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School friends build thriving ad business

Posted: May 20, 2012

David Regn and Jason Brennan became friends in middle school – and began a flourishing business partnership just a few years after that.

Growing up in Malvern, Regn and Brennan attended General Wayne Middle School. They both played lacrosse while attending Great Valley High School, and they decided to make lacrosse-oriented T-shirts and sell them at the games.

Regn laughs as he recalls their marketing strategy, which he says was to stand around at games and say , “Hey, we got some T-shirts, who wants to buy them?” The partners jokingly recall their first venture as “moderately successful.”

But in 1996, while they were still in college, the two friends decided they wanted to start another, more serious venture – this time, an advertising business. Regn and Brennan each put in $5,000. There was one bump in the road, when they needed some cash to stay afloat and Regn’s mother lent them some money. But in three months, the two partners were able to pay her back.

Today, 16 years later, Brennan and Regn are still friends, and Stream Companies is now quite a bit more than moderately successful. It employs some 60 people with offices in East Whiteland’s Great Valley Corporate Center and Center City Philadelphia. The company has added 13 new people since the beginning of the year and intends to hire more. It has won numerous awards for its rapid and continuing growth.

Brennan recalls two factors that kept them growing in the early years. One was diversification of their client base. The other, Brennan says, was “being able to be lucky enough to work for and with good-quality people.”

In 1996, when the advertising business began, blogging software and the word “blog” itself did not yet exist, and Facebook’s launch was eight years in the future. Brennan says he and Regn straddle two different eras – old enough to have grown up with traditional media, including traditional advertising formats, and young enough to have begun dealing with the rapidly evolving online world early in their professional lives.

The partners embraced the digital media, learning as they went.

“We’re self-taught, basically,” Brennan says. “More than anything else, it was trial and error.”

But even Brennan, acknowledged by Regn to be the more technically oriented of the pair, still sees value in the traditional media. The different traditional media and the different digital ones all have their own strengths, and part of their approach is judging which ones will work best in a particular situation, he says.

Regn says Stream Companies emphasizes the measuring of effectiveness.

“We try to bring accountability to the advertising industry,” he says. “Tracking and analyzing is one of the things that have contributed greatly to our success. When we started this, things like Google Analytics didn’t exist. We were one of the first to jump on that kind of thing.”

But there are ways to measure the effectiveness of traditional media too, he says – Stream will assign different phone numbers so they can see how many responses they got to a newspaper ad versus a direct-mail campaign.

As the technology matured, they embraced it, according to Regn. “It certainly didn’t happen overnight,” he says. “It was really an evolutionary process.”

Another factor Regn credits for the company’s growth is the quality of its clients.

“We work with some really great people,” he says.

Among Stream’s more prominent clients are Weis Markets, VF Outlet, Motorola, Kremer Eye Center and the Fred Beans Family of Dealerships.

The partners have learned a great deal from their clients over the years, Regn says, citing Fred Beans in particular as “not only a client but a mentor and a friend.”

Brennan said their staff is highly skilled enough that he expects it to be a factor in future growth.

“We’re the biggest we’ve ever been, but we’ve got the best team we’ve ever had,” he says.

Among their accomplishments, Regn and Brennan have managed to remain friends during the growth of their business. Regn’s advice for friends who want to work together?

“Keep the friendship and the business issues separate as best you can,” Regn says. “You can blur the lines very easily.”

When disagreements do arise, Regn says, it has helped them to simply take some time and think it over.

“Really, at the end of the day, what we’re good at,” he says, is “if we don’t see eye to eye on something, we’ll walk away and let it be, and that really has worked for us.”

Article courtesy of Daily Local News’ Matt Freeman, Journal Register News Service

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