The Via Story
“So, why did you start your business?” As the founder of a small marketing firm, it’s a question I’ve asked business owners countless times over the years. And I’ve always been fascinated by the responses. (Perhaps that’s why I love NPR’s How I Built This podcast.) The answer is rarely to make a ton of money or to “be my own boss.” Rather, their motivation is farther upstream:
“I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I built it.”
As cheesy as it may sound, that’s the Via story, too. In February, 2010, the snow was piling up in central North Carolina, and most of our local team was unable to drive into the office. (It’s true, in the South we have no clue how to drive in the snow. A single flake is sufficient threat to wipe out bread and milk from grocery store shelves and close schools for the better part of a week.) I was sitting at my dining room table, laptop open, watching another inch of snow accumulate outside. As I puzzled over notes from a recent client meeting, it was clear that something was missing. We lacked a common understanding of the marketing plan and supporting projects.
Don’t get me wrong here – we had some phenomenal projects in the works. But, as I watched the team, it occurred to me that the overarching plan lived in a static Word Doc. And on whiteboards. And spreadsheets. And in Basecamp®, a project management tool that’s great for project stuff, but lacked specific marketing functionality we needed. The effort it took to keep all these plates spinning was staggering. As an agency, I felt we had to find a better way.
So, I asked myself, “What would a better system look like? One that focuses on more than just projects and is truly dialed in for marketing teams?” I closed my laptop, found some blank sheets of paper, and I began drawing. All day. Sketch after sketch of dashboards, project boards, media planning tools, and more.
For the next three years, the question continued to intrigue me. So I kept on designing. This became my pet project – the one I returned to late at night and on the weekends. Whenever I had the chance, I’d ask other agencies, as well as in-house marketing teams, what they used for a marketing calendar and project management. I’d get everything from blank stares to groans to animated explanations of rickety systems held together by sheer willpower. I was sufficiently encouraged to keep pursuing my pet project.
Along the way, I would bounce ideas off of friends in the industry, clients, and pretty much anyone who would listen. I’d found a sparring partner in a friend from church who had relocated to Durham, NC, to pursue an MBA from Duke. After yet another breakfast meeting in which I showed him non-functioning screenshots, he said, “So, are you going to keep talking about this, or are you actually going to build it?”
So I found a developer, unloaded a pile of screen designs and notes, and in 2014 had a working prototype. By 2015, my agency was running our client engagements through the platform, and we on-boarded our first paying subscribers (yippee!). In 2016, we expanded the development team, got serious about design, and branded the tool as “Maestro.” In 2017, we on-boarded more customers, developed some agency-focused features, and decided to change the name to Via before going to market. And then we launched – seven years after the first drawing.
So, why the slow road? Why not go faster? There are three reasons:
First, we want to put out a solid product. The MVP approach is valid for many startups, but since the beginning, I have believed that in order for Via to be genuinely worthwhile for a marketing team, the product needed to reach a certain level of maturity before launch. Early users are not lab rats; they are real people with real jobs whose results are influenced by the tools they adopt. For these reasons, we took the patient approach to development and launch. Of course, we have a development backlog of great ideas we’ll implement in the months and years ahead, but the feature set on launch day is solid and useful.
Second, we have bootstrapped the entire development process. We are debt free. We have no outside funding, which means we aren’t concerned with the raft of issues inherent to investor capital. We could have moved faster with quick cash, but, as I mentioned before, speed hasn’t been our top priority. If our brains are cycling on gearing up for the next funding round, we can’t think clearly about the needs of the customer and the implications for the product.
Third, there is simply no better way to vet Via than to use it ourselves over a long period of time. In Via our team has logged thousands and thousands of projects, messages, tasks, events, and time entries. And as we’ve “eaten our own dog food,” we’ve improved the product for internal teams and agencies alike.
So, with the launch of Via, we join the ranks of those hearty souls who bypassed the road less traveled for the road not made. And I’m grateful to the small but mighty army of folks who have marched with me and provisioned the journey: Nathan Mah, Tom Davies, Michael Cruz, Bryan Ickes, Rob McDorman, Ryan Cardwell, Kyle Smith, Chris Kindred, Tanner Record, Sarah Koudelka, Shannon Stephens, Tyler Olson, Brad Walker, Andrei Dumitrascu, Tate Hoxworth, Mike Campbell, Jimmy Thrasher, Kevin Howson, Steve Andrews, my Greensboro C12 Group, and my long-suffering wife, Sheryl Lynch.
Finally, you may be wondering about the significance of the name. “Via” is a Latin word that can be interpreted as “the way” or “path” or “road.” It’s a fitting metaphor for what we’re doing in this marketing calendar and project collaboration tool. The aim is simple: to help marketing teams map their way and be on their way. And while simple, finding the way is an eternal pursuit.
I hope you find your Via enjoyable and rewarding.
Andy Lynch, Founder