I’ve told the story of how I started 352 in a fraternity house bedroom before. Back in 1997, we started with the brilliant name SpyderWeb Page Creation, and somehow I managed to make money by charging $49 for business webpages. I did some Internet advertising, went to a few trade shows throughout Florida to find new clients, and I had a 1-800 number run into my fraternity room for my clients to call. Gainesville was the first home to 352, and in a way, my home was the start of the business.
When it came time to open an actual office in 1999 – spurred by fraternity brothers who were answering our company phone with less-than-exemplary phone etiquette – I rented a one-room office in a small office building at 602 South Main Street. Ironically, we started in the exact same office in which Grooveshark was founded in six years later. There must be something in the air in that office that helps get tech companies off the ground (hopefully it’s something legal). But as we look around and see new tech companies thriving around town, it’s clear that there’s simply something in the air in Gainesville that supports the kind of company we’ve always worked to be.
352 is People
From the start, we took advantage of Gainesville’s greatest local resource – its abundance of smart, motivated students who love technology. Though we’d moved well past $49 websites by then, we built our staff (and kept costs down) by hiring students and recent graduates, and then we added an internship program to help groom new designers and developers. By 2002, we had more than 20 employees, and we changed our name to 352 Media Group. “352,” of course, symbolizing the local area code of the great city of Gainesville where we got our start.
As we continued to grow throughout the 2000s, we found ourselves dreaming of bigger project opportunities with bigger clients. We realized most of those projects weren’t going to come from just the Gainesville market, so we opened up a sales office in Atlanta to feed our project development hub in Gainesville.
Fighting Brain Drain
In the late 2000s, we noticed a disturbing trend – many of our employees who we hired out of UF or Sante Fe College would eventually get the itch to move to a bigger city and would leave our company. It’s problem that eventually hits most Gainesville companies, or at least it did in the past. We noticed that a number of our employees were moving to the Tampa area, so instead of losing this great talent from our company, we opened up a Tampa office as well.
With growing offices in Tampa and Atlanta, it might seem odd that we’ve held on to Gainesville as our headquarters. But our leadership team sees being in Gainesville as a real long-term advantage for us for several reasons. First, Gainesville continues to give us much greater access to smart young talent, and as we – and other new tech companies – remain committed to Gainesville, we expect the number of students who stay in the area to increase. In Tampa and Atlanta there is much more competition to hire the best students and young professionals each year, and it can even be tough to get quality interns.
Though the number is growing, not enough local companies are able to take full advantage of the talent that Gainesville grows. It can be difficult to convince UF and Santa Fe students that there is a Gainesville outside of the campus and accompanying bars, but the employees who choose to stay in Gainesville quickly discover an attractive lifestyle, especially as they think about starting a family. The qualities that have made Gainesville such a resource for us also makes it a great place to live: low cost of living, great environment, a population full of young, passionate people. We have tremendous cultural and sporting (go Gators!) events, and overall it’s simply a great place to live. Gainesville is an easy city for us to reinvest ourselves back into the company and into our community.
Home Sweet Home
For these reasons and more, we decided to reinvest in Gainesville and make our Gainesville office a showpiece for the entire company. We signed a long-term lease deal for a premier spot on the ground floor of Tioga Town Center, and we, along with Tioga Town Center management, invested more than $200,000 into the custom build out of our new office. Our new office is beautiful and provides a great environment for our 40 Gainesville team members and for our staff and clients in other cities when they travel into Gainesville for meetings. The surrounding amenities in the Tioga Town Center, including Starbucks, several restaurants, TCBY, Gainesville Health and Fitness Center, and World of Beer (which our staff has a particular fondness for on trivia nights), certainly don’t hurt our work lifestyle either.
We’re proud to be part of the Gainesville community, and we’re especially proud that our company’s name, 352, symbolizes the city that gave us our start. Someday we hope to be one of the most respected digital agencies in the world, and when people ask us what our name 352 stands for, we’ll have a great story to tell about the city we love.
Now that we’re settled into our new office, we’re inviting everyone in the Gainesville community to join us for our official Grand Opening Party on Thursday, April 10, from 5:30 pm – 8 pm. The Gainesville Chamber of Commerce will be on hand to do an official ribbon cutting at 5:30 pm, many of the Tioga Town Center restaurants will be serving up food, and our friends at Paris Leaf will be providing live music for the event. Please join us, and help 352 celebrate its re-commitment to the great city of Gainesville. You can RSVP here, or you can visit the Facebook page and Join the event (don’t worry, you don’t have to do both).
Image credit: Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce