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.
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.
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.