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Darin Lynch makes certain that Irish Titan, his e-commerce company, more than lives up to its bold brand: Celtic crosses and Irish flair abound in his office, which he declares is closed only two days a year, St. Patrick's Day and the day after.
Lynch, balancing the edgy with the professional, is just as intentional about making Irish Titan a company that has happy employees, forges long-term partnerships with clients and will stand as a legacy.
Growing up on a farm in Iowa, one his father started himself rather than inheriting, fueled Lynch's entrepreneurial spirit from an early age. While Lynch always wanted to have his own company, he got valuable corporate experience first, doing technology work for 2nd Swing, Wilsons Leather and Principal Financial Group.
"One of the things that bled into Irish Titan, that helped my IT career, was I didn't really think about bits and bytes," Lynch said. "I thought more about how can IT support our business strategy and increase our revenue and profitability, which was the beginning of the 'Business First. Online Second' mantra," which is the company's driving philosophy.
That's the approach Lynch, 42, has taken since founding Irish Titan in 2004, while completing a venture management MBA at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. His "business first'' attitude and its Edina location, Lynch believes, distinguish it from competing Web design and development firms clustered in Minneapolis' Warehouse District.
Besides producing e-commerce stores, apps and websites, Irish Titan offers strategy and online marketing services. Last year's sales of $1.5 million were up 60 percent from 2011.
The company has 17 employees but likely will top 20 soon. Lynch aims to grow by doing more work with existing customers, making acquisitions and hiring salespeople to generate new business (allowing him more time to focus on leadership, although he counts on every employee to be a leader).
Lynch enjoys what he does so much that he doesn't feel like he has a job. And he wants employees to share that feeling. Each day, in an initiative Lynch started last year, employees leave a marble in a big jar -- a green marble means it was a good day, while yellow is OK and red is bad. Most days, Lynch said, 90 percent of the marbles are green and 6 percent yellow.
Lynch just started a weekly, one-question employee survey ("Are we living our values internally consistently with the values that we're promoting publicly?") and also has begun regular strategy meetings.
His vision for Irish Titan, as a business and a workplace, has come into sharper focus after he read "Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action," by Simon Sinek, an adjunct staff member of the RAND Corp.
The book examines the idea of "Why" as the driving purpose of individuals or organizations and as the center of Sinek's "Golden Circle," his model for examining why some people and organizations are more innovative and successful.
Tom Ahonen, managing partner of Platinum Group, said Lynch has delivered on his "business-first'' promise in doing Web development and other work for the Eden Prairie-based private equity group and the companies it works with. Platinum acquired Irish Titan in 2009, but Lynch reacquired the company in 2011 and the two entities maintain an amicable relationship.
"You run into creative folks and technical folks where it isn't necessarily a business-centric thought process, so when you find one, that's pretty exciting to us," Ahonen said. "The experience has been very consistent. It's all about, 'How does this fit into a broader business strategy?'"
Artisans is a Wisconsin-based apparel company for whom Irish Titan recently built an iPad app to replace the unwieldy binders and printed product materials its salespeople previously used.
Through an Artisans' partnership, Irish Titan also has developed an e-commerce store for Ducks Unlimited, helping to increase site revenue 88 percent in 2011.
"What was nice about Darin and Irish Titan was that they came in highly knowledgeable but they really listened to what we wanted to accomplish,'' Artisans owner Gordy Dukerschein said of the project.
The experts say: David Deeds, director of the director of the Morrison Center for Entrepreneurship and the Schulze Chair of Entrepreneurship at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, said Lynch is building Irish Titan the right way.
"His ability to look for opportunities, to be flexible, to rethink things and keep moving forward, has a lot to say about his success," Deeds said of Lynch, a former student. "That and that he's a force of nature."
Lynch has done well to avoid what Deeds termed "indispensable man syndrome," by focusing on making sure Irish Titan has the people and resources it needs to grow.
Mark Spriggs, associate professor and chairman of the entrepreneurship department at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business, said he has referred business owners to Lynch.
"He's a business guy first and a programmer second," Spriggs said. "That's unusual. The technical people tend to be highly technical and they don't necessarily understand or want to understand the business side very well."