As SmallBox approaches our 10th anniversary in January 2016 I’ve been doing some reflecting. One of the interesting byproducts of our journey has been the businesses and nonprofits we have helped get going along the way. People are often interested in learning the stories behind these organizations. This post is an attempt to tell that story, at least my version of it! Also, in a very real way, SmallBox is a byproduct itself! Which gets us to the first stop on the journey...
Musical Family Tree
In 2001, I co-founded Antique Helper Auctions with Dan Ripley. While working at Antique Helper, Joe Downey (SmallBox’s co-founder) and myself started working on a side project called Musical Family Tree. It was something I’d started in early 2004 but by 2005 I’d reached the limits of my (very meager) coding abilities. MFT, as it became known, was a place for Indiana musicians to share their music with each other. It started out very humbly but once Joe got involved, and rebuilt it on a database, things began to take off.
Since then MFT has become a 501c3, received a Cultural Vision Award from Nuvo, served over a million people online and thousands in the local community. It was that experience building MFT that really got my gears going. How could we make a living doing this? By early 2006 Joe and I left Antique Helper and started SmallBox. Check out MFT at www.musicalfamilytree.com
Joyful Noise Recordings
The next stop on the journey starts at a garage sale. Around 2002 I was having a garage sale and, as usual, selling off a bunch of extra vinyl records. This young guy was going through the records and I started talking to him. His name was Karl Hofstettler and he lived in my neighborhood. I recall saying “hey, do you want to see my ‘real’ collection sometime?” Meaning my personal collection inside that I wasn’t selling. He came by that evening and soon a friendship was born. Karl was 16 or 17 and really into music. This was the last days of cassette mix tapes and Karl and I exchanged a few. I turned him onto Can and the Danielson Family, he turned me on to the Melvins and a bunch of local bands I hadn’t heard. He soon told me he wanted to start a label. I thought he was crazy but figured the idea would pass. Little did I know.
Karl got serious about the label in college and after graduating he came to work for SmallBox as a project manager. His fledging label, Joyful Noise Records, was a long way from being able to support Karl but I figured he could cut his teeth working at SmallBox and build the label on the side. Karl worked his ass off at both businesses and made it happen. By the end of 2012 it was clear he was ready to make a go at Joyful full time. Since then the label has grown tremendously and now has 7 full time employees in their Fountain Square offices and 2 in their Brooklyn office. Karl has shown himself to be a true innovator leveraging unique media formats (like cassettes and flex-discs) along with membership and VIP. See what’s up at JNR at www.joyfulnoiserecordings.com
About 5 years into SmallBox we realized that we had a valuable byproduct on our hands: leads we couldn’t capitalize on. As our services and pricing had gone up we were still fielding opportunities of all shapes and sizes. In late 2010 Chad Myers reached out to me. He had run an agency before and was looking for his next adventure. At first we explored having him join the SmallBox team but soon settled on partnering on a new business that would capitalize on the “byproduct” of leads.
By mid 2011 Springboard Marketing was born. What was first a small Wordpress shop has turned into a “sales-centered marketing” agency focused on retail and e-commerce clients. They no longer rely on SmallBox for leads, having built their brand and marketing into a stand alone lead generator. Springboard now has its own offices at Fort Benjamin Harrison and 10 full time team members. It’s been great fun to work with Chad and watch them grow. Check out Springboard at www.springboardmarketing.com
The Speak Easy
It was also around this time that SmallBox was starting to outgrow our Broad Ripple offices. A friend told me about a space opening in the Huntington Bank building on Broad Ripple Ave. I looked into it. It was affordable and near the SmallBox office. I reached out to my buddy Kristian Andersen whose agency KA+A (now Studio Science) was also in Broad Ripple (now downtown). I pitched it as a collaborative space our teams could share and invite others to come hang out and co-work. I called it a “clubhouse”. He was into the idea and we came close to signing a lease.
Right around that time Developer Town purchased their building at 53rd and Winthrop. Also Andy Clark and Dave Castor joined forces merging their co-working initiative that included significant backing from the city, a very critical piece. From my memory everything came together at SXSW in March of 2011 when the Developer Town guys really got Kristian and I on board with the direction. It wasn’t long before others joined the push including TechPoint, Chris Baggott and Eric Tobias. Kristian led the charge, everyone gave their time, talent and treasure and in short order Indiana’s first co-working club, The Speak Easy, was born in early 2012 as a 501c3 non-profit. Since then thousands of individuals and hundreds of businesses have worked out of the Speak Easy, 100s of meetups and events have been held (including many weddings) and 50 other co-working spaces have come into existence across the state. Learn more and sign up to be a member at www.speakeasyindy.com
By 2012/3 I’d noticed a trend at SmallBox. Several of the people that left the company did so to start their own companies. We felt like this was a good thing and began calling the trend “graduation”. In general, we wanted to celebrate the transition and also provide whatever support, and sometimes funding, to help make that possible. Brain Twins was the first to benefit from the grad program. They received a small amount of funding and our support to get going. Justin Shimp, one of the “Twins”, had been doing some freelance design work with his girlfriend Jessica Dunn and it was clearly more interesting to him than the support work he was doing at SmallBox. So with a little push Brain Twins was born! After the usual first year challenges Brain Twins now has a steady stream of highly inventive work that ranges from stage design to video animation to posters and websites. View their work at www.braintwins.net
Towards the end of 2014 we made the decision to move away from custom web application development. We had several projects underway for this service offering and 2 team members eager to continue doing it: my SmallBox co-founder Joe Downey (developer) and Jason Ward (strategist/account manager). Together they left to form Gravy Lab in early 2015. Since then they have helped SmallBox build a private community platform called Culture Tap and worked with Emmis, Purdue and Kovert Hawkins. If you need a great custom web application, employee portal or some “middleware” to connect current solutions, that's the Gravy Lab sweet spot. More at www.gravylab.com
To be continued...
There's more to the SmallBox ecosystem, so consider this part one.