book version of Franklin and paint him.
After a couple of long nights of drawing and my mother helping me trace and color in my work, I folded it up carefully, put it in the back of our 300D Mercedes station wagon family tank and took it to school.
When we hung it on the stage, everyone kept asking me,
"aww, Ernie, you didn't draw that!"
or the kids would say, "you traced that didn't you?"
"No, I've been drawing comics for years! Nobody at my house can really draw but me," I replied.
The backdrop was such a hit it was featured in the local paper. My photocopied comic books also started to be circulated through the student body.
And thus began my career of providing design solutions for production problems. It seems that every stage of my life has involved a similar story.
I got into computers at an early age too. In 1982, during the first home computer craze, my father bought a state-of-the-art paperweight known as the Texas Instruments model Ti-994a. It came with a few games that I got bored of quickly, but it also came with a book on BASIC programming. I spent hours writing interactive fantasy games, and would go berserk if the power went out or my mother would turn off the computer when I wasn't in the room. I begged and begged them to buy an external tape drive so I could save my games.
My professional work since 1999 has manifested primarily in the form of developing web portals, but also in seemingly divergent realms of software product design, technology consulting, management and creative marketing strategy (arts). Anyone who has endeavored in a fast growing small company knows that growth often happens in unpredictable ways or faster than you can recruit for, so a few people end up wearing a lot of different hats.
Between 2003-2010 I partnered in one of Nashville’s most prolific web start-ups that produced digital and creative solutions for around 350 clients. Between 2008-2009, alone we surmised that I managed the production of or personally produced more websites than any entity in the region. I also consulted heavily in usability and led research and development on unique and innovative SEO and Adwords service products. It was an intense high-volume business model that was challenging and rewarding, but didn't afford much sleep.
As the investors and partners pushed the business to lower costs using offshore labor and pursue a more competitive price point, I found myself managing others instead of doing great work. I realized that the business that I helped found was no longer a place where I could grow as a creative person, and sold my interest in the operation and shifted my focus to the growing opportunities in my partnership with my longtime friend Colby Jubenville.
Being the development manager of a high-volume operation taught me a few lessons:
- Talent is is a prerequisite but nothing beats experience.
- As proficiency approaches mastery, it becomes more of a process of reduction and deliberate selection.
- Voracious autodidactism through real world practice & application is absolutely essential for growth in this industry.
- A deep technical understanding can be a distraction unless it subsumes intuition. Where the two meet is the nexus of innovation.
- Perspective is a daily practical discipline. For a creative, time management is the art of maintaining inspiration.
- When channels appear to shift or emerge, underlying fundamentals usually remain consistent.
If there is one thing that I've seen that stands out the most, it is how companies lose focus, can't get back in the game and grow to the next level. They hit a point where are distracted or misled from who they are -- and it throws the business out of balance -- from their internal culture to their public persona.
It happens to everybody, and we started this company with the antidote to that in mind.
Every relationship we build begins with a process of bringing out that essential "mojo" in our clients, defining it, elevating it as a standard, and working from the inside out to give them the reach they need to gain more market share.