Over 30 years, Moncur has evolved into the leading branding and digital agency that it is today. But it took a lot to get here. Founder David Moncur talks about the secrets (and what he calls "superpowers") to Moncur's longevity.
When David Moncur first sat down at his Apple computer in the late 1980s and dug his hands into the world of graphic design, he did not imagine that three decades later he would be celebrating 30 years of success alongside a talented team of designers, copywriters, programmers, and specialists at his namesake company.
He started out helping high-tech startups in Silicon Valley create simple and clear communications. Then he moved back to his Midwest roots and, in 1992, began honing his niche skillset helping complex technical brands tell their stories through articulate messaging and engaging visuals. A passion was born, and so was the Moncur agency.
Today, Moncur is an award-winning branding and digital agency that serves industry-leading B2B companies in advanced manufacturing, construction, education, technology, and professional services across the globe. The hybrid agency based out of Southfield, Michigan, spans the United States from coast to coast—literally, Portland, Oregon, to Portland, Maine.
Although a lot has changed in 30 years, David’s original mission of beautifully communicating a company’s value to the world remains at the heart of Moncur. David took a moment to look back on how it all started, share the ups and downs, and dish on the secrets to Moncur’s success.
Q: Talk about your life before Moncur started.
A: I took a very long and convoluted path through college at the University of Michigan. I thought I was going to be a doctor. Then I thought business school would be good. At the time, my mom ran a manufacturers rep firm that served Apple Computer—I was blessed with access to every piece of technology that Apple made! I learned the first issue of Adobe Illustrator 88 on my own, and it got me really into graphic arts. I ended up studying design and left school with a skillset that was the foundation of what I would turn into this company.
Q: Then how did Moncur begin?
A: First, during college, I started a screen-printing company. I was able to do color separations on a computer, when everyone else was still cutting them out of rubylith with a knife—it was like the modern age versus the stone age! I was a designer, I was a photographer, and I was really, really good with a computer.
I took that skillset to Northern California in Silicon Valley and I got connected with Novus Ventures, which did first-round venture funding for high-tech startups. That worked really well because of my weird background of science, math, and writing—I would talk to software engineers and they would describe the cool technologies they were making. Then I would make it simple and turn their story into collateral.
I found out I was going to become a father, so we ended up moving back to the Midwest where all our family was. When we landed, guess what? There wasn’t a single tech company in the entire region. But I discovered there were several industries that were identical from a branding and marketing standpoint—instead of software engineers, there were construction engineers, manufacturing engineers, lawyers, and accountants that I could start working with.
Moncur got started with a mix of writing and creative skills—and a unique understanding of technology. We were doing stuff that nobody was doing.
Q: What did the first Moncur office look like?
A: First, I used a family member’s empty space in his office, and then I moved to share the studio of a photographer I had met. One of his clients, an engineering construction company called Giffels Associates, was always in the office doing photography, and one day they said, can you help us out with this cover on this presentation? Over a short period of time Giffels became our largest client.
Q: How do you feel about your agency growing from its roots to where it is today?
A: The amount of pride I feel in what we do at our agency is unmatched. We’ve added so many new people who have really impacted our organization in a positive way and it’s made a lot of the things that we do now possible. I’m also really blessed that I get to do this with people that have been around since almost the beginning! Through all the craziness, all the ups and downs, all the wins, and all the losses—we’ve done it all together.
I look at what we’ve become and all the promise I feel lies ahead. It’s so exciting, some days I almost can’t believe it.
Q: What are you most proud of?
A: I love to make things that people love. The pride comes by doing that with a group of people that I really like and respect. I feel like I’m good at a lot of things that we do—but I work with people that are great at them. When everything is humming and everyone is firing on all cylinders, we’re moving quickly, we’re creative, and we’re handling things as they come up—the energy in that is unbelievable, and it creates an enormous amount of pride for me.
Q: What were some things you didn’t see coming since Moncur started?
A: If you think about what took place over the last 30 years: there was printing, then that became digital printing, and now almost no one prints anything. There was no internet when we got started, even though we were in Silicon Valley working with high-tech companies. There was no e-commerce, social media, or digital photography. I couldn’t have seen any of those things coming.
Q: Why do you think this agency is so successful?
A: There are a few things. We have a group of people who really care that they’re doing great work and they’re making a difference for our clients. It’s hard to come by. When you meet us, we’re nice people, we’re smart people. We are capable of doing things and solving problems that other people can’t. That’s a certain mindset, and it turns out if you have it as a team, you can be really successful over the long term.
You meet a lot of people in your life, and you come across Moncur and it’s like, wow, there’s something really special going on here.
If we want to get really tactical, I think it’s this idea of being really smart. You can’t work at our company and not be smart—because our clients do really smart and complicated things. The messaging and strategic writing work that we do is our superpower! And our creative team translates that visually—and that’s a special talent. We also have an unusually deep set of skills in the technology side of our business. And I really credit that to my partner, Ken Svoboda, who joined me at Moncur over 20 years ago. He’s got an uncanny ability to imagine solutions before they exist and make them come to life. We can do things in-house that most companies would have to outsource. And even then, it might not be as good.
Q: What sets Moncur apart from other agencies?
A: I think our specialization probably makes a big difference. In my belief, it’s still the case that if you’re a generalist, you must compete geographically. You draw a radius around where you are and those are your clients. The moment you specialize, that radius disappears. It’s the reason that our clients are successful globally—because they are specialists in what they do. Same thing with us.
Q: Is there a project that stands out in your mind as your most favorite?
A: Because we are always searching to be better, and trying to do something new and push ourselves, and I feel like we’re better every time we do a job—my favorite thing tends to be the most recent thing. That makes the work that we’re doing for Cambium some of my favorite. The branding work and web experience redefine how EdTech companies go to market, and how they address the most important issues in their industry.
I want to continue to grow and do bigger things for bigger companies, and I want to be even better than today.
Q: Is there anything you would have done differently?
A: [laughs] There are a ton of things that didn’t turn out the way that I thought they were going to. I would have absolutely shuffled things if I could look backward and make different decisions along that path, but I don’t feel bad. Somehow, what happened got me here. And here is a really good place. From here, we can do whatever’s next—and that’s going to be even better.
Q: What are your hopes for Moncur for the future?
A: I want to continue to evolve and push forward. When I think about this company, I see something that can live forever, way past me. We have a leadership team that’s super talented, very capable—I feel like we are poised for this next chapter, where we will continue to evolve again. For me, the ride has been what’s so exciting, and I want to continue the ride.
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