Bright blue and yellow accents stretch the length of the Somnio office’s open communal workspace. Hushed conversations hover above the rows of six-person, collaborative desks lined perpendicularly against floor-to-ceiling windows.
The modern space resembles something from Silicon Valley, replete with glassed-in meeting rooms, a virtual reality area, and a cozy break room with tabletop shuffleboard and a nearly full-service kitchen. The office’s innovative atmosphere is reminiscent of the company’s beginnings when three SFA alumni started the digital marketing company at a time when marketing was done almost entirely in print.
“No one was doing digital back then,” said Harold Valderas ’91, Somnio CEO. “It was all print marketing. In fact, our very first offering was on a DVD because that was digital then even though it was a physical object. A lot of agencies just did print or newspaper ads and just learned digital recently, so we definitely were ahead of the curve.”
Fourteen years later, as Chief Operating Officer Garrett Goeters ’92, Chief Financial Officer Scott Killingsworth ’89 and Valderas sit in the spacious meeting room of their contemporary Austin office, they discuss the tactics they continue to employ to stay modern in an ever-evolving industry.
“We reinvent ourselves every two years,” Valderas said. “A decade ago, video was big, and later it was interactive websites. Then it would be flash and mobile apps. Right now, we are using more and more artificial intelligence for marketing and are starting to do some things with virtual reality.
“Our DNA is all about reinventing ourselves because marketing changes so quickly, and we are the old guys here,” he added. “We have a lot of millennials who keep us on our toes and are always trying out new tools and new things. We try to promote an environment where anyone’s idea can rise to the top and be a new solution.”
Somnio is a business-to-business digital marketing company offering strategic, creative and engagement services to Fortune 500 companies, including AT&T, IBM, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Dell.
“It’s interesting, some of the clients we work with today, even though they are major corporations, are behind the curve, and they just can’t keep up,” Killingsworth said. “There are a lot of companies that still haven’t moved along in that digital era yet. What’s made us so successful is, first, the foresight that Harold and Garrett had when the company started, then also being in the right place at the right time when the computer industry and internet were maturing and digital was becoming the format.”
The three men met years ago as undergraduates on the SFA campus. They met their wives at SFA, too, became fast friends and, in figurative and literal ways, eventually family.
“I first started dating my wife, Jennifer Palmer [’93], a few years after she graduated from SFA. She was a sorority sister of Garrett’s wife, Jill DeBroeck [’93]. These two,” Valderas laughed, pointing to Goeters and Killingsworth, whose wife is Kelly DeBroeck Killingsworth ’90, “they married [biological] sisters so they’re in the family together. I had to get adopted in.”
After graduation, Goeters and Valderas entered the sales and marketing world while Killingsworth took a more financial route. Valderas worked at Apple in the company’s formative years, and the three kept in touch even while working in cities across Texas.
Years after working in the industry, Valderas saw opportunities for the companies he worked at to use the burgeoning digital and technological fields. He developed a business plan and shared it with Goeters.
“Harold and I had this mutual arrangement,” Goeters said. “We both had well-paying jobs at these large corporations, so our agreement was to just moonlight, get a few clients and, over time, explore taking the next step. I think our first job was with the U.S. Postal Service. It was $4,000, and Harold calls me up and says, ‘Hey, I quit my job.’”
Valderas’ sudden decision to go all-in on owning a company seemed increasingly promising, and the two men eventually contacted Killingsworth to join their team.
“You know what, you need to do that sometimes,” Valderas said. “We all took the leap, and we are lucky we did because we get to own a company that we created ourselves. We write our own future, and we have plans for the long term.”
One of Somnio’s core tenets is to have the ability to change. It has kept the company competitive, marketable and cutting-edge in an increasingly digital world.
“We always tell employees and clients, ‘Change is constant here. You have to be willing to change.’ That keeps us from sticking a flag in the ground on any specific technology,” Killingsworth said. “We could have said five years ago we wanted to be the best flash company in the world, and we’d be out of business right now. So we just keep changing as the market changes. It’s been fortuitous, but I’d like to think some of it is planned.”
Somnio has been on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies for three years and Austin’s Fast 50 list of the city’s fastest-growing companies. It employs 50 individuals full-time and between 20 and 30 others through contract.
When you first walk in to Somnio’s glossy, cement-floored office, you’re greeted by state-of-the-art technology that boasts just some of Somnio’s capabilities. To the right of the entry door are shelves upon shelves of awards and recognitions that are a testament to Somnio’s continuing success.
“We’ve won awards, we’ve got great clients, and we have great people and great employees,” Valderas said. “It all started in the marketing department at SFA!”