I love being one-third of Paravel. I don’t know how other web shops work, but I do know that I like how we roll.

It’s taken some hard work to build the team as well as the company, but I wouldn’t trade all the psds, lines of code and fisticuffs for anything. With that in mind, I thought a brief, selective glance over the past few years might be of interest. Sure, we’ve faced our share of challenges and still do, but we’re genuinely pleased as punch to be doing what we’re doing with no plans to stop any time soon.

How We Got Together (Short Version)

Paravel started with an $85 check I wrote to Dave Rupert in December of 2002. Having recently graduated college and moved to Austin, I needed to learn how to build a website for work. Dave generously set aside a full Saturday to show me iframes, ahrefs and tables just days before moving to Japan to teach English for 3 years. Without iChat that probably would have been the end of it, but once he settled in overseas, we continued to build and update sites together. When waking hours would overlap, we’d do occasional design & code show-and-tell sessions that typically resulted in my continued education, a testament to Dave’s patience and teaching abilities.

Fast forward through countless blogs, forums, Flash sites to 2006... After moving back to the US, Dave eventually wound up in Phoenix working with our friend Reagan Ray for a real estate developer. I was living in Houston, juggling a number of gigs and envious of the quality of their collaborative efforts. We all continued to pool knowledge and share ideas- I think this was when I got serious about the idea of us teaming up. I finished out my work in Houston roughly the same time they finished in Phoenix and knew we had a unique opportunity to take a risk as well as take control of our own professional destinies. I grew up watching my Dad build a company with 2 business partners, and hearing about his decision to leave a stable work environment at US Steel to work with a startup industrial contractor 30+ years ago has always inspired me. My plan of attack would be modeled after his: do good work, be consistent and the rest will take care of itself.

Taking Paravel Full Time

The best professional decision I’ve ever made was to recruit Dave Rupert and Reagan Ray- taking Paravel from a freelance set-up to a full-time (albeit small) web shop. Sure these guys were friends of mine, but this wasn’t a marriage of convenience. Reagan is the most face-meltingly good designer I know. Dave is the vigilant defender of the internet and a king of e-solutions. To build the sites we wanted to build, I knew we needed each other. The work hadn’t been sold yet, and it was terrifying to commit to striking out on our own, but in 2007 with the future in mind, we began operating as Paravel full time.

Paravel

Roles, Boundaries, and Shut the Hell Up

The first 8-12 months were filled with us scrambling to find work, pay bills and develop a workflow. Despite being friends for 15 years, we had to figure each other out in a collaborative work capacity. It would have probably been easier for us to retreat into our own roles, passing a project on down the Paravel assembly line without much overlap, but we didn’t want to work that way. To us, websites built by divisions that consider the content, UX, design and development separately lack a sense of purpose and common thread. We wanted to throw all the stuff necessary to make a website great out on the table, gather round, and slug it out. Great websites aren’t what happens when a series of switches are flipped from bad to awesome; they’re the result of the balance achieved through critical thinking, toe stomping, head butting and lots of improv. We gradually established a brutal, sloppy democracy where both our work and the process got easier each go around.

Try that, now this.

As time passed, we were able to move from constant scramble mode through stay afloat mode to future planning mode. It wasn’t that we were re-evaluating whether or not we wanted to build for the web, but we needed to get a handle on what that meant. Technologies and conventions change, so to make Paravel a long-term gig we had to be willing to experiment. That realization facilitated sites like The Many Faces Of, The ATX Web Show, DesignSwap, Austin Town Hall, and our own blogs. We decided that it was important to pursue what interested us collectively and individually, both during the work-week and after hours, knowing that we’d continue to improve and maybe even get hired for some interesting jobs. I believe this priority has paid off, and if we hope to stay in business, it’s one we’ll have to keep at the top of the list. After all, we want to be operating at the top of our game when we enter into client work.

Tightly Wound Knit

Throughout these adventures we’ve developed all sorts of intangibles that contribute to the go-team environment we love so well. We’ve always respected each other as people, but we’ve grown to respect each team member’s talent as well. We believe any project that involves each of us will turn out better than anything we could throw together by ourselves. Knowing things are enhanced by, not limited to, your own vision and ideas makes work exciting. It’s also nice just to have some people in your corner- people happy to be sounding boards or a fresh set of eyes, who are unafraid to have your back or let you know if you’re acting like a jackass. Above all, I couldn’t imagine working with a team I didn’t trust completely. The work we do as Paravel impacts our families as well as our careers, and that isn’t something anyone takes lightly. So here’s to my cohorts and to Paravel. Here’s to taking your destiny into your own hands and to building something even cooler than a website- a team.

Ads by Fusion

29 Responses

Leave a comment or contact me via Twitter @TrentWalton

  • Jon Heslop

    Totally. Wicked.

  • William Price

    Tightly Wound Knit... says it all, right there.

  • Dan

    Trent, way to pay respect to your team.
    The attitude you show here is a testament to your success and the success of Paravel. I am happy to see an honest look at how a great team of web guys got together. Your methods pay off and your collaborative environment shows in all your work.

    Here is to many more years of success!

  • Steve Stedman

    Great story! Thanks so much for sharing and best of luck on continued success.

  • Ben Shoults

    As always, great post. Do you guys work remotely to each other? Do you find that being friends had a negative impact on your friendships or has it hardened? I have always been a bit skeptical about working with friends.

  • Trent

    Thanks for the kind words, all.

    @Jon Heslop: Now you know why I slacked off from our iChat convo for 30 minutes ;)

    @Ben Shoults: Good question... I’m planning a follow up post that gets into the logistics of how we work & get along. We do work remotely most days.

  • Vin Thomas

    This is such a great article and very timely. I hope a few years from now I’ll be writing an article about this about the Fixel team.

    Thanks for sharing! You’re work is awesome and you can tell you have an awesome team. Much respect.

  • Mitchell Hall

    Great article. I wish there were more “how we made it” stories from web designers. I’m just starting out and it’s awesome to hear about how successful web design firms first started and got through the endless challenges of starting a business. I’d particularly like to know more about how the work started rolling in and what problems you still face.

  • Trent

    @Vin Thomas: Thanks, Vin. You Fixel guys are the cat’s pajamas!

    @Mitchell Hall:

    I’d particularly like to know more about how the work started rolling in and what problems you still face.

    Good question- Keeping work ahead of us & everyone paid in the beginning was stressful and I’m not sure seamlessly scaling ever works. I just made tons of calls and hoped for referrals while we tried to do solid work. There were times where one job didn’t always lead directly to the next, and we’ve taken jobs we weren’t 100% thrilled about, but that’s all part of it. Now, it’s all about time management. We’re trying to balance the work schedule with experimentation and side projects so we can keep sharp.

  • Terry

    Humility. Honesty. Hard work. That’s how I read this.

    Great to see a real-life example of doing it right. I know I need to be reminded to do good work right. All the time.

    Thanks for your openness.

  • Robert Banh

    “The work we do as Paravel impacts our families as well as our careers, and that isn’t something anyone takes lightly.” -- very true and professional. That’s for the inspirational post.

  • Ryan White

    Fantastic post. Very inspiring!!!

  • Grant

    I love hearing how amazing teams/companies get built. Thanks for the sharing the backstory.

  • Chris Meeks

    It is really cool to hear how respect and appreciation for each person’s talent is at the center of Paravel. In an industry where ego and jealousy can run rampant, it’s inspiring to see real world examples of teams that are able to avoid that. It not only speaks to how you all are as professionals, but as people.

  • Paulo Canabarro

    Great article and very inspiring to me because that’s a path I want to take some day. I would love to know more about the process of the work, how these 3 brilliant brains work together.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Kyle Steed

    Trent,

    From meeting you guys at SXSW earlier this year, to spending some quality time with you guys over beers, brats and the typeface documentary, I am honored to know you guys. Your respect for your compadres is truly inspiring and it shows. I can’t wait to see what you guys do in the near future and look forward to some more face time at SXSW next year. Cheers!

  • Michael Dick

    There’s not much more that I can add that hasn’t already been said...but, great and inspiring read!

  • matthew carleton

    Hey Trent,
    Really appreciate this article, I am forever thinking of doing something similar. While I don’t think I am ready to make the leap just yet, reads like this push closer quicker. Cheers.

  • James

    Great write up Trent,

    It’s always nice working with friends who have complementary skills and forming a team like yours.

    The “do nice work” ethos is still a great basis to found and run a business on :)

    James.

  • Zach

    Great post. I personally think this is every designers dream, to have their own company and a great group of people to run it with. I certainly wouldn’t mind taking this route some day.

    Also, I’m still eagerly anticipating the next Many Faces Of! It’s killing me lol

  • Trent

    @Paulo Canabarro: Glad you dig the post- I’ll try to conjure up a workflow post before the end of the year.

    @James:

    It’s always nice working with friends who have complementary skills and forming a team

    I couldn’t agree more and I’m thankful for it every day.

    @Zach:

    Also, I’m still eagerly anticipating the next Many Faces Of! It’s killing me lol

    Me too, good sir! Reagan is working on illustrations now... next year, we’re planning in blocking out time to do more of these and are really looking forward to it :)

  • Zach

    That would be awesome, to have it regular installments.

    It’s sad, when you get a side project going like that, that it seems like the funnest ones are always the ones that are hard to find time for. Of course, that always goes hand in hand with being the ones that you make little or no money off of.

  • lutgoldsy

    “Thanks for the sharing the backstory.“
    You can see more about that?

  • Rebecca Gutierrez

    Great job, Trent.

    I wish you the best even as the year progresses. Happy 2011 to ya.

    Rebecca

    P.S. I really like your writing style.

  • Chad MacDonald

    Is the logo influenced by Legend of Zelda’s triforce by any chance? Please say it is or I’ll feel like a super-nerd for realizing a v-game reference that isn’t there.

  • Trent

    @Chad MacDonald: It sure is (along with a few other things)! Back pat for noticing :)

  • Laurence McCahill

    Great post Trent. Nice to hear a first hand, honest account of how you guys came about – rather than the usual corporate crap you read.

    Ours is a similar story – I set up with an old school friend and now there’s 4 of us. You’ve inspired me to tell our story on our site soon :)

  • Martin Varesio

    I wish you the best even as the year progresses! Great job!!

  • Jennifer

    Thanks your story inspired me.

Leave a Reply