by Kate Knable
Posted 10/29/2012 12:00 am
Rockfish Interactive founder and serial entrepreneur Kenny Tomlin doesn’t live in Arkansas anymore, but he continues to build businesses there. He’s still CEO at digital ad agency Rockfish, despite selling the company in 2011 to WPP Digital, investment arm of publicly traded WPP.
Rockfish, which kept its home office in Rogers, receives most of his professional energies.
However, Tomlin is also expanding his repertoire of other growing new ventures. In January, he started an employee rewards site, YouEarnedIt.com.
He began subscription sex toy company Blush Box in September. Blush Box’s one employee works from Rogers.
And Tomlin is also launching an e-commerce company in November, specifics of which he declined to discuss.
At the moment, Tomlin isn’t hotly pursuing other opportunities to open new businesses, but his eyes are open. “I’m always paying attention and thinking about stuff,” he said.
His other entrepreneurial endeavors, which also have employees and a presence in Arkansas, include custom coupon company CouponFactory.com, Silver Joe’s Coffee Co. and high-end men’s clothing store The Independent.
Tomlin, 39, is from Missouri. He graduated in 1995 with degrees in communications and political science from Southwest Baptist University of Bolivar, Mo.
Tomlin later got into digital media while working for a Texas health care company. He eventually ventured out on his own with digital startups I-Soft Inc. and CustomGolf.com. Tomlin sold the two startups in 1999.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. of Bentonville brought him to northwest Arkansas in 2001 after recruiting him to join the company’s e-commerce business.
In 2005, Tomlin left Wal-Mart to start Rockfish, a company that quickly drew national attention and has maintained rapid growth. Having giant clients like Wal-Mart and Tyson Foods didn’t hurt.
“We had a good idea at a good time. We started it in a good location. We had great customers,” Tomlin said. “Our revenue’s been doubling every year for a number of years.”
Advertising Age magazine named Rockfish its small agency of the year in 2008, and in 2010, Rockfish was No. 3 on the magazine’s Agency A-List, a ranked list of the top 10 U.S. agencies.
Tomlin moved to Austin, Texas, this year with sights on accessing a larger talent pool and rapidly expanding his companies further.
“I need to be in a place where I can hire more people faster and more easily relocate people than I was able to in Arkansas,” Tomlin said.
In northwest Arkansas, Tomlin foresaw his companies competing with each other to hire people with strong engineering and emerging technology backgrounds. Such people don’t necessarily want to relocate to northwest Arkansas, where there aren’t as many alternate job options if they need them, Tomlin said. “Austin isn’t as hard to sell,” he said.
He’s kept growth in mind for his companies, and he plans to maintain their Arkansas presences.
He envisioned Rockfish from the start as a national company with thousands of employees and has focused on sustainable growth.
He began Rockfish as the agency’s only worker. Now, Rockfish has 200 employees, 70 of them hired this year. Also this year, Rockfish opened its first international office in Visakhapatnam, India.
About 90 of Rockfish’s employees are in Arkansas, mostly in Rogers; others are scattered at offices in Cincinnati, Dallas, India and New York. Atlanta and Austin offices are slated to open in January.
Tomlin sees Austin as a good place to grow Blush Box, a company he expects to employ about 50 people within the next year or two.
“I’ve got a number of companies that I’m involved in that I’m very committed to see grow,” Tomlin said. “I don’t think that I’m done starting companies. But professionally, I’m really enjoying what I’m doing.”