What began as notes on the back of a Panera Bread napkin in 2015 is now a successful Naples-based business—so successful that it’s expanding to Santa Monica, California.
Dragon Horse Agency co-founder and chief strategy officer Patrick Blake Renda and his co-founder Julie Koester used to record a radio show, “Life with Moxie,” on Naples talk 98.9, and after recording they would grab lunch at Panera Bread and strategize their ideas for the birth of an agency.
Their creation, Dragon Horse Agency, provides business strategy along with advertising and marketing services for its clients. Renda, who has extensive experience seeking out investment opportunities for businesses in both public and private markets, started to see how the marketing business was changing. “I saw the opportunity; where marketing was going. It was moving toward a data-centric model, digital and social media,” Renda says.
Koester has been a professional researcher/copywriter for more than 20 years, is a former professor of psychology, spent 15 years in retail as an owner and operator and was the founding board chair for Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples.
Renda had met Koester through mutual friends and from being involved with the same organizations, including the Naples International Film Festival. He had a tremendous amount of respect for Koester, and expressed his idea for a business opportunity. Koester agreed—and with their expertise and visions aligning, this fleshed-out idea from a napkin launched in January 2016.
They first set up shop in Koester’s kitchen, where they worked for a year and a half. They started by naming their company, designing a logo and deciding on their company’s structure; “Everything you need to do to build the foundation for a successful company,” says Renda.
By October 2016, they had landed three major clients: LeeTran, MaidPro and the Boathouse on Naples Bay. “We were off and running. Building client by client, service by service,” says Renda.
When they were just starting to build up their company, it was just Renda and Koester, and neither of them were taking a paycheck; everything went right back into the company. By July 2017, they were ready to move out of the kitchen and purchase office space. They found a space in the Fifth Third Center at 999 Vanderbilt Beach Road, signed the paperwork that morning and were moved in and working by that afternoon. “That was a big day. It was a milestone,” says Renda.
Now Dragon Horse Agency has grown to about 25 clients and 15 employees. It has two office locations in Florida and recently opened a location in Santa Monica, California, at the 100 Wilshire Building.
“Given Los Angeles’ depth and diversity of industry, resources, talent and top universities, DHA’s presence in Los Angeles will allow Dragon Horse to expand and also enhance our platform, offering the best and most comprehensive products and services to our clients, while bolstering our unwavering commitment to excellence and delivering the exceptional in terms of quality, professional expertise, reach and cost,” Renda says.
The new location will sit right in what is considered the epicenter of the creative capital of the world, some even referring to it as Wall Street west, Renda said. Once they realized the potential in L.A., it became an objective for Dragon Horse to open an office there in order to expand its services and brand.
“It was very serendipitous, the planets aligned,” says Koester, noting that they also have clients in L.A. and have been building their clientele in southern California.
When they started the search to hire a director of business development, they searched for several months nationally and internationally. They interviewed multiple people who were very talented, but they ultimately hired an individual who had both marketing and enterprise sales experience. It just so happened that their hire was from the L.A. area.
Dragon Horse Agency works to attract the best talent possible, and is proud of its growth and its team. “We have a terrific family of dragons and baby dragons,” Renda says. “We have one of our staff members who has been with us for five years, starting as an intern, and has now grown to be our social media manager. She has grown in her capability and professionalism—now she has her own office at headquarters. That is the kind of culture we promote here at Dragon Horse.”