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Erin Swanson, Marketing Coordinator

Lightburn Celebrates 20th Anniversary
Local Digital Agency Goes From Startup to Grown Up

MILWAUKEE - Friday, September 25, 2018 - Twenty years ago, brothers Andrew and Scott Wintheiser never dreamed their newly formed web agency would become their lifelong work. As an engineering student at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Andrew got hooked on software and web development. So at age 19 and backed by a $250 investment from his grandfather, he convinced Scott to go into business with him building websites.

“At the time, everything was new and exciting,” says Andrew. “I simply fell in love with the challenge and the possibilities that the internet offered. It felt like the wild west.”

As they were getting their business off the ground, Scott was also working alongside his instructor, Chris Smith, at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on what would become the iconic, Sundance-winning film, American Movie. Scott’s interest in filmmaking and graphic arts combined with Andy’s passion for development turned into a winning combination.

Getting their business off the ground wasn’t easy. With virtually no experience and no capital, the brothers had to face a lot of rejection before they got their first break.

“I just started calling businesses around town and offering up our services. Time after time I was either hung up on or laughed at. I was told over and over again that the World Wide Web was just a fad and a waste of time,” said Andrew.

After exhausting their prospect list without any luck, the brothers finally decided to give their services away and donate a website to be auctioned off at the annual PBS Great TV Auction. They figured if they couldn’t find anyone to pay them, they’d try to give it away—an idea the two admit wasn’t the most fiscally sound but one that worked nonetheless.

During the auction, entrepreneur and long-time PBS supporter John Ellsworth saw the opportunity and jumped on it.

“John was way ahead of his time in terms of seeing the value of the internet. He was a very successful catalog marketer and knew it was just a matter of time before the internet would be the center of commerce. He took a chance on us, and he gave us our start,” said Andrew.

Lightburn has expanded its business over the last two decades by taking an unorthodox approach: rather than learn at the client’s expense, the brothers would only make technology and marketing recommendations based on results they experienced first-hand. So, to test the new methods and platforms they wanted to recommend to Lightburn clients, the Wintheisers created and grew several multimillion dollar ecommerce businesses to serve as testing grounds. Although they’ve since been sold, all of the businesses are still operating and thriving today.

While the brothers paused to celebrate their 20-year journey this past summer, they aren’t slowing down any time soon. Lightburn continues to deliver award-winning creative, technology, and digital marketing services to both local and national brands, including Mercury Marine, Lakefront Brewery, Artemax, Milwaukee Film, Racine Danish Kringles, FIS, Generac, Door County Visitor Bureau, and other Fortune 1000 companies throughout the country.

Lightburn has called Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward home for the last 20 years and is evaluating additional locations, both local and remote, for its expanding workforce and growing roster of national clients.

About Lightburn

From Fortune 500 businesses to fast-growing startups, we are proud to partner with clients across a variety of industries to build their brands, find new customers, and help drive growth and profitability.

Since 1998, we have followed our guiding principle that digital transformation doesn't have to be complicated or confusing, that the most successful websites and digital marketing campaigns are borne of well-researched strategies and elegantly simple insights. Day in and day out, we work in fully integrated teams of strategists, marketers, designers, and development professionals to create digital experiences that are vibrant and thoughtful and data-driven.

When it comes to our clients, we believe our agency only succeeds when our clients succeed. We're dedicated to forging collaborative partnerships and fostering open and honest communication to ensure the success of everyone involved. We like to think providing service and value to our clients is our most important deliverable, and we can't wait to work on your next big thing.