Mackey Creative Lab is a boutique web, design, and creative consultancy located in Pasadena, California. They are designers, developers, and strategists who enjoy making connections that last long after their projects are delivered. It's obvious that they love what they do; with over 150 clients, many of whom have been with them for years, you could say that the small team has a stellar reputation for client retention. Their lab partners (clients) include Pasadena City College, Gerber, and LASportsNet. We sat down with co-founder and partner Maxwell Rowe to learn more about himself, the company, and his co-founder and business partner, Elizabeth Harrison.
Q. In one sentence, describe what your company does.
A. We build and design UX-focused websites and online experiences, conceptualize and design brands, and develop content and messaging to help our clients achieve their business goals, create better user experiences, and tell their story.
Q. What is the problem you're solving?
A. We are in the business of solving our client’s problems. Generally, these problems are associated with growing and/or communicating their brand, but every day we face different ones. From leading a startup to finding their identity and developing their brand, to revamping a stale website design, to sorting through 29,000+ pages of web content to prepare for a CMS migration to removing malware and patching up security holes, the problems we see run the gamut but remain rooted in providing solutions to help our clients communicate and engage their target audience.
Q. What brought your company to Los Angeles, and what do you like about the startup ecosystem here?
A. In Pasadena born and raised, on the computer was where we spent most of our days, designin’, developin’, relaxin’ all cool. Our roots are in Pasadena. I originally started freelancing in Central and Northern California, but relocated to Pasadena where Liz and I joined forces to form Mackey. We’re Pasadena through and through.
I would never consider us a startup; we’re not sexy enough for that. But to comment on the ecosystem, we moved to Cross Campus when they first opened their doors in Pasadena. It was a stark contrast to our previous office. There’s something to be said for being around a bunch of creative, active, and entrepreneurial types. We’re not the best networkers and Cross Campus gave us an opportunity to participate in passive networking. There are a lot of really talented people here and being able to bounce ideas off others and see what others are doing helps push us. Not to mention, we’ve been able to add to our client list from just within the community of Cross Campus.
Q. How has being a part of the Cross Campus coworking community helped you or your organization grow?
A. We aren’t the most outgoing networkers, but being at Cross Campus has provided an environment for casual networking and the steady building of relationships. We have connected with new clients, potential contractors, and an entire community of people whom we can go to with random questions, business advice, referrals to service providers, and more. But most importantly, Cross Campus is an incubator of creative minds which gives us the space and inspiration to push our own.
Q. What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
A. Doing good work!
There’s not really a moment. There are lots of little moments. We face new challenges every day. They are always different, and rarely does the same solution fit all challenges. But working through the challenge, finding the solution, and knowing you’re helping contribute to a client’s goals gives us the most satisfaction.
Q. Talk about a time you or your team failed at a goal you needed to achieve.
A. We have failures on a daily basis. I think that’s part of doing your own thing; you can’t succeed without failing. We’re in an industry where we’re often inventing as we go. Much of what we do is the first time it’s being done. So we expect that we will fail, but I think it’s more about how you fail and then how you pick yourself up and get right back at it. So that being said, I can’t recall a specific moment, because I really don’t look at failure as failure.
Q. What are some characteristics of people who have been successful at your organization?
A. They are critical thinkers and problem solvers; reliable; flexible and willing to wear many different hats; courageous enough to try new things; humble enough to make and own mistakes; and collaborators with each other, our clients, and our vendors. We see everyone as a team member critical to reaching our end goal.
Q. If your company was a superhero, who would it be and why?
A. We would be Plastic Man. DC says he’s the silliest superhero, with his power being the ability to morph into anything and his wit as his sharpest weapon. That’s us in a nutshell. We aren’t saving lives (no one dies in web design), we don’t have flashy capes, and we try to stay out of the spotlight. But instead, we rely on our adaptability, durability, and humor to deliver. With any problem, we morph into whatever is needed to solve it. No matter what comes our way, we stick with it. And we rely on our sense of humor with a dash of sarcasm to ease the pain that comes with any project, both the clients’ and our own.
Q. Who do you respect the most, and why?
A. That’s a big question. I think I can speak for both of us when I say that we respect our parents most. Liz and I are cousins, and our parents started Green Street Restaurant in Pasadena over 35 years ago. We grew up in the restaurant business — seeing the work it takes to run a business, the highs, the lows. We got a hard knocks MBA before we were even out of high school. The restaurant business is about as volatile as it gets, and to be able to survive as long as they have in Pasadena is a true testament to their ability to adapt, innovate, and persevere through tough times.
Overall, there are a number of people both well known and not so well known who inspire us and influence how we approach business and life.
Q. Where do you see yourself and your organization in 10 years?
A. Sometimes, it feels like it’s hard to see where the business will be next month, let alone in 10 years! But we definitely are narrowing in on what we do best and finding our stride. We love working with clients in higher education and have developed a wealth of knowledge about the industry, so I definitely seeing that area of our business growing. Right now we are a team of two, but I can see that growing.
Yvon Chouinard has a notion of building a 100 year company, a sustainable company. We’re not here to be the next Facebook. We love doing the work and not growing too fast. We want to grow smart.
Learn more about Mackey Creative Lab here.
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