Kevin Groome, Founder of Pica9, has done an excellent job of bootstrapping his tech company without a tech background. Inspiring story for many in his shoes.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s
start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you
born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Kevin Groome: I grew up in
Princeton, New Jersey. I went to school there. I had the good fortune, in those
early years, to be around a bunch of people who weren’t famous at that time but
went on to be very famous. I went to History class with Jeff Bezos. I went to
English Literature class with Michelle Obama, and I even went to acting class
with Brooke Shields.
Sramana Mitra: Are you
in touch with any of them?
Kevin Groome: No, unfortunately for
me. However, one thing that I noticed about all those folks, who didn’t just
grow a small or mid-sized business, is how much they care about individuals.
How they devote time to individuals? You see that. This is true across leaders
in advertising, manufacturing, and healthcare. I found them very approachable.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s
come back to your story. What happens after you get out of Princeton? What did
you study in Princeton?
Kevin Groome: I studied English
Literature and Theater. I was as far away from technology as you could possibly
Sramana Mitra: I
actually love both literature and theater. I am a computer scientist by
training, but I have a deep affinity for literature and theater.
Kevin Groome: If I had a skill that
I could offer to employers when I was young, it would probably be that I could
string words together pretty well. I moved as far away from the East Coast as I
could get without leaving America.
I ended up
in San Francisco back in the mid 1980’s as a writer. The technology companies
were in desperate need of writers to try and simplify complex stories and to
tell those stories in a way that was consumable.
months after I graduated, I got my first writing assignment from a software
company. That’s where my first business took off. It was all happenstance by
applying the skill I identified I have to the needs of a community of customers
who didn’t really have a lot of writers. Technology seems a little bit nerdy.
Maybe it wasn’t quite fashionable. You wouldn’t see the great creatives in
technology at that time. You would find, instead, a lot of opportunity. That’s
where I grew my business within the first five or six years of my career.
We ended up
creating a marketing communications practice that just specialized in high
technology and had a blue-chip client list by the time we rolled around in
point, I got married. I got married to about a classic humanities person. That
adventure took me back to New York. That’s where I merged my company with an
advertising agency. We created one of the high tech specialists in the New York
Sramana Mitra: What
year does this bring us up to?
Kevin Groome: That gets us up to
1993. The agency is now working only with high technology clients. We became
known as W&G Advertising. We grew that marketing communications and
advertising practice. By about 1997, we were in the top 20 high-tech advertising
agencies in the US.
We picked a
niche, and we stuck to it. New York, of course, is a wonderful place to get
advertising clients. We decided to forego the general and focus on high tech.
It worked quite well. We did get known for getting what software and hardware
companies are trying to say, and who they’re trying to say it to.
Some of our
clients included a wonderful organization called Cheyenne Software. They became
a part of Computer Associates. The mergers and acquisitions pulled us up the
funnel. By 1997, we were one of the top 20 in our category. It was an exciting