A conversation between Jason Cormier, co-founder, Room 214 and Gauri Thergaonkar, ZingTrain Community Builder
GT: Tell us a little bit about your business
Jason Cormier (Room 214 Co-founder): Room 214 is a digital marketing and social media agency that helps companies connect with the people that matter most to them – from new leads to current customers and industry influencers.
My best friend and business partner, James Clark, and I started the company in 2004. His background, starting from the mid 90’s, was public relations and mine was web development. We actually went to high school together and eventually were dorm roommates our freshman year in college at Colorado State. Can you guess the room number?
James and I had a unique opportunity to be partners in a previous start-up company with three others in 2003. Our job was to build the brand and reputation of this new company, in addition to driving leads and sales. James and I were experimenting with how online content was getting indexed in search engines at that time. We had also taken a huge interest in Google’s new Adwords advertising platform – and developed a system for generating tons of leads via the web.
In the end, the collective partnership and business model wasn’t sustainable, but James and I realized we could take what we learned and apply it for almost any company interested in using the Internet to grow their business.
Room 214 was born the following year, and by the time the phrase “social media” was being kicked around in 2006, we were already knee-deep in it with podcasting, blog development and YouTube. By 2007, with only five employees, we were the fastest growing company in Colorado.
Today, we have around 30 employees. Although we’ve had our fair share of challenges – we’ve stayed clear from outside funding, and have enjoyed annual profitability since we started.
GT: How did you hear about Zingtrain and what was it that you heard that made you want to come to a seminar?
JC: We heard about Zingtrain from a close friend and trusted advisor to our agency, Bill Flagg. Bill has had some great business success over the years, and is invested in many local (Boulder) companies through his company – The Felix Fund (He changed its name to Felix Fun! after coming to a ZingTrain seminar!)
He’s the kind of guy who actively pursues bettering himself as a businessman and individual. When he goes to a seminar or event, his advice might be something like, yea – just buy the book… or look at the PDF summary they put together. In the case of his experience with Zingtrain, he told us “you just have to go.”
This was last year (2012), and to be honest with you James and I were feeling like the business was in a rut. The same opportunities were present, but we were feeling like we were on a treadmill. As a business owner, it’s never a good sign when you dread coming back to work from a vacation. Both of us were lacking in our excitement – and knew we needed to seriously shake things up if we were going to keep it real. Essentially, we needed a vision.
GT: What Seminar did you Come to?
JC: First, four of us attended the taster seminar – The Zingerman’s Experience. Then we followed up a couple months later to attend the Fun, Flavorful Finance seminar which is all about Open Book Management.
GT: What did you think about those seminars?
JC: All we could focus on was how quickly we could get the hell out of Michigan so we could begin to actually implement everything we were learning. Those seminars were true game changers for our agency, unlike anything we’ve experienced in the eight years we’ve been in business.
GT: What happened next?
JC: We went all in with open book management, starting with the creation of our own 5-week training program (2 hours per week) to get every employee up to speed on what we had learned. We created a 2020 vision for the agency, and had all our employees participate in creating shorter-term visions specific to their business units.
The rubber met the road on “214 Day” (February 14), when we had our first weekly, agency-wide huddle that included our monthly scoreboard with designated line owners. We developed a 6-month plan to begin with, and are soon to engage in similar plan building to cover the remainder of this year. Our first full annual plan will be developed later this year for 2014.
GT: What do you think people should know about Zingtrain and Zingerman’s?
One thing that really sticks in the minds of all who attended the Zingtrain seminars from Room 214 is that we actually got to see how the principles were being applied in real businesses (the Zingerman’s Commnity of Businesses). I think that is a huge part of why Bill said you just have to go.
It’s one thing to sit in a great training seminar and get inspired, but there is an entirely different value that comes with touring businesses, observing real practices and talking to people that actually work within the model you are learning about in real time. That’s powerful.
Another thought that comes to mind is the eye-opening experience these seminars facilitate. When you see and learn about how things could be done, compared to how your company is doing them now, you get a jolt of awareness that compels you to act.
Of course, there are similar attributes like any other incredible training experience. Once you leave, it’s up to you to make things happen — whether that’s dragging your boss to the next Zingtrain seminar or dragging your employees to internal trainings inspired from the same concepts.
On a final note, even after only having implemented open book management since February – it’s difficult for me to consider how we ran our business the way we did for so long. I believe everyone in the agency now, James and I included, know they are part of something really special here. Not because it’s a different way, but because it’s a better way.