Being an entrepreneur is a lot like drinking whiskey. At first, you don’t really have a clue what you’re doing. You try to act like you do, but really, you’re just trying to get through it without looking like it’s killing you. Come on, we’ve all made that face. But after awhile, you start to get the hang of it. The process is smoother. You begin to really like it. Now you’re hooked.
My business partner, Nick Murto, and I started our first company in 2004. Seven2 is a digital creative agency whose aim is to use the internet—websites, games, apps, display ads and videos—to build an affinity between brands and their consumers. We’ve been lucky enough to do it for the likes of Disney, GoDaddy, Nintendo, AT&T, Pokemon, Expedia, Sony, and others.
In 2007, we recognized that traditional advertising agencies were having a hard time cobbling together interactive departments to service their clients’ digital needs. We saw an opportunity. We decided to create another company called 14Four, with new processes, that partnered with ad agencies to help them build these digital experiences.
We hired an amazing talent in Jeff Oswalt to lead the company, and over the last 10 years, 14Four has worked with hundreds of world-class brands on more than 1,000 projects. Were we smart entrepreneurs? Maybe. Were we extremely lucky and often had the wind at our backs? Absolutely.
Needless to say, technology is changing all of the time, as is consumers’ appetites for the digital experience du jour: YouTube, Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I pay extra special attention to the apps and platforms my 14- and 12-year-old daughters frequent. They’re voracious. As we all are witnessing, mobile platforms are winning the battle.
During the last few years, our clients’ battle cries of “mobile first” have us developing responsive websites—sites that scale to fit both on a phone screen and desktop browser—but how long will true web browsing last? It’s still a relatively archaic way to find information.
The “go and find” model is being replaced by “sit back and listen.” Are we getting lazier? Maybe, but the increases in technologies like Amazon Echo and Google Assistant and yes, even Apple’s Siri, are blazing a new trail in immersive interfaces.
Natural language interfaces are starting to change the way brands are interacting with their customers. The premium tequila brand Patrón has a “skill” on the Amazon Echo that helps you create just the right margarita. All you have to do is ask. Well, ask using just the right words in just the right way. Natural language? Maybe not yet, but the advancements are promising and have exciting potential.
The other big one is virtual reality. This is certainly taking the world by storm, but true, value-driven applications, besides gaming, are still being developed. The technology, though making great enhancements, has a bit to go so the average consumer doesn’t get nauseous from the experience. For virtual reality to succeed, it will need to help tell compelling stories, bring people together rather than isolate them in their own little world, and offer true value for both entertainment and practical applications, such as training.
Our job at Seven2 and 14Four is evaluating these opportunities and gauging the investment in time and technology to be able to offer our clients these immersive experiences for their end consumers. These kinds of investments are always tough for small businesses. Which horse do you bet on?
The answers usually lie somewhere between the interest from our teams, the desires of our clients, and of course, the potential for lasting revenue. It’s great to see companies such as Gravity Jack and Next IT, here in our own backyard, making big strides in these fields.
Nick and I also have a few other business ventures that keep us busy. In 2012, we started Method Juice Café, offering organic juices, smoothies, and healthy eats. And in 2014, we started The Union Studios, offering yoga, spin and TRX classes. We’ve expanded into multiple locations, but running retail businesses like these has provided all sorts of new challenges.
I have a deep respect for anyone trying to build his or her dream in a crowded marketplace on a shoestring budget. Let’s be honest, margins are thin. People who experience our offerings love them, but getting the word out and driving traffic to sustain business is difficult.
As I look into the future, it’s only getting harder. We absolutely love our employees and want the best for them, but the coming raise in minimum wage will prove to be a big hurdle for expenses. Sure, we can increase prices to try and offset this—and I’m sure we’ll see a lot of businesses doing just that to try and cope—but there is certainly a ceiling for what people are willing to pay for your product or service, especially in a price-conscious market like Spokane.
All in all, I do believe in the future of our industries and the wonderful growth happening here. With innovative local programs like Startup Spokane, ToolBox, and Ignite Northwest, we’re fostering new businesses, which in turn will create new jobs and spur economic development.
One truth remains the same; established businesses and entrepreneurs alike will need to be sure they’re delivering true value with every interaction.
The future holds immense possibility for every one of us to create something great. Now’s the time. So let’s bear down, get a little fire in the belly, and ultimately celebrate our successes. Scotch, anyone?
Tyler Lafferty is an entrepreneur and a principal at Spokane-based digital creative agency Seven2.
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