Minn. Couple Share The Ups and Downs of Entrepreneurship

By Frederick Melo Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Advertising entrepreneurs Jonathan and Stacy Anderson share their often tough yet exciting journey of business ownership. Jonathan recalls key choices that helped the company, "Creed Interactive" focus itself and evolve over the years.

Pioneer Press, St. Paul, Minn.

The recession was good to Jonathan and Stacy Anderstrom. Their start-up web development firm, Creed Interactive, was nimble enough to absorb clients unwilling or unable to spend top dollar on higher-end partners. It "actually helped us because it shook up a whole bunch of business situations, and cracked open the door for a small business like us," said Jonathan Anderstrom.

But the national economic recovery was almost disastrous for Creed, which couldn't compete with higher-paying job offers for its staff.

In a single month in 2010, the third of their four children was born. Half of the Anderstroms' employees resigned. And their workload doubled.

"We went from four people to two," Jonathan recalled. "We needed eight. I thought I was going to die."

So Jonathan, the public face of the company, did the unthinkable. He scrolled through Creed Interactive's list of clients, found the smallest and least lucrative -- the "busywork" -- and got rid of them. "We fired half our clients," said Jonathan, "which in the ad agency world is heresy. I've worked at a number of different firms. I've never been part of a firm firing clients before, let alone half of them. That was gut wrenching for a young entrepreneur."

WORKPLACE OF THE FUTURE These days, Creed Interactive is mostly about adding clients, including several national companies.

They've created user-experience interfaces for Cargill, an e-commerce platform for Slumberland and a sales platform for the Minnesota Wild. For a client they've declined to publicly identify, they're building a global Intranet to connect some 80,000 employees around the world.

It's taken tough choices to get Creed Interactive to the 10-year mark, but the Anderstroms are closing 2017 on a high note.

They've spent a decade in downtown St. Paul, moving from 350-square feet of bare-bones rental space in Lowertown's Northwestern Building into the work space of the future, which they own and designed themselves.

Little more than a year ago, Creed bought 5,000-square feet inside the historic Market House building on 5th Street, across from CHS Field, and converted what had been old storage area full of construction debris next to the former Heartland Restaurant into a two-level, high ceiling, open-air business setting, complete with hardwood flooring and ping-pong tables in the basement.

"We really looked at that as an investment," Stacy said. "If we can stay here for five years, it evens out."

Stacy -- the company's majority owner -- spent nine months managing the remodel and move-in, which takes advantage of the Market House's raw hardwood, exposed timber and brick. Most semblances of offices are gone, but there's plenty of shared, open desk space to plug in a laptop and get to work next to peers. As work area goes, the Creed Interactive space seems more typical of the Minneapolis North Loop than downtown St. Paul, where old law firm buildings and traditional retail spaces are being converted into residences.

Creed Interactive bought a third of the old Heartland Restaurant space in Lowertown by CHS Field and worked with Shelter Architecture to build the workspace of the future.

"One of the challenges we face is a lot of the buildings are becoming residential," said Jonathan, who has become active in promoting Twin Cities Start-Up Week, StartUp Grind (Google for Entrepreneurs) events and the work of St. Paul's Innovation Cabinet. "We want to draw more businesses downtown, but we've got to have a place to put them." "Minneapolis doesn't really have the corner on tech," Jonathan added. "We think there's more potential here."

'DEEP WORK' In a 13-page write-up of their journey, Jonathan recalled key choices that helped the company focus itself and evolve.

Early on, Creed zeroed in on "deeply back-end technology" and web-based applications, rather than flashy online marketing, and declined to take on debt or investment capital. They stayed private, bootstrapped and small, settling for slow growth in exchange for complete autonomy over their client list and approach.

Another key choice? "Deep Work." After attending a Minnesota Interactive Marketing Association seminar, Jonathan walked away with another heretical idea -- he would turn off the lights and lock the doors to Creed Interactive three days a week. Employees are expected to come into the workplace no more than twice a week to make the most of face-to-face time. The commitment to a virtual office has spanned almost a decade.

"Unconventional, I know," said Jonathan in his write-up. "How is this possible? I've found that allowing employees more freedom in how they get their work done greatly improves overall satisfaction. On top of that, it allows for extremely quality work to get done in a manner that doesn't impact on their personal lives."

The goal is to free up mind power, even if it means employees are off golfing. "We feel that we can take the front-end design and fuse it with the back-end technology better than anybody else in town," Jonathan said.

SPACE FOR LEASE The "Deep Work" strategy has allowed Creed to add another title to its offerings -- that of landlord. With Creed dark three times a week, Jonathan said he's eager to find a start-up firm to rent space from his company, though to date he's found only one taker.

That one taker was Scott Burns, the founder of GovDelivery (now Granicus). Burns sold his former company for more than $150 million in 2016 and quickly got started on a new one, Structural, which produces employee-management software. For weeks, Burns rented the Creed Interactive space as he built Structural from the ground up.

"It was a good test for us, and it worked out great," Stacy said. Burns has since moved his operation to the Osborn370, the former Eco-Lab Tower at 370 Wabasha St., of which he is a part-owner.

In addition to the company's work with St. Paul's Innovation Cabinet, Creed has become involved in promoting women in technology through groups such as Hack the Gap and Girl Develop IT.

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