This month marks Horn Group’s 15 year anniversary. Anything in business that lasts for 15 years is worth writing about. So here goes. On June 4, 1991, I borrowed an office at my father’s venture firm and set about serving my two clients: PeopleSoft, then a $5mm, 50-person company, and Rotoflex, a manufacturer of pump seals that required no lubrication. I had my copy of Bacon’s in tow and a hard-to-use PR database that I bought with my own money. My parents were worried. My father popped his head in all the time. He said my odds at making it were slim. I forged ahead. Clearly PeopleSoft made it, and we enjoyed a long 7 year run with them. We built a franchise of clients around PeopleSoft. I had this idea that the world needed a whole new class of application software and tools to help businesses work better. A hole-in-one. I was a lucky girl. But I learned that you make your own luck.
Some of the things I remember about those early days include my disregard for time tracking programs that capture everyone’s billable hours. We sure left a lot of money on the table back then. I didn’t care and I still don’t. It all comes back to you at some point. Honestly, I wasn’t interested in making a lot of money back then. I just wanted to do a great job for our clients and stay in business. I got emotional. Some times, I didn’t know what I was doing and learned that I had to develop skills in running our business, not just doing the business of our business. I learned that it begins and ends with your people. And I wanted to change the standards by which agencies treat and manage and lead their people: directly, honestly, with compassion and passion. My office used to be called the "Passion Pit" for the excitement and love of our business that I felt and told everyone about everyday. I drove people nuts.
When the Internet came along, we started a 6 year relationship with Commerce One, which marked phase two of our history. What a wild ride those times were. We went all the way up and all the way down. As wonderful as those times were, I also really didn’t care for them. We could have emptied our pockets for our employees and still not kept them. Some agencies had 80% turnover in a year. I was devastated by our 35% turnover. It was all so crazy. The sense of entitlement killed me. Someone actually asked if they could take naps downstairs in our break room. Our employees wanted to work on fun, cool "dot com" business and not the boring enterprise software business. But I had this weird feeling that it was all going to crater. In the end, I think we survived because our business slowly eroded, it didn’t just disappear overnight.
After 9/11 I got this idea that we need to be in New York. That’s probably phase three of Horn Group. It marked a new beginning, a new market, a hot place to be (and I’m not just talking in August). I wanted to be close to Wall Street when the market came back. I wanted to be close to the center of the publishing industry. And I wanted to diversify our talent pool and our portfolio. Today we are working with consumer tech and digital media companies. Everyone’s a whole lot smarter and wiser this time around. We’ve added creative and interactive services to the mix (it’s about 20% of revenues today). We even opened a satellite office in Virginia. I always thought our growth strategy was prudent geographic expansion, services extensions, and new market exploration. With a few exceptions, that’s proven to have been a good strategy.
In total we’ve employed about 250 people. We saw about 50 of them get married, and saw 30 children born into this world. We’ve worked with about 550 companies, and billed out about $85mm over the years. And we’ve billed out about 700,000 hours.
So to all the people who helped build the Horn Group over the last 15 years, and to all those who join us in the years to come, I salute you and I thank you for your passion for our business, for your ideas and for your loyalty, your honesty and conviction, and for building something that most only dream about. And to all the clients who believed in us and stuck with us through thick and through thin, I thank you. Sometimes we made mistakes and slipped. But for the most part, I am proud of the work and the results we have delivered.
They say our business is all about spin. I think that’s a four-letter word. Great PR and communication is about telling the truth. It is such a gift. What will phases four, five and six bring? Who knows! But I surely love waking up everyday and thinking about what’s next. Happy Anniversary Horn Group!