A health scare prompted a successful executive to rethink his priorities — and what he wants his next business to represent. One key: empathy for customers.
Doug Pace and Kevin Hourigan reached dizzying heights of success with their Tampa-based digital marketing firm, Bayshore Solutions.
In 2004, the company received a prestigious Partner of the Year award from Microsoft, and in 2014, after growing 60% over three years, it cracked the Inc. 5000 list, with $7.9 million in annual revenue. Satellite offices in Denver, Miami and Europe followed, and Bayshore’s workforce swelled to more than 120. Hourigan and Pace did so well they bought out other investors in the company.
But after more than 15 years with Bayshore, Pace had had enough and wanted to move on. He sold his shares to Hourigan.
“If you're not coming up with new experiences, you're not innovative and you're going to be leapfrogged.” Doug Pace, founder of Stonehill, a management consulting firm in Tampa
“We got to the size where I just wasn’t having fun anymore,” the 45-year-old says — but the timing of his exit turned out to be a significant life-changing event, both personally and professionally. Three days after his last day at Bayshore, March 14, 2016, he had a massive stroke. "Basically," says Pace, "every artery that brings blood to the brain just blew open.”
After weeks of recovery, Pace reset his life. He turned down an offer from a Fortune 100 company — “It was kind of my dream job,” he says — in favor of starting from scratch. He wanted to grow something. He wanted to have fun again.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do," he says, "so I started a little investment company to raise some money."
Not even two years later, that company — now morphed into performance management consulting firm Stonehill — was a finalist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Emerging Business of the Year Award. It didn’t win, but that doesn’t bother Pace. He was too busy managing Stonehill’s double-digit growth rate and expanding client base to worry about baubles on the mantel.
In 2017, its first full year of operations, Stonehill generated $400,000 in revenue. Pace expects to top $1 million by the end of 2018, thanks to landing business from a wide range of companies, such as The Melting Pot chain of fondue restaurants, moving and storage firm PODS, Ramos Cos., and Restaurant Magic, a Tampa tech company that produces a suite of restaurant management software.
A huge win was Valley National Bank, for which Stonehill provided brand strategy for the bank’s recent logo makeover and rebrand as “Valley.”
Branding is far from Stonehill’s only service. Pace says down time necessitated by his health scare allowed him to seriously ponder what kind of work he wanted to do in the next phase of his career. His answer? Design thinking.
Design thinking, he says, has become a popular way to approach business problems. “It’s all about empathy,” Pace says. “You observe and interview customers, but it’s not just about what they tell you they want. It’s about what problems you’re seeing them have and how you can solve those problems.”
In a nutshell, the process involves coming up with a slew of ideas — “going wide,” Pace calls it — and then repeatedly testing and prototyping the best ideas as quickly as possible, to separate the wheat from the chaff.
“That means you actually get stuff out to market and you might fail — and that's fine,” Pace says. "Design thinking says to be innovative, you've got to not be afraid. We're in an experience-driven economy — if you're not coming up with new experiences, you’re not innovative and you’re going to be leapfrogged.”
To further separate Stonehill from the pack, Pace gravitated toward high-tech business intelligence offerings in areas such as data analytics and robotic process automation. “The tagline that we've been working on is ‘Innovate, Optimize, Grow,’” he says.
Pace admits he’s failing at what he wanted Stonehill to be — small. The firm’s client base has ballooned from a half-dozen to more than 25, and 95% of those are on a monthly retainer fee schedule. The firm has seven full-time employees and more on the way.
But that’s OK. Pace says he’ll happily sell the company and start all over again if and when the right offer comes along from a larger competitor, which tends to happen quickly in an industry prone to consolidation. “What I don’t want to do," he says, "is get away from the work."