The entrepreneur gene runs deep in the Grant family. Joanna’s father founded a successful electrical consulting firm. And each of David’s grandfathers founded thriving businesses in Canada — including one that ultimately went public. “In our families, starting businesses seems to come naturally”, says David.
When AffinityX was founded, David was running a manufacturing company that built a factory in India in 1985. “One of our big clients came to visit us, and they liked what we were doing a lot. One day they asked, “Can you do our design work here, too?” Unafraid of a challenge, David and Joanna built a unit in India to do the design work. It was a breakthrough idea — and not at all for the faint of heart. “People said we were crazy to send design work from North America to India” Joanna recalls. “There was no internet, no high speed way to send files. Everything had to go over copper wire, which was just about the slowest and least reliable method you can imagine. The joke was that if you want to make a phone call to India, you’d better give yourself two days.”
Finding the best designers was critical to the success of the endeavor.
Three young graphic artists were selected and we brought them to America for one year to absorb the culture, learn the technology and create the system of communication. As part of their training, David and Joanna took them to every sports event you can imagine. “If I’m honest, we got incredibly lucky. The designers we hired were amazing communicators and so talented. They understood the West really well. It laid the foundation for how we ran the business. We learned right away that people — really smart, talented people — would be at the heart of the business.”
A friend at a Fortune 500 company friend let the team use a private network — sort of a precursor to the Internet. This enabled the transfer of files to and from India. With two small children, Joanna was able to manage the workflow and client relationship from home.
An MIT graduate, David built a culture that was a pioneering mix of right and left brain thinking. “I don’t think anybody had really mixed Six Sigma with artists before,” David mused. “I think the theory was that that this could never work, but we discovered with the right people and a rigorous continuous improvement approach, it delivered results our clients were knocked out by.”
As the company grew, in 2000 David went to get venture capital to grow the business. In spite of the dot com crash, he was still able to raise $5 million dollars. But it was a mixed blessing. “After 9/11, our business really struggled. None of the customers we pursued were making decisions and our existing customers were all cutting back.” David recalls. “If we didn’t have such great people and such great VC partners, I don’t know if we could have survived.” David remembers a critical moment. “I’ll never forget the day we finally got our direct internet connection. We put our radio modem on top of our building and we were able to transmit a 64MB message line. We could bypass the entire India telecom. It doesn’t sound like much now but . . . wow, it was a game-changer for us!”
When you grow an amazing business, eventually people want to buy in. As David put it, “Meeting Fred Ayala was total serendipity. I just happened to be in India when he came by to visit. I introduced myself and shook his hand and said ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are.’ He smiled back and said ‘I’m Fred, I’m interested in buying your company.’ We flew to Manila that night to talk more and the rest is history. AffinityX is lucky to have such unusually good owners. Anywhere else, we might have been lost in the shuffle.”
Joanna and David are still with AffinityX today and remain our guiding light.
“Our vision all along was to be the first truly scalable artistic company,” David and Joanna said. “We are just so grateful to everyone who has helped us make that dream a reality.”
And all 2,200+ of us at AffinityX all around the world are grateful for David and Joanna Grant’s tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit. They are living proof how a real revolution starts.