Indianapolis-based Sells Group is equal parts marketing firm and tech company.
While much of the firm’s revenue comes from what might be called more traditional digital marketing, including web site and app development, its latest foray into cryptocurrency, blockchain and data science is helping drive the company’s growth.
The 30-person firm, which launched in 2011 and operates out of a 7,000-square-foot space on the northeast corner of Maryland and Pennsylvania streets downtown, opened offices in Montreal and Dallas in April to capitalize on growth opportunities there, said Patrick Sells, the firm’s 27-year-old founder.
The company also this month signed deals to do work for New York-based Quontic Bank; Dallas-based Townsend Leadership Group; Fredrick, Maryland-based Langley Innovations; and Minneapolis-based Thrivent Financial.
To accommodate growth, the Indianapolis office this year has nearly doubled its square footage. And Sells projects the company will add 10 more employees by year’s end. Sells declined to divulge the company’s revenue but said its on target to double in 2018 over 2017.
So why Montreal and Dallas?
“We had a long-term partner in Montreal and also had a connection in Dallas,” Sells explained. “But those are two fast-growing markets, and we see a lot of potential there.”
Those two cities also are easy to get to from Indianapolis and there is a plethora of coding experts in those locations, Sells said.
While Indianapolis remains a good headquarters city for his company, Sells said that competing for tech workers with companies like Salesforce can be a challenge.
“We’ve found in the Dallas and Montreal areas there is a wealth of development talent,” Sells said.
Sells Group will seek to grow its digital marketing, data science (which involves gathering large amounts of data for companies so that they can do more precise and targeted marketing) and cryptocurrency business in both markets, Sells said.
Initially, he added, there will be a bigger push in digital marketing in the Dallas market and in software and app development in Montreal.
A stroll through Sells Group’s Indianapolis office demonstrates how out-of-the-box the company is. There are computers the company built with the sole purpose of mining cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin and Ethereum, in almost every room. Each rig contains about $7,000 worth of hardware, Sells said.
Mining cryptocurrency involves validating transactions between other parties, which requires having enough computing power to solve complex math problems. The process helps maintain the blockchain—which is essentially a digital ledger—on which the cryptocurrency transactions are recorded. Miners earn currency for the work.
While cryptocurrency work is still a small part of Sells Group’s business, it’s fast growing, Sells said, adding that his firm’s “mining rigs” have handled individual calculations that earned the firm currency worth six figures when translated to U.S. dollars. Sells said his company “is one of the largest cryptocurrency mining operations in Indiana.”
(Giving a fuller explanation of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology is, quite simply, beyond the scope of this article. But look for more detail in IBJ's Innovation Issue on June 1.)
Data mining and analysis—which the Sells Group entered into in 2015—is now one of the biggest revenue generators for the firm, Sells said.
But Sells Group’s work with cryptocurrencies goes far beyond mining.
Last year, the firm started looking for ways to combine cryptocurrency and blockchain technology with some of its more traditional services. For example, Sells said his company is developing a business-to-consumer rewards program for one of its clients—Indianapolis-based Jordan Standard Distribution—using cryptocurrency.
Sells said his company will have another cryptocurrency-related client project to announce later this month.
“We had to get real smart real fast,” Sells said. “This is growing so fast and will disrupt so many businesses and industries, we wanted to be on the forefront of it.”
If the Sells Group name sounds familiar, it might be because the company in 2016 signed a deal with the Indiana Pacers that included putting its moniker on a ritzy loft area on the south end of Bankers Life Fieldhouse, called the Sells Group Loft.