Axial's Growth 100 : Jon Morris

Jon Morris

CEO, Rise Interactive

Getting Data Driven

Jon Morris is no stranger to bootstrapping. Jon founded Rise Interactive in 2004, when he was an MBA student at the University of Chicago. He had an idea, and he entered into the university’s annual business plan competition. The original concept, teaching traditional marketers how to manage digital marketing programs, landed him second place and $10,000, which he used to bring his plan into reality.

But Jon quickly found that marketers didn’t want someone to teach them how to manage their digital campaigns — they wanted someone to do it for them.

A Data-Driven Approach

Jon had an early pivot, and Rise soon was charting the course toward full-service digital marketing agency with a special focus in media and advanced analytics. Today, the agency works with marketing leaders from brands like Ulta Beauty, Atkins Nutritionals, and Sports Authority.

Rise’s operating philosophy, which it calls Interactive Investment Management (IIM), “takes an unbiased approach to investing marketing dollars into the channels delivering the greatest returns for our clients,” says Jon. “This philosophy helps marketers better understand their customers, deliver more relevant experiences, and allocate marketing dollars effectively.”

Rise modeled IIM after the financial sector, in which established systems make it seamless to gather and analyze information to inform investment. Rise didn’t see why the same opportunities shouldn’t be available to marketers looking to evaluate campaign performance and move quickly.

“Data has always been our edge,” Jon says. “It influences the type of people we hire, the way we make decisions, and how we manage marketing campaigns.”

“Data has always been our edge.”

Fast-Tracking Growth

For six years running (2010 – 2015), Rise has been named to Inc.’s list of the 5000 fastest growing companies. Jon credits Rise’s growth to both their data-driven approach and a “razor-sharp focus on client performance.” The company has consistently reinvested profits back into the business, maintaining a strong emphasis on innovation and infrastructure. “We’ve done a great job growing the company organically,” says Jon.

Now Rise is looking to scale faster. “I want to compliment our organic growth by exploring M&A opportunities as well,” Jon says. Rise is looking to acquire companies in the analytics, media, web development, and marketing consulting fields that can help drive revenue and broaden their service offerings. The company joined Axial to begin to take a more proactive approach to acquisitions.

Finding a Cultural Fit

Rise recognizes the risks as well as the opportunities of acquiring new businesses. “We take our culture very seriously and have spent a tremendous amount of time working to maintain our culture at a single location in Chicago,” says Jon. Finding a good cultural fit “is crucial to the success of any acquisition.” The company has specific attributes that it looks for in a potential “Riser,” including responsiveness, accountability, a can-do attitude, and humility. Future employees must prove themselves to be team players, demand excellence, and always put the customer first.

Rise currently has more than 170 employees. “When you hit 50 or 100 people, it’s a major inflection point. Through this type of growth, you can’t help but encounter obstacles within your operational infrastructure,” Jon says. He credits overcoming those obstacles to “developing the people, processes, and technology to serve the growing needs of the business at those different points of inflection.” With the company undergoing expansions every six to 12 months, creating an operational plan and process is crucial to limit distractions and interruptions for both team members and clients.

Developing and honing those processes will continue to be important as Rise begins to target acquisitions and begins to prepare for the integration process.

“We want to continue to do what we do well,” says Jon. “One thing that has stayed constant with us is the ability to always provide ROI for Rise’s clients. If we are constantly making decisions to help our client’s business perform better, and use that as our north star, then we will always be making the right decisions.”