Mission: To double the size of his company by the end of 2012 and to seed Idea Rebel branches in creative hubs around the world
Assets: A wealth of creative and technological abilities in the web-technology sector
Yield: A new business model for digital marketing
With his skateboard and plaid shirt, Jamie Garratt, president of Idea Rebel, looks more like he belongs on stage playing guitar for power-pop band Exit This Side than he does in the boardroom of an up-and-coming digital marketing agency.
Wait a minute. Actually, he does play guitar (and sings) in power-pop band Exit This Side, which, incidentally, had a top-40 hit (One Night Stand) in 2009.
The band has an eye-catching website, as one might expect. After all, Garratt’s company specializes in web, mobile and social media campaigns.
It’s the band’s Myspace site, however, that provides an interesting sidebar to Garratt’s story.
In 1998, while still in university, Garratt and his brother, Jason, developed www.expresstunes.com – a social media networking site for musicians. They sold the domain in 2001 and went off to pursue jobs in the high-tech industry.
“Two years later, Myspace popped up,” said Garratt, 33. “I kick myself every once in awhile because we didn’t stick with it. We just didn’t realize what the social part of the Internet was going to do.”
Now he knows. And he’s making up for that miscalculation by riding the social media wave with a vengeance. (Yes, he surfs, too.)
When Facebook came out with branded pages, Garratt saw an opportunity. Idea Rebel developed a content management system that companies could use to manage their branded Facebook pages, including online contests, and then gave it away to clients.
Idea Rebel works like any other advertising or marketing agency, charging clients for coming up with branding and marketing ideas and executing them.
Unlike traditional advertising companies, however, Idea Rebel doesn’t do radio, TV or print campaigns. It focuses strictly on web, mobile and social media.
With just 15 employees, Idea Rebel is tiny compared with most advertising and marketing agencies. But there’s a key advantage to being so small: it can get things done quickly and for much lower costs.
“We delivered our first Facebook integrated campaign within, like, three weeks, where some companies were just beginning to understand what that was,” Garratt said.
Born in Toronto, Garratt moved to North Vancouver with his parents when he was 16 and later attended the University of British Columbia, where he started out studying commerce. But he switched to computer science, when he saw what the dot-com sector was doing.
His first job was with Top Producer Systems, which made real estate software. He was later recruited by digital marketing agency Blast Radius. Garratt started in quality and assurance but ended up in business development, where he excelled.
“He’s very business savvy,” said David Rossellat, who worked with Garratt at Blast Radius and now works for Electronic Arts (EA) as director of web publishing.
“He understands the bottom line. It’s not just coming up with the next cool thing – it’s also understanding how to turn that next cool thing into a profitable venture.”
In 2007, Garratt left Blast Radius after the company was bought out by WPP Group plc and in 2008 co-founded Idea Rebel with two other Blast Radius alumni: Aimee Croteau (creative director) and Neil Hayes (vice-president of operations).
“I always wanted to start my own little agency,” Garratt said, “and it was perfect timing for it.”
They worked out of Garratt’s apartment until the company had enough cash flow to move into its current office in Gastown and start hiring.
That approach is fundamental to Garratt’s business philosophy.
“We won’t grow beyond the means of what we can provide [through revenue],” Garratt said. “This business has been profitable since Day 1.”
The company is on track to generate revenue of between $1.6 million and $2 million this year. Garratt said it hopes to double that number in 2012.
In its first year, the small and agile Idea Rebel launched 25 social media campaigns for clients and has gotten all of its work through word of mouth and the Internet.
Idea Rebel landed a major account when EA Sports hired it to come up with Facebook fanpage campaigns for some of its console games, including FIFA, NHL 12 and Madden 12. EA Sports’ Facebook fanpage boasts roughly 13 million fans.
More recently, Idea Rebel landed a contract to handle the PGA Tour’s Facebook campaign. It will also soon launch a new app for RE/MAX that allows smartphone users to scan a house or neighbourhood they like and get instant access to real estate listings and photos of homes for sale in that area.
Attracting and keeping young, creative talent is a challenge for some smaller companies, but Garratt said he has had no problem attracting talented young employees. One of the attractions is the work environment.
“We have a very cool work environment, ” Garratt said. “It’s very collaborative, very creative. We have sexy clients; we have sexy work.”
Idea Rebel’s boardroom is dominated by a ping-pong table, and on Fridays, someone makes a beer run.
Garratt is serious about maintaining a small environmental footprint, so none of his employees drive to work – they all ride bikes or take public transit – and the office is entirely paperless. There is no fax machine, photocopier, printer or snail mail.
Garratt’s plans to expand Idea Rebel are also somewhat unorthodox.
Because clients like to work with local companies, and because he believes a small, lean operation is best, he plans to seed Idea Rebel in key cities around the world with “pods” of less than 40 employees.
The expansion may require venture capital or partnerships, said Garratt, who is busy working on the launch of the first Idea Rebel branch in Santa Monica.