Seventeen and a half years is a long time. It is a long time for a great friendship to last. It is a long time for a great partnership to thrive. And in Internet time, it is an eternity to be doing the same thing.
Seventeen years ago, and then some, Sanjay and I became good friends and business partners, starting our first website design boutique in Sausalito, CA. It was a crazy time. Startups were getting funded at a record pace, the Internet bubble was expanding at break neck speed and it felt like we were at the center of it. We designed websites for amazing companies like Cisco, Sun, Schwab and Handspring, going to launch parties every weekend and spending Friday nights at the Industry Standard roof top happy hours. We grew our 4-person boutique to almost 50 people by the year 2000 and then… KABOOM! The bubble burst and the “new economy” became the dotcom recession.
The dotcoms all but disappeared, and large companies went into cost cutting mode. We watched most of our competitors in the web design and development space go out of business, or shrink significantly and get gobbled up by one of the conglomerates. But we had gotten a glance at something special. The birth of the user experience design discipline. Though it wasn’t called that yet, even in those early dotcom days, it was clear to Sanjay and me that digital delivery of content and services was going to change the world, and the companies that made their digital interfaces useful, usable and engaging were going to be big winners.
In 2001 we started Spring Studio. It was not a good time to start a digital design firm, but it is what we knew and what we loved. And that passion was contagious. It landed us enough loyal clients to survive through the difficult times and to thrive in the good times. It gave us the playground on which to hone our skills and grow our knowledge. All the while, more and more people in both the design world, and more importantly, in the business world were beginning to see the value and the power of user-centered design for the creation of digital products.
By 2010, the term User Experience Design or UX was becoming commonplace. Instead of convincing companies to invest in it, companies started seeking it out, and seeking out those firms that could provide it. Spring Studio thrived. We grew our client list, working with some wonderful, forward thinking companies. And Sanjay and I grew our friendship, forging a partnership that will last a lifetime.
Today, design has fully blossomed as a discipline to the point where it gets a seat at the “grown ups” table. Maria Giudice of Hot Studio and Facebook fame published Rise of the DEO, highlighting the role of creative thinking in business leadership. Two designers started and run Airbnb, one of the most valuable pre IPO startups ever. Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers brought on world-class designer, John Maeda as Design Partner. And a slew of big companies are buying top design firms to help them kick-start their initiatives to make design a core competency.
Sanjay and I have been fortunate over the last 17+ years to be in the right place at the right time doing what we love. We’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such a talented, interesting and fun group of people. And we have been fortunate to find ourselves in a position where one of the world’s leading banks is looking for a team just like ours, to help them transform into the world’s #1 digital bank.
17 years is a long time, and I am grateful for all of the amazing experiences Sanjay and I have had running our own studio. It has been exciting, frightening, satisfying. I can’t wait to see what the next 17 bring.