Part 3: The Rise and Fall of Spearia – The Employees


Spearia.  If you have no idea what I am talking about please read this first before proceeding.

We have talked a lot about the company, Danny Beckett, and the filmmakers.  But what we haven’t focused on too much was Spearia’s employees.  Spearia being a web development company (though others may argue that they were event organizers) most of the employees were designers  and web developers.  At the company’s peak, 25 people were employed.  I was able to talk at length with one of these former employees who worked as a web developer.  But I also had many former employees comment on my first Spearia post who provided some great insight such as Pat Perry who left these comments:

“When this article speaks of too much focus on big splashy events, and not enough focus on the product, this is the truth. However, most designers and developers (The people who actually built the websites) were very talented and focused workers. While Danny went and promoted his community events, many just rolled their eyes, and kept on working on the website project they had been assigned to. During Free Lunch Fridays, many of us would escape to the private meeting rooms and close the door where we could keep working. Several of the employees at Spearia became annoyed with the “stunts” that their higher ups were pulling, which eventually led some of Spearia’s most talented and important designers and developers to find work elsewhere. One by one, the whole design team that I had worked with quit and found work elsewhere. Many developers left also. Its funny to read the critiques that this article points out, because they are echos of things many people on the team had been stressing for months. More work, more focus, less goofy stuff.

Unfortunately, the members of the Spearia team that were the most focused and passionate about the web, were not the ones in charge. So they left, and not to my surprise, they easily found new jobs designing, developing, and getting excited about the websites in other more productive environments.

Its going great, and I am thankful that Spearia gave me the chance to come watch, and work with some really talented designers. I often see many of the designers and developers that I worked under at Spearia, and it delights me to see their successes in other companies around Grand Rapids.”

I also received comments from Someone From Spearia who provided much more details on the cost of some of the events and also stated the following “What killed spearia was just bad business practices. Not willing to invest in the clients, bad estimates, bad contracts, etc.

I also received an email from a former employee who said “While I loved what I did there, I’m getting tired of us designers getting the blame for what happened.”

As I mentioned before I was able to interview a former web designer and developer from Spearia and below is a transcript of our conversation:

Whose ideas were all of these events?

“All of these events came from the top down.  I never quite understood the rationale (if there was one) behind the many events that we put on. I don’t like to think that it was all merely an ego trip, but sometimes I wonder.”

More Details on the Comstock event:
“I don’t know the financial details of Comstock, but I don’t think it was profitable. Some members of the team were always wary of a new, inexperienced company like ours putting on an event of that scale – especially with no main goal in mind other than to get our name out there.”

What was your personal take on the events?:
“I  usually didn’t want to do any of the events that Spearia held, and I stayed as far away from them as possible. I was more focused on doing my job.”

Why was Spearia looking for investors?
“I assume we needed cash.”

Why was the Indianapolis office opened? (note: per an email from Beckett, is office is still open and operational)
“I will never know. Most of the Spearia team was opposed to opening a new location; we had enough trouble hammering out our own processes without having to worry about keeping another location in check. It turns out that we never really interacted with the satellite office after it opened, which was unnerving and a huge concern for me. That decision never made sense to me.”

What was the purpose of all the vehicles?
“We had two cargo vans, three mopeds, and the RV. The official purpose of the vans were to be company vehicles for use in transporting cargo and people. For instance, we were allowed to borrow the vans in the event of car trouble, but I was never sure about the legal status of such use. The mopeds were for pleasure, and the RV was purchased strictly for Artprize (I believe).”

In your opinion what went wrong?
“Every company has it’s strengths and weaknesses, but I felt like things at Spearia were constantly improving and devolving at the same time. Anytime we started to gain traction and improve our workflow, something ridiculous and crippling would happen. That sort of environment isn’t enjoyable or sustainable.”

What were your thoughts on the video?  Was it accurate?
“Yes and no. I think it was an accurate depiction of Danny and how he operates, but I spotted many false statements that Danny made in the video. He mentions Spearia’s “initial purpose” of “growing the good in the world,” but I had never heard him say that before. He mentions our vision of “being this leading experience-based creative firm,” but this vision was not shared with the employees. When he first uttered this phrase in a meeting (earlier this year, I think), many of us groaned and disapproved. I won’t drill through each of the discrepancies, but you get the point. Also, every time Danny says “we” in the video, he usually means “I.””

