What’s Behind INK’s Inc. 5000
Last week, INK joined the ranks of the Inc. 5000, the publication’s annual list of the fastest growing private companies in America. Number 2896 to be exact, with 116.9% growth over the last three years. Lucky #2896!
Sustained growth is hard work, y’all. To me, that 116.9% means we made more good decisions than bad, and we recovered quickly from the bad. It says we hired and retained good people, and nurtured our positive culture amidst change. It stands for client wins (both big and small), boomerang clients and long-term partnerships, and getting smart about doing our own marketing and PR (finally). It reflects expansion into new markets, industries, and service offerings. It also stands for shifts in mindset, changes in roles and structure, and a broadening of our goals and vision. Sustained growth is a lot of fun too.
This ranking represents our progress from 2014 through 2016, so I thought I’d share some learnings and milestones from those years. I enjoyed looking back and remembering our challenges and triumphs, and how this amazing team came to be over the last few years.
2014 was our 10th anniversary. This was the year we realized our talent pipeline was as important as our new business pipeline and began continuously recruiting for great people to join our team. We started the year at nine employees and ended at 14, welcoming Caitlin New, Kim Mackley, Shelley Nall, Ariel Miller, and Rachel Murphy. We would not be where we are today without each of these women. In 2014, we also began working with clients who would become strong partners and shape our experience: Datapipe, APICS, Austin Technology Council (ATC), and the UT Center for Identity. We gave back in 2014 through our work with Komen Austin’s Race for the Cure and the Gazelle Foundation’s Run for the Water, both of whom remain valued partners today. Lastly, Starr, Blair, and I each took a month-long sabbatical that summer, something we would have never dreamed possible without the team in place, which helped to refill our tanks leading into this extreme growth period for INK.
2015 was a year of new beginnings. That summer, Starr moved to Denver to open INK West. This move ushered in a scary but exciting new phase for her life and INK’s culture. Late in the year we made our first Denver hire (to be followed by four more in 2016) and 1BHF was born. Also that summer, Madison Scullin walked through the doors and we became a company of 20. Our employee base grew 43% in 2015 as we also added Joey Held, Kris Johnson, Nicole Russell, Emily Grossman, Cassie Morien, and Mya Wilkes. We won Real Ale, SLO Down Wines, and Barrel + Ink and toasted our move into food & beverages, something that would eventually lead to work with Oskar Blues, Thirsty Planet, and Whole Foods Market 365. Last but not least, we were honored as one of PR Week’s Best Places to Work among a national pool of agencies. Culture is king, and these new INKers were strengthening ours.
2016 began an evolution. We started the year by celebrating our 100th client and officially announcing INK West. We added INKers Gabbie Mehan, Allyse Sanchez, Hilary Livingston, Michelle Pimm, Abby O’Connor, Bree Wood, Kersa Leichner, Sara Lasseter, and Emma Phillips, ending the year at 27 employees (we’re at 31 full-timers today). That’s big stuff, but I think the true milestone of 2016 was a series of decisions to evolve and scale our business for the future. It was this year that we formalized and grew our design team and invested in hiring more content and social strategists to scale our offerings in these areas. We also began the real estate search for a new Austin HQ and designed a multifunctional space to match our work styles and grow with our company; we move in next month. At the year’s close, we presented a new plan for INK’s growth trajectory for the next 5 years including a first step to restructure into large communications teams, supported by three specialty teams in design, content and social, and research. We also made preliminary plans to open a New York office in April 2017 and started on an INK rebrand that will launch very soon.
It was a challenging and rewarding three years.
All the while, careers and friendships blossomed, babies were born (Ruby, Evelyn and Emily arrived in 2016!), and dogs roamed the halls. We lost a dear client to cancer, we lost parents and grandparents, and we learned to balance and try to better to ourselves. #growthisgood became an INK mantra over this time period. Growth might be hard, but it’s giving us the chance to do our best work ever, the type of work we call “the good stuff.” It’s giving us the opportunity to work and laugh and learn with great people, tell exciting stories through smart, integrated programs, and continue to gain new perspective. Truly, we believe growth is (really) good.
Thanks to the Inc. 5000 for recognizing growing private companies!