Teamwork by design
Fledgling Web company off to strong start after making smart business connections
by Michael Sheffield, Memphis Business Journal
July 14, 2006
In order to compete with larger competition, small businesses have to exploit any angle they can. Clear Function, a Web design and development company, has discovered nothing aids growth better than good old fashioned team work.
The company was started in 2005 by Aaron Boeving and Stephen Rainey after their previous employer went out of business.
"We basically started the company because we needed jobs," Rainey says.
They decided Clear Function would work because Rainey was strong in the programming side of design, while Boeving's strengths were on the marketing side. Together, they made a strong team.
Luckily, Boeving says, Clear Function started out with a few clients, which negated their startup costs. Those clients include Ohio-based Barber Publishing and local firms Counterpart and Obsidian.
"We were profitable almost immediately because of the jobs we were doing at the time," he says.
"We started out working in our houses, which cut back on some costs."
Clear Function is looking at revenues of $250,000 this year, which the partners believe will double next year.
After recognizing the benefits of having an office, the two partners looked into obtaining space in Emerge Memphis, where Rainey had shared office space with another Emerge company, Rocket Science.
Rainey says the environment at Emerge helped the creative process at Clear Function, but also helped them make connections with like-minded companies.
"There are people walking around here that you can share ideas with," he says. "And these people are doing the same things you're doing in starting a company."
One of the lessons Boeving and Rainey have learned early is that collaboration is one of the best ways for young and small companies to not only survive, but gain an edge on their competition.
Clients Obsidian, a public relations firm, and Counterpart, which does advertising and branding, are partners with Clear Function on larger projects that the companies may not have gotten without their teamwork.
Counterpart came up with the company's name and developed the logo for Clear Function's first Web product, Chalksite, a Web portal designed for use by teachers.
Boeving says the name's origin is as simple as it sounds.
"The 'function' part is about making things work, and the 'clear' part is about making highly usable Web applications," he says. "Making a function completely clear is what we do."
The specialized nature of what the companies do allows them to form their separate parts togetherto serve their clients.
Sheperd Simmons, president of Counterpart, says his company never hesitates to partner with other companies if his company can't meet all of his clients' needs.
"We won't hesitate to find the expertise for them, and that requires honesty and humility. But that's what service is all about," Simmons says. "Partnering with other firms is a key way that a small agency can provide big-agency capabilities. I can't imagine a better way to approach communication challenges than handpicking a brain trust of subject-matter experts. You know that you're providing your clients with genuine expertise -- no compromises."
Boeving says the partnership's success is exemplified through Chalksite.
"One of our philosophies is keeping it simple and specializing in what we do best so we can partner with the other companies who do what they do best," he says. "Counterpart designed the logo for Chalksite, we did the application and Obsidian did the PR. We came together on the product and it was a success."
Chalksite launched earlier this year and currently has 1,000 users, which Boeving and Rainey expect to grow when school starts in August. The product has users not only across the U.S., but as far away as the United Kingdom and Australia.
The Internet and technology have aided the growth of Clear Function, say the partners, and they are also looking to grow the company "virtually" in the next year or so.
"The Internet has helped us grow internationally, and it allows us to be very flexible," Boeving says. "Being in technology, we can grow as needed and talk to people anywhere. We're actually looking at hiring people not in the city."
Rainey, who says the extreme focus of Clear Function and its partners has been a major part of the company's growth, says being lean and mean has its strong points.
"We didn't want to get into things we couldn't focus on. Counterpart is extremely focused on branding, Obsidian is extremely focused on PR and we're extremely focused on technology. If you can bring more focused people in, that's a good thing."