This Columbus company found success by not doing what its clients ask

Melissa Kossler Dutton
Jeff Stauffer, left, and Matt Fox of ThePlan

The founders of ThePlan don’t hesitate to pose tough questions to prospective clients. They regularly engage in conversations where they’re asking for detailed explanations about why the company is requesting a particular product or service. The answers often cause would-be clients to realize a greater need or lead them to alter their projects. The conversations also lay the foundation for an exciting working relationship, says Jeff Stauffer, who handles strategy for the company he co-founded in 2014.

Stauffer learned quickly that solving a bigger problem or forcing a client to figure out the long-term value of what they were asking his team to do made better business sense. “I tell people: ‘If you want we can take your money and do this, but I’d rather find a way to help you make money,’ ” he says. “Then they keep us around and ask us to do more. We like to take an incubator mentality with our clients whether they are big or small. We want to make an impact on the way they’re doing business.”

The Powell-based firm calls itself a digital brand experience company and offers a range of services from mobile and app development to product design and management.

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“That’s the part of the business that we love,” Stauffer says. “We’ve helped people write their business plan and, in some cases, find funding. Other times, we have helped clients with a proof-of-concept that they can give to their leadership team. We help them answer questions like: How is this going to make money? How will we sustain the tech? We want clients thinking about measurable results early on in the process.”

Chris Schultheis reached out to ThePlan because he wanted to expand his software company, Emergency Networking, which created an app that lets fire departments track data about emergency runs. In early meetings with ThePlan, Schultheis was struck by how engaged they were in learning about his product and its potential application in the industry. “Jeff and his team are really good at seeing the bigger picture,” he says. “As we sat down and talked, it was clear they were envisioning big things for me.”

Stauffer and co-founder and CFO Matt Fox saw potential in the market. “Instead of building him a very specific platform to track EMS runs, we built a flexible data collection system,” says Fox. The software allows Emergency Networking to customize data collection for its clients—making it possible to offer a wider array of services to a larger pool of customers,

Schultheis now has created products for tracking and analyzing fire runs, staff training and other tasks such as hydrant flushing. Emergency Networking expanded its client base to include a private ambulance company, and it’s in talks with a hospital. “[ThePlan founders] said, ‘We don’t want to pigeonhole you,’ ” Schultheis says. “It’s gone well beyond what I thought it would. Now I’m better able to compete. I’ve beaten out the biggest player in the industry.”

Although Stauffer and Fox work on client development and managing the company’s 12 full-time employees and 20 freelancers, they continue to assign themselves projects and clients. The hands-on work forces them to maintain their tech skills and stay on top of industry trends, Fox says. “You can’t stop learning. This stuff changes every day, and you’ve got keep working to keep current.”

The company also takes a team approach to handling customer requests, meaning designers, product managers and engineers all work together—and in the same room—to brainstorm solutions and innovations. “Cross-team and client collaboration is critical to developing products that will resonate with our clients,” Stauffer says. “Having diverse skill sets around the table allows us to create better solutions and build long-lasting relationships.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer for Columbus CEO.

36 N. Liberty St., Powell 43065

theplanworks.com

Business: Digital commercialization company that imagines, designs, builds, commercializes and sustains client brands.

Owners: Jeff Stauffer, Matt Fox

Employees: 12 

2018 revenue: Would not disclose.

ThePlan