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“Dedicating 20% of our time to personal projects and research is the secret sauce that makes our client work successful.”

Ethercycle is a web design agency born out of a start-up: They plan, design, and build goal-oriented responsive websites to improve your bottom line.

In 2009, the co-founders quit their jobs to launch a start-up. Their goal was to create an e-commerce platform that aimed to take the pain out of product entry. They worked feverishly for months from a café in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood.

Today Ethercycle is thriving as a self-funded, debt-free, and completely independent company located in Park Ridge, Illinois. They are small, focused, and great at what they do.

MO: Can you talk about quitting your job to launch your own business? What did your turning point look like?

Kurt: My turning point was pretty clear. I was getting ready to go to work, I started to put my shoes on, and I began sobbing at the thought of having to go to my job. I had spent so long ignoring how unhappy I was, that the stress finally got to me, and it was killing me. I wrote a business plan that weekend and quit my job the next week.

MO: What are you doing that’s different or better than your competitors?

Kurt: Dedicating 20% of our time to personal projects and research is the secret sauce that makes our client work successful. It’s shaped our culture in to one of open exploration, let us take risks that clients couldn’t, and given us insight on everything from the landslide shift toward mobile to the dynamics of crowd-funding.

MO: Startups typically need to pivot and evolve their business model over time, especially as customers start to use the product or service. Can you provide some advice or lessons learned to entrepreneurs on pivoting while keeping your business moving forward at the same time?

Kurt: Set limits. If a business model isn’t working, you have to set a limit on saving it. Decide in advance, before your emotions get the best of you, how much time, money, and effort you’re willing to put in to iterating a business model before accepting that it isn’t working. Failure doesn’t have to be scary if you embrace it early, learn from it, and move on to the next thing. The last thing you want to do Don’t rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic.

MO: What’s one marketing strategy that’s really worked for you?

Kurt: Sharing everything we do publicly, for free. Our labs projects are almost universally things we built for ourselves that we shared. We even released the template we use as a starting point for new front-end development projects under an open-source MIT license so that anyone can kick-start their project with the same template we use to build websites that work everywhere. Collectively, those releases generate up to 1 million page views monthly, resulting in a lot of referral to Ethercycle, and subsequently new leads or newsletter subscribers.

MO: Can you elaborate on the success of your Labs initiative and what it’s mean to the direction and success of the company so far?

Kurt: To explore projects outside of clients’ demands, we began a Labs initiative in March 2012. The Labs program allows us to catalyze new thinking while getting into the consumer mindset. This research has provided us guidance on what to support for our clients, helped us reach new customers, and just generally been a great learning experience for the whole team. By exploring what we can do with no restrictions, we’ve taken our business to the next level.

MO: What inspired you to start developing iPhone apps? What’s been the biggest challenge of the process so far? On the flipside, what aspect have you most enjoyed?

Kurt: I wanted to be able to use our white noise productivity tool, RainyCafe, without an internet connection on my iPhone. I asked our lead developer if he could build an iPhone app. The very next day, he had a proof of concept to show me. We’re just waiting on our App Store approval now. The biggest challenge was the application process. We spent more time on that than actually developing the app. It’s understandable, Apple wants the best experience for their users, and so do we. On the flipside, I’ve most enjoyed the new world of problems and solutions we have to solve now. iOS development is just another tool in our toolbox to build cool things for ourselves, and successful projects for our clients.


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