Saturday, Sept. 1 marks the 20th anniversary of the day we "flipped the switch" and launched OnMilwaukee.com. Of course, the work began months before, but that day in 1998 was when we introduced ourselves to the public.
It was a different time in both Milwaukee and in the media. This was before Miller Park and the Art Museum expansion – when the Third Ward was home to no more than a handful of restaurants. There was no Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. High-speed internet was a still a few years away, and most of our readers connected to the Web with a 56k dial-up modem.
One of the reasons we’ve made it – and we’ve thrived – is because of the dedicated staff we’ve put in place. Recently, we did the math, and learned that the average tenure of employee here is 9.5 years. That’s incredible for any company, but particularly for a dot com company in Milwaukee.
On this anniversary of our launch, we asked each of our full-time employees to share a story or a memory of what it’s like to work here. As you’ll see, everyone has a different reflection, but they each share a common sentiment of teamwork, dedication and the entrepreneurial spirit that got us here. Here are their comments, in alphabetical order:
The last few years have been the most exciting in my time at OnMilwaukee. We're working better, faster, and more "together" than at any time in the last 20 years. We've blended thoughtful, data-driven analysis with the gut instinct calls that have kept us at the forefront of Milwaukee's online landscape. Editorial, sales, ad ops, development; every team is firing on all cylinders. This is the best group we've put together and it shows every day in production, revenue, and office culture. Rounding 20 sounds like a good time to look back and reflect, but I'm ready to step on the gas.
Senior Online Account Executive
A friend of mine asked me how I like working at OnMilwaukee a few years back and I simply said back – I really love it. he said back – it's really rare for someone to actually say that. It's a simple statement but I always randomly think of that.
I think personally for me, the things that stand out the most are the little things and traditions. I'm a big believer in traditions so things like the mandatory Halloween dress up, April Fool's and holiday booze exchange are some of my fondest memories of the company. Sure, we've evolved and grown as a company so much. But this EPPY- and Press Club Award-winning team also really knows and loves each other, and that is what matters most to me.
Programmatic Media Buyer
I am the newest OnMilwaukee employee, so I have no doubt my memories will grow. But so far my favorite memory is the July Night Market. One of the things I love about Milwaukee is that it is truly a small big city. Sitting behind the OnMilwaukee booth explaining what we stand for to a mixture of friends and people I never met is just plain fun. Plus I can't think of a better team bonding outing than tattooing Milwaukeeans with Gruber, Miller Lite, and Milverine tattoos do.
Senior Writer, Food & Dining
It's tough to believe I'm approaching nearly a decade of work with the OnMilwaukee team; but the years have flown past, largely due to the caliber of colleagues with which I've been privileged to work and our collective commitment to moving Milwaukee forward and creating content that informs, entertains and incites change. There are always challenges in a small media organization, but the level of teamwork each of us brings to the table makes even the most frenzied of days worthwhile. Whether it's taking a whirlwind tour of Lake Country patios with Carolynn [Buser], planning the first ever Milwaukee fish fry eating competition with Molly [Snyder] or tag-teaming articles with Matt [Mueller], every day is a testament to the myriad reasons why this local publication is still going strong, even after two decades.
I remember in my college days when OnMilwaukee wasn't as mature as it is now, I used it to look up bars to check out. I don't know why I bothered, I always ended up at Judges anyway. Fast forward 10-15 years and I'm working at barsIwon'tgoto.com. Which I love. Over the years I've followed OnMilwaukee and read occasional stories here and there, but what I didn't know until I started here was the passion behind the company. OMC truly cares about the community and causes. It's really fun to be a part of, and makes me feel just by working here that I'm doing my part. Also, sometimes my boss buys ice cream for the office freezer, which is awesome. Cheers to 20 years, OnMilwaukee!
Vice President, Business Development
OnMilwaukee quite simply has become part of Milwaukee's fabric – a comfortable, respected, relied-upon source for anything regarding Milwaukee's culture – which probably explains how it's grown from a digital infant to a mature and valued community resource. Congrats!
Manager of Sales Development
When I first heard about the sales opening at OnMilwaukee I was excited to interview because I was young and thought it would be a fun place to work. I never could have imagined the growth the company would have and that I would have over the last 12 years. The thing that stands out the most is the people I've met along the way both in the office and out in the community. From impromptu in-office debates on what constitutes a sandwich to in depth brainstorms on digital strategy for our clients to trying out local beer and cocktails ... every day is unique. I love being part of a digital company and publication that tells the positive stories of Milwaukee. Happy 20th, OnMilwaukee!
I love the unending creativity that thumps behind OnMilwaukee like a beating heart. Every day provides a new story, new format and new challenge. We do a lot of fun, innovative work to spread messages across the city.
In my 12 years, I’ve never felt limited. When creative ideas surface staff-side, our first instinct is to ask, "OK, what can we do to support this?" and that attitude translates to how we think about the rest of the citywide community.
