(Photo by Amy Eckert)
Marcus Iannozzi always thought “business” was a dirty word.
He associated it with being selfish, with creating wealth for a small few — a direct counter to the kind of work he aimed to do at his web development firm, Message Agency, which serves nonprofits.
But he also knew that if he wanted his business to have a greater impact, to serve more nonprofits, to contribute more to the city’s economy, that the business would have to grow.
“I felt like there was a dichotomy between doing well and doing good, between making money and having an impact,” Iannozzi wrote in an email. “I kept hitting a wall. We were plateauing and not able to realize the margins we needed to improve and increase our impact.”
There was the predicament: How do you grow the business without passing on the cost of growth to your customers? How do you keep your costs low, knowing that you’re serving the nonprofit sector, and still make a profit? Those are questions Iannozzi has always grappled with, since founding the company in 1995.
There was also something else. Iannozzi was scared.
“I was fearful of growth because I didn’t have the skills to manage it,” he said he later realized.
Recently, he feels like he’s figured some of it out. He doubled his team to 13 in the past year-and-a-half, after years of staying roughly the same size. The company outgrew its longtime home on South Street and moved to a new space in Callowhill, which, at 2,600 square feet, is four times the size of the company’s former headquarters. Message Agency is now in the same building as coworking space Venturef0rth and nonprofit TechImpact. The firm is even hosting an open house on June 18 from 4-7 p.m.
So what changed?
Iannozzi gives a lot of credit to the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program, which he completed in the spring of 2014. It taught him skills that he didn’t have as an “accidental entrepreneur,” as he puts it.
The program taught him how to disentangle himself from the business and take a bigger-picture view. It also taught him to delegate. For example, Iannozzi finally hired a business manager — his wife, Lisa Delgado — to oversee the company’s finances two years ago. It was a role that Iannozzi assumed himself, even though he felt that running the company’s finances was his biggest weakness.
(SEER Interactive’s Wil Reynolds has talked about making the same hire and how he waited too long to do so, opting to take care of it himself. He said growing his company made him realize: “I can’t strap everything on my back anymore. I can’t just stay up all night and drink coffee and get it done.”)
That hire was pivotal, Iannozzi told us in an interview at his new office last week.
The Goldman Sachs program also taught him that contrary to what he previously though, business didn’t have to be a selfish pursuit. He could imbue his own values into his business and stay true to his ideas of social entrepreneurship.
That’s why he’s so proud of Message Agency being named on B Corp’s “Best for the World” list, a list created on the merits of things like company diversity, civic engagement (Message Agency is currently doing pro-bono work for the Ars Nova Workshop and Gearing Up) and salaries.
“It’s like a badge of honor for me,” he said.
Here are some more photos of the company’s new office: