Then & Now: Mark Cloud stays busy pursuing his passions

by Paul Gatling ( 172 views 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story appeared in the Jan. 22  issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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Mark Cloud learned years ago there is never a time in life to sit back and relax. The lesson has stayed with him.

Cloud, 45, is the president and founder of Integrated Solutions Group, a consultancy he launched in 2012 in downtown Springdale to work with developers, contractors and builders on project design and construction.

Cloud, who is certified in LEED interior design and construction, believes collaboration makes sure all ideas are well thought out and decisions are made “from a position of knowledge.”

In January 2016, after six months as an outside consultant to the firm, Cloud became CEO of Blue Zoo Creative, a business founded in 2008 that helps companies develop their online presence. He is also an owner in the agency, along with co-founders Eric Huber and Collin Condray.

An associated project of Blue Zoo is The Gallery on Fourth, a collaborative work space created to give smaller companies and startups a place to rent a workspace and be surrounded by like-minded professionals. The Gallery is incorporated into Blue Zoo’s office footprint in downtown Bentonville, on the second floor of the First National Bank of NWA branch at 402 S.W. A St. Cloud said the Gallery workstations are rented on a yearly basis. Eleven of the 14 are spoken four.

“Our goal was a collaborative work space with a professional touch,” Cloud said. ‘There’s no pool table or dartboard, but it is a place for a very small company or solo entrepreneur to rent a desk, have access to a conference room, Wi-Fi, printer and other amenities, all near downtown Bentonville.”

A married father of four and a busy entrepreneur, Cloud, says the regimented day-to-day is never burdensome. He owes that to a tried-and true adage: Happiness is loving what you do.

“It’s just like anything in life,” he said. “And I love everything that I’m doing. That allows me to give a lot of effort to it. From my end, it just feels like I’m pursuing passions.”

Cloud, a Mississippi native, graduated with a degree in marketing from Mississippi State University in 1995 and moved to Northwest Arkansas in 1997. In 2011, when he was honored by the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal as a Forty Under 40, Cloud was leading the business development efforts for HP Engineering Inc. in Fayetteville.

After “three great years” with HP, and 20 years working in business development and design sales, Cloud bowed to a growing urge to scratch an entrepreneurial itch, which he did in July 2012 with the launch of Integrated Solutions Group. He is the sole employee and hires architectural, design and landscape consultants as needed.

Consultants are also a big part of the business model at Blue Zoo. In fact, they’re the pride of the company. In addition to the three owners and one full-time employee, Blue Zoo utilizes a team of about 30 freelance contractors on an ongoing basis. They are referred to as “The Pride” and have helped the business widen its scope of services.

“In the creative industry, it became evident to me there was a large workforce we could tap into,” Cloud said. “In 2016, all we could [build] was a website,” he said. “Now in 2018, we do videography, photography, graphic design, search engine optimization, content writing … the whole gamut. We’ve done that through talent acquisition and tapping into freelance contractors. Our clients demand more, so we’ve got people who can deliver more.

“It’s a unique approach to employment.”

Tapping into the gig economy has been a “gamechanger” for the firm, Cloud said, and is fueling growth. Revenue has grown 35% year-over-year for the past three years, and may trend even better in 2018, he said.

Cloud is also proud of helping pivot Blue Zoo from a virtual company into a brick-and-mortar business.

Cloud’s professional and civic involvement have slowed since his entrepreneurial pursuits began in 2012. He previously held leadership roles with the Arkansas chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, but he does have a keen interest in the development of downtown Springdale. His Integrated Solutions Group office is on Spring Street.

The oldest of his four children is a freshman in college at Mississippi State. The other three — a junior, eighth-grader and fifth-grader — attend school in the Springdale School District.