By: Bill Giles

Building a Skyscraper: The First Decade of 97th Floor

September 30, 2015

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On Wednesday, September 30, 97th Floor celebrates its 10th anniversary! As I prepared to write this retrospective look at 97th Floor, I asked Wayne Sleight, our COO, what single word he would use to describe 97th Floor. His response: “kaizen.”

I’ll admit, this was a term I had never heard before, and so I looked it up. Kaizen is a Chinese and Japanese word that is made from two other words: “change” (kai) and “good” (zen), translating to mean “improvement.” In the 1940s, however, it began to be used to refer to a practice of continuous improvement, seeking to improve all aspects of a business and involve all employees, no matter their position in the company. As I studied our company’s history, I could see that Wayne was right—’”kaizen” is the perfect term to describe the 97th Floor philosophy.

97th Floor began in founder Chris Bennett’s basement in Lehi, Utah, after Chris felt he had grown as much as possible at his job at an Internet consulting firm. The name 97th Floor had two motivations behind it. First, it invoked the image of elevating clients—taking them to the peak of their potential. More importantly, however, it stood out and marked the company as something more than just a simple one-man boutique. Chris always had big corporations in mind as clients, and 97th Floor also sought to elevate itself through constant improvement.

CEO Chris Bennett speaking at SearchLove London in 2013
CEO Chris Bennett speaking at SearchLove London in 2013

97th Floor started out only focusing on SEO for small businesses. Its first client was Brown Brothers Catering, a company owned by one of Chris’s friends. Within a year, the catering company had grown from a small, two-employees business, into the second largest catering company in Utah, with around 50 employees, several trucks, two kitchens, and a reception hall. When they looked deeper, it was clear than the vast majority of the business increase was due to the Web presence 97th Floor had been instrumental in building.

A group from 97th Floor at SLCSEM
A group from 97th Floor at SLCSEM

Chris was continually looking to add to what 97th Floor could offer. Eventually, he hired a few designers, and 97th Floor began providing visual content, infographics in particular, in addition to SEO services. He also hired more marketers to grow the business. At first, SEO clients and design clients were separate, with a few marketers handling SEO clients and others working with the designers on the design clients. Over time, however, we realized that better, lasting results required more. We hired several more marketers and combined SEO, content marketing, social media, analytics, and PPC to create integrated digital marketing teams.

97th Floor's old office
97th Floor’s old office

In 2012, the business had grown enough that operations moved into an office on the east side of Lehi. Since then, 97th Floor’s growth has been exponential. In that time, the company has grown from just seven employees to nearly fifty. Revenues have increased 261% in that three year time span. The company now works with some of the most recognizable names in business, including clients such as Adobe, Dell, Citrix, Salesforce, Domo, Pluralsight, Zagg, Blendtec, Chem-Dry, and more. Chris and other marketers at the company have spoken at several digital marketing conferences across the globe. The company has established a second physical presence in Orange County, CA. In 2014, 97th Floor received the Gold Stevie award from the American Business Awards for Agency of the year and has won dozens of awards since. 97th Floor has a 12-month average retention rate of more than 93%, and in the last year, we started a new department, adding PPC to the list of services we provide.

Josh Moody, Chris Bennett, and Ariana Pesci at the 2014 Stevie Awards
Josh Moody, Chris Bennett, and Ariana Pesci at the 2014 Stevie Awards

In early 2014, because of this rapid growth, 97th Floor moved into a beautiful new office in the Thanksgiving Park office complex in Lehi. The open space encourages collaboration and sharing ideas, and it also includes several meeting rooms, a quiet room for when employees need to focus, and a fully decked out break room.

97th Floor's new, larger Thanksgiving Park office at progressive stages of development
97th Floor’s new, larger Thanksgiving Park office at progressive stages of development

One of the things on which 97th Floor has always prided itself is the autonomy it allows its employees. In April of this year, 97th Floor officially became a ROWE™ Certified Organization. ROWE is a management strategy that stands for Results-Only Work Environment; the basic concept is that employees are judged only on the work that they accomplish, rather than the time they work. The creed behind ROWE is, “Work whenever you want, wherever you want, as long as the work gets done.” This has allowed 97th Floor’s employees to manage their own time, giving their full energy to their work in the times and locations that are best suited to their talents; meanwhile, they no longer have to sacrifice their personal lives or emotional states to accomplish their assignments.

97th Floor Employees on Halloween in 2014
97th Floor Employees on Halloween in 2014

This autonomy has led to employees who are fully engaged in their work. When I asked Chris what makes 97th Floor different from other companies, he answered, “the combined genuine passion we all have, for not only doing great work, but for being the best we can be at our respective positions as well.” When employees are asked what they enjoy about working at 97th Floor, rather than talking about the parties, the company Xbox One in the break room, or any of the “fun” initiatives, they generally mention the clients they work with, the work they do, and the ongoing culture of education and self-improvement—and they mean it!

Shante Schroeder speaking at Kim Flynn's Internet Marketing Bootcamp
Shante Schroeder speaking at Kim Flynn’s Internet Marketing Bootcamp

It’s been a busy 10 years for 97th Floor, but what do the next ten years hold? I asked Wayne and Chris what plans they have for the future and where they see 97th Floor ten years from now. They responded, “We’d like to establish more physical locations in different regions throughout the world in order to be closer to clients. Ultimately, success for us is longevity and constant improvement. As long as 97th Floor exists in ten years and we are a better agency than we are today, we’ll be satisfied.”

Take a look at just what makes up those 97 floors here.

Take a look at some of our favorite memories from the last 10 years in the slideshow below.

Written by Bill Giles on September 30, 2015

Bill is a Writer and Content Manager at 97th Floor.

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