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Smart growth Featured

8:00pm EDT May 22, 2006
It’s not unusual to walk into Brighter Minds Media Inc. and see employees playing video games. In fact, CEO and publisher Vivian Antonangeli encourages this type of pre-market product testing.

Creative collaboration has helped Worthington-based Brighter Minds meet its goal of doubling business each year. And as another step toward meeting that goal, the publisher of children’s educational software, games and books, took control of marketing, sales and production two years ago and brought it all in-house.

The moves seem to be working — the company recently increased its office space, and Antonangeli expects $10 million in 2006 revenue.

Smart Business spoke with Antonangeli about how she adapted her company to foster growth.

How did you change your strategy to accommodate your new business model?
We hired people who were industry veterans with a lot of experience and contacts in the retail environment to help us grow the business.

The people who had been involved in the creative and management departments when it was strictly a software company had a lot of contacts in that software world. I’d been in children’s publishing for 20 years, so I had contacts.

We just called people and said, ‘We’re looking for a good person with a lot of experience’ and explained what the company was doing. You get a lot of referrals.

How does your management team support your growing number of employees?
We planned and budgeted for expansion so we’ve made sure that we had a nice package of benefits for everyone. A year ago, Brighter Minds gave stock options to everybody in the company.

We were kind of crunched in our (former) space, but it made for a really nice working environment. People gave each other a lot of assistance, and there was a lot of conversation that went on about creative things.

Sometimes when you’re in a bigger space, the marketing people never see the creative people. But when you’re in a small space, everyone has to see everyone all the time. It helped us really gel as a company, being in that tiny little space.

It’s a young, dynamic group. They love the business, and people wear many hats, as one would in an entrepreneurial kind of company. It’s been a great experience, and management’s been very supportive.

How does encouraging employees to wear many hats benefit your company?
Everyone understands the function of the other departments. For instance, if marketing is putting together the catalog, creative has to help design the cover and the pages, the creative director needs to make sure that all the products are described adequately and the project manager needs to make sure that all the prices are right.

So everybody gets involved in that catalog. By doing that, everybody really understands everybody else’s job.

There are no barriers, and it lets everybody know when there’s urgency, why there’s urgency. When there’s a real need for cooperation, it’s always there. It’s not a bad thing.

How are you keeping that tight-knit, small-company feeling at your larger location?
That’s the challenge. I’ve got a rule that you can’t send e-mails all the time. If sales, marketing and production are downstairs and all the creative people are upstairs, everybody’s going to have to talk about their needs. Our management team values it, and as a group, we will make sure that as much as we can include everybody in certain things, we will include them.

What has been your biggest growth challenge, and how do you manage it?
We’ve expanded from one product line to several this year, and it’s put a big stress our infrastructure in terms of the staffing and getting the warehouse space. Our business model is that we grow the business before we grow the size of the company.

The worst thing a CEO can do is build infrastructure and wait for the business to come. You hear about a lot of downsizing because that happens.

That puts a little bit of strain on our creative folks and on the logistics of handling the business. That’s why we all wear several hats. Another challenge is keeping all those things on schedule so we meet our delivery dates.

How does that affect your strategic plan?
We use a lot of freelance writers and artists when our own art people don’t have the capacity to do it anymore, and when we feel like we need a certain style of art. We also hire programmers. We use as many local resources as we can. That’s how we create more products with fewer people.

HOW TO REACH: Brighter Minds Media Inc., (614) 430-3021 or www.brightermindsmedia.com