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Paul Ebisch, left, and Kurt Theobald
SBJ file photo
Paul Ebisch, left, and Kurt Theobald

From Dream to Day Job: Classy Llama Studios LLC

Risk to Reward

Posted online

Kurt Theobald never wanted to start what is today known as Classy Llama Studios LLC.

“It was actually the tenth in a series of startups that failed,” he said. “Except this one didn’t.”

Theobald picked up some work from a web agency on the side out of desperation.

“He was offering us paid work, and there was no money coming from anywhere,” he recalled.

The company operated as a subcontractor for web-based services out of a garage transformed into an office. In 2009, as Theobald became the company’s full-time CEO, Classy Llama lost a contract that represented 80 percent of its business.

He said leadership could either cut their losses or shift the business model to provide e-commerce services directly to consumers.

He said being a serial entrepreneur with a laundry list of failed businesses and personal lows, including filing for bankruptcy at 21 years old, gave him a “certain degree of immunity in the face of failure.”

“What have we got to lose?” he said he asked the team.

It worked. Theobald said Classy Llama quickly was inundated with jobs and “within a month, we knew we were going to be OK.”

From that garage office, Classy Llama has grown into a company with $8 million in annual revenue, and it recently moved into a 34,000-square-foot headquarters in Chesterfield Village. The company provides e-commerce website development, marketing and digital consulting services.

For Theobald, embracing his leadership role took personal growth.

He said from the age of 19, he felt God tell him he was meant to be an entrepreneur. That meant if he failed at one business, he should move to the next.

“It made it impossible to stop,” he said. “At some point the chemistry gets right and you get the chemical reaction you’re looking for.”

Even as the company grew, Theobald admitted he didn’t feel connected to e-commerce. In 2011, something shifted.

“I was expressing myself to God and I was telling him, ‘I hate this. I want to sell’” he said. The response he heard: “You’ll never get another team to play at an Olympic level because you didn’t get this team to play an Olympic level.”

“How do I argue with that?”

Theobald said he now views Classy Llama as a foundation.

Among his 60 employees, Theobald focuses on developing leaders rather than results – and that’s where company growth comes. Although there isn’t a hard target, he anticipates the company will grow 100 employees with annual revenue of $15-$20 million in the next three years.

“Most leaders focus on producing results,” Theobald said. “Llama leaders focus on teams that produce results.”

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