Sometimes, when a birthday rolls around, it’s just simpler to buy our own gifts.
As Vancouver-based digital marketing and web design agency Gravitate turned 20 this year, it bought a whole new company — ACH Marketing.
The match was years in the making. Located just around the corner from each other, ACH Marketing and Gravitate have been partnering on projects since ACH set up as an agency three years ago.
Alan Hwang, owner of ACH, came on as director of Growth to head up Gravitate’s new vertical, which is focused on digital marketing services, including Google Adwords, Facebook and Instagram advertising, LinkedIn advertising, IP address targeting and conversion rate optimization.
“Gravitate builds large websites and provides ongoing service and optimization,” Hwang said. “Our focus is growth marketing after the website is done. We can also create custom marketing campaigns, and drive traffic to the (client’s) website. We are really complementary as far as the services that we offer.”
He added, “We’re both really analytical and result driven for the client. It’s not about generating revenue (for us) or creating a good piece for our portfolios, it’s about a good return on investment for the client. And we just get along as people.”
This is not Gravitate’s first acquisition, said President Colten Tidwell, who came on six years ago as an account manager, but he said previous acquisitions “have been more focused on talent and growing our team. This is about how we can service our clients better. This makes sense from a business standpoint.”
The acquisition became official in May, and Hwang said there have been nearly no growing pains so far. He said one of his two staff came over full time as well as five contractors and every single one of his clients. He said that while the ACH Marketing brand is being absorbed by Gravitate, he’s been given a huge amount of autonomy in how he runs the new department and manages the clients he brought to Gravitate.
“I’m ready to run with this new vertical for them,” Hwang said. “We started talking about this in January 2019, but we have been working together for a few years now. It was a pretty organic process — we already knew we clicked. We knew our values are the same and our vision is the same.”
Tidwell added, “This is something we were talking about for a long time — it didn’t happen overnight. We didn’t want to bring on ACH and force them into our ecosystem. We’re three weeks into it, and there is still a lot to be done as far as cohesiveness.”
While Gravitate was looking to expand its client services, Hwang had other reasons for pursuing the purchase.
“For me, the way I view it, we were growing so fast. Since I went full time as an agency, we’ve doubled in size three years in a row. We’re always kind of bursting at the seams, working with larger clients, brands and projects, doing what are we really good at — the advertising and growth marketing piece,” he said. “We were going to break $5 million in revenue, and I thought what’s an easier way to scale the business — on my own or with support of Gravitate? (The acquisition) helps me grow and scale a lot faster.”
Gravitate and ACH Marketing were located so close to each other in downtown Vancouver, even Google Maps suggests that you just walk the two blocks from one to the other, and each has seen its share of urban growth, particularly with the recent explosion at the Waterfront.
At the time of our interview, Hwang found himself outside, observing the bustling downtown.
“It’s amazing to see the activity. There are so many cars driving around. Three years ago, there were no cars,” he said. “There are 10 people sitting outside in the sun.”
He credits the business community for his success as a start-up. “I don’t think I could have been successful growing my own business without CREDC and the (Greater Vancouver) Chamber of Commerce, helping me as a young business owner and taking me seriously. What makes this area different is the business community and how people support each other.”
At 20 years, Gravitate finds itself “doing some space planning right now,” said Tidwell, alluding to an impending office relocation. “Every five years it feels like Gravitate is a start-up, with changes in the way we do it. This year it’s where we do it.”
Tidwell sees Hwang’s leadership as a key to Gravitate’s future growth.
“The sky’s the limit, to be honest, with where we go and what we do,” Tidwell said. “You can’t put a value on the strategy he brings to the company from a business perspective.”