Michelle Dodd is the lead web developer and CEO of Merge Studio. Much of her philosophy for running an agency is inspired by her unconventional path; a combination of entrepreneurial experiences and adventures in the outdoors have shaped the leader she is today.
From coffee grounds to websites
Some might say that my background is unique in this industry. That’s because my path to running an agency did not happen in a straight line. I came from modest means and decided not to go to college right out of high school. Instead, I gained some great work experience in a small marketing firm. It was the perfect place to learn and grow, but most of all, it expanded my ideas of what was possible for the path ahead of me.
My entrepreneurial spirit fired up when I was 24. I bought and ran a small coffee shop in a touristy mountain town, which fed my passion for connecting with people and building community. At the same time, I co-founded a computer training and website design business.
Looking back, this was my hustling stage—I learned how to scrape together every bit of business possible in a small, tourist-based economy. It was a challenging but great experience.
I learned a priceless skill: balancing being a bit conservative while recognizing when to take risks (and not being afraid to take them).
To bachelor’s & bikes
I earned a bachelor’s degree while working full-time as a website designer/developer at Northern Arizona University. It was a fulfilling process, but I was itching to get out from behind the desk.
After graduating, I spent three years with my now-husband, Dave, traveling in what I believe to be some of the most beautiful and challenging places around the world. We took a self-supported 5-month bike tour through Southeast Asia, circumnavigated Baranof Island in Alaska by kayak, mountain biked the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, and backpacked the rugged and remote Hayduke Trail in Utah and Arizona.
From our travels, I learned that you can do some extreme things if you plan well. But, even with the best planning, you can’t mitigate all risks—so you must also prepare for the unexpected.
There were moments of overwhelming beauty and uncomfortable hard work. But it’s all part of the experience and made me realize that I’m stronger than I thought I was.
Making Merge Studio
After freelancing in design and development for several years, I started Merge in 2016 with Stacy Schultz, a graphic and digital designer with whom I’d enjoyed collaborating on projects. We connected personally and professionally, and both had high standards for our work.
To us, “Merge” meant merging our talents, ideas, and experience. Stacey got us started with beautiful branding and a couple of big projects, and we organically began to focus on serving nonprofit clients. We both wanted to contribute to these organizations’ good work and help them reach more people and do more with their websites.
After a few terrific years of working together, Stacey stepped away from Merge to focus on building her local community in Crested Butte. She has continued doing great design and marketing work, like furthering the mission of the Adaptive Sports Center to provide high-quality outdoor recreation to people with disabilities. In 2019, I became the sole leader of Merge.
Prepare for the unexpected
When our clients’ needs changed at the beginning of the pandemic, we quickly adapted. We helped them reach their audiences in new ways with content and digital marketing services. It was a solution that stuck, and we’ve continued to offer custom content marketing and SEO packages to clients.
Not only is digital marketing work a natural extension of the knowledge and relationships of our team members, but it’s also an ideal way to help our clients plan and execute their big-picture goals. Because social media, SEO, and website work go hand-in-hand, we can start with a high-level strategy and make sure all the pieces are in place to execute it.
Like the path that’s taken me here, my understanding of “Merge” has continued to evolve.
When you view your clients as partners, it creates a shared goal of long-term success. Today, “Merge” reflects our process and collaborative approach. It’s how we leverage our team members’ individual talents and passions to amplify the incredible work being done by our clients.
For us, that means approaching each relationship with a combination of planning and flexibility, meeting our clients where they are and with the level of service they require.
“Merge” also means having high standards. You can learn a lot in 25 years, and I’ve grown and evolved along with the web. With every shift and update, I’ve followed and implemented the best practices of thought leaders in web development, UX, digital design, accessibility, and usability.
I’ve seen that doing things right the first time actually saves time and money later down the road. It’s led me to develop high standards for myself and my team, which continues to set us apart and give us pride in the work we do.
It’s a privilege to enjoy your work and the people you work with. I’m grateful to continue learning and growing in this fascinating business alongside my curious, creative, and intelligent team; it’s energizing!
Merge Studio creates websites and offers digital marketing solutions for nonprofit organizations and mission-driven B2B businesses. Let us create a custom solution that fits your needs with web design or digital marketing services like SEO, social media, paid ads, email marketing, copywriting, and branding.
Together, our goal is to amplify your great work and empower your team to thrive. Start today!