Bridging the Digital Divide: How Boomer Sassmann Builds More Than Websites
By Aryelle Jacobsen
Like most serial entrepreneurs, Boomer Sassmann doesn’t always fit in a box. He makes his own rules, follows his own map, and lives far outside the norm. (His Instagram account alone proves it…)
Yet what makes him such a disruptor might also be why he’s so good at business.
It all started while working for a High Country web design company during college at Appalachian State, when Boomer learned the hard way the role and importance of company culture. Faced with the challenge of working for a business embodying cringe-worthy values, Sassmann was faced with a difficult choice.
“I started to understand why so many people saw web design as an industry filled with smoke and mirrors, secrecy, overcharging and under-delivering. I couldn’t stand being part of a team that consistently kept our customers painfully uninformed. It just didn’t seem right,” explained Boomer, crossing his arms matter-of-factly in his Big Boom Design hoodie and scruffy beard.
While contemplating the launch of his own company, Sassmann was highly aware of his lack of experience in the sales process, as his work had mainly been in back-end development. Though he initially viewed his predominantly technical background as a weakness, eventually Boomer realized his greatest strength was leaning on what he knew best, the internet.
By owning the depth of his knowledge, and finding a more approachable way to talk about how he could help solve problems, he earned his clients’ inherent trust. This, in turn, spawned a bulletproof sales approach.
So, in 2008, Sassmann took the courageous first step of starting Big Boom Design (BBD) — a web design and internet consulting agency, centered entirely on fostering a culture of trust.
Shattering Expectations through Education
Sassmann knew most clients would enter his business with the expectation of encountering an over-complicated and often frustrating process. Therefore he decided to nurture an atypical atmosphere of complete transparency and education.
“The internet isn’t going anywhere, so I’m a firm believer in giving people the ability to manage their own web presence. The more they understand how this world works, the better decisions they’ll make about how to show up, and where it makes sense to hire someone like me. It actually saves my team a lot of time in the long run and we end up doing the work that we really should be doing,” notes Boomer.
The power of education is a massive driver behind the success of Big Boom Design. Not only does Sassmann actively teach workshops in Small Business Centers across Western North Carolina (his roster of students tops 1500 over the past 10 years), he also prioritizes time in educating every client with whom he comes in contact. By providing as much information as they are willing to learn, BBD offers clients both a highly functional website, as well as the capability to largely manage their online presence. To many, this level of service is priceless.
The other inherent value of continually teaching workshops around the ever-changing world of the internet is that it forces Sassmann to constantly keep on top of market trends, algorithm changes, and shifting sands within the online world.
“The fastest way to learn a complicated topic is by forcing yourself to teach it. Since I know that every month I have to stand in front of a room of people and confidently explain something that is always changing, this is great way to keep me on my toes,” he jokes.
Substituting the Sales Pitch with Honest Conversation
Ironically, Sassmann’s lack of experience in traditional sales, the main reason he was hesitant in launching his own business in 2008, quickly rose to become one of his biggest strengths.
Now with a decade under his belt, he can appreciate why so many entrepreneurs struggle with pursuing sales conversations. The typical methods feel forced, unnatural, and uncomfortable for lighthearted extroverts like Boomer. What he found to be the most effective way to break the sales barrier was so blatantly obvious, yet too often underestimated and underappreciated: just be yourself.
When entrepreneurs open a dialogue by determining the problem clients need help fixing, provide guidance with options to resolve that problem, then sincerely offer means for the most effective and speedy resolution, they find themselves engaged in honest conversation instead of a sales pitch. The approach Sassmann teaches his entire team was one he learned almost via epiphany: speak with authentic benevolence, find a helpful teaching moment, and invest time in building a trusting relationship. As a consequence, the need for ‘sales’ magically dissolves, replaced by partnerships with those who genuinely desire to work with you.
“We have a really quirky team. Everyone is weird in their own way, and it makes it easier for our clients to call us up and ask the hard questions. We’re just real people, who can be goofy, and awkward, and brilliant all at the same time. I’d rather work with people who are cool with that,” laughs Sassmann.
What he determined was that when his team was honest and open about the task at hand, even if they didn’t immediately know the best solution, his clients were more receptive to patiently waiting for them to figure it out. When it comes to the internet, searching for the new solution can be its own daily mental exercise.
