Why I Invested in Walk West

[lead]Brian Onorio and I couldn’t be more different, on the surface. Brian graduated from North Carolina State University with a degree in Computer Science. I left East Carolina in my junior year to pursue my fortune in a more expeditious manner than waiting to turn a tassel. Brian enjoys top-shelf bourbon and custom suits. Diet Coke with t-shirts and jeans work for me. Our skin pigmentation is as different as our political leanings. However, when you look at things from a surface level, you often miss explosive opportunities.[/lead]
When I met Brian I was just coming off an exit event as CEO of I-Cubed and looking for opportunities in the digital marketing space to invest. Brian’s firm had done some web design work for one of my portfolio firms and we were impressed. We tried to hire him on the spot. Brian declined and told our team, “I am not available as an employee, my firm is one of the top digital agencies in Raleigh.”  At the time, I would describe Brian’s business as two dudes in a garage, more a freelancer than a firm, but he said that the quality of their work is what defines his firm not the address or the size. Though I never graduated from college, I did obtain a PhD in smack talk during my football days and loved Brian’s confidence.

http://walkwest.wistia.com/medias/sg5uk4wio2?embedType=async&videoFoam=true&videoWidth=640

 

We dug deeper and found that below the surface, meaningful synergies compelled us to partner with a goal of building a business whose culture attracted employees and clients that are dreamchasers. If we were right, partnering would create fast growth, jobs for NC, and be a lot of fun. So, I invested in Brian, and Walk West is experiencing profitable growth while delivering inspired digital experiences for our clients, and growth opportunities for our employees.   

In 1996, I went to work for an NC State engineering school graduate as employee number seven and helped Grant Williard build a firm that resulted in a strategic asset sale to Adobe (Exit #1).  Grant turned the reigns over to me as CEO of the spin out business that Adobe declined to purchase. I teamed up with another NC State engineering graduate, Tony Pease, and we led I-Cubed’s growth from sixteen people to 125+ and after only seven years sold the company to KPIT, a global organization based in India (Exit #2). In addition to the exit, we spun out our digital marketing unit, iCiDigital, into a separate firm. Greg Boone, NC A&T Univ engineering graduate, became president and I stayed on as chairman and coach. Greg tripled revenue and grew the firm from twenty to 100+ people providing digital support to national brands. In each growth story, there was a tight relationship between the coach and the star player that became a catalyst to our success. Was it luck or had we identified a secret sauce to the power of partnership, and was Brian the next business star with a technical pedigree that I could support and partner with?  

http://walkwest.wistia.com/medias/ne12y065i6?embedType=async&videoFoam=true&videoWidth=640

 

As we began our work together, Brian displayed characteristics of a leader that would create a winning culture, a cohesive and engaged team and commercial success. Through his seven years building Walk West, he’d known struggle but remained fiercely optimistic about the agency he wanted to build. Today’s digital space requires a blend of creative thinking, engaging content and technology. Walk West, under Brian’s leadership, and some timely coaching would create client partners spanning the complete customer journey.

Our decision to partner was based on the belief that we could create a compelling case for customers to trust us and build a team of professionals that would deliver inspired work. Walk West finds success by developing a team that was coachable and bringing creative courage to their work to create digital dominance in the local market and beyond. The company has more than tripled in growth and consistently demonstrates characteristics aligned with other winning organizations with which I have collaborated. Characteristics like a confident and caring founder, tremendous work ethic, and a thirst to deliver on promises. From strategy, creative, e-commerce, analytics and technology, Walk West provides a single source of trusted expertise designed to exceed customer expectations.

I am proud to call Brian my partner and friend.

Donald Thompson

Donald Thompson

Related Reading