Important Update: Alex’s involvement in Round3 has changed.

Round3Media - My Code Can Beat Up Your Code

They say (good) things happen in 3s

A few months back I marked the 1 year anniversary of my independence. Along the way I’ve made contacts and friends across this wide and amazing industry, and even built a home for some of them to spend their time during the work week.

I’ve alluded to, in various places, a new project that I’ve been working on since not that long after that 1 year announcement. Not that it’s been much of a secret but as of today, there’s one more tangible piece to the puzzle in my hands, and those would be my new business cards for Round3Media that you see above.

Over the last year, the types of and scale of the projects I’ve gotten involved with has changed dramatically. Lucky for me, there’s always opportunity for growth when you’re willing to take some initiative and be challenged. Through the year, I’ve had the privileged of working with a number of extremely talented folks, and in an effort to scale things properly, we’ve formed Round 3.

The Name

We kicked around naming and branding for quite a while, and as I expected, the one we fell in love with was the one we least expected.

Ken, Bart, and myself (founding partners of Round3) have all started multiple companies. For all of us, Round3 is our 3rd company. There are 3 of us (supplemented by a well rounded talent pool). There are three phases (or rounds) to most web projects: discovery, design, and development. Round3Media just made sense.

There are some strangely exciting coincidences that have happened while we’re starting up surrounding “threes”, so we’re pretty sure that’s a sign we made the right decision.

The Team

Round 3 is comprised of myself on the technology front, Ken Rossi on the design front, and Bart Mroz on business and project management. Ken’s designs and clients combined with my code have comprised a large portion of my portfolio in the last year. Frankly, Ken was the designer who convinced me that I had what it took to go out on my own in the first place. Bart’s been a huge part of day to day operations of IndyHall and continues to run a successful freelance project management operation.

To supplement our “core” team, we’ve brought Johnny Bilotta and Jason Tremblay on as contract-to-hire associates. Johnny’s designs have appeared ALL over the place recently, from the initial creative for the IndyHall website and business cards, to a number of branding initiatives we’ve done together. Jason’s been active in IndyHall since early on as well, and has been behind the technology for a number of local projects including www.wcdish.com and some of the tech behind the West Chester Restaurant Festival. We’re excited to have these two incredibly talented individuals who are interested in joining our mission.

As far as structure of the team, it’s our goal to keep things as flat and low to the ground as possible. There are three “disciplines” we’re representing (design, development, and business/project management). Beyond that, project and company goals will be discovered together. For as long as we have the ability to keep communication open and not end up with a super-tiered ultra-mega-globo-corp type mentality that I’ll get into a bit later, this seems like a step towards an ideal working situation. Why? Well there’s some problems that need fixing.

The Mission

What’s the mission, exactly? The way we see it, there’s a huge gap between the independent contractor and the agency. And don’t get me wrong, they both have their place. What I’m interested in experimenting with is the space between them.

Working as an indie is great. You have freedom, you have flexibility and agility. You have independence. You can keep your overhead low, and deliver high quality products for a great value.

On the flip side, it’s difficult to be held accountable by larger clients for larger projects. Also, if there’s a need to collaborate, there tends to be some scrambling to get things together and unify the communication for the ad-hoc team. It’s doable, and it’s a very powerful thing (i’ve done it for a long time and we do it every day at indyhall). It just takes more time and energy than most are willing to put out.

Agencies have a high level of accountability and structure. To their credit, the additional organization necessary to pull off larger projects and accounts are absolutely necessary as a supplement to the talent they employ. Certain clients and project types simply cannot be handled by a solo talent.

On the flip side, that additional organization adds cost (both time and money, as projects become more expensive and take longer to execute as information moves through the ranks). This also means that there’s a rather large amount of “whisper down the alley” between a project coming in, and the person executing the tasks.

Finally, as an indie, you rely on collaboration. There’s very small group of superheros who are actually good at hybrid skillsets. You may KNOW HOW TO wireframe, design, build XHTML/CSS/Javascript, as well as back end data driven architecture, but the odds of you being REALLY, REALLY good at all of them are much lower than the chances that you’ve lied on your resume and listed every piece of software you’ve ever heard of as a “skill”. It’s OK. I’m not chastising you. I’m encouraging you to pick a skill to be a rockstar at, and find other complimentary rock stars to work with. If you put 3 rock stars together, you’ve got the makings of a band. That’s what I want to see on a project: less drum solo, more collaborative singing/songwriting/performance pieces. And a little cowbell never hurts.

So really, what’s the mission?

Its our hope that over the next several months, Round3Media will give us an opportunity that a number of other very talented groups have begun to explore. We’re going to dig deep and find out what can be done in the space between indie and agency. Rather than scramble at each project to figure out who’s working on what, and what pieces we need to pull together, we have some stable business process that over arches over our individual indie “practices”. Its a step towards unity, but not so far away from the individuality or freedom we crave.

To follow the band metaphor from above, think of Round3 as a jam session for talented ‘artists’. The session is always at the same place at the same time, but what happens at each jam session is totally unique and special. We’re going to create a construct for business to take place in, but the creative side of web production and marketing will all be more like a pick-up “jam session”.

At the core, for me, this is all about scaling indie methodology.

Process vs Results

When the NotAnMBA guys were in town a few weeks back, they were inspired by the culture at IndyHall and similarly, speaking with Tony from CoworkingNYC. They made a post about a common theme that came out of our conversations and that the majority of us put much higher value on results than process.

Rather than caring when you get to work, where you’re working from, or that you’re “following the rules”…we’re actually more interested in people who are willing to bend or break the mold, try new things, innovate, and get to the highest qualty end result by “any means necessary”.

That openness and freedom for the people that we’ll be working with as Round3 grows is key, I think. It’s the type of process that an indie works on, because they don’t have a boss to answer to. Instead of worrying about the process that I had in mind when I delegated a task, worry about the end product that I had in mind. How you get there, how you meet or exceed my expectations (as an employer or a client)? So long as communication stays open, I’m a happy camper.

So where do we go from here?

Up, is our best guess. We’ll continue to work at IndyHall as we have been, and honestly, not much is going to change. Individually, we’re bringing some really interesting client work to the table that we’d have turned to the talent that sits around us every day for collaboration.

There’s going to be some transitioning of our existing client bases as we try to bring as many of them on board as we can. We’ve all worked hard to build client relationships over the course of our careers, and nothing would make us happier than seeing them served by the results produced by Round3 talent.

For me, personally, I’m going on the road. The next few weeks are travel heavy, as I attend Future of Web Apps in Miami this upcoming weekend and SXSW Interactive 08 in Austin, Texas at which I’m presenting (more on that soon). All along the way, I’ll be showing off not just the cool stuff that I’m directly involved in (IndyHall, Round3, etc) but will be spreading Philly love in any way that I can. I’m so excited to get to show the world, even in these two venues alone, what the talent in Philadelphia is up to. If you see me at either of these events, ask me about what’s going on in Philly. I’ll give you an earful of excitement, for sure.

The IndyHall community is one of my proudest accomplishments of my entire life. Round3, though only at its inception, is yet another moment in time that I’m insanely proud to be a part of, and I’m so excited to see grow from the seeds we’re planting.

[tags]alex hillman, bart mroz, business process, creativitiy, indyhall, jason tremblay, johnny bilotta jr, ken rossi, round3media, scaling indies[/tags]