A birthday is like a new year: time to look back and look forward. Nine years ago, Dan Rowland decided it was time to do something different and strike out on his own. Our agency Rowland Creative was born. As we turn nine, we wanted to share some of our backstory as we move into a new year.
Dan has a key philosophy that creates his way forward: keep moving and make things better. If there’s a better way out there, it’s time to find it and do it. This personal philosophy formed in college as he studied to be a designer.
In the middle of his sophomore year at Ohio University, Dan was preparing his last portfolio that would determine whether he made it into the group of twenty-one students that were accepted into the graphic design program.
“The pressure was really high,” Dan said. “Once you made it, it was fine. I wasn’t bad, but not knowing exactly where I stood was tough.” There were several depressing weeks that he struggled to get through before the portfolio was submitted.
One day, Dan headed home after work fixing bikes, his eyes on the ground. While taking a short cut, he noticed silver letters on the ground. He picked up the object. The silver letters looked like the came from the chrome name emblem on the back of a car: “ing.” The full name had broken off before the i. He tucked it in his pocket and kept moving.
There was something about the “-ing” that kept him motivated. It reminded him to keep doing. If he stopped, he’d get stuck. He needed to keep moving forward. He needed to stay active, making his life a verb and not a noun. To go from alive to living.
He kept the “-ing” in his pocket for years to remind him to keep going. Do-ing became the cornerstone of his philosophy and his values.
“Stopping never worked for me,” he said. “I don’t tread water well. It’s sink or swim.” Dan doesn’t want to ever be static. Growth has to continue. “There’s no good pause button for me. I got antsy.”
Instead, the goal is to always learn and grow and figure things out. Get better. Stay doing.
In fact, Dan started Rowland Creative after a period where he felt like he was “treading water” in his career. “I knew how to be a designer in an agency. And I just really felt I could do it better than what I was seeing,” said Dan. Part of what he wanted was an agency that wouldn’t exhaust itself with overwork. He was a young dad with two young kids in preschool and early elementary school. “I keep that commitment [to avoid burnout] to this day: we make this a place you really can leave at 5 pm and be home when you go home.”
The first years as an agency featured Dan on his own working from his basement. “The laundry buzzer would go off and I’d flip the laundry and get back to work. It was just me but I loved it,” he said.
The business started with two clients. It gave him the initial business experience he needed that would later develop into the agency that exists today.
A lot has changed in the design industry since Dan first entered the industry. In college, design was a fairly static, time-consuming art form. If something went wrong, it took hours to fix and could delay projects significantly. Now, you adjust the typo in the file and move on. “None of my professors used computers. There was a lot to learn on the job as the industry shifted to digital.”
This ability to pivot and adjust is part of what he considers the biggest asset to his business. Growth will happen at every turn. “It’s a lesson we’ve learned and something we see as a big asset for our clients. We’re not going to plateau and we’re going to make sure they don’t either,” said Dan. This can mean hiring to meet new needs and the current team learning new approaches and tools to get the job done.
The vision for Rowland Creative as an agency has continued to evolve: we aren’t in a basement anymore; we’ve doubled our team in the last year; we’ve doubled-down on B2B and B2E work; we’re taking on new challenges including our expansion into marketing.
Marketing genius Seth Godin consistently points out that there is no such thing as an “overnight success.” What seems to be “overnight” is the result of years of unseen work. So we’re here to celebrate nine years of Dan’s hard work and the opportunity to work here.
As Dan says, “Thinking and doing and rethinking and redoing: that’s at the core of what we’re here for.” And that’s good with us.