Many of the skills that serial entrepreneur Steve Rio knows, he taught himself – from learning HTML coding for websites in the early years of this century to how to set up a branding and digital marketing agency that has workers in 25 cities around the world.
His first venture, 604media, was a digital agency that he founded while he was in his 20s, with friend Kelly Walker. Much of his time, particularly when he was in his early 20s, he spent in the music industry. He managed and led four different musical projects that ranged from hip hop to metal to jazz to funk-fusion.
In 2009, he gave his share of the business to Walker and created a new digital marketing agency, Briteweb, which was aimed solely at working for social-impact organizations, non-profit companies and foundations.
Rio also founded the Emerging Arts Foundation, a federally registered non-profit focused on funding projects like the Cheaper Show. That foundation raised more than $300,000 in its first year to support initiatives for emerging artists in Vancouver and across Canada.
His big break with Briteweb, which is his main enterprise, came in 2011 when he did some work for global non-profit organization Acumen in New York. Shortly afterward came work from another New York organization: the Rockefeller Foundation.
“Within a year of that first big project in New York, more than 80% of our revenue was from New York,” he said. “At one point, it was more like 97% of our revenue was from New York.”
The new contracts helped him double his workforce to eight employees while tripling his annual revenue into the seven digits.
Last year, Briteweb generated $2.6 million in revenue. It has 20 full-time employees and a network of 80 people who are on contract and are commissioned for projects.
“The most interesting thing about our growth in the past couple years has been our shift to a new model – a future-of-work model,” he said, adding that the company’s workers are “fully distributed” in 25 cities around the world.
Where you live now: Bowen Island/Brooklyn
Highest level of education: Jazz school dropout
Currently reading: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger
Currently listening to: Victory Lap by Nipsey Hussle
When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up: Rock star
Profession you would most like to try: Architect or lawyer
Toughest business or professional decision: Choosing Bowen Island over Brooklyn as my central residence, and accepting that the increased quality of life and balance would come with slower business growth
Advice you would give the younger you: (1) See your alternative path into entrepreneurship as a gift, not something to be embarrassed about. (2) Seek out mentors; someone has done everything you’re trying to do – you don’t need to do it alone
What’s left to do: There is so much, it’s hard to answer this question. In the immediate future, it’s helping people regain a sense of purpose, performance and wellness with their work through my new company, Nature of Work
Join us to celebrate the 2018 Forty under under 40 Awards January 24, 2019, at the Vancouver Convention Centre. For tickets and event info visit https://www.biv.com/forty-under-40