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.)
Some of the common responses have been:
- I wanted to be my own boss, set my own hours. (This one always gives me a chuckle.)
- I wanted to make more money. (Understood.)
- Someone told me it couldn’t be done, so I decided to prove them wrong. (Admirable.)
- I sorta fell into it. (It happens.)
My favorite answer is one that starts a bit 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. I was sitting at my dining room table, laptop open, watching another inch of snow accumulate on the front lawn. I had been reviewing notes in our project management system but was growing increasingly frustrated by having to cross-reference spreadsheets, docs, and other software to get the full picture of what was going on and where we stood. At the time, my firm was using a simple, widely-adopted project management tool. It was easy to use. Simple. Intuitive. And limited. It was great when we were first getting serious about workflow management, but we were in a different place. And simple was…well, too simple. You could use this tool to build a website or plan a wedding. It wasn’t dialed in for the realities of a growing marketing firm.
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. Into the evening. And through the weekend. 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. 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 painful groans to animated explanations of rickety, disparate systems held together by APIs and sheer willpower. I was sufficiently encouraged to keep sketching.
Along the way, I bounced ideas off of industry peers, 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 onboarded our first paying subscribers (yippee!). And you know what happened next? We kept developing the features we wanted to use. And that’s what we’ve been doing ever since.
No, we aren’t pushing to add subscribers. No, we haven’t taken on investors. No, we aren’t planning to take over the agency world and become the system of record for the industry.
But we do believe the agency world needs a purpose-built option, and we build every feature with other agencies in mind. And who knows where this endeavor will take us? My hope is we find a few other believers who are tired of finicky APIs and general all-in-one software that doesn’t feel like home. If this sounds like you, drop me a note.
Finally, you may be wondering about the significance of the name. “Via” is a Latin word that can be translated as “the way” or “path” or “road.” It’s a fitting metaphor for our ambitions. 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.
Founder, Sketcher, Believer