Anything else you would like share?
“People usually know about Spearia because of our Free Lunch Fridays, the Comstock event, the Free Hugs event, and many other marketing events that Danny and the marketing team worked on. But underneath all of the noisy neon, crazy events, and brash slogans, there was a hard-working team of developers and designers, who really wanted nothing more than to create great things for the web. We weren’t interested in the glitz and glam lifestyle, but we also didn’t own the company and didn’t have much say in the extracurricular activities that went on. We constantly felt jilted and put to the side in favor of this month’s fun, new event. We got tired of feeling like this, so we left.
However, I don’t wish to put all of the blame on Danny for what happened to Spearia. We all share partial blame in how things went down, but we also all share pride in the great things that happened there. I worked with some truly amazing people, and I wouldn’t trade my experience there for anything. But at the end of the day, the culture at Spearia just wasn’t sustainable. It’s a shame, but it’s not a surprise.”

Of course you can always speculate what is going on behind closed doors but actually hearing first hand from former employees is pretty telling.  They paint a very interesting picture.  I find it fascinating that although a majority of the employees were designers and developers, it seems that not much input was solicited out of them (maybe they did but based on the comments above it doesn’t look that way).  Like would a Free Lunch Friday event with a live band affect your work environment or your deliverables.  Also admirable is the approach that my interviewee had that he doesn’t blame Danny for everything, because they all had a role in it.  All the employees seemed to echo that they enjoyed working for Spearia but just wish somethings were different (which is true for almost any job).

But I do have a request and a question for my readers.

My Request:  Please watch these Spearia videos below:

My Question:  What is your impression of these videos?  What were the employees thinking?  I will share mine in the comments.

For more insight into Spearia check out their YouTube and Vimeo channels.  Here is another video from Grand Rapids Business Journal , of Beckett giving a tour of building before Spearia moved in.  I find it fascinating that Free Lunch Friday idea as already developed.

Lastly, a special thanks for my interviewee (a former Spearia employee), and to all other former employees who commented as well.

This is Part 3 of the Spearia Tale.
Part 1: Spearia background & story
Part 2: The Filmmakers

For more reading and discussion on Spearia check out Urban Planet message board and the mlive – GR Press article on Danny Beckett

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5 responses to “Part 3: The Rise and Fall of Spearia – The Employees

  1. As a former Spearia employee I share the same sentiments expressed by your interviewee. As frustrated as we were, we all loved the great things about the place (there were great things… honest). I think that made it even more frustrating; not having any control over the decisions and future of the company. In the beginning, a lot of us felt a vested interest in this place. However, those feelings became less and less as poor decisions (or what we thought were poor decisions) were made again and again.

    The original production team still is very much in touch. I’ve made some lifelong friends and I’ve learned a lot. Despite how it all ended, I too wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

    And great articles.

  2. Agree with David. The people I worked with there were great and made new friends out of it; and the year I put in there added more to my personal career then any other place. I was allowed to explore new options, learn new things, and experiment.

    But with that it just seemed like one bad decision after another was thrown at us and all we could do is nod our head and figure out how to get through it.

    Such is life.

  3. I personally just want people to stop talking about Spearia. It isn’t worth discussing any longer. It is over, end of story. The next story will unfortunately be about how Danny Beckett rode a bad press wave into his new career coaching people about leadership. Look out for that one.

    Made some great friends. Happy to have made it out before the crash that I saw coming WAY in advance. Moving on with life. In a much better place.

    V

  4. To avoid sounding like a broken record, I’ll just say that I second most of what everyone else has said here (both in the article and in the comments). I’m glad we’ve all moved on to bigger and better things. Cheers!

  5. Wow…..Reminds me of the three-martini lunches back in the day. Of course that was BACK in the day. Seems like a pretty cool place to work with absolutely no business sense. I mean, who was watching the books? Great story though. Thanks.

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