Click Rain Receives Small Business Award

Thanks to the Argus Leader for writing this story!

One month after moving in, the office at Click Rain Inc. already has acquired that lived-in, casual, creative vibe more often associated with urban startups or Silicon Valley tech companies.

A reclaimed wood staircase in the renovated Rock Island building at 300 N. Phillips Ave. leads to an open, almost industrial-looking space where employees can write on a “culture wall,” play vintage arcade games on breaks and take in a weekly film series over lunch.

It all contributes to a work environment that helped the digital marketing firm win Best Small Place to Work in the Sioux Falls Business Journal’s 2013 Readers Choice awards.

“I absolutely love it,” said Sarah Werner, a content strategist who was hired in early 2012. “I worked at good places, but I feel like I come here … and this is where I belong.”

Werner is part of a staff of 23 in a business that credits its culture for its rapid growth.

“Faith, family, work,” said Eric Ellefson, describing the company’s priorities.

At 39, Ellefson is the oldest worker at Click Rain. He’s also one of two new partners who joined founder Paul Ten Haken in the firm last year.

“We want to preserve the culture,” said James Krueger, the third partner. “We’re a family, and we want to keep that.”

Ten Haken started the firm in 2008, which he called “a stupid year to start a business because the economy was so terrible.”

“So I hustled,” he said.

The company’s growth has accelerated in the past few years, landing it on Inc. magazine’s list of the country’s 5,000 fastest growing companies. Revenue grew from $1.2 million in 2011 to $2.1 million in 2012.

“This year, we’ll do about $3 million,” Ten Haken said. “It’s new and existing clients.”

One of them, Regency Hotel Management, started as a client in 2009 and uses Click Rain for a wide range of digital marketing services.

“They’ve just been our all-encompassing online partner,” revenue manager Erin Butler said. “They’re always watching the emerging trends within their world and looking at how they can apply it to our industry.”

Butler said when Regency started as a client the firm was “four guys in a small office.”

“And they have grown incredibly over those years … and I have yet to come into their business on any given day and meet anybody that doesn’t just meld right in with the entire team.”

Ten Haken said the company makes its hires based on how people fit within the culture.

“We’ve had people apply here who are very, very skilled and would be a great technical fit, but we could just tell culturally they would maybe rub some people the wrong way,” he said. “You put one bad seed in an office environment like this and it gets toxic really quick.”

In five years, two people have been let go and two have left for other reasons, he said, adding that’s unusual for a marketing firm.

“There’s typically a lot of turnover,” Ten Haken said. “It’s a little bit of a meat grinder. But our staff, for the most part, works 8 to 5. We expect you to work hard, do your job, but at the end of the day you go home and work can wait until the next day.”

To be the right fit, employees also need a sense of fun, Ten Haken said.

“We horse around a lot. We like people who joke around, have a sense of humor and don’t take themselves too seriously.”

Kristina Johnson, an account coordinator, was hired about two months ago. It’s her first job out of college.

“There’s obviously some zany things here you wouldn’t normally find,” she said, adding her parents ask if she gets any work done. “I say, ‘Yes, but we do have a lot of fun.’ ”

While Butler’s last strategy meeting preceded a Click Rain staff pumpkin carving contest, she said the breaks are balanced with productivity and efficiency.

“It’s not just this fun place to work,” she said. “It’s ‘We have a job to do. We have a high standard and we’re going to do it very well, but we’re going to do fun team building to break up the day.’ ”

Then there are the other perks. Until this year’s health care changes, the company paid 100 percent of employees’ coverage. Staff members who go on mission trips are reimbursed for half of their expenses from the company and allowed to take the time off without using vacation. Last year, the entire team spent a weekend in Las Vegas as a reward for meeting its annual financial goal. This year, it’s Cancun, Mexico.

“Those things are a blast,” said Marc Drzycimski, a developer and one of the firm’s original employees. “Being with a person in a work environment and being able to share time in a more relaxed atmosphere like that is just great.”

If there’s a threat to the culture, the partners said, it’s growing the business too fast. They’ve decided to focus on fine-tuning the firm next year before adding many clients.

“We put the people in front of the profits,” Ellefson said. “And for that, we’re rewarded because our people produce enough and we have such talented people the business continues to come.”

Photo Credit: Emily Spartz, Sioux Falls Business Journal