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For more information visit Blue Pony's website at www.bluepony.com.
The most common question the team at Blue Pony receives when people learn about the business is, “So what exactly do you do?”
In some ways, for owner Joel Nichols and creative director Nathan Grepke, it's not a very easy question to answer. For the team at Blue Pony, they are all about showing people what they do, not telling. They are, after all, a multimedia and digital content company, but, in many ways, they are more than that.
In short, Blue Pony is a team of creative artists and tech gurus that make multimedia magic in the form of motion graphics, 3D projection mapping, animation and more. Boasting an impressive list of clients such as Disney Japan, Caesars Palace, AT&T, Wargaming.com, Biomet and more, the company provides signs, branding, video production, graphic design and a personal Midwestern touch. While they deal with many large companies, they also have local clients as well, including engine and generator maker Cummins, handbag and accessory designer Vera Bradley, Three Rivers Federal Credit Union and Concordia Lutheran Schools, where both men attended school.
This year the company is celebrating 10 years of business. Making it through the Great Recession and adapting to the lightening-speed technology changes, Blue Pony is seeing more success than ever before, and the business is continuing to evolve.
How Nichols and Grepke came up with the concept of the business is a mix of pure genius and serendipity.
Nichols is an entrepreneur by nature and is driven by challenging the status quo along with his knack for looking at the world differently. He owns multiple companies, including Apollo Design, an entertainment lighting company that he and his wife, Keersten, started in 1992, as well as Blue Pony.
Grepke started working with Nichols during the inception of the business 10 years ago. An intern at the time, Nichols called up Grepke on a whim with an idea – starting a digital sign business.
Remember, this was 10 years ago where digital signs were really gaining momentum. Restaurants where changing menu signs to digital instead of analog text, billboards were flashing bold words rather than static lettering. The world was changing, and Nichols knew it, thanks to his experience in the entertainment lighting business through Apollo.
What started off as an informal brainstorming phone call turned into a business that now serves multiple-billion-dollar international corporate clients.
It wasn't just all rainbows and clear skies at first. Like any start-up, the duo had to find their niche, and that was in corporate America.
“We found that the digital signage industry, especially corporate, has a lot of support and content needs for a variety of products. That's where we were targeting and that's really where our growth has been over the last 10 years. Corporate America has these middle-manager-level people who are 40-plus years old, and somebody says, 'We have to look young, we have to look digital, we have to know what we are doing,' and then they call us,” he said.
And corporate America wants top-notch, quality work with a quick turnaround, which always poses a challenge for the small, tight-knit team.
“Our favorite phone call is when a client says, 'I have to impress a bunch of people in a presentation in 14 days,' or they call and say, 'I just got done watching the movie “Iron Man,” and I want to do what I saw in “Iron Man.”' We sometimes have to talk them off the ledge a little bit, but we can often figure out a creative solution,” Grepke said.
Of course for Grepke, "creative' is the business's best word to throw around as well as its bread and butter, thanks to the expert team they've gathered.
Grepke and Nichols took much time and consideration to build their team of 11 people. Many of the team members are Fort Wayne natives, and include graduates of University of Saint Francis, known for its graphic design program.
One employee, Talitha Benner, loves to doodle, illustrate and create characters. She has even published a children's book. Another employee, Brandon Geisel, is touted by his bosses as a person with an incredible eye for detail and is a pro at sketching concepts for clients.
Grepke often hears recent graduates admit they thought they'd have to move to California or New York to get a job in the industry, but Fort Wayne's little “sleeper-cell,” as they sometime call it, surprises not only prospective employees, but also clients.
“We are a hidden gem here in the Midwest, and we could rival any East or West coast creative agency that does similar work. But we just want to continue to be that shining Midwest creative agency. With the creative talent and experience with technology, we can leverage our talents to find way to create a recurring revenue stream or inventing our own product. It'll be fun to see how we grow in the next few years,” he said.
And that recurring revenue stream is key, and will be important for the next 10 years of business, too. Both Nichols and Grepke agree that soon the world – both corporate and personal – will be able to use technology themselves. So the goal in the next few years is to develop a recurring revenue stream. Maybe it's a sweet mix of hardware and software combined with their already developed business and client base, but it's, obviously, hard to predict the future.
“There's two drives for Blue Pony. Drive one is to continuing doing what we are doing, which is high-end digital services and content and at the same time we are going to start to create a new revenue model for generic apps or something. We think we can have a nice five-year run on this high-end digital content, then we think the competition will get bigger and the ad agencies will wake up and get more people on their staff. So if we can figure out a return revenue model stream that's a combination of hardware and software (then) not only do we have the services we also have some neat additions that can bring the services altogether,” Nichols said.
No matter what, focusing on the creative work to supplement the technological skills is what makes Blue Pony what it is.
“As technology continues to move faster and change, that becomes a challenge because it is empowering more people to do the stuff that we do themselves, but honestly I am not concerned about it because I know that the weight we put on the creative process makes us unique,” Nichols said.