By Raegan Whiteside
Photography By Zheng Chia
It’s hard to imagine that a creative company that has been sustainable on its own for two years started with a man forced into three months of bed rest after being in a serious accident. It’s even harder to imagine this man teaching himself graphic design and website building all in the same three month period. Jesse McCann, however, is that person—one who is willing to break the rules and move away from the norm, and being stuck at home won’t stop him.
After moving to Charleston five years ago from Hawaii, where he lived for 15 years, McCann decided he wanted to do something new and move to a place with more opportunities than the food, beverage and hospitality jobs available in Hawaii. He quickly found that the Lowcountry was the perfect city to start a business and discovered that
“it’s easy to stand out, because people in Charleston appreciate things that are different.This idea became his mantra and mission in life, in business and in mindset.
From McCann’s personal life to his business, Cane Road Agency, nontraditional is what he thrives on. In fact, he expresses that he “despises the whole concept of tradition… doing something just because that’s the way it’s been done forever makes no sense.”
From growing up poor with nine siblings in a modest trailer to dropping out of high school in 9th grade and moving to Hawaii where he had to work to pay his own rent to raising his daughter on his own, McCann lives and breathes nontraditional. It’s how he lives his life, and it’s what motivates him. Cane Road Agency is deeply connected to Jesse’s personal life.
When I asked what inspired the creativity behind this still-growing company, he responded without hesitation: “anyone who’s not afraid to just push and break the mold of what’s normal.” With idols like Patti Smith and Quentin Tarantino, he’s clearly on the right path to do more than just break molds—he’s on the path to demolish them. He wants to do more than just push boundaries, however. McCann stated: “I want to bring people together. It sounds cheesy, but I’m inspired by making the world a little better. And in a world that’s so divided, I’m inspired by anybody who isn’t just another voice in the echo chamber but who can say, wait, it doesn’t have to be this way just because everyone else says it does.”
Jesse has a lot to be proud of with his business. He has helped one client, Mex 1 Coastal Cantina, achieve not only the “Best Margarita” award through Charleston City Paper but also helped them beat out 13-year winner Santi’s for“Best Mexican Restaurant.” He has helped author Mary Alice Monroe get her book on the New York Times Bestseller list with only a month of campaigning—she made # 9 on the list a week after her release date. Even as he tells me these accomplishments, however, he makes it known that he doesn’t want to take credit away from the businesses and artists themselves.
“A lot of times, when you own your own business, you’re really focused on growing your business and getting sales for yourself to see growth within your own company. But my whole goal and our whole business model is to do that for other companies, and sometimes I think a lot of marketing companies lose sight of that. So, the thing I like the most is when clients that we have grown relationships with see successes and see their businesses do well,” he said.
Cane Road Agency is deeply connected to Jesse’s personal life.Because he wanted the business to have roots in Hawaii, he gave it the name Cane Road, which comes from the old sugar cane roads in his former state. Jesse explained that these dirt mountain roads, which used to line the sugar cane plantations, now oftentimes lead to hidden beaches and vistas. When he told me this, I could easily picture the roads, and I also saw how the name is a perfect metaphor to the work Cane Road does. They are guides, driving their clients down the rocky, dirt path of success until they reach the destination—the goals they’ve been journeying toward the whole time.
What makes Cane Road stand out from other marketing and creative companies? The willingness to step out of the box and make people uncomfortable. Jesse asserts that he “wants to make people uncomfortable,” which may seem like an uncomfortable thought at first. He explains: “if everybody is completely comfortable with what you are doing, I don’t know how you can move the needle. We don’t want to offend anybody, but we are also very okay with pushing the envelope with a lot of the marketing we do and opening a discussion and dialogue with people that maybe just view things differently. It’s easy to get along with people, to be polite and not really cause any friction, because your day is just easier without it. But, sometimes, when you open up a dialogue that people are uncomfortable with, it can actually grow you as a person.”
After meeting Jesse McCann, I told him his piece would be an easy one to write. In a short time I learned so much about the man behind Cane Road Agency, and I saw the story I wanted to create sitting right in front of me: the story of overcoming adversity, of building a successful company from the bottom up and of creativity and breaking through the norm.