The Best Idea is the Boss
Sassmann is the first person to admit that he doesn’t always know the best way to navigate the ever-changing landscape of web design.
The vulnerability he models for his team by admitting his limitations, empowers his employees to feel like they play a more important role at BBD. Sassmann explains, “I make it very clear to my team that I’m not the boss; the best idea is the boss. I intentionally hire people who are smarter than me, so that they can help find the best idea, as quickly as possible. When a site goes down and we need an immediate solution, good ideas, no matter where they come from, are crucial if we want to keep the client.”
By establishing a more balanced system of solutions-based hierarchy, the Big Boom Design team has grown adept at troubleshooting quickly. They have instituted a culture of “all-hands on deck” to address emergencies, and as a result are able to bypass the security challenges of web management on a regular basis.
“When a website goes down for a client, an hour feels like a day, and a day feels like a week. We constantly have to be sensitive to the fact that someone’s website may be their only portal to the rest of the world. Constantly responding to the needs of our clients, even when it means dropping everything to brainstorm as a team, that just comes with the territory,” sighs Sassmann.
So, how does Boomer then help his team cope with the constant stressors of working at the breakneck speed of the internet? By following his example of always challenging oneself, while establishing firm boundaries. In an industry that never sleeps, it is critical to instill healthy limits among staff to avoid burnout. Therefore, Big Boom Design embraces the culture of flexible work environments, where creativity and balance are viewed equally important as deadlines and quality.
An avid motorcyclist and traveler, Sassmann is passionate about a lot more than websites. After spending several years working 80 hour weeks, he now has learned how important it is to make time to do the things that make him happy. Usually, those things aren’t found in his office.
He encourages his team to push themselves to try new things like public speaking and teaching. He recently had several BBD staff take time to lead workshops at the most recent WordCamp Asheville. In addition to placing value on personal development, he prioritizes having an office culture where his team can be themselves, expand their skills, enjoy each other’s company, and live their best life.
A Booming Future
The quirky and vibrant atmosphere of Big Boom Design is a prime example of how expressing vulnerability and celebrating trust in your business can truly allow it to thrive.
The concept of “thriving” means different things to different people. To Boomer, thriving is not necessarily linked to aggressively expanding or growing 10x, which he realized after participating in the ScaleUp WNC program. After graduating from the Accelerator in 2016, Sassmann was able to construct his growth plan for his company and identified the unique way he wanted to grow: very intentionally and with purpose.
To the BBD team, applying new strategies and methods to take in fewer, better clients is the sweet spot they’ve been fortunate enough to determine. Sassmann and his team are now working to collectively make decisions around the types of organizations they desire most to work with, demonstrating the value in being selective instead of insatiable. The more rigorous selection process has created a more exciting work atmosphere, as the team now has the ability to collectively choose the projects they want most to work on.
For the 2019 ScaleUp program Boomer will be returning as a trainer for the 7-session accelerator, where he will teach about how websites, Google Analytics, and digital marketing play a vital role in scaling a business. As a 100% locally owned company, Big Boom Design is looking forward to directly supporting other entrepreneurs across WNC through the ScaleUp program. It’s yet another way he feels he’s living his company’s values.
Meet the Founder
Want to meet Boomer Sassmann and learn more about Big Boom Design? Come on out to the December 13th Hatch Happy Hour networking event at One World Brewing West from 5:30 – 7:30 PM. You’ll have the chance to connect with Sassmann, along with the three other founders over free beer and meaningful conversation. Register here.
Aryelle Jacobsen is currently a freshmen at UNC Asheville with an intention of double majoring in sociology and political science. She has a fierce passion for activism, as she was the head organizer of March for Our Lives Asheville (2018) and currently serves as the leader of Students Demand Action Asheville. Aryelle was the lead teen trainer at a summer camp for young girls interested in entrepreneurship called Camp Girl Boss, and is the author of “A is for Awkward: A Guide to Surviving Middle School.” She is currently working on developing programs and writing curriculum to work with middle schoolers on gaining good self-esteem. Aryelle truly believes in the strength of youth empowerment as well as standing up for what you believe in.