Meet Gauge, an eCommerce design, development and marketing agency nestled in the Starland District. But more than that, Gauge is a dedicated team of creators, strategists, marketing mentors, and developers. From a side hustle started post-college, to a 20+ team that is working with some of the most well-known national brands, Gauge is a company that shows how Savannah gets it done.
Mark Lubbers: We are a digital agency that serves e-commerce retailers. So everything from the website design, to the system configuration, to marketing services, graphic design, social media, email marketing … anything foundational on the marketing side that our clients need to really build their business. When we started, it was much less than that. It was just Daniel and I, about a year out of college, doing business card designs, making websites, just really anything to get paid at that point.
After a few years, we found our e-commerce niche and found some software that we really liked that was fairly innovative at the time, and really provided a lot of features to retailers that they hadn’t had before. Daniel had always kind of had his eye on e-commerce, and on that technology that in some previous history, building sites on his own freelance, so when that opportunity came up, we were one of the essentially, not the early adopters, not the bleeding edge, but we were kind of in that second phase that still got in early enough to where there’s a lot of opportunity.
The Creative Coast: So why Savannah, right? That’s the big question. Because with what you do–you could really go anywhere. And it’s sometimes more attractive to, to go to Austin or Portland or Brooklyn or, you know, throw a rock and find that cool city. So why Savannah?
Daniel Augustine: Savannah is a very European city, the Historic District especially, is where a majority of the town is. It’s got some grit to it; it’s been here for a few hundred years.
But really, I think the most immediate thing that caused us to start the company was that both Mark and I were concerned at the level of quality of web work that was being offered here in Savannah at the time.
” When I see something like that, my first instinct is I want to tip it over. I asked myself, “Okay, what can we do here to really,” you know, to use the vernacular of the day, “disrupt the current state of affairs?” This seemed like a good way to start.”
We had the skill set between the two of us- but we also had other jobs; Mark worked as a server at Lady and Sons in the evening. So basically from 9 to 4:30, we were Gauge, and then from 5 to 11 o’clock, he was a server and I was horse-drawn carriage tour guide. So, that made the risks much less painful if we failed.
It also allowed how we started the business. Cash operated, no investors. Back in those days, even more so this day, the concept of starting a technology company requires massive piles of money to come flying out of the sky and hit you. We didn’t do that and were intentional about not doing it. The actual requirement for starting up in the webpage business is very small in terms of cash flow. The risk was also very low. We were operating out of my friend’s house and basically my bed got shoved in the washer and dryer room – my bedroom turned into the office.
We were able to start it on a shoestring. In New York you couldn’t do that! You know, it’s like yeah, you want an office? You know, well first your rent is three grand a month. You’ve got to be doing something else, and you’re probably working 9 to 5, or 9 to 8, for most of those jobs up there.
“Savannah made it easy for us to give this a whirl, and at that time weren’t married, no kids. So all the various things that made it possible, maybe even probable. You know, or at least we’d have a good shot without completely ruining our lives.”
Mark: Savannah’s just a good place to kind of fuel a creative business. I think it’s because the fact that you’re not dealing with massive populations and massive commutes, and a lot of those kind of lifestyle stress points, it kind of frees you up to focus on what you want to focus. You know there’s a lot of interesting people in the city. SCAD does bring a lot of interesting people to town. There’s a lot of good businesses here, and it’s a vibrant community. So all those things are appealing, and I think that just helps you be better at your work. Because you’re surrounded by things that kind of enrich your life.
Daniel: I think, for when you’re starting a business, you have to ask yourself, will someone pay for this? Will someone pay for this today? Can I get a credit card? Where I can charge 10 bucks right now, and then have it on file? That kind of mentality as opposed to, you know, the “let’s go for growth, let’s build scale then we’ll worry about profitability.”
” A city like Savannah has kind of allowed us to, again because the operating expenses here are low, while the lifestyle is high.”
For the dollars that we do make, it does allow you to kind of field test being here. I always think of Savannah as the biggest small town I’ve ever lived in, even though I’ve never lived in a city of less than a million people; it just happens to be the right size. Not too big, but it allows you enough to field test your idea. As a field lab, Savannah’s really good.
Mark: I mean, we just worked hard, we kind of got after it. You what I mean? It was just one of those things, like it had to make money because we had to pay bills. And we loved what we were doing, you know?
” I love design, I still do. And we love technology, and being able to work with clients to build sites on the internet, I mean it’s a really cool time to be working in lead. From now until then, I mean over the past 10 years, it’ll be 10 years in October for us. There’s just been so much change with web technology and what you can do, and it’s been really cool to be involved in that.”
It was always kind of my dream to run an agency. Through high school and college, that’s what I wanted to do and. Like Daniel said, we just wanted do better work than what was around us. We did, and we provided value for the clients that we worked with, and that just led to more work. We’ve grown slowly, grown organically over the years and hired great people and then hired really bad people and then hired great people. We learned by trial and error.
Daniel: I think the key piece for our business is also understanding the nature of it being entirely digital. We build a product that, I have never touched: a website. I have never smelled a website. The only way you can see it is through digital abstraction. It doesn’t matter where you are when you’re creating these things. Just because you’re in Savannah doesn’t mean you can only work on clients in Savannah. One of our largest clients is Swarovski, the crystal people. You know, a $5 billion a year company out of New York! They can chose whoever they would like to work with, and they chose our humble little firm down here in Savannah, Georgia. Not because of the fact that, or we’re not discriminated by the fact that that we’re here in Savannah.
You can do that from Savannah. You can have national, international clients with no problems out of your home base, and not have an hour and a half each way commute like Atlanta, or you know, rip your hair out because the L-Train is shut down.
Mark: I will say we did realize, after a few years, that if we really wanted to grow as an e-commerce service provider that we’d have to get outside of Savannah really quick to have a large enough client basis. Because there’s just not that many e-commerce retailers here, you know? So, that’s a huge part of why we’re still here, is because we did look outside of Savannah for great clients.
But, like Daniel mentioned, if you do great work, they don’t really care where you are. Most of our clients wanted to stay in the same time zone. We looked for clients up in New York, and we still do. But now, we have a significant part of our team all over the country. We’re much more distributed now, so we’ve got team members in San Diego and Virginia and, we have Charlotte, North Carolina …