Marcus Iannozzi (center), Message Agency founder, went on Mayor Nutter's trade mission to the U.K. Photo by Kait Privitera for the City of Philadelphia.
For the last fifteen years, Message Agency has been an anchor of South Street West.
Today, the web development firm’s neighborhood is charming, bustling with restaurant date spots, a bike shop and even an artisan pie maker. But it wasn’t always like that, remembers Message Agency founder Marcus Iannozzi.
In 2000, when he purchased the two-floor building that became company headquarters, the corridor was plagued with struggling businesses and rundown buildings.
“No one ever walked down South Street,” said Iannozzi, a Penn grad who moved into the neighborhood in the early 90s before buying a house on nearby Fitzwater Street in 1999.
Iannozzi’s parents, who live in Conshohocken, thought he was crazy to choose to grow his business — and his life — in the city. He, on the other hand, saw potential.
Iannozzi, 44, still does: since its founding in 1995, his company has grown to 10 employees, designed websites for nonprofits like the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library and pioneered the development of open source tools for content management system Drupal.
Message Agency, a registered B-Corp, has always focused on working with nonprofits. For the company’s first 10 years, while print reigned, the company helped research organizations and universities translate their research into print products. As the web became more prominent, Message Agency’s second life became building websites that helped nonprofits run more smoothly. Think: making it super easy to send email newsletters or use Salesforce.
That’s where developing tools for Drupal comes in. Like fellow local web dev firms Context and Zivtech, Message Agency prized Drupal because it was open source. When it first started making websites, Iannozzi remembers how he’d have to pay licensing fees because early content management systems were proprietary.
In 2007, Message Agency helped lead an effort to build tools to integrate Drupal with Salesforce. The company, along with others, has continued to do this.
Meanwhile, Iannozzi has dedicated his time to growing the South Street West business corridor. He’s been the president of the South Street West Business Association since 2010, where he helps support small businesses (the association is trying to keep chain stores off South Street, he said) and to organize events like the popular Bloktoberfest.
Though he’s still committed to growing his business in Philadelphia, he is worried about some things, namely, the city’s schools.
“That’s going to cripple the city,” he said, if Philly can’t find a way to fund its schools. “Our whole neighborhood is nothing but young families.” Iannozzi himself has a young son.
Still, Philadelphia is home.
“We’re rooted here,” he said.