The Insider Series: Q&A with Joe Olsen, Phenomblue

This post is part of the Insider Series, which is designed to feature professionals in our industry, offer business insight and discover new paths in the agency world.

Joe OlsenJoe Olsen (@JoeOlsen) is the co-founder and CEO of Phenomblue, an interactive brand experience agency focused on developing creative solutions that harness the power of technology to tell a consistent story across all interactive consumer touch points.

Drawing on his background as a developer, Joe and his agency are continuously pushing the boundaries in regard to technology and marketing/advertising integration. Phenomblue is also unique in that it secured private venture funding to spur its growth.

Marketing Agency Insider had the opportunity to talk with Joe about his growing agency, why he pursued funding and how technology is shaping the industry.

Q&A with Joe Olsen

MAI: What are the origins of Phenomblue?

PhenomblueJoe: In April 2004, now executive vice president Jimm Wagner (@jimmwagner) and I co-founded Phenomblue. Jimm’s background was in animation and creative, whereas mine was in development. The agency started out as a digital and technology partner for leading ad agencies and corporations—we served as a one-stop shop for agencies in need of character animation and web development. This was all backed by the philosophy that we wanted to “provide creative freedom” to our employees and clients. This still rings true today as we’ve moved more and more away from agency partnerships to providing full-service capabilities direct to clients.

Today, we’re a brand experience agency and have opened an additional office out in L.A. We are strategists, designers and engineers using technology to connect people and brands.

MAI: How does your background as a developer help you in the agency world?

Joe: My background as a developer was a big help when we started Phenomblue as I already knew the tech side well. This has only continued to be an asset; the product approach used when developing translates to the product as a service model, which is really transforming today’s modern agency business. It’s something that start-up agencies are now basing their businesses on and that older agencies are struggling with. We’ve been doing it organically for years.

MAI: What led you to secure private venture funding?

Joe: We are start-up people running an agency. For us, funding is a natural part of scaling our business. It’s just something foreign to many agency types; the antiquated models don’t lend themselves to investment and the creative guys running them don’t get the process.

MAI: What opportunities has funding presented, and what challenges did you face in securing it?

Joe: Aggressive growth is the outcome of funding and that is always challenging. Securing funding is a major process. There are many scenarios to play out and a lot of professional help is required. It takes a long time.

MAI: What do you think is the future of agencies—in regard to services, structure, talent, etc.? 

Joe: Agencies sell talent and that will never change. Today though, we create products and those products are worth more than the time it takes the talent to create them and that’s a challenge for everyone. Clients don’t want to pay for products; they want to pay for service. The future of the ad game is the right model that sells products like services. That’s something we are working at everyday.

Joe Olsen is the co-founder CEO of Phenomblue and on the board of directors for the Society of Digital Agencies. Connect with him on LinkedIn or check out his blog

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