News that Macquarium is joining Synoptek is the start of a new chapter for one of the “OG” tech-focused service companies in Atlanta. But there are earlier chapters in the company’s story that are worth revisiting.
Because from its headquarters on Peachtree Road in Buckhead, the company actually helped shape the web and its media as we know it.
Macquarium’s home page says the company is an agency “transforming customer experiences in the digital world.” Behind that tagline is a story that reads a bit like an unlikely epic technology tale, one with several twists and turns and one that touches many of the tech services we all use today. It is also a story that involved the birth of several new companies and products over three decades…and it even has a bit of Hollywood flair built in.
But before the technology adventures, there was just founder Marc Adler in his Emory college dorm room working on a video production company.
In the early 1990s, the worldwide web was nothing more than brochureware that “didn’t have a lot of utility,” Adler told Hypepotamus. But there was a need for great graphics and content, something Adler and Macquarium pioneered early on.
After moving into multimedia production (think authoring CDs and building out early animations for clients), Adler purchased a dozen Silicon Graphics supercomputers and moved his eight employees into a Midtown office in 1994.
“It was the genesis of the Internet. Everyone needed a website,” Adler added.
That was about the time that Macquarium landed its first two major website clients, The Weather Channel and Cox Communications, through connections made in an MBA class he audited while still an undergrad. The company would go on to build the website for the International Olympic Committee and multiple other high-profile clients over the course of the mid-90s.
But Macquarium certainly didn’t stop there. To better serve clients in the quickly-evolving digital space, Macquarium built some of the first iterations of digital products we take for granted today. And it is here we start the epic tech tale.
Adler and his team built the first content management system (CMS), known as Dynabot, in 1996. The goal was to create a self-service “dynamic robot” for clients looking to change web page content. It was so important to the early days of the web that it was memorialized in a Smithsonian time capsule in 2000. It would ultimately evolve into a product information management (PIM) tool.
Macquarium also built out Antfarm, a proprietary site tracking and analysis tool. Adler said that was Macquarium’s “secret sauce” and gave the company a huge competitive advantage as they were able to “track what was happening with [customer’s] dollars” well before other digital marketing tools like Google Analytics hit the market.
In 2002 Macquarium entered the emerging world of online transactions (what we know today simply as e-commerce). After creating the database, the technology, and building out the necessary shipping capabilities, it launched misterart.com for consumer products in the arts and crafts space.
It was a concept Adler started toying with while still a student at Emory when he saw the unique business prop of bringing such products onto an online marketplace. The site ultimately grew into what Adler described as a “consortium of art-related businesses” in the early days of e-commerce.
Over the years Macquarium also built out a browser-based point-of-sale (POS) system and helped dozens of household names — ranging from Chick-fil-A to UPS — build out their interactive media needs.
In between building formative client-facing technology, the team made its mark in the digital media space. With the launch of its animation studio Fathom Studios, the team created the first independent CG film, Delgo, starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Jennifer Love Hewitt. (Told you there was built-in Hollywood flair).
Its short film Chroma Chameleon earned accolades for its filmmaking and technical work as well.
While Macquarium opened offices in Houston, San Francisco, DC, and North Carolina over the years, Adler has always kept the company firmly based out of Atlanta.
“You want a center of excellence where you can congregate the most number of people in the same area,” he told Hypepotamus. “Atlanta was so great because it was so easy to hire people. It’s about talent. I don’t think there’s another city in the country that can compete with Atlanta on that level, and think every other company is understanding this too because you’re seeing this mass migration of these businesses to Atlanta.”
There are additional chapters in the Macquarium story that had to be left on the editing floor for this piece, but distilling 31 years of history for a fast-growing company is no small feat.
This next chapter, ushered in with the announcement this spring that Synoptek acquired the company, is certainly an important milestone for the storied company. It is also a unique moment in the overall Atlanta business scene. You’d be hardpressed to find a digital customer experience agency that has had such an impact on Atlanta’s tech ecosystem or has done more to put the city on the map for its tech and media talent.
And for that, it is a story worth sharing.
Photos provided by Marc Adler