Epipheo embraces stories, innovation while defying easy description

Twenty-five artists gather in Epipheo’s offices in Longworth Hall. Wearing everything from flip-flops and t-shirts to ironic bow-ties, they fill the room with laughter and constructive observations.

As they dissect an animation projected on a portable screen – a video members of the group recently completed to describe the work of a non-profit client in their signature animation style -- the atmosphere is so collegial it’s difficult to discern who is “leading” the discussion.

The designers and animators sit on IKEA furniture, wicker chairs and couches that roughly encircle the screen and trade suggestions about how they could improve the video-making process. A designer on one side of the room suggests that the scriptwriters should add more ideas about visuals; across the room, one of his peers raises her hand. “But will that bum out the designers that work on the video?” she asks.

Everyone takes the question seriously. That's because the culture at Epipheo—which was named as a blend of the words "epiphany" and "video"—emphasizes not just its employees’ productivity, but their degree of happiness and fulfillment in their work.

Though the company was founded in 2008, it wasn't until 2012 that founders opted to create home bases in Oregon and Ohio. Before then, artists and animators were spread around the country, working on explanatory video projects remotely from Nebraska, Virginia, Michigan and Tennessee, among others.

“What you see is very much like our living room," says co-founder Ben Crawford of the Longworth Hall space. The company serves three home-cooked meals every week, and employees know that it's OK to bring their kids to work.

That familial atmosphere comes naturally to the company's founders. Crawford, a college drop-out entrepreneur from Seattle, had worked with his Epipheo co-founders before. They were connected through friendship, marriage, prior entrepreneurial experience and church.

Their connection sets the tone for the whole company.

“I won’t do anything at work that I won’t do at home," Crawford says. "I wouldn’t treat you differently just because it’s business. This is very personal to us.”

Crawford moved to Bellevue, Kentucky, with his family just a few months ago to join key Epipheo players Jeremy Pryor, who already lived in town; Stephen Mowry, who lives in Ft. Thomas; and John Herman, a native Cincinnatian and Epipheo CEO now living in Taylor Mill. Jon Collins, the fourth co-founder, is still in Portland.

The transition to life in Greater Cincinnati hasn't always been easy for Crawford.

"The whole West Coast in general is where people go to start start-ups,” Crawford says. But what Cincinnati lacks in reputation, it makes up for in opportunity. "It just gives us more breathing space to think about where we want to go.”

Epipheo's trajectory has been shaped, in part, by one video that propelled them into the spotight in 2009. The short, simple animation to explain Google Wave, which has now been viewed more than 1.2 million times on YouTube, gained Google's admiration; the search-engine giant contacted the company to create more videos.

Then came more big name clients, including Amazon, Mashable, TV Guide, Microsoft, McAfee, AOL, Procter & Gamble, GE,  and Facebook, plus hundreds of start-ups hungry to tell their stories honestly and intelligently.

“Since we started, our video production has grown by at least 30 percent quarter to quarter, every quarter," says John Herman, a native Cincinnatian and Epipheo CEO.

To meet the demand, the company grew from four employees in 2010, to 20 employees in 2011, to more than 60 workers between the two offices in 2012. The majority of those employees, artists and producers and the like, live and work in Cincinnati.

Employees approach each new project believing that communicating epiphanies clearly and creatively can truly change people's minds and lives.

“We view ourselves as a disruption in the advertising space," Crawford says. "Or the studio space, or any space. We’re willing to invent what we are.”

?The process of invention includes a recent refocus of Epipheo’s vision statement, which evolved from “revealing truth in a way that changes people’s lives,” to the more simple and direct, "Truth. Story. Love."

Their emphasis on truth guides every Epipheo project. Crawford says that their commitment to revealing reality illustrates the difference between what they do and the traditional world of advertising, which can easily conceal or exaggerate reality.

Crawford makes it clear that Epipheo is more than willing to turn down business with organizations that don’t meet their standards of integrity. “If a client comes to us and they want us to tell a lie for them, we won’t do it,” he says.

As they continue to branch out in the pursuit of "Truth. Story. Love,“ the creatives at Epipheo have launched their own channel of content, Epipheo.tv. In that virtual space, they work on client-free projects, from the fun ("Why Twilight is Popular") to the serious ("Do you own (stuff made by) slaves?"), all designed to bring a smile or a piece of thoughtful analysis to their audiences.

They work with non-profits, not just to create compelling content, but also to empower community partners to take charge of their own narratives.

Now that they are putting down roots in Cincinnati, they plan on being here for a long time, says CEO Herman. 'We want to be able to start making more of a name for ourselves."