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Bootstrapping a Tech Company by an English Major: Kevin Groome, Founder of Pica9 (Part 2)

Posted on Tuesday, Nov 19th 2019

Sramana Mitra: How long did you stay in that advertising agency?

Kevin Groome: In 1998, I began to make a transition. There were two reasons why. One was we began to see that the advertising business was shifting. Even then, we could feel that the advertising industry’s old model, which was formed in the 60’s, was beginning to change.

I began looking for a way to create a company whose primary assets didn’t necessarily walk out the door every night. In the advertising business, the talent is everything. We tried to take what we knew about the business and looked for a way to codify it.

The second part of that was, I was fascinated by the process of building software. I’ve been around software engineers. I was eager to try my hand at it myself. We stuck to what we knew, which was the advertising creative production.

We created the product before we created the company. It happened in a very interesting way. The software grew out of a singular moment. I can point back to the moment when Pica9 was born. I was in a meeting with a client who faced a somewhat tense situation with her boss. It was in that meeting that the idea for Pica9 was born.

Sramana Mitra: This is your current company.

Kevin Groome: Yes. Pica is a measurement. There are six picas in an inch. It’s a measurement that has been used almost exclusively in the graphic design community.

We named the company Pica9 because it spoke to a very specific problem that advertising production studios have when they try to build difficult-to-size ads.

I was working with one of the larger technology consultancies, Ernst & Young. I was working with one of their senior marketing leaders. We were investigating a creative brief.

The CEO came into the room unannounced with two copies of an old magazine, Computer World. There were two ads on two different pages but both from the same company. They were different colors and different typefaces. They had different facts about the company. It was, in a word, embarrassing. The CEO had this French accent. He threw the two books on the desk and said, “We have to fix this or I have to fix you.” Then he left.

My client at that time said to me, “What do you think we should do?” It was at that moment when I realized that I had the tools to solve the problem. I had the technology tools to solve the problem of brand compliance across a large distributed organization.

About two weeks later, we came back with some mockups. About two weeks after that, we had a Frankenstein-like proof of concept. About a month or two after that, we rolled it out to a very small community of recruitment advertisers. Things began to roll.

We began to learn what it meant to be a software company. I was completely hooked. It was an intellectual challenge I’d never faced before and an organizational challenge of a completely different kind. It was a lot of fun.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Bootstrapping a Tech Company by an English Major: Kevin Groome, Founder of Pica9
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