It all started with a chance meet-up in a bar, between two young men who sort of knew each other from high school and from working in the same industry. And then there was this sports bet that involved a crypto-currency volcano, and before you know it, True Mtn Marketing was born.
But let’s back up.
John White (clean shaven) and Jono Gross (epic award-winning mustache) each worked in the marketing space for different home building companies after high school. Their paths would occasionally cross professionally, and personally. Like the time back in 2017 when they ran into each other at a bar, shook hands, and shared an epic brainstorm over a fine sip of whiskey about what they think marketing really should and could be in the Region.
The next morning, they decided to meet for coffee to see if there was more to be had from that conversation.
“We just knew that we had to iron out this dream,” White said. “It just took off from there.”
After a couple of months, the co-founders of True Mtn Marketing had a name and a logo, and knew their core purpose – to offer TRUE value to those needing productive, results-oriented websites. (More later on how they expanded to other divisions). True Mtn’s name, they said, is derived from the desire to convey their authenticity as humans, and their love for the mountains in the west, particularly Colorado and California. They sealed the deal (unofficially) by signing the whiskey bottle that started it all.
“We’re helping business owners win and selling them what they need, not just large packages,” Gross said.
The team is true to their clients. True to value. True to culture.
When clients call, they answer. And when you meet them, you’re not going to encounter the Mad Men- style marketing execs in starched suits and ties. Their conference table at the office in St. John doubles as a ping pong table, and music is always playing in the background.
White presents in a causal pair of loose-fitting khakis or jeans and a T-shirt, many times with a trusty trucker-billed cap that may or may not be his signature look. He’s the casual, outgoing, practical CEO of the group who can take big ideas and whittle them to reality, always steering clients to the most value for their money, and the best service.
When Gross walks into a room, his mustache pretty much enters first. The award-winning stache is classic Sam Elliot in the middle and then curls wildly at each edge - right in line with one of the friendliest smiles you’ll encounter. He’s usually wearing whatever he can do backflips in (no joke), and a cowboy hat or ball cap is almost always the lid. Wildman Jono is his social handle, and it reflects True Mtn’s crazy idea guy - the one who is going to inspire clients to think big, try new marketing tactics, and set convention aside. He skates, snowboards, hikes, highlines, backflips, and mushes sled dogs - maybe even all in one day. If adventure is to be had, Gross finds it.
The two young men back in 2017 were pretty sure their ideas on marketing meshed. But before they started a company together, they needed to know if they would mesh as co-founders. So they set off on a multi-day trip exploring the five Great Lakes. Needless to say, it went well.
While they contemplated how to fund the startup, Gross made a little sports bet and won. The prize was a nice chunk of bitcoin, right at the time of the crypto-currency bubble. It exploded, he quit his job, and the company was born.
Gross managed it solo for about a year while White planned to make his exit from his job at the time. By 2018, True Mtn Marketing launched a new division, Mtn Digital, designed to help companies be strategic and thoughtful about digital advertising, which can be a huge drain on finances with little return unless you’re savvy. Mtn Sites - their initial launch for website building - was founded on a similar pretense.
“We get calls from people who want websites and need help because their current services are treating them poorly. They’re getting billed for every little change that needs to be made, and there isn’t really any feedback on whether they are getting a return on their investment,” Gross said.
“That’s where we come in,” White added. “We primarily help small to medium-size businesses, and we are here to be their marketing experts so they can focus on running a business.”
White said a big focus for the team now is re-educating companies on what marketing really should be, and helping them to comfortably ditch tired ideas that aren’t creating value for them, or their customers.
Service sets them apart. So much so that the True Mtn team takes a hit for clients on the front end.
“We’re building effective websites with no upfront cost. We kind of lose in the beginning to help our clients win in the end,” Gross said. “We can’t tell you how many people come to us who have been burned in marketing. They paid for something and got nothing in return.”
The team offers weekly reporting on website and digital marketing efficacy, and constantly works with clients to tweak their online presence as web and social algorithms fluctuate alongside company needs.
“We have a 100% retention rate with clients so far, and the biggest complaint we’ve had from someone is that they have only grown their business 10%,” White said.
Their advice to those looking for marketing support: Don’t pay for a consultation, don’t purchase digital advertising and search engine optimization (Google ads, for example) unless you know exactly what you’re getting into, and mobile optimization on web is everything.
Most recently, True Mtn launched their third division - Mtn Design - focused on graphic design, print, and branding. It paints a picture they hadn’t quite expected in just two short years.
“Our story just keeps unfolding. It’s crazy. We’re sharpening our spears here in Northwest Indiana and have big plans to expand to the west,” Gross said.
The company serves more than 100 clients across the U.S. and into Canada, and plans to hit the Chicago and the burbs next with a heavy push.
True Mtns also has grown in staff. Rich Christakes is their business lead, taking care of all things financial. Matt Barbur is the company’s social media nerve center. Nathan Bower heads up Mtn Design backed by 17 years of solid marketing industry experience. Together, the True Mtn team is full of hustle, grit, authenticity, passion, and drive - all fueled by the high of seeing their clients win big in an area where many lose hard.
The True Mtn team sets conventional competition aside and is known to collaborate with marketing and content agencies across the Region. The philosophy is reflected in Region Hustle - a modern group for Northwest Indiana business owners entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, and individuals looking to succeed. Region Hustle was created by True Mtn Marketing CEO John White and local realtor Alex Nickla. Details on the next one can be found here. To connect directly with the experts at True Mtn, visit the online at https://www.truemtn.com/.