Marc Reifenrath is co-founder and president of Spinutech, one of the Midwest’s largest all-digital agencies. Our team of over 65 serves clients in all 50 states and 10 countries. We have three locations (Chicago, Des Moines, IA & Cedar Falls, IA). When we started in 2000, we were only a web design and development shop. Over the past six years, we have evolved into a digital marketing agency. In the past four to five years, we have seen rapid growth as a result of the transition from traditional ad spend to digital spend. In 2018, we were named to the Inc. 5000 list (#2045). Marc lives in Parkersburg, IA with his wife, three children, and their dog.
How did the concept for Spinutech come about?
I was a junior in college at the University of Northern Iowa. A couple friends and I were doing web design on the side for some smaller projects. We got to talking about making this a legitimate business and jumped in. That was in 2000 and the business climate was not great; the dot com bubble had just burst, but we were too young and naive to let that stop us.
How was the first year in business?
The first year was pretty wild. We built our own content management system, which back then was a huge deal, and tried to get new clients any way we could. We joined the local chamber and attended various events. We got lucky and won a large hospital in our area as an account. Nineteen years later, they are still a client! I literally got a call on my Nokia 5190 during class from that client and I thought my friends were pranking me.
We went from working in our college apartments to getting our first official office, which was an old medical exam room. Basically, we had one very small room in the back of a converted medical building. I think we paid $100 per month for that space and we thought it was the best!
What was your marketing strategy?
Aside from joining the local chamber, we also started to forge relationships with traditional agencies that we knew were struggling to make the conversion to digital. This worked well and helped us land some great partnerships and clients. We also played up the fact that we were from the Midwest and touted “Outsource to Iowa” to clients on the coasts. Outsourcing was a big topic in the early 2000’s and we played that up.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
Growth was strong the first few years, but relatively speaking, it wasn’t anything too crazy. Our first two years, we more than doubled revenue each year, and then from year’s three through five, we hit around 50% growth.
How do you define success?
Society likes to define success around money. We choose to define success by having a great culture with a happy team and clients. We made it ten years with zero turnover and still have four of our original team members. We also tend to have long-standing partnerships with our clients. Many we have worked with for five, ten, or even fifteen years. This is very uncommon in our space, but something we take great pride in.
What is the key to success?
It’s all about our people and culture. The team we have is amazing and we have to continue to foster that. We are only as good as the team we have and creating opportunities for growth and getting better every day is something we put a high value on.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
Trust your gut! Too many times to count we have had a feeling about something and didn’t trust our gut. Over time, you get more confident in that trust and can make better decisions based on that.
What are some quotes that you live by?
We push the idea of getting better every day with our team. That means you personally get better, you push those around you to get better, and you make our clients better. So it’s more of a hashtag than anything else for us (#GetBetterEveryDay).
That is how I close every internal email to the team and it is often shared with our clients.
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
My toughest days are when things happen to team members, most likely in their personal lives. It is an honor and privilege to lead a team, and with that, you get to know intimate details of many peoples’ lives. This can be very exciting things like getting pregnant or married. It can also be health problems, personal problems, death, and more. Those days are tough ones.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I like to win. Winners don’t quit. I fear failure so much that it isn’t an option. I never want to disappoint the team or my partners. This creates a drive to succeed and figure things out. I would also say that we are pretty laid back and handle the swings without letting our emotions get in the way of good decision-making.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
You have to be all in. It doesn’t matter what you are selling or building, if you are not 100% all in and passionate about making it work, it simply won’t work. Your number one goal, in the beginning, needs to be around driving sales. Without sales, you don’t have a business. I like to say a good idea isn’t good until it is profitable. I have lots of ideas but only a few are good ideas. So don’t bet the farm on an idea – make sure it can be a great idea!
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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