Sramana Mitra: Let me start driving you towards the entrepreneur journey story. When you decided to launch this, who developed the software? How did you finance the software development and getting to a product?
The idea came from a particular client situation where you experienced this problem. You have an understanding of the pain point. But how did you get yourself off the ground?
Kevin Groome: It’s all down to a very young man who had built my first serves. We were just beginning to build web apps and websites for clients. We built our own hosting facility from scratch. This young man who built this DevOps environment for me would send me invoices from time to time. He was from Oregon. He has a fascinating story.
Just before I went to that meeting, I had received an invoice from him. I called him up and said, “David, this is the nicest looking invoice I have seen. How is it that you have built this?” He said, “I put together tools because I hated all the output that we would get from accounting systems at that time. I built my own little tool. It allows me to control things from a graphic design perspective more easily.”
I realized that we can have something like a design tool on the web. As I got out of that meeting, I went to David. We decided to build this tool. He wrote it. I tested it. I’d break it, and he’d fix it. David worked the core technology and we had another developer to work the front end. He had been with me for almost six years and actually worked in C.
Together, we built this website. Lo and behold, it worked. This was about 1998. There were only a couple of people who were trying to do this. We were early. I began to see that this wasn’t just a project; this could be a company in its own right. We began to think that way. The three of us began to think that way. We didn’t incorporate until 2001 though.
Sramana Mitra: The three of you continued to work on this while you kept your jobs?
Kevin Groome: The software started with one customer in the tail-end of 1998. Then we won two more significant customers in 1999. Then in 2001, we began to have conversations with our greatest client Marriott. When we began to approach them, we realized that this is a substantial size that we wanted the entity to be separate. That’s when we spun it off in 2001.
Sramana Mitra: You spun it off in 2001 as a separate company. Did you and your two co-founders start working full-time in this company?
Kevin Groome: The agency began to take its own course from 2001 to 2005. It ultimately was folded into another shop. Pica9 was standalone from about 2002 onward. We were dividing our focus in those early years. Pica9 was just mesmerizing. Clients were looking for us.
In the advertising business, you have 20,000 competitors just in the United States alone. In what we were doing, there were just a handful of folks. Folks would come and find us. Our website was the number one lead generator. I never really did outbound sales. I just answered inquiries.
Sramana Mitra: You were doing all this out of New York?
Kevin Groome: Yes.