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 get.
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.
About three 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 1991.
At that 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 community.
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 ride.
Our conversation continues here.
This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping