Bryan Brown, who had played the guitar since age 15, decided to start his company, Responsival LLC, in 2014 as a way to pay the bills while he looked for ways to make money in the music industry.
For the first two years, he didn’t have a fixed address, sleeping on friends’ sofas and in his office while he worked to develop a customer base.
But today, seven years after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh, his company is a full-service digital marketing agency with 16 employees and 300 clients, and his passion has changed.
“I think it shocked everyone who knew me,” Brown said. “I had always told people I’ll do this so I can pay rent while I chase music. Now all I talk about is website design and the online ecosystem.”
Brown’s original business plan was to develop and maintain mobile responsive websites for customers. His first account was the William Penn Tavern, which remains a Responsival client today.
But as the company grew, he added other services. Today the company’s products include marketing, design and web development such as logo designs, social media campaigns and content creation.
Even though the first few years were difficult, Brown said he wouldn’t change anything.
“People ask me what I would change,” he said. “I tell them nothing, that people should embrace failure. I fell on my face 100, maybe even 1,000, times before we ever got a real client. You can’t get discouraged. You’re going to fail, and you’re going to learn from it.”
What was it like during the early days when you formed the company? Those were strange, but also fun times! I moved back to Pittsburgh from Philadelphia in August 2014 to start Responsival. We had a rough idea of what we wanted to do, but really no idea how to pull it off. Those days involved mostly trial and error. We’d try a sales tactic for a week, and when it got us nowhere, we’d scrap it and start over. I learned a lot during this time.
Why did you pick East Liberty as a location for your company? I lived in an apartment complex called Bakery Living, and I had just brought on our second full-time employee. We quickly realized that working out of my apartment full-time was not going to cut it, so we started exploring coworking spaces. Spaces, right across the street from my apartment, had just opened up, and it was a perfect fit.
Has the pandemic affected your revenue? Very fortunately, revenue during the pandemic rose. We saw growth throughout Covid both in revenue and employee count. 2021 has started off well, and we are pacing to beat both 2019 and 2020 revenue by pretty healthy margins. It has been a blessing to experience year-over-year growth throughout the company’s history.
When you started, you were pitching mobile websites to companies before everyone recognized how important they’d become. What are you working on now that you believe will be important in coming years? When Responsival started, the concept of mobile friendly/responsive web design was something that I regularly had to define and explain. Nowadays, everyone knows what this is, and it is an assumed requirement of any project. It’s reassuring to me that we were ahead of the curve and understood the inevitable impact of mobile-friendly websites. Lately, we have had a strong focus in e-commerce. Site speed is really important there, and it has been a priority of ours.
What would you tell your future self 40 years from now? Sorry in advance for the carpal tunnel in your wrists. I hope the constant typing and email sending ends up being worth it! On a more serious note — I hope you had the chance to inspire your team to face challenges with resilience.
Has the pandemic affected your career perspective? The pandemic has had a clear impact on the trajectory of Responsival. Our partners were in immediate need of online avenues for generating revenue as brick-and-mortar locations closed or fell under heavy restriction. Demand for e-commerce services and integrations with online revenue builders spiked — and much like the businesses we serve, we needed to pivot with the changing landscape.
Bryan Brown, CEO, Responsival LLC
Education: Marketing and finance double major, University of Pittsburgh
Family: Girlfriend, Tessa Wittman; dogs, Skyler, Maizie, Lucy
Hobbies: Hanging out with friends and family, taking my dogs out for exercise and to parks, a good Netflix crime documentary, traveling
Donates time to: Advising fellow entrepreneurs as they grow their business. I like working with storefront owners and consulting them on their online digital presence specifically. Every year I participate in the Pittsburgh chapter of the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Book: “White Fang” by Jack London
Song: “Champagne Supernova,” Oasis
Take-out dining choice: Shady Grove right off of Walnut Street or Mad Mex
Work-from-home tip: Separate your home office from the rest of your living space.
Exercise: I got a Peloton a few weeks ago, and it’s a total game-changer.
Stay-sane tip: Putting my phone on ‘do not disturb’ mode is a must for me. Unplugging from daily notifications — like email, Slack, social media and text messages — has allowed me to disconnect from the digital world that consumes so much of my time.