Never have I seen a company just come out of nowhere and have such a far reaching presence in such a short period of time like Spearia. Spearia was founded by Danny Beckett Jr. in 2007 in Belmont as a web & marketing development company. The company at its height employed about 15 professionals in a variety of positions, and produced over a hundred website projects for their clients. In September 2009 Spearia moved into a two-floor, 8,000-square-foot facility at 2934 West River Drive NE in Comstock Park, which they renovated for $500,000.
Just by announcing this move along Spearia started to get a load of press from local media. And this trend only continued when they announced Comstock 09, an event Spearia created to help celebrate their new office. So what was Comstock 09? Here is a list:
- Two professional motocross shows
- Music – free performances by Delilah DeWylde and the Lost Boys, The Concussions, Nobody’s Business and Funktion
- Hot dog eating contest
- A wide variety of free children’s activities in Dwight Lydell Park. Kids can bring their own bikes and ride behind the professional motocross bikers from Fifth Third Ballpark down White Pine Trail to the park
- Water balloon fight
- Moon walk
- Special appearances by Miss Michigan and the Whitecaps’ mascot, Crash
- Food vendors and a beer tent
So all this sounds extremely cool, but once again Spearia was spending money. According to this article Beckett was putting $50,000 of his own money into the event, and was also hunting for sponsors to help defray the costs of such a massive event. In fact after the event I began hearing rumors of vendors who helped with the event were not paid for the services they provided to Spearia. Of course rumors are rumors but looking at the tale events unfold in the past year it looks like there might be some truth to the rumors (more of that to come).
But since Comstock 09, Spearia just pushed on ahead with even more events, sponsorships and just general spending money. For example – the Spearia team has (or had) a fleet of vehicles at their disposal like:
- 3 – Spearia Mopeds (note that it says “One of the….)
- 2 – Spearia White Cargo Vans – Let’s Face It, Your Website Sucks, We Can Help!” (again note that there are multiple vans with the statement of “One of the….”)
- Spearia RV that was used to cart people around for ArtPrize. Photos of RV are here
All these vehicles could not be cheap and maintaining the vehicles as well could be costly.
But there is even more. Did you know that Spearia also was a part of the following:
- 2010 GRHunt a easter egg hunt in Grand Rapids?
- Or they hosted the 2009 Downtown Turkey Throwdown (on facebook, and the aftermath)?
- Or they hosted Free Lunch Friday’s every month which provided free food to everybody who showed up ?
- or that Free Lunch Friday became mobile with an RV?
- Or helped sponsor the Free Hugs campaign in downtown GR along with the Help Campaign (just check out that red suit, you might have to scroll down a bit)?
- or their participation in the Grand Rapids Park(ing) Day Celebration by buying 3 spots?
- Or how they helped create Mashable Social Media Day?
- or that they also opened up an office in Indianapolis?
I understand that community involvement is really important for a company, and building a brand through this could be a huge benefit. But I would love to find out how effective these campaigns/sponsorships really were. What was the Return On Investment (ROI) with all these activities and did they bring in any new business? How much money was spent on these events, that could have been used to reinvest in the company (new resources, new employees)? How far did some of these activities stretch away from their core business. Why on earth would a marketing and web development company decide to purchase an RV retrofit it, and do a custom painting on the outside, and then go drive people around ArtPrize? How does this make sense (they even served pizza and drinks and had a magician on board)? Granted they did charge $15 per ticket and the proceeds were donated to WMCAT, but still wouldn’t your time, money and resources do much better if they were invested elsewhere?
Justin Vander Velde, a GVSU student along with his classmates Matt Dayton, Jake Dawson, and Andrea Wallace were doing a documentary on Spearia, and founder Danny Beckett, for a class project. The students were able to capture a captivating tale of the company, through some interesting thoughts from Danny Beckett. For me the video really got interesting at 5:27 mark, when they were speaking with Spearia employees about some of the challenges in working with an “Ideas” person, most likely alluding to Beckett. Both employees phrased it well but seemed to imply that the company had little focus and was always jumping from one thing to another without much thought or analysis on how this would affect the business. Jason Dodge, Project Manager, also caught the Justin off guard when he stated that he was no longer the Marketing Director, and that lead to a awkward exchange, which only makes you question what happened. Then at the 6:45 mark, Beckett starts explaining that perhaps they did too much and that some of their events were “too huge”, and needed to be “more focused”, they “weren’t prepared” and had “lack of planning”. They were “focused on the fun”, and in the end “relationships got broken” and “a lot of people we own money too.” All these comments were related to the first event of Comstock 09. If this was the case, then why did the company continue throwing all these other events? The video also details that the directors lost touch with Beckett and only heard back from him 3 weeks later, and also noted in the film that Jason Dodge ended up leaving the company. Afterwards Justin and his classmates drove by the Spearia headquarters on West River Drive and filmed the empty building with a For Lease sign from DAR Development in the front window. Also exposed during the video was that Spearia was looking for investors but ultimately the deal they had in place fell through. Lastly, the filmmakers were able to contact Beckett and he basically stated that the company as it was known was no longer there, and he talks about his original vision and how it was just not the right vision. I am still in shock about how honest and forthcoming Beckett was in regards to his business, and how aware he seemed of the company’s mistakes and shortcomings. But just as baffling is why similar mistakes (in the form of extravagant events) kept on happening.
Per Beckett, Spearia’s vision was to be a “leading experience based creative firm” and he later stated that was a “false vision.” Now I am not sure if it was a false vision, because being a “leading experience based creative firm” sounds like a great goal, but it just seems that the approach to get to that vision was flawed. Focus on your product and your service, instead of worrying about making a big splash or being the company that everyone thinks is “cool” or that has a fleet of vehicles for tooling around town with. Just focus on what you do, and do it well. But the whole thing about owing people money and breaking relationships that part is not cool at all. You have to pay who ever you do business with, vendors, banks, partners, whoever and by not doing so is one of the quickest and easiest ways to break relationships. I can’t help but wonder if this story would have been different if Spearia used all their time, money, and resources on their company instead of “events” and community outreach. Maybe all these extra activities soon became a weight to great to bear for Spearia.
Oh and I guess this did not help the whole Spearia money situation either – Someone hacking into their phone system and racking up over $20,000 in charges.
It’s just kind of a shame that West Michigan lost another company. I am sure that Spearia employed lots of hardworking people who did their jobs well, but ultimately it looks like a multitude of decisions may have lead the company to unravel.
So did anyone work with or worked at Spearia? How about go to the Free Lunch Fridays or any of their other events? What are your thoughts? What happened?
This is Part 1.
Part 2 – With insights from the filmmaker Justin Vander Velde is now posted.
I will have one more follow-up post with some insights from a former employee of Spearia.