, a user-experience consulting firm based in the southwest Minneapolis, is dramatically changing its approach to business, staff and clients as part of a bold rebranding effort.
During the past year, the firm formerly known as Eaton Golden has adopted a flatter management model, a more collaborative approach to internal problem-solving, and a culture of “trust and even friendship” between clients and employees, says co-principal Mahtab Rezai
. She calls the experience overwhelmingly positive, with new clients and new staffers energized—and surprised—by Crux’s highly personal, yet results-driven, approach to its work.
Recently, says Rezai, an increasingly tech-savvy population and a growing volume of digital points of customer-vendor contact created a “sea change” in user experience best practices, from a proscriptive, top-down approach to a more user-friendly, even nurturing one.
“Almost everything we do now is complex and interrelated,” she says, including how we access and communicate information. Crux specializes in improving user experiences for “complex, data-driven, transactional experiences,” Rezai says, which “aren’t optional and haven’t historically provided a lot of choice to the user.”
Ultimately, the goal is to render these experiences—like using a health exchange, executing online financial transactions and accessing employee benefits—more “humane,” making it easier and more natural for people to complete essential, boring tasks in the digital space.
Rebranding has helped Eaton Golden/Crux Collaborative process and take advantage of this shift. Sadly, a tragedy accelerated the process.
In early 2011, principals Emily Eaton and John Golden lost their young son to cancer. Rezai, a former colleague of Golden’s who was already in talks to take a new role with the company, immediately took over day-to-day management of the firm while the parents grieved. Eaton eventually sold her interest to Rezai and left the company completely to write a book about coping with grief.
Rezai still has her operational role. Golden and Rezai are now equal partners. But Crux is no longer “two leads plus a support staff,” says Rezai. Nearly every important decision, including the company’s new name, arises through consultations with rank-and-file staffers. In a larger company, this might produce friction, but Crux is small enough to function as a single team.
So far, the experience has been transformative. Even experienced employees had never seen a rebrand go so smoothly. Morale has spiked. Clients are happy, too: Crux just posted the strongest first quarter in its 10-year history. Last year, with the transition in full swing, the company made Minnesota Business Magazine’s “Top 100 Businesses to Work For”
list, a major achievement.
Will Crux’s new approach to business translate into a bigger workforce and a national client pool? For now, Rezai is cautious about such plans.
“Growth is not our objective,” she says. “Excellence is.”
The company has eight full-timers, with room for just a handful more. And since it doesn’t have a business development division or send out RFPs—“We’ve found that they’re a waste of our time”—the firm relies on word of mouth to attract new clients. Crux is picky about accepting new work, essentially “prequalifying” clients before pitching or consulting with them.
“The ability to judiciously say ‘no’ has taught us how to say ‘yes’ when it’s clearly right,” says Rezai.
By choice, Crux also focuses on companies in the banking/finance, medical device, health insurance and benefits administration subsectors—niches heavily represented by Twin Cities businesses. As Rezai puts it, “we stick to what we’re good at.”