It feels like just yesterday when I dropped by for my first day at the OnMilwaukee office five years ago, then a scrawny wide-eyed college student wearing shoes that reeked of reefer (thanks, Toms Shoes!) and looking for a place to ramble about the new "Dark Shadows" movie. Then again, in OnMilwaukee years, that was really just yesterday, a drop in the company's now 20-year bucket. Even in just this little time, however, I've gotten very lucky to find a place that allows me to talk with my fellow Milwaukeeans and share stories about being a racing sausage, watching DJ Paris Hilton (DJ P-Hilty represent fwam fwam fwam) and loving – or loathing – new movies. Then again, I've also had to watch A LOT of "The Bachelor" and, well, DJ Paris Hilton (fwam fwam fwam) ... so maybe not that lucky.
I can't complain too much though. In fact, I can only be grateful – to Andy and company who took a risk on a dopey communications major with sketchy-smelling shoes. And, most importantly, to you, the readers, who make all of this happen and make it a lot of fun. Thank you for 20 years of OnMilwaukee.
For the 20th, simply five words. "Thank you. More to come!"
Senior Writer/Editorial Manager
I knew from day one that OnMilwaukee was a good fit for me, but it wasn't until a couple of years later, while on a "staff retreat" at Andy Tarnoff’s cabin Up North that I realized it was a great fit. Around the fire, sometime after midnight, we realized that multiple employees – including Andy and myself – knew just about every word to every song ever written by The Smiths/Morrissey. We proceeded to pile into the cabin (so we could be closer to the music, I think?) and dance while belting out tune after tune from "There Is A Light That Never Goes Out" to "Cemetery Gates" to "Girlfriend In A Coma." I was in that rare place of being "completely in the moment" and felt deeply connected to other humans. This doesn’t happen often in life.
Many of my favorite OnMilwaukee memories come from the kindness of readers. A reader once sent me a small piece of the yellow door of the Unicorn Nightclub that was snagged during the demolition process. It’s been on my desk for years. Another time – after I posted a blog about my son memorizing the first 100 digits of pi in honor of "Pi Day" – a reader anonymously sent me a letter and a check for him for $314 (the first three numbers of pi.) My son still has this check framed in his room.
My friend and colleague Tim Cuprisin, who broke our hearts when he passed in 2011, gave me a lot of sage advice during the three years we sat next to each other in OnMilwaukee’s former office on North Avenue. One of my favorites is "When in doubt of a detail, get the detail. If you can’t get the detail, keep it vague." I have thought about this 1,000 times when writing as well as verbally communicating. Thanks, buddy.
Halloween is an uber-observed holiday at OnMilwaukee. Annually, we go out to lunch, have a costume contest (with really solid prizes like extra vacation days and Amazon gift cards) and knock off early to go to happy hour in costume. I usually start thinking about my Halloween costume for the next year on November 1 and I’m proud to say my contemplation and planning has paid off. I’ve won multiple staff contests for my costume of Frida Kahlo, a sister wife, a Bingo winner and maybe one or two more. My coworkers never disappoint in the costume department either. Carolynn made a hilarious and hot Lita Ford (oh that wig!) and when I think of Jeff as Mr. T, Andy as Marty McFly or Kurt as Bob Ross I still chortle out loud.
OnMilwaukee is 20 years old and I'm proud to say I've been here for more than 18 of those years. Despite the countless articles, words, photos, press conferences, concerts, travel story trips, urban spelunks, festivals, restaurants, bars and more, I still remember my first day pretty clearly, in part, because it was also my birthday. As it was July 3, 2000, no one was in the office to eat the dozen doughnuts I'd brought, except for me and Andy Tarnoff, who was wearing shorts and flip-flops (I suspect we polished off the doughnuts, but that part I don't recall). I remember calling my wife to tell her about how it was going and saying, "Andy just walked by my office door kicking a beach ball." While things aren't quite so informal anymore, this is still an exciting and always interesting place to be and I'm lucky to still call it home.
If you know anything about the company that Jeff and I started, you know that it’s not a job, it’s where I’ve spent most of my adult life. It was never just a business plan, it’s always been a labor of love. I can’t really distill my feelings to a few paragraphs, but when I look back to the 20 years since launch, I think both of the experiences and the people who got us here.
I remember the Presidential visit to our office in 2005, covering the All Star Game on the field at Miller Park. I remember the 4 a.m. after party with the Violent Femmes, and I remember being a passenger on a stunt plane and an Indy car in the same week. I remember the rain-soaked Summerfest reviews and police ride alongs when I should’ve been wearing a bullet-proof vest. I remember the competitive eating contests and stories that got us in a little bit of trouble. I especially remember all the April Fool's editions.
But I also remember this year’s Milwaukee Press Club Awards, watching my colleagues take home the hardware; the numerous EPPY Awards and all the great journalism we’ve produced. I think of mandatory dress-up days for Halloween and OnMilwaukee retreats at my cabin. I remember the people who said we couldn’t pull this off, then I look at our past and current success and imagination even bigger things for the future. I look at how our staff has grown as digital experts and as people, and how our our kids now write for us, too.
I marvel as the entrepreneurial spirit in all of us, with the self-guided projects like LocaMoji and charitable extensions and projects that each of us has spearheaded under the OnMilwaukee umbrella. I think of the heated arguments with employees about how best to do it, who only care about making us better and leave their egos aside.
But most of all I just feel pride. That we’re here and still innovating, and that the community has come along for the ride. Thank you.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.