The Full Story Behind Phase2's New Front-End Super Stars

Joey Groh, Creative Director
#Phase2 | Posted

For the past 13 years, I’ve been part of a team of multi-talented individuals at a boutique web firm called SuperStar Media. Born out of the dot-com bust, Superstar was conceived by my business partner and long time friend, Sean Kelley, and myself. Armed with two Macs, key connections in the music biz, and a healthy dose of passion for creating things people love to use, we built something very special that defined our lives for over a decade. All good things must come to an end, but as one door closes, another one opens. That door just happened to be Phase2, and it was our decision to close the other one. To fill in the story a bit more, lets go back a few years.
In the beginning...

From humble beginnings circa 1995, I was (still am) a huge fan of a local band who made it big in my hometown of Bremerton, Washington called MxPx. At this time, the web was the wild west and anything was possible. As a fan,  I built their first website which quickly became the official version. The site was a canvas for me to play around with illustration, typography, layout, and of course everything else that goes along with an early generation website. There were no cascading style-sheets or ubiquitous open source cms platforms readily available, just inline font tags, tables and perl. Fun right? Actually it was, and I learned a heck of a lot.

As this all unfolded, Sean Kelley and I were graduating from college with dreams of big corporate jobs in the web industry. The sky was the limit, and things never looked better for those in our shoes. What could go wrong? Pop, there went the bubble. After what seemed like an eternity applying for jobs, we recycled an old discarded band name ‘SuperStar’ and began our adventures on our own.

It wasn’t hard to find work in the music industry; we were creative, worked like dogs, and our rates were a fraction of the what the larger firms were charging. Thanks to the connections we made with Mxpx, we never once did any advertising or marketing, it was all word of mouth. As projects kept landing in our lap, we always turned to our friends first for help, such as our first employee Chris Clark, and second Mike Walpole. We felt it was important to bring our friends to the top with us, and we knew we could count on them to work as hard as we did. We were right, and to this day I am surrounded by good friends who helped us get to this point.

Throughout the years, we were able to hone our craft on high-profile websites that pushed the limits of our creativity. I’ve had the pleasure of designing sites for Christina Aguilera, Bette Midler, Kings of Leon, Eagles, and many more. Being a nimble company that could flex to the needs of the given project, our repertoire of work expanded beyond entertainment clients. From education to corporate, non-profit to publishing, we were growing up and growing larger.

Along with world-class design, we built our own proprietary cms and project management solutions for clients and internal usage. At last, we had the clients, the talent, and the tools to tackle the big jobs. We were set right? Once again, the universe felt the need to throw a wrench into SuperStar by way of something called Drupal.

And then came Drupal.

With closed systems that we had built and maintained for our client base, we focused inward instead of exploring what others were using at the time. We found clients were now turning us away because we lacked Drupal skills, and our proprietary tools were now undesirable. What would we do, abandon our proprietary tools that we spent years building in favor of this Drupal thing? We saw no other choice, so the plug was pulled.

After several years, we found ourselves at the top of our game once again. Drupal had been good to us, and our team had expanded to the point of opening an office in Portland with some of the best front-end developers in the Drupal-sphere. After spilling some scotch on my old college buddy Chris Bloom at a Drupalcon in San Francisco, he became a partner at SuperStar Media and then brought in Jeff Crisamore, Courtney Koppenhaver, and Peter Schuelke. Our team now had a reputation for being ahead of the curve, friendly, hard working, and most importantly people who could extend in-house teams when overflow was needed.

Enter Phase2.

From the moment we started working with Phase2, we knew that our cultures aligned in a way that we had never seen before. Fortunately, they felt the same way about us and began booking up every available hour. Soon, almost everyone on the team was working on Phase2 projects and integrating into their respective groups. It didn’t take long for discussions to come about regarding coming onboard. We had always kept an open mind about joining other teams, but now that the idea was more of a reality, Sean and I needed to have some heart-to-heart talks.

Do we put SuperStar Media to rest, the company we put blood (I cut my finger when building a tin partition), sweat and tears into? Sean would finally be able to pursue his dreams of being a serial entrepreneur,  I could focus on my craft, and our team would receive the benefits of a larger company.

Ultimately, we agreed that it was time for the next step in our lives. Coming onboard with Phase2 was an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up, and it seemed that the stars were aligning for this decision to be made. Sean was at the point where he was getting very excited about opportunities after SuperStar, and I was already ingrained in Phase2 projects along with our guys.

As we shed a tear while closing the Bremerton office, we feel good knowing that Sean is already working on his next entrepreneurial venture, and ready to take on the world. Mike Walpole decided to go off on his own, where he’s busy writing music for the WWE. The Phase2 door is wide open for the transitioning team, with plenty of smiling faces and new and exciting challenges to solve. As it started 13 years ago, I will begin this new journey armed with my Mac(book), dear friends, and a sense of adventure to build things people love to use.  Check out the Portland Business Journal's article about our big move to Phase2 here.

photo of SuperStar Media Crew

Joey Groh

Joey Groh

Creative Director