You would not mistake Caitlin Rogers, a former nonprofit employee and union organizer, as a gung-ho entrepreneur.
That said, her Next Day Animations employs 15 full- and part-time workers in Minneapolis and elsewhere and grew by 40% last year to $1.1 million in revenue. She has moved Next Day’s headquarters from her dining room to a small commercial space near Lake Street and Lyndale Avenue.
“I always thought I would work in the nonprofit world,” said Rogers. “But I think I’m having more impact in business.
“It sounds hokey, but we’re trying to make a positive impact on the world and get paid doing that. Half our clients are nonprofits and we have a pretty stellar list of for-profits, including HBO, Tiffany and Toro … The only client we haven’t gotten … from our A list is Michelle Obama.”
Rogers & Co. also prove that success in the low-entry cost digital-communications business is more dependent on smarts, creativity and talent than a boatload of venture capital and a well-appointed office. These are young folks, in their 20s and 30s, who all buy into the same notion, are willing to work for less than $50,000 a year, as long as they have a say in their schedules and work.
“We also have a strong Quaker influences in how we run things, from a culture of consensus decisionmaking to working for the social good,” Rogers said.
The last read by the employee book club: “How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America.”
Rogers, a Unitarian from Edina, met her business partner, Jesse Austell, while taking a break in 2012 to work at a Quaker summer camp in Virginia. Austell was the camp director and owned a small communications shop in Baltimore.
The two started by taking on a job for a Maryland public-policy shop that wanted attention for a report on why working-class families were stressed amid stagnant wages and rising costs of health care, education and housing.
“It was an important subject but a boring report,” Rogers recalled. “We suggested animation to make the conclusions easier to understand.”
Only one problem. Neither knew how to animate an online presentation with characters that would bring the text alive.
“We decided to fake it until we made it,” Rogers quipped.
Rogers, who knew something about website development, taught herself to animate the key portions of a presentation. It worked. The animated production helped draw citizen and legislative attention to the issue.
Growth at Next Day was slow at first, but has picked up steam, particularly over the last couple of years.
Next Day has worked for several dozen clients, locally and nationally, ranging from Save the Boundary Waters to Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities, the American Lung Association, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Goodwill-Easter Seals Minnesota, as well as Toro, Medtronic, Dannon, HBO and InterContinental Hotels.
“We take complex information about health insurance, public policy, technology, the environment, energy and a lot more and distill it in a simple, animated, persuasive way for the audience,” Rogers said. “We handle everything from the script to custom art and voice-over.”
The company has a nearly 100% satisfaction or “net promoter score” from clients.
There is no chief executive at Next Day.
Rogers, 34, is the hands-on production coordinator and chief operating officer. Austell, 35, handles sales and marketing.
Next Day has produced 750 animated videos, charging about $4,500 to produce a 60-second explainer or how-to video for a for-profit client and less for nonprofits.
The two owners pay themselves about $75,000 apiece, including their share of profits. The staffers typically make up to $50,000.
Beny Collins, 27, a client adviser, said: “There’s a psychological safety here I haven’t had in other jobs. At no point am I feeling fear at work. I feel cared for, encouraged to share ideas without the fear of being ridiculed.”
Producer Jacqueline Nuzzo, 23, said: “I get a lot of benefits aside from pay, like work environment, flexibility, work-life balance. Right now, having a life is worth more than money to me. There’s also professional development here …”
And Sage Dahlen, 31, a former journalist and nonprofit publicist, said she was drawn to effective storytelling and realized, eventually, that she had become good at production management.
Next Day, whose legal name is Simplicity Works Benefit LLC, was recently certified as a Minnesota “benefit” or B Corp. It’s a “road map for us as a values-based business,” Rogers said.
Rogers said the company is starting to explore adding health insurance to a benefit package that includes a free bus card, help buying a bike, an equal voice for workers, flexible time and paid time off for certain activities.
“We really see work as an ends to help our staff learn, grow and put their values in action, while helping our clients do amazing things,” Rogers said. “We had no experience in running businesses or creating animations. We’ve been making it up as we go.”