Small Biz

Never Tell Cyndi Masters the Odds

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By Melissa Lowery

In 2000, Cyndi Masters was recovering from a near-fatal motorcycle accident when she turned to the internet. A traumatic brain injury and damage to her spinal cord meant multiple surgeries and lengthy recovery, but through her computer, Masters could stay connected with friends, the news, and what was happening outside her recovery room.

“It was my window to the world,” she said.

If you are old enough to recall the World Wide Web in the year 2000, you probably remember static pages with multiple colors and fonts, grainy photos and the ubiquitous rotating “Email” image hotlinked to a Hotmail address. Websites at the turn of the 21st century were clumsy and difficult to navigate, especially for anyone with visual, motor or neurological challenges.

As she surfed the information superhighway from her bed, Masters recognized an opportunity. Prior to the accident, she ran a successful boutique publishing and marketing agency, shuttered as she regained her health and mobility. Now her entrepreneurial instincts and expertise kicked in: someone needed to save us from bad design and develop better, more accessible websites.

Starting a new business while recovering from an accident that left her permanently disabled may seem intimidating, but Masters was up for the challenge. She launched DBS Interactive in December 2000 and defied the odds to celebrate the company’s milestone 20th anniversary in 2020.

“I can’t believe it,” Masters said. “It’s not just that we are 20-years-old, it is that we do work for global clients. I have to pinch myself sometimes, especially when I think back that it started with $1500.”

Masters imbued her company with her own values. She believes in customer-centered service, collaboration, diversity of thought, accountability and transparency, designing with purpose and leading with kindness – values that manifest in unique and tangible ways.

Cooper, Chief Canine Officer at DBS Interactive

Hospitality is a key part of DBS Interactive’s company culture, a tricky concept when most client interactions take place digitally. A real person will always answer the phone during business hours, the company website features fun facts about the DBS team (average cups of coffee we drink per day: 61) and if you happen to stop by the office, you may be greeted by the Chief Canine Officer, Super Cooper.

“Cooper has the most important job at DBS: Making our workplace a warm and friendly place for team members and clients alike,” Masters said of her four-legged CCO.

DBS Interactive is a certified Woman-Owned, Disability-Owned and LGBT-Owned Business Enterprise. Masters is active in several organizations and councils serving diverse business owners and helped launch Civitas Regional LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce in Louisville, an affiliate of NGLCC.
“I never imagined I would have the opportunity to provide multi-national companies with digital services,” Masters said. “LGBTBE certification opened doors for me and I want to help other business owners access their own opportunities.”

The Louisville-based international digital agency not only succeeded in the wake of the dot-com bubble bursting and the 2008 recession, but Masters also built such a strong team that her company survived when she battled cancer and later when suffered a back-breaking fall that required spinal reconstruction.

“I’ve been blessed with talented, caring employees with great potential, knowing they can do great things. They genuinely care about the company, each other, and our clients. I do one thing – drive, drive, drive because I know the team has it in them. The evidence is in our world-class work and the longevity of the team,” Masters said.

From its original web design portfolio, Masters has expanded the company’s services to include integrated marketing services such as content development, social media, earned media and technical and on-page SEO in addition to producing websites, apps and intranets for national and global businesses. For more than two decades, Master’s digital wisdom combined with her commitment to hiring kind, innovative people who produce thoughtful, creative work has been defying the odds to shape a better, more inclusive internet experience.

“When the Internet is responsible the world becomes fairer,” she said. “That’s good for everyone – both customers and businesses. The greatest user experience happens when you meet the customers that struggle the most.”

Cyndi Masters’ Strategies for Meeting Challenges & Overcoming Adversity

  • Make friends with your competitors. Collaborate and learn from each other.
  • Giving gets us more. It’s impossible to give without it amplifying.
  • Don’t lead with fear.
  • Surround yourself with great people.
  • Hire based on values. You can teach the skills.
  • Put checks and balances in place for everything.
  • Business is lonely. Find people you can trust.
  • Business is not your identity.
  • Business is real life that combines with our spiritual and personal lives.

Business Equality Pride (BEQPride) is the first publication from the BEQ family of national print and digital magazines exclusively addressing the needs of LGBTQ small-to-medium sized businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals.