"There's a certain spirit here that encourages the sharing of ideas and collective growth."
Lift Interactive is a digital first creative agency based in Old Strathcona. Their focus is on web design and development, application development, digital marketing strategy, and brand and communications.
We asked Micah Slavens some questions about his Edmonton Made business. Here's what he had to say:
When did you start your business and why?
We (my wife Kristi and I) started Lift in 2002. As for the "why", that's kind of a hard question. I was quite a young lad when we started and in those days we just wanted to make really cool stuff on the internet. We wanted to grow and be recognized for the work we were doing, to be creative on our own terms and get paid for it.
As the years have gone by, the 'why' has changed quite a bit. Now it's more about helping other businesses make sense of the rapidly changing digital world. We love to see those businesses grow because of the challenges we overcome and solutions we build together.
Why did you start your business in Edmonton?
Have you ever seen Fiddler on the Roof? There's a scene where the middle-aged husband asks his wife, "Do you love me?" And she says something like, "Do I love you? I've ironed your clothes and made you dinner and shared my bed with you for twenty five years. If that's not love, I don't know what is."
So like Golde and Tevye, Edmonton was a bit of an arranged marriage for me. I grew up in North Dakota and ended up here through a strange sequence of events. Eventually, I met a girl. Other than to be with her, I didn't really have a good reason for staying.
But as the years went by, I slowly fell in love with this city.
It's because of Edmonton that we've grown consistently year after year and have become part of a highly supportive and collaborative community. There's a certain spirit here that encourages the sharing of ideas and collective growth amongst business owners like us.
So it wasn't that I started a business in Edmonton because I knew it was a good place to start a business. I started a business in Edmonton and realized later that Edmonton has been really great for our business. Like the Fiddler on the Roof, it seems we're happy to iron each others' undies.
It seems that whether you choose it or it chooses you, Edmonton is an ideal place to start something resilient and strong.
What was your biggest challenge in the early days of your business?
Because I didn't grow up here, meeting people and making connections was a challenge at first. The city has gotten a lot better at providing opportunities for those touch points in recent years. It's easier to get into a room with the right people.
In the early 2000s, the atmosphere around this industry felt a little more cut-throat than it is today. Competitors didn't talk to each other. Big agencies were adversaries.
It seems like now there's a greater willingness to collaborate. There is an abundance of work in this city, so there's no room to be selfish. We all need to work together so that we can continue to do great work and put Edmonton on the map.
What is your biggest challenge today?
The Alberta economy is obviously a bit rough at the moment. We're lucky because in our industry we don't have to necessarily be in the same room as someone to work together, but a lot of our business happens to be in Alberta right now.
We're also grappling with the growth we've had over the past couple of years. With that growth comes new complexity and issues of efficiencies.
Do you have a support network? What does that look like?
We have a lot of friends in Edmonton: colleagues in the creative and tech community, city builders, other business owners.
We've been on Whyte Ave. for almost ten years, and there's a really strong network of businesses and creative types in the area. Most importantly including our friends at Da Capo who keep us all caffeinated and productive during the day.
We belong to a couple of business networks that have brought us some really excellent partnerships and opportunities, EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) and EEA (Edmonton Executives Association).
We're also lucky to work with the amazing people at Startup Edmonton and Make Something Edmonton on a regular basis. They truly are great resources.
Are there any particular resources (local programs, blogs, webinars, video series, forums, books, etc.) you used to help scale/develop your business that you'd recommend to small businesses?
Edmonton's pretty awesome for having a variety of resources available depending on what stage your business is at.
Early on, we found the Chamber of Commerce was a good first step for meeting people. BusinessLink was helpful for learning all the in's and out's of starting a business the right way.
EEDC was pretty instrumental for us in the beginning. In the first few years, we were in their technology incubator on the south side. We met a ton of connections and made in-roads just by being there.
Nowadays there are lots of options for new businesses, like co-working spaces, Startup Edmonton, and incubators.
In year three, we found a business coach. This might seem like an excessive cost at that point, but we found someone really affordable. That ended up being really helpful for keeping us accountable and on task in those early years.
Is there a piece of advice you would like to pass on to other Edmonton Made businesses?
Do really good work. Sometimes new businesses go out and sell themselves more than they can deliver. It's important to let your work speak for itself, because work referrals will come in and you'll disappoint fewer people in the end.
Is there an Edmonton Made business you're cheering on?
So many! We really have a lot of friends that have Edmonton Made businesses. But, to give you a sampling…
In terms of design, we're really impressed with the work coming from Concrete Cat, Tomnuk, Hunt Amor, and Oliver Apt.
Jobber, Granify, Mover, and Organic Box are all awesome stories for Edmonton of tech businesses that are scaling.
At your size, do you still feel your business is "Edmonton Made"? In what way?
We definitely do. We do a lot of work outside of Edmonton, but this is where we all call home. We're really plugged into the community and our success is really due to this city.
When we outsource we do it locally, and we collaborate with other Edmonton Made businesses when we can.
Anything else you would like to share about your Edmonton Made story?
We've grown steadily since 2002. We've experienced a few surprises, celebrated great successes and weathered some failures too. Being Edmonton Made to us is in our people and in our dedication to our craft. This city has provided the right mixture of challenges, support, and attitude to help us do what we love. We're excited to keep building partnerships with other local businesses and organizations, like Make Something Edmonton, to continue making Edmonton.
At Lift, we feel like we're entering into the next chapter of our story. Many of the goals we hoped to accomplish when we started have been realized. These days we're on a long-term mission to put Lift (and Edmonton) on the map when it comes to design and technology. We believe that big, world-changing problems can be solved by the smart people in this city. We believe Edmonton can become the destination to build and grow your idea.