After graduating from college and working six months at a “real job,” our founder Flynn Zaiger felt that he’d had enough of the corporate world. Conversations with a few mentors he’d met during college led to verbal confirmations of their interest in hiring him as a consultant.
After some deep breaths, and a little liquid courage (we were founded in New Orleans, after all), Flynn Googled “How do I start a Business in Louisiana?”
One $75 payment to the Louisiana Secretary of State later, Online Optimism LLC was born. Some coffee was grabbed down the street, and Online Optimism (i.e. just Flynn) got to work, publishing our first ever blog post on day two! After one week of working off the kitchen table in his four-person apartment, an early client kindly offered us a temporary office space (with a real coffee pot down the hallway) and Flynn gladly accepted.
Our first year was a journey of quick growth. When the time came to hire for the first time (an intern), Flynn snuck a Target desk into the offices and built it overnight. We ended up calling our interns Specialists, since this is what most entry-level employees are called at digital agencies, and because we had an early premonition that our internship program would become an essential part of the hiring process at Online Optimism. We were right, and to this day roughly half of our full-time employees started as Specialists.
We also began working to support small businesses in our hometown, providing our initial presentation on “The Perfect Fit: Best Uses of Online Marketing for your Business” for StayLocal within our first year.
Toward the end of 2013, the client who helped us set up our office needed the space back, and we were politely asked to set off on our own journey for a more permanent location. We settled down on New Orleans’ Oak Street, and after a hearty debate, purchased our company’s very first coffee maker.
As our client base continued to expand and more full-time employees joined the team, we knew it was time to develop an amazing culture that would keep us all engaged and reflect our shared values. Snacks became plentiful, happy hours were enjoyed, and Lundi Gras was added to our PTO. We created our half-day birthday policy, provided that you wore a hat (though we quickly allowed tiaras and other headwear, as well).
Most importantly, we began our reign as the undefeated New Orleans #BattleOfTheAgencies Trivia Champions . Sure, some might point out that it only happened once, but we’ll say it again: we’re undefeated and accepting challengers.
After one too many client calls were interrupted by the explosive sound of blenders going off in the juice bar underneath our second-floor office, we decided that a co-working space would be the key to staying in one office for longer than 15 months. We moved into Launch Pad, New Orleans’ first co-working space (which unfortunately closed its doors in 2020 during the pandemic).
This was also the first year that we were named to New Orleans CityBusiness’ list of Best Places to Work , a list we would proudly see ourselves on nearly every year following.
After a period of significant growth, we realized that we were twice the size of any other company in our co-working space, and once again searched for a new place to call Online Optimism’s home. We found a beautiful space at 1100 Saint Andrew right off Magazine St. , and moved into an office where we’d stay for the next three years. We painted the door a slightly eye-catching green to make passersby feel a little optimistic, too.
In the spirit of Always Optimizing, now is a good time to mention an important lesson we learned during 2016 and 2017: during this time, our agency offered PR services alongside our content marketing and SEO campaigns in order to assist link-building. While some of those capabilities do remain elements of our Search and Content department’s work (like newsjacking,) event production turned out to not be the right fit for a digitally-focused agency, and we shut down our PR department after a year. To this day, you’ll still find a few front-page stories framed around the office that we received as press coverage for clients from those days.
Our first ever OOies were held, and an incredible six OOie winners were named (a number that, again, would be surpassed each and every year). This also marks the year that the most-awarded Optimist, Juan Pablo Madrid , joined our team. Serving as our Design Director comes second to being a five-time OOie winner, we presume.
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Our agency growth continued, adding on several Optimists that now lead our organization. First, we hired Sam Olmsted , who joined our team as our first Search and Content Director and three years later would be promoted to New Orleans Managing Director, with his pup Millhouse naturally becoming our New Orleans Managing Dog-Rector. Through our Specialist program, we met two incredibly talented individuals: Meara McNitt , and Lauren Walter . Both would start as Specialists, then become Strategists, then Senior Strategists, and finally, both be promoted to the Director level in under four years.
