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Executives: Jarad Johnson, president; Lucy Howell, director of client strategy; and Spencer Harris, director of operationsEmployees: 12 full time, 1 contractedServices: Web design and development, digital marketingFounded: 2010
SBJ photo by Jessica Rosa

Executives: Jarad Johnson, president; Lucy Howell, director of client strategy; and Spencer Harris, director of operations
Employees: 12 full time, 1 contracted
Services: Web design and development, digital marketing
Founded: 2010

2019 W. Curtis Strube Small Business Award Winner: Mostly Serious

Winning with Grit

Posted online

In the lifespan of Mostly Serious LLC, founder and President Jarad Johnson said he identifies four versions of the digital web development and marketing agency.

“It all comes back to an evolutionary approach to things,” he said. “We think the best way to learn is to make mistakes.”

Its first phase began in Johnson’s spare bedroom of his Rountree neighborhood home in 2010. Meetings were held at The Coffee Ethic, and the culture was rooted in transparency, flexibility and quality work.

“We thought that there was a better way to build a company where the focus was on constant improvement and a more modern effective workplace to adjust to how people work today,” Johnson said. “People would want to work here not because it was easy, but because it was hard.”

Nine years later, its fourth, and current, phase began two years ago when the company hired consultant Spencer Harris as its director of operations.

“Things were not working the way we wanted them to work. … We wanted to create radical clarity around where we wanted to go and who we wanted to be,” Harris said. “We sat down and really thoroughly defined our core values so that we could clearly articulate what we wanted to look like.”

That strategic visioning led to two years of roughly 40% annual revenue growth and on May 8 landed Mostly Serious on the stage of the Oasis Hotel & Convention Center to accept the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2019 W. Curtis Strube Small Business Award.

“I’m just as surprised as you are,” Johnson told the crowd of hundreds gathered as his Mostly Serious team of 12 took the stage. “It was hard to imagine this moment nine years ago when we started the company. … We are immensely proud and honored to share this award.”

Business evolution
Johnson said the Mostly Serious journey included losing staff members, cutting roughly 10 products and tough conversations about the needs for the company to thrive. But its leaders say the team was driven by a value that Johnson calls the “undercurrent of everything we do.” It’s grit.

Grit was the final addition to the core values of accountability, integrity, devotion, collaboration and community that were established when Harris joined the company.

“When something has to get done or we have to get better, we need whatever that is inside someone to say, ‘OK, I’m going to go harder than I’ve gone on this to get it done,’” Harris said.

The team, including one contracted employee, will soon grow as the company seeks to hire its 13th full-time staffer and plans to add up to two more employees this year, Harris said.

The digital agency has 29 clients, including its first client Holloway America. Johnson said others are Burrell Behavioral Health, CoxHealth, Community Foundation of the Ozarks and Associated Electric Cooperative Inc.

Many clients have been with the company for years, Johnson said, but that’s not because of a binding contract. The company operates on a month-to-month basis, which he said ensures clients stick with Mostly Serious because they believe in the product.

With each client, the team starts a relationship with research and strategy sessions.

“We look at what are you trying to accomplish as a business and then what is your budget that you want to invest right now and how can we maximize the value,” Johnson said. “We build a lot of trust early on. We understand their business. Oftentimes, we’re like another team member to them.”

Harris said Mostly Serious provides custom websites, marketing plans, social media content and strategy, content creation and email marketing. Recently, leadership hired Joe Camden as video and motion producer, adding another product to its roster.

“Video and motion, to us, isn’t just about a local commercial – although we will do those. It’s more about how it integrates from end to end,” Johnson said. “As we’re thinking about a new website, how can we use video and animation to push the objectives of that website or application and make it fully integrated.”

New home
After three years at 334 E. Walnut St., above Maes Gelateria downtown, Mostly Serious relocated in October 2018 to Galloway Village.

The move to the 4,500-square-foot building at 4064 S. Lone Pine Ave. added over 2,000 square feet to Mostly Serious’ office space.

“We started to notice people were working from home more often, which is totally fine, but they were going to back rooms and coffee shops,” Harris said of the limited space at Mostly Serious’ downtown office.

“We have this bay setup, which is great because it keeps the open office feel … but if you put your headphones on and you’re looking at one of your bay walls, you’d never know anyone else was in the office.”

There are no personal offices at Mostly Serious. It’s a cultural thing – as well as for creativity and collaboration, Johnson said.

“There’s no throne at Mostly Serious,” he said.

Johnson said supporting team members professionally and personally is a longstanding priority.

“The most productive people are healthy outside of the office,” he said.

Mostly Serious pays for all of employees’ health premiums, offers individual retirement accounts and unlimited vacation days – with a requirement that employees take at least a week off each year.

“It’s probably the most difficult problem we’ve had to solve is to provide the level of flexibility and freedom that we have here while maintaining the quality of work,” he said.

“How we’ve come to solve that is having very honest, open, consistent and direct conversations about performance and what we need people to be able to be doing.”

Harris said the award from the chamber was a big win for the team after years of hard work.

“A number of our team members went through what we consider a transition period with the company. Things got really tough culturally and operationally,” he said. “It’s crazy how meaningful this has been to the team.”

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