How six millennial siblings in Carlsbad built a multimillion-dollar social media business

The C Squared Social team includes siblings Caleb Crail, Cassidy Crail, Katerli Ponce and Cody Crail. Their sister Karlye Atwood and brother Casey Crail work remotely.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

C Squared Social has tripled its revenue in the past three years


Working with family. Good idea or bad idea?

For the six Crail siblings in Carlsbad, it seems to be working out rather well. Their social media agency, C Squared Social, is rapidly maturing into a multimillion-dollar business. The company expects to bring in $5 million in revenue this year, a huge leap from where they were three years ago when the company hadn’t even broken seven figures.

First founded by brothers Cassidy and Caleb Crail in 2012, the agency later recruited nearly all of their siblings one at a time. In total, the company employs four Crail brothers and two sisters. The Crails are a big family, so there’s still one brother who’s holding out from joining the family business (although Caleb says they’re working on him).

This year, Inc. named C Squared one of the fastest-growing companies in the nation. But will it get weird over Thanksgiving when six brothers and sisters share both a board room and the dinner table?

“We’re used to talking business at the dinner table,” Caleb said, laughing. They’ve been doing it since they were children.

The Crail kids, now in their 20s and 30s, are the children of Frank Crail, a famous chocolatier and the founder of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. Frank started the business in the early 1980s, and his kids watched it grow from nothing into a publicly traded company with 360 franchised stores around the country.

Frank said the kids were not spared from business talk at home, as he would recount the day’s happenings to his wife, Ruan Crail, every night. Whether he was scoping out new real estate, having financial issues or business disputes, or just chatting about the day’s business, it all happened around the dinner table.

“I guess I didn’t think the kids were listening that much,” Frank mused over a phone call. “But I guess they were.”

He said he remembers his eldest daughter, Karlye, showing an early interest in business. “She was the most inquisitive about how things worked,” Frank said. “She was reading the Wall Street Journal at 12 or 13 years old.”

All of the Crail children went into business after college. Most followed their father’s footsteps and went into franchising. Karlye got into the frozen yogurt business, and Caleb ran a Rocky Mountain store in California. But Caleb said managing the social media marketing for these small, franchised stores grabbed his attention more than running the businesses themselves. He and his brother Cassidy started helping Karlye design Facebook campaigns to drive customers to her frozen yogurt shops, and the promotions were a lot more successful than they expected.

It was the perfect time to be dabbling in Facebook campaigns, as the social media giant had only just begun its advertising business.

“The big player at the time was Google AdWords, so Facebook was still a Wild West in advertising,” Cassidy said. “We decided to jump on it pretty early and use it for our siblings’ franchises.”

The brothers launched C Squared Social in 2012 to do social media marketing for small businesses. The duo decided to focus on marketing for franchisers and franchised stores, banking on their experience in the field to funnel in clients (and understand their clients’ needs). Today, they do social media advertising across channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram, doing in-house videography, motion graphics, photography and graphic design, among other things. The agency counts several restaurant brands as clients, including McDonald’s, The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Church’s Chicken.

As the company grew, Caleb, 26, and Cassidy, 31, recruited in their siblings. Cody Crail, 37, is now director of sales; Casey Crail, 35, is director of finance; Katerli Ponce, 28, is marketing and strategy director; and Karlye Atwood, 39, is their internal marketing director. Cassidy and Caleb said it seemed like a no-brainer to hire their family members.

“Everyone had a lot of franchise background, and they all had successful careers in some capacity,” Cassidy said. “We had a lot of faith in them, and they had the right experience.”

Plus, it felt natural to work together.

“We were home-schooled, so we were always like a unit; we were a squad,” Casey said.

Their father, Frank, said he never expected the kids to go into business together — especially not nearly all of them at one company.

It’s hard enough for two people to agree on anything, let alone six,” Frank said, laughing. “Being in franchising, I know how easy it is for partnerships to fall apart. But I think they heard enough war stories growing up that they know what they need to do to make it work. They go out of their way to respect each other and to collaborate.”

Perhaps growing up with such a big family set the groundwork for a successful business partnership. Casey said it’s “not all rainbows and sunshine” working with siblings, but everyone sure knows how to compromise to reach a common goal.

“There’s always going to be disagreement with seven kids, so growing up in a large family teaches you to work through things together,” Frank said.

Cassidy and Caleb said the siblings are funneling their efforts to keep up their rate of growth, which has been aggressive in recent years. In 2018, the company brought in $2.3 million in revenue but expects to more than double that by the end of 2019. The company just launched new services in Google, Amazon, and YouTube advertising.

C Squared employs 52 people, with 28 at their Carlsbad headquarters and the rest at their office in Boise, Idaho.