As the pandemic put the world on lockdown, it accelerated the need for companies to build one-to-one relationships with customers whether by phone, e-mail or website. As a result it also accelerated opportunities for Horizontal Digital, according to Chris Staley, co-founder and executive vice president of the St. Louis Park-based company that describes itself as an "experience forward consultancy."

Staley said he and Sabin Ephrem, Horizontal's co-founder, CEO and chief diversity officer, couldn't have known when they launched the company in 2003 that the company's blend of marketing and technology would be hot today.

While venture capital firms and investors roll up such firms, Horizontal's independence has enabled it to grow and position the digital consultancy and talent agency to deliver for clients that are "relentlessly focused on this digital customer journey," Staley said.

"A great brand is about the experience your customers have with that brand," Staley said. "You have to connect all these systems and data from sales, service and marketing with data from website, commerce site and mobile app. It allows you to continue that conversation with your customers as they jump in and out of channels so it feels like one cohesive conversation with your company and your brand."

Horizontal has four U.S. and five international offices, with clients that include Formica, Milwaukee Tool, Northwestern Mutual, UnitedHealth Group and Sub-Zero. The firm expects revenue to increase from a projected $160 million this year to $300 million in five years, Staley said, and its digital business has doubled in the last two years.

Horizontal's leadership additions include recent hires of Julie Koepsell, as president of digital for North America, and Joyce Zincke as executive vice president of operations.

Q: How did the pandemic affect Horizontal Digital's growth?

A: Pre-pandemic we were probably $112 million and today we're $160 million. When you have 30 percent growth over two years, that's kind of the clip we've been growing at all along. You have to have opportunities for that growth to continue and you have to keep finding them. We've done a very good job of that from day one.

Q: What are Horizontal's differentiators?

A: The biggest thing that you can build in a business is a great culture, a great team. Horizontal Digital has been focused on that team and those people, our values and our culture. That's allowed us to focus on the needs of our clients. When you have happy employees, you deliver better work for your clients. When you ask clients what we do well, I think we really do build better connect experiences than our competition. When you put all the pieces together and you teach them to dance as a team we can go and help clients build great experiences.

Q: What's the importance of Horizontal's independence?

A: A lot of investment groups are putting money into firms like ours. What you get with that is their focus on how do I scale this, to sell it at the most value? That's a great strategy for growing equity and revenue but it doesn't let you focus on building a sustainable long-term business. Independence for us means we have the light overhead of making quick decisions and zigging and zagging when we need to. It gives us a middle ground to say we're going to build a great company with great values built on delivering great work for our customers not focused on instant returns but long-term value.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His e-mail is