Less importantly, we upgraded our coffee machine to a Keurig and added on an espresso machine that one Optimist eventually learned how to use.
This year marked a major increase in our team sizes, as we crossed double-digit employees for the first time. On the benefits side, we added on retirement plans, unlimited sick days, thrice annual swag (matching our incoming Specialist classes) and more to cement our place as the best agency to work for in New Orleans.
We began receiving recognition for our company culture outside of Louisiana, too: Digiday named us to their Shortlist for Most Passionate Employees, a testament to the excitement that our Optimists brought to their desks each day.
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After three years, we finally outgrew our space and moved into new, 4,200 square-foot headquarters at 517 Soraparu Street in New Orleans. We brought in local artists to decorate our kitchen area with some massive art projects—stop by to check out the 20-foot tree , if you get a chance—built up walls for conference rooms and a creative studio, and put up art showcasing the previous five office spaces that brought us all the way here.
Importantly, we also upgraded our coffee selection to include cold brew and nitro cold brew on tap.
Well, we all experienced 2020, right? It didn’t go exactly as planned for anyone.
That being said, we entered 2020 with lots of Optimism, and came out of the year optimistic (with many more employees). On March 13th, 2020, like everyone else, we sent our staff home with their laptops, and let them know we’ll see them back in the office probably in a week or two. You can read our first blog post about it here. As it noted early on, “Let’s look out for each other and do what we can to keep everyone going.”
As the months went on, we stayed busy. We created Zoom backgrounds of our favorite restaurants so we could eat their delivered food like it was a normal Friday lunch. We reported on Google Search Trends data to help other business owners make insightful decisions.
We wrote that Black Lives Matter, and then committed ourselves to a plan that would ask us to put actions behind those words. Some of these efforts include Donate, Elevate, which provides a 200% donation match to our employees, and VIBE, which includes a $5,000 Google Ads donation (among other prizes) to a Black-owned business. By the end of the year, we had donated to dozens of organizations that demonstrated our commitments to anti-racism.
In addition, we grew—a lot. From January 1st, 2020 to December 31st, 2020 we went from thirteen employees to nineteen. We opened up the office optionally to those that wanted to come back in (while remaining socially distanced) in September of 2020.
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As the world re-opened, our growth continued. We added on as our new Digital Ads Director Esteban Largaespada, with eight years of paid search experience. In June, we announced our next expansion, with our CEO Flynn moving from New Orleans to Washington, DC, alongside Juan Pablo Madrid, to build out our client base there. As part of the expansion, we raised our pay for Specialists from $10 / hour to $15 / hour, and began compensating employee/Specialist applicants for any assignments they complete as part of their interview process.
We revised our website to add this culture section, and our web development team was kind enough to provide me this history page to write on so I can cosplay writing in my livejournal.
Our staff remained optionally remote until July 12th, 2021, when we welcomed everyone back into the office. Through a series of conversations with our team, we came up our own version of a hybrid work environment, asking staff to come into the office for certain tasks. Two weeks after our new policy rolled out, new rises in cases caused us to go back to fully remote, and re-consider our decisions. In November of 2021, after many internal discussions, we announced our new policy which we call “You Do You.” This policy allows staff to choose where they work best, and provide them with the agency to decide how to best work with our agency! We still have a beautiful 4,200 square feet headquarters in New Orleans, along with physical offices in Washington, DC and Atlanta, GA. We also allow staff to work entirely remotely, as long as their work hours remain either ET or CT. We think the future of work is giving employees and amazing office environment, and providing an equally productive environment to those that want to work remotely.
In December, 2021, luckily timed between the Delta and Omicron waves, we flew out our remote staff (who were comfortable traveling) to New Orleans for our first annual remote retreat. We spent Wednesday – Friday bonding, learning, and yes, winning OOies. Before the end of the year, we promoted Sara Bandurian to Operations Supervisor as a member of our leadership team, providing her with a theatrically appropriate celebratory anthem.
…And that’s everything we’ve done. So far.
—FLYNN ZAIGER, CEO
Last updated December, 2021