12 Days of FINE. Day 2: The Founding Story

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It was a happy accident of Kenn Fine, and a sharp kick in the pants from Yo, that put this FINE thing in motion.

*Kenn Fine, Principal *

What were you doing before FINE?
I cofounded mountain bike clothing company Zoic. It was a reaction to typical roadbike fashion - blazing colors with corporate logos - and tightness - everywhere. My crew preferred natural colors and fabrics that didn’t show… everything. So that’s what we made, and the brand’s still going strong today, although I moved on.

What inspired FINE?
After wearing the many hats of running an apparel brand, I was doing more focused spot consulting gigs. The client would walk in and have a defined problem that I could solve strategically, and move on to the next problem. I found I enjoyed that a lot more than the day-to-day work of a typical organization. That epiphany fueled the idea to build a consultancy. And it started very much focused on tactical branding, graphic design, and problem solving.

What were some of the early challenges or milestones?
I don’t think we would have grown as we did without Yonette joining. I wasn’t really committed to making it something that was going to grow and last; I was just following my passion. When Yo joined and took on sales, it was like putting a rocket booster on. That’s when it became a real company.

The process has always been one of following our passions, our interests, our skills and our talents, rather than following the money.

When did things begin to shift in the creative world, and what was FINE’s reaction?
Clearly, the internet was a pivotal change and we really started seeing that in the late 90’s. Steve coming to the company was a big change; he was very tech focused. He has a science background and familiarity with complex systems, so embracing tech as a core service was quite effortless for us. We literally built our first computers with soldering irons and help from our dad. Steve helped see the potential for the Internet to be what it’s become today. But in the end, we’ve also retained our compass heading, that it’s even more important nowadays to stay focused on the brand, the content and the customer, because it’s so easy to create things without much thought to their quality or intention. The Internet is another medium for brand communication, and it’s become the most important one, but (to contradict the old saying) it’s the medium not the message.

Any anecdotes that double as defining moments throughout the past 20 years?
I remember my first video conference call with a client.

I remember the first time a power outage meant we didn’t have anything to do. I remember the first time I made a joke when people here at FINE weren’t born during its relevance. And I remember that’s when a large portion of my jokes became about remembering when: when social interactions occurred without a meetup app, when there used to be a word “investigative” before journalism. All these things are hysterical to a lot of our team, and so it’s a defining moment that we now have so many perspectives and experiences to draw upon and collaborate with.

If you would have been asked 20 years ago where FINE would be today, how would you have responded?
I probably would have responded that there’s no way I could do one thing for so long. That’s the truth of it. There must be a constant infusion of shiny objects in this place to have held my attention so long.

How would you describe FINE now?
A small group of experts passionate about what they do. It’s a vehicle for all of us who are on it- this little ship- to have an enjoyable lifestyle filled with exciting projects, daily challenges, camaraderie, and enough cash to feel like it’s worthwhile. In other words, just what it was always meant to be.

Yonette Fine, Principal

*What were you doing before FINE?
Working as an Account Executive at KMEL-FM radio in San Francisco.

*What did the process of creating FINE look like? From inception to creation.
Ha! That would imply that we had a plan. Mostly, it looked like picking up a phone and calling 50 potential clients each day to attempt to score an in-person appointment with just one.

What was your role in the early years?
My primary role was head of Client Service and then anything else that needed tending to - accounting, opening mail, office build-out, daily clean-up, finding Kenn.

Any anecdotes that double as defining moments throughout the past 20 years?
After being in business for three months, Kenn knew he needed someone to do sales as he was swamped with work from day one.

He suggested that I consider joining him, to which I said, "No thanks." After many conversations he sealed the deal by promising that we could go to movie matinees (appealing to my "frugal side") on Fridays and that he would change the name of the business from Kenn Fine Design to Fine Design Group. Well, he had me.

We made such a good team that it took us four years to finally make it to a Friday matinee!

If you would have been asked 20 years ago where FINE would be today, how would you have responded?
Ha! I would have said FINE will be a true family business, complete with a nanny room, with the loving caregiver tending to our three “polite" kids. Both dogs (Jambo & Koda) quietly at our feet while we work the day away. A staff full of friends that are like family working hard for our clients while a fireplace crackled in the background.

I was not too far off….

How would you describe FINE now?
A breath of fresh air!

Anything to add?
I am really proud and excited about what $2K can evolve into with lots of hard work, passion, and a sprinkling of good luck.

[caption id="attachment_15737" align="aligncenter" width="790"]img_8748 The FINE Couple[/caption]

To read more from Kenn, and to learn where he thinks FINE is headed in the next 20 years, make your way back to Mingle on the 12th Day of FINE.


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