"Only if I can stay in Cincinnati." Of course he said it with a smile on his face, but he was dead serious. You can't just uproot and leave 19 years of business relationships behind. When starting a new venture do you just scrap the foundation? I don't think so. Anyone can start a web company in New York or LA. But Cincinnati? Now that's something special. So Cincinnati became the de facto choice. And with that, Karl Treier reached an agreement to move a global headquarters to the Queen City and founded CinciMedia.
"Because it's a small big town," Treier responds. "I have so many relationships here, many mentors that have become so valuable to me, clients that know and trust me as well as clients I know and trust. And it's a safe place to raise a family." That is how the conversation began around the table at Café Barista on 4th & Plum, as Karl Treier, Teresa Hoelle, and I discussed what makes Cincinnati so compelling.
A little background. CinciMedia provides two core services. First, the company creates websites. Not just static brochure-like websites that you visit once and then forget about, but dynamic websites that allow a company to tell its story and develop conversations with its customers. And they make the process point-and-click easy with the JustPageIt product. Second, the company produces 3D animation. And not just run-of-the-mill 3D. This is cutting-edge world-class 3D. In fact, CinciMedia produces their 3D on the same equipment used by Pixar, the Disney animation studio. In terms of quality, think WALL-E.
Given the nature of a "small big town," it's a common story for neighbors to become good friends. Where you may never actually meet your neighbor in a town like New York or LA, in Cincinnati you'll not only meet them, but you'll run into them at Ault Park, in Kroger, at the library or Playhouse in the Park. Or, as in Treier's case, your son will have unwittingly thrown a Frisbee on their roof.
In the process of retrieving the Frisbee, Treier met his Children's Hospital pediatric oncologist neighbor. In the course of conversation Treier explained his current role as Chief Technology Officer with BlueSpring, another high-tech venture based in Cincinnati. And, as is usually the case for those who work in the information technology space, Karl's neighbor heard "blah blah blah" and expressed that, "my brother's a computer guy, too." Computer guy. Her brother the "computer guy" ran a company called e-sense that does business with some of the largest companies in Europe, including MTV International. Little did Treier know that this exchange would lead to the building of a global company that brings a strong value proposition to the table for its customers while providing leadership jobs and entry-level bleeding-edge technology positions to the region.
Treier introduced himself to Andrius Bakutis, e-sense's Lithuanian founder. The two hit it off, and, understanding the breadth of e-sense's current customer base as well as the value proposition that e-sense creates for its customers, discussed how to build a global organization that could take advantage of both these strengths. e-sense had delivered nearly 1000 projects in its 8-year existence. That is an impressive track record. Treier saw an opportunity to take advantage of e-sense's work with international conglomerates such as MTV, the media and communications firm JCDeceaux, Valvoline, Schering-Plough, Toyota, and others to begin to sell into their United States divisions.
Treier and Bakutis formed CinciMedia and restructured e-sense, moving the headquarters to Cincinnati while keeping much of the technology team together in Lithuania. Treier took the helm as CEO, which gives him the opportunity to work on the full lifecycle of providing customer solutions. Admittedly a technologist at heart, Treier still relishes the opportunity to break away from the technology in order to help his customers solve their real-life business problems. And those, for the most part, are not technology issues.
The company chooses to leverage its ties to Cincinnati in an effort to grow its US customer base. Still, Treier assured me that "CinciMedia is not a lifestyle company," meaning the goal is not to build a comfortable and sustainable client base. Its sights are set higher. It is a growth company which has added regional and global talent, bringing its workforce up to 35 employees. Yet with 19 years in Cincinnati it only makes sense for Treier to "focus on the pride of Cincinnati." And it's that pride that drew Teresa Hoelle to the organization.
Hoelle serves as CinciMedia's Director of Business Development and Marketing. Soon after earning her education degree from Miami University, she did what any self-respecting 20-something would do. She moved to Europe, broadened her perspective on the world, changed people's lives for the better, then realized the impact she could make at home, right here in her backyard. So Hoelle hopped a flight back to her hometown intent on making a difference. Her transition to CinciMedia was a natural one as she hoped to contribute to the region's vitalization by joining a firm aligned with "the pride of Cincinnati."
So CinciMedia serves these large international conglomerates. Don't think that keeps the company from remembering its roots. If you take a quick tour around the web, you'll also find its work on a much more local scale having developed sites for the Cincinnati Ballet and Enjoy The Arts as well as Cincinnati for-profits Ascendum, BlueSpring, and Miller Valentine Group. Then turn around and take a look at the work CinciMedia does with Northern Kentucky University. Treier sits on NKU's Informatics advisory board, the board that helps shape the program's curriculum with industry input. Through that relationship, Treier proposed something nearly unheard of from a small company.
"You want to do what with our kids?!" Okay, I made up that quote, but someone must have been thinking it. Treier proposed sending two students for five weeks to visit CinciMedia's Lithuanian operation. These undergraduates would get the opportunity to participate in film shoots, generate 3D on the latest technology, and take an all expenses paid trip of a lifetime. Treier commented that, for the most part, the only place to take these skills is the east or west coasts. "We want to hire these people [right here in the Greater Cincinnati Region]. Let's give them the experience so they'll come back to work for us." NKU agreed. They held a competition to select two students.
The outcome? One of the students commented, "In less than a year since beginning my studies, I've completed cutting-edge projects and will now be teaming with professionals who are part of a progressive and international organization." And NKU Assistant Professor Anthony Dieter understands, "Our collaboration with CinciMedia brings a real-life, real-time dimension to the NKU Media Informatics program. In addition to working with top talent, we're introducing the international component, which is common to completing extensive 3D animation and modeling programming, to the learning experience."
Here's more proof that the companies and people exist that want to cement Cincinnati's place in the global marketplace. And we have the talent to do it. Here's to CinciMedia for stepping out on the edge and putting their money where their mouth is in order to keep some of the talented and creative class right here in our city and for strengthening the pride of Cincinnati.
When Andy Erickson, a 16-year IT veteran, isn’t spending time with his wife and three daughters, he’s devoting his time as a University of Cincinnati alum or showcasing the region’s tech community.
Photography by Scott Beseler
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