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Web Design with an Open Throttle

Motocross racing and web design don't seem to have a lot in common, but the two are almost inseparable for local entrepreneur Danny Beckett, Jr.

A former professional motocross racer sponsored by some of the world's largest motorcycle companies, Beckett sometimes reverts to comparisons between running his Internet marketing and design firm in Belmont with lessons he has learned on the track.

Even some of his marketing methods seem laced with the sort of testosterone-laden energy that comes from twisting the accelerator grip and shifting into higher gear.  “Face it, your website sucks!” shouts a phrase on the side of the gnarly diesel van that Beckett drives. When his firm, Spearia, moves from Belmont into Comstock Park in upcoming months, he is thinking of celebrating the grand opening with motocross events.

 “People sometimes say ‘Danny’s kind of nuts,’" says Beckett, 25, a Grand Rapids native and Forest Hills Northern graduate. "But doing crazy things creates awareness.”
Crazy Like a Fox
Trying to build awareness on the Internet is what Spearia is all about.  Founded in 2007 as a collective of programmers, designers, and marketers, the firm codes websites from the ground up for clients and then uses online marketing tools to boost brand awareness and customer conversions.

The firm employs nine full-time people a far cry from the time he was working out of a spare bedroom of his house just a little more than two years ago.

Beckett hopes his firm will hit more than $750,000 in revenues this year, a remarkable jump from the $500,000 he posted last year.  A number of his clients draw on his intimate knowledge of the motosports industry: SHS Powersports, College Bike Shop, Cool City Customs and the PowerSports Network that uses a system called PartsFinderPlus™ that makes it easier to locate and order motorcycle parts.

A Thrilling Ride
As one would expect with Beckett, he was drawn to business to finance his motocross habit.  Like many young entrepreneurs, he cut lawns during the summer and shoveled snow during the winter as a teen, finally getting into a profitable power washing business by the time he was 17.

By the time he was 20, Beckett had ridden motocross bikes for nearly nine years and he was ready to try his hand as a sponsored professional motocross racer. He eventually obtained sponsorships from Yamaha Motor Corp. of Canada, Suzuki Motor Corp. ,  Kawasaki Team Green and other companies. Beckett raced Yamaha YZ250s and other bikes at venues throughout the Midwest. 

Although he got into business to afford motorcycling, it was motorcycles that ultimately brought him to web design. Through racing he established important connections with people and businesses that would later help build Spearia's business.  Beckett says he first learned about the potential of e-commerce while he was assisting a Muskegon motorsports business to further develop its racing program. 

The Whoops in Business
Encouraged by the new marketing possibilities of the Internet, Beckett decided to clear out his savings and move to Chicago iin late 2005 for an opportunity to advance in the world of web design with a prospective partner. He was dismayed to discover that his partner had little more than a domain name and incredible amounts of debt.

With the business virtually a bust, Beckett returned home to Michigan with a domain name that his former partner had established in 1997: www.Spearia.com. When asked why he didn’t just give up and start over, Beckett responds: “ I love a good fight. When you hit a wall you really only have two options: turn back or climb over it.”

 After some initial successes, Beckett hired his first employees from Craigslist: Dustin Scheuiling, Ray Brown, Nick Carlevaris, and James Palm,  who are all still integral members of Spearia today.

Having purchased his first computer when he was 18, Beckett is quick to admit that he isn’t really an expert in programming or web design.  Rather, he’s  a leader who believes in surrounding himself with talented people. "It’s important to recognize everyone’s unique talent and to help them to develop it," Beckett says. "I want to give people the opportunity and encouragement to grow.”

The formula has certainly worked for Spearia.  In two years, the firm has moved from Beckett's spare bedroom to small quarters at 6231 West River Drive, then to a larger space in the same building.  It's preparing for its third move from Belmont to downtown Comstock Park by the end of the year into the long vacant former CP Foods grocery store. The building originally was a lumber company and is full of kitschy charm. “A creek actually runs underneath it,” Beckett enthusiastically points out.

Spearia and VK Properties, a creative property management firm focused on refurbishing older structures, are partners in renovating the building. Spearia plans to use the main floor for its operations, while leasing the upstairs out to other creative companies that they can collaborate with.
Beckett is keenly aware that creating awareness creates change and growth: not only for his business, but within the community at large.  One of Beckett’s primary goals as a leader is to inspire others to develop their potential in order to reach their goals and take active leadership roles.

This kind of growth is definitely atypical in the current economic climate. Beckett partially blames these tough times on a “serious lack of leadership. People believe in the American Dream, but they don’t want to work for it.”

He is and always has been driven to do things his way. Whether it’s running a business or racing motorcycles he has one goal in mind: to win.

Photographs by Brian Kelly - All Rights Reserved

Jason Lester is a local freelance writer who has written for ReVue  magazine covering the Grand Rapids music scene. He also plays  trombone for the End Times Orchestra and with several other bands.  Jason fancies himself as something of a 21st century Renaissance Mercenary.

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