Tearing Corners off the Darkness: Celebrating 20 Years of FiveStone


This month marks 20 years since FiveStone’s founding, and each day we strive to continue making things that matter alongside our purpose-driven clients. In celebration of our 20th birthday, we sat down with FiveStone’s founder, Jason Locy, to reflect. As usual, he offers insightful thoughts about persistence, the value of relationships, and what it means to do good.

Original FiveStone office exterior
FiveStone’s first office in Atlanta

How would you summarize FiveStone’s impact over the last twenty years?

I read a quote by Bono once where he said that he hopes that at the end of each day he was able to tear a little corner off the darkness. This always stuck with me. In some way, that’s what we are trying to do at FiveStone.

A lot of folks look at impact as the big things they have done. At FiveStone, we tend to look at impact as working each day to rip off those little corners, whether innovating in failing school systems or helping an international nonprofit express what makes their work unique.

Individually it’s just a small prick of light that shines through the tear, and maybe in the grand sense of all the problems in the world it seems tiny.

But, we are just trying to rip those little corners off over and over and over again to let in as much light as possible. That’s our impact.

FiveStone team photo
The FiveStone 2019 Holiday Party at the incredible Waterfall Mansion & Gallery in New York

What stands out for you personally over the past 20 years?

For me, the biggest highlights have been relational. I’ve made great friends here. We have a team member that’s been here for 14 years. How amazing is that? I’ve worked on and off with some of the same people for 14, 15, 20 years. I’ve seen team members get married, have kids, and celebrate all sorts of wonderful milestones. I’ve also seen team members experience incredible heartache and loss and have been able to be there with them.

Not to mention life-long friends, family friends, I have made with some clients and partners we have had over the years.

I had no idea the relational connectivity that would happen as a result of starting this thing.

Man and woman at conference table holding onsie
We’ve thrown a few baby showers over the years…

What are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned over the past 20 years?

Nietzsche coined this idea of a long obedience in the same direction. The outcome of doing that is you build a life worth living. So, while there’s a constant friction of running the agency and making a business work, on the best days you don’t feel it as such. Instead you feel a sense of accomplishment in a faithful pursuit of living purposefully.

Which influences how we think about success and scale and things that sound like that. In the context of that “long obedience” we start to see that more important than our size or scale is our stewardship.

This idea seems ridiculous in a culture that celebrates “winning.” But what if “winning” just meant showing up every day and living that life of purpose?

What if instead of pursuing scale we pursued responsibility? And stewardship?

And what if in the tension of all those ideas something unique and beautiful emerged that created a simple, yet profound, difference in people’s lives?

Speaker and audience in conference room
An event we hosted with James K. A. Smith on renewing the imagination

What highlights stand out among FiveStone’s 20 years of work?

A few anecdotes come to mind:

  • We helped bring hope to parents of children born deaf or hard of hearing, giving them a new imagination for what their child’s life could be like.

  • Fifteen years ago we crafted a brand and content for an organization advocating for care of the environment, helping to usher in what is now a regular topic of conversation.

  • As hurricanes pound the Gulf and East Coasts this season, there is a better volunteer response because of our work. The top distributor of Red Cross meals will have a more efficient and volunteer-filled effort because of our work with them.

  • We sat in Texas prisons and cried with men who wanted a second chance at life. Our work helped give them that chance.

  • We hosted a camp to help underprivileged kids learn design and storytelling. One of those kids has since graduated high school and is pursuing a design degree.

This takes us back to the question about impact. You can’t always measure the exact impact of this stuff. But we know, from all we’ve seen and heard, that we’ve helped push lots of good work forward. The collective of that effort holds all my favorite moments.

Office door with Broadcast in Process sign
Hard at work during a video shoot
Photo shoot behind the scenes

The world has changed a lot over the last 20 years — what are some of the biggest shifts you’ve noticed that impact FiveStone’s work?

I think the biggest shift is around the idea of positive impact and who makes it. When we started out, the bulk of our work was in the nonprofit space. Why? Because, for the most part, creating positive impact was limited to something nonprofits do.

Of course that’s changed. Our friend Kyle Westaway writes about this in his book Profit & Purpose. He makes the point that purpose can drive profit and the two don’t need to be dichotomous. So we see existing brands infusing more positive impact into their work (e.g., ESG goals or community give-back programs) and we see new companies being started with explicit social missions.

These ideas were on the fringe 20 years ago. Today it’s a norm.

Making things that matter and photo shoot
Making Things That Matter since 2001

What do you hope for the next 20 years of FiveStone? What kind of impact do you hope to have?

I hope we continue to be angered by the injustices we see. I hope we continue to care deeply and push our clients to make bold choices.

More practically, I think we have a real opportunity to work more with the for-profits trying to infuse positive impact into their existing models. We have 20 years of experience with nonprofits and social enterprises and we bring a unique perspective to the conversation. Existing brands that try to enter this space will need to do it in a thoughtful way. Otherwise, consumers will know it’s just lip service and not something meaningful. Our past experience makes us a great guide.

Most of all, though, I hope we stay the course of that long obedience.

Here’s to another 20 years!

Bartender holding cocktail