3/24/2015 - Editor's Note: In the Start Me Up series, the Kellogg School spotlights young members of the Kellogg community who are bringing bold entrepreneurial visions to life.
On Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, David Rasho ’07 met up with seven of his former colleagues at Chicago’s Rock Bottom brewery to clink glasses.
There was a lot to celebrate: The eight, who had been working together at Leo Burnett, were officially launching their new venture — access2insight
(a2i), a company specializing in the design and implementation of data-driven marketing strategies.
The next morning, the team received some sobering news. Leo Burnett was filing a lawsuit against them, citing a breach of agreements, among other things.
Rasho recognized what the lawsuit would mean for a2i — “considerable legal fees, a delay in business development efforts and a strain on the balance sheet,” he says. “But we viewed the situation as the price for our independence, and we made the best of it.”
That decision paid off. Within two months, the litigation was resolved. Within six months, the company was working with several big clients and breaking even. Since then, a2i has been profitable every month and has recouped all of its initial losses.
Strength in numbers
The company has since maintained its momentum, today boasting a client roster that includes the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, Trunk Club, Anytime Fitness, and several retail, travel and health care companies. It’s also actively hiring.
Given the high rate of failure among startups, that raises a question: How has this company, despite its tumultuous start, managed to grow?
For one, a2i launched as a joint venture with an ideal partner — Biggs|Gilmore, a Kalamazoo, Michigan-based digital agency that needed a2i’s expertise to fill a recognized gap in its offerings. As part of that agreement, Biggs|Gilmore supplied a2i with capital, infrastructure and an initial scope of work for Kimberly-Clark.
The eight-member team also brought a strong and unique skillset to the fast-growing field of data analytics. Three of the cofounders had decades of experience helping companies leverage data to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their marketing strategies. In addition, the entire team was adept at serving industries, such as CPG, that had historically underutilized individual-level data in their marketing.
They were also skilled at applying tried-and-true analytics practices to emerging digital channels (e.g., using individual-level data from websites or mobile apps to drive marketing decisions).
“There’s often a lot of lofty talk around marketing strategies and consumer behavior,” Rasho says. “We get quickly into ‘How is this going to work?’ That’s a unique mindset. We’re relentlessly focused on adding value. And for an idea to add value, it has to be actionable.”
Using the network
Rasho says Kellogg also helped make a2i what it is today.
On his admissions application to Kellogg’s One-Year Program, Rasho articulated his vision for the company, writing in an essay about how much he enjoyed working for an analytics firm and ultimately wanted to own and build one. “I thought that Kellogg was a perfect place [to prepare for that goal] from the standpoint of expanding my network and rounding out my knowledge base,” says Rasho, who majored in entrepreneurship and marketing.
Later, after launching a2i, “I used the Kellogg network very heavily to get advice … and to build our new business pipeline,” says Rasho. “People I had never met were extremely open and helpful, and two good-sized client relationships stemmed from that outreach.”
The skills he developed through his negotiations and entrepreneurial finance courses also came in handy in late 2013, when Biggs|Gilmore was suddenly bought by a larger agency, VML. While that shift in ownership could have created complications for a2i, Rasho led the renegotiation of the company’s operating agreement and helped cultivate what’s now a mutually beneficial partnership.
“You have to make the best of any situation,” he says. “We’ve been pretty good about turning what we’ve faced into something advantageous.”
Read more in the Start Me Up Series: