6 Years of Usability and Branding
iA was founded under the name of Sarx (System Architects), exactly 6 years ago, June, 2nd. What has happened since then? Time to look back.
When Moritz and me founded our first company back in the summer of 2000, we were sure that we were the first with this brilliant idea we had, and we were sure that our idea was so good that it marketed itself: Combining usability and branding. Back then websites either worked (and looked ugly), or looked nice (and didn’t work). The potential of such a company is huge, we thought.
Good business idea, but no idea of business
I still believe that the idea we had, was actually a pretty good idea, and that’s why I continue doing what I am doing. But on the other hand I also know, that we had hardly any idea about business as such.
- We spent a month renovating our cool office in a cool industrial building, just to get kicked out 2 months after it was done, all shiny and cool (yeah, we had no contract, but we sub rented it from some cool people).
- We spend months setting up a cool website with the newest live streaming technology, so everybody can see our cool office – just to trash it after 1 week and start all over again.
- Spent half of our money on a star designer that we flew in from London, doing our materials, and went almost bankrupt after only 6 months, buying big ass monitors and 2000 Dollar Arne Jacobsen chairs (not on the picture, we bought them a little later).
- We did 0 networking, 0 sales, 0 marketing. Because we thought, we were so cool, that we don’t need to go out and sell ourselves.
How we survived the bubble
Nevertheless we survived. Well, actually, we not only survived: Sarx went trough a tremendous time, actually doing best, when most Internet companies went bankrupt. It was beautiful.
Of course there was a downturn to our bloom. We had to work under the name of another big company. Interbrand. Basically we had to sell the company. Because, when your company works under the name of another company, your company becomes part of the other company. We died, but we sold our death pretty well, so well, that after 4 years I could pack my bags and go for a new adventure: Start a new life in Japan. Moritz went to back University.
The irony of our original idea
Yet these 4 years at Interbrand were not just a sell out. While we helped Interbrand winning major contracts and profiting from our – at the time – extremely rare and precious know how, we learned much more from the project and from Interbrand than the other way round. The idea to bring usability and branding together worked: Sarx (information design) and Interbrand (branding) melted.
Just because we were not scared
Two young fellows, fresh out of Uni, working on the biggest Internet project in the German speaking Internet at the time (T-Online), imagine that… I still get goose skin thinking about it. Yet we did a surprisingly good job. Because we had the guts. Because we didn’t know how ridiculously impossible that job was. Because we were young and loose as hell. Because we were not scared.
And we got a lot of satisfaction out of it. First, the concept we put together for Interbrand won against the sales pitch of all major Internet companies (such as Sapient and Razorfish) that were desperately trying to get that project, because it was one of the very few big budgets still around.
Then that same concept allowed T-Online to build out it’s market share and increase it’s revenue to the point, that its overall performance went from red numbers to black numbers in the multi million Euro range. We were not only one among few Internet companies that actually made huge profit, we were also and force behind the huge profit of an Internet giant at the time.
And we were a key force behind the growth of Interbrand’s Interactive department.
And we were able to do what we like best: Application Design. We designed browser, email banking, PDA software. A dream come true, for any information designer.
Je ne regrette rien
Of course I would do a much better, or definitely different job today, but thinking back and looking where I am today, I wouldn’t change or want to miss out on a single thing. Not on the 48 hour days, not on the head aches after staring into the monitor for 1 month without a single free day, not the crazy Ibiza party summers I missed out on because I was working, not the career at Interbrand that I was offered and didn’t take. Nothing. And not the quarrels with Moritz when we realized that Sarx had to future.
Nothing. Because if it would be a betrayal to the very same spirit that brought me here. A betrayal to the spirit that made this new company. This new company lives from the entrepreneurial courage two young men had to start when everybody was giving up.
What about yourself?
And if you’re a young guy out there starting your company against all odds, but you can’t be stopped because you believe in your idea… man, for a second I almost regretted to not be you. But then again, please, do me a favor: Don’t start off by flying in a star designer from London, investing in office space you don’t own, and throwing out money for expensive chairs. That is a very dangerous start. The big ass monitor though is a smart move if you work in the design industry.Ð