St. Cloud Times, Minn., Bright Ideas column [St. Cloud Times, Minn. :: ]
(St. Cloud Times (MN) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) July 19--One of the latest additions to the Fifth Avenue Live! development in downtown St. Cloud is digital marketing company LiveEdit.
Launched in 2003 in Waite Park, the business originally was called Smart Site. More than 10 years later, it finally has one of its own, according to company leadership.
The business outgrew offices in the Legacy Park Professional Building.
"When I came on board, we had two people," said Gene Schreder, who joined the company as a managing partner in 2006 and is now its president. "Now we've got 53 employees. We were outgrowing the space where we were. It wasn't a bad location, because W3i (now NativeX) started there."
In an industry that depends on creativity, LiveEdit was looking for a larger place with character. This spring, the company moved to 117 Fifth Ave., taking over 1 1/2 floors of the former Benson Bros. grocery store building, which is more than 115 years old, as well as half of what was the Davidson Opera House next door.
From the outside, you might be challenged to guess what is behind the facade. Once you pass through, however, it's clear you're caught between early St. Cloud history and what the future might resemble.
Schreder does some of his work from a sidewalk-level conference room, where the only furniture is a ping-pong table surrounded by plastic office chairs. On one wall, the restored brick exterior of the grocery building features a Battle Ax Plug Tobacco ad that dates to 1892.
"We believe there's a new way of doing things," said Schreder, enumerating his points on one hand. "That is to be creative, embrace change and foster an environment of innovation. That has something to do with the bricks where you're at. If you look at the offices as they were designed in the 1990s, we all had these silos where no one was talking to each other. For us, whether it's sales or project managers or marketing or development, we encourage people to socialize with each other. We find they'll come up with solutions to problems far better than if we scheduled time for interaction."
At LiveEdit, that means some problems are worked through during a game of table tennis. Up a few steps from the conference room, a break area has couches and a kitchenette.
A few steps away are the first of dozens of open work stations. Many of the employees are young professionals, some carrying on phone conversations with clients. To counteract any distraction from the open environment, they use noise-canceling headsets originally designed for use in Apache helicopters and adopted by runners on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Top managers work alongside entry-level employees.
Director of Sales Alyssa Schreder has been with the company for more than five years and moved into her current position about two years ago.
"This place really has the feel of a website company," she said. "We're not isolated. Everyone is involved and we interact a lot. That makes it a more enjoyable work environment and it's nice being downtown, too. There's an energy here we didn't have before."
The company has an office in Plymouth, where its engineers work. Gene Schreder, who is married to Alyssa, characterized that space as having "an industrial grunge" look -- an aura somewhat recreated on Fifth Avenue.
LiveEdit Chief Financial Officer Jason Carlson and his wife, Tina, who are owners of the business, worked with Boser Construction on the remodeling project. They eliminated a drop ceiling and three and sometimes four layers from the walls and flooring to get to original material. The result is sanded concrete and hardwood floors, high open-truss ceilings and even stained-glass windows above a large second-floor gathering space that can be used for meetings of all sizes and is used for employee yoga classes once a week. A kitchen, coffee bar and bathrooms separate it from more office spaces.
Business of engagement
LiveEdit uses online tools and drag-and-drop content management to help small and medium-sized organizations engage with their targets. Eric Brown, an entrepreneur who has since moved to Colorado, founded the company and remains its chief executive officer.
With LiveEdit's help, users manage Web and mobile sites, blogs, email marketing, e-commerce stores and catalogs and more. The company's recent growth has been related to the development of its Aurora digital marketing platform. The cloud-based platform allows users to access their content from any Internet-connected computer in the world. And its customers, which number between 4,000 and 5,000, come from all over -- India, Dubai and Australia -- and wind up communicating with someone in St. Cloud.
LiveEdit works primarily to augment business management software for two groups of users. The first are businesses in the health, wellness, beauty, salon and spa industry. The second includes member management software for chambers of commerce. Schreder said the company is considering opportunities to branch out into the dental and printing industries.
"We're currently courting a $4 billion company that would triple our business if they come aboard," he said.
LiveEdit services include software and marketing. Software fees can range from $299 to more than $10,000, depending on the scale of the setup, Schreder said. Marketing fees range from $29 to $600 a month depending on the level of service. He said attrition rates have been less than 5 percent.
To keep that growth going, LiveEdit needs a link to burgeoning talent. That's why it moved to Fifth Avenue, within blocks of St. Cloud State University. It has implemented an internship program for area college students, some of whom have gone on to take full-time positions.
"The impediments to growth are access to financial capital and access to human capital," Schreder said. "With our ownership, we have access to financial capital. But in St. Cloud, with its low unemployment rate, we felt we needed to create a pipeline to talent instead of scouring for it later. If we can get people to intern for us while they're still in school, then when we know they're graduating we can say, 'So, do you want to work full-time?' It helps us make the connection being downtown and in this environment we've created."
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