By: Diane Stirling
A merger that seemed a “logical and natural fit” of creative talents, technical skills and innovative thinking is the route three Syracuse Tech Garden startups are taking to expand their current business and launch longer-term venture horizons.
Rounded Development, a company begun by School of Information Studies graduate Andrew Farah, formally combined operations with App Fury and We Are Mobile recently. The new firm, Rounded Development LLC, has announced a commitment as an anchor tenant in the Tech Garden.
Relocating to a larger section of the incubator has enhanced the company’s co-working space, community programming areas and planned growth potential, Farah said. Just 10 months old, the firm recently hired its tenth employee and it is on pace to add another by summer’s end.
“We’re in a unique place,” Farah said of the company’s literal and figurative states. “We compete here, but we think we have the skill sets and outlook of firms that exist in larger markets, and the energy and culture that feel a lot like the Bay area, New York City, Austin, Denver,” Farah said. “When someone asks what Rounded does, I really want to say that the company is an incubator for teams and products. We really love difficult problems, creating around those problems, and moving the ball forward on something you can focus on,” he said. “We love partnering with really ambitious clients who want to start a new business.“
Rounded LLC also has an alter-ego, a second track of business specifically structured to provide the firm’s financial footing. Four-fifths of the work week, Farah explained, staff members function as a full-service creative design and tech agency, focused on client work such as developing and designing web sites and apps. The fifth day is dedicated to Rounded’s own projects and to creative collaboration and rejuvenation.
The twin-track operational plan is both purposeful and pragmatic, Farah explained. It fosters the firm’s self-reliance while assuring that time and attention are regularly dedicated to growth strategies and future ventures. That’s highly important, Farah said, since the company prefers not to take funding.
“Rounded is very much a lifestyle – not a lifestyle business, but a lifestyle,” the CEO adds.
“It’s the reason we decided to do the agency model. There’s something about saying you’re going to start a company so you can work for yourself, then finding funding and working for somebody else. It’s just not the pace we want or the lifestyle or culture that we want,” he reflected.
The company’s Fridays are dedicated to creative intake, problem-solving and company projects. From mid- to late-afternoon, information sharing and community building takes place in the form of the institutionalized West Indie Labs and Rounded U programs. Those in the community who are interested in research, teaching and informational exchange are welcome to visit then for discussion, learning and collaboration. The first Rounded U session was spent teaching HTML, CSS and java scripts in an open class, Farah said. Within three weeks, attendance increased from two to nine people, an indicator of the idea’s soundness, he believes.
Though a focused yet affable Farah seems like a natural entrepreneur, he says it took him “17 years of education to get me to realize that what I wanted to do was all around me, but I had no idea this was what I wanted to do.”
After obtaining an undergraduate degree at SU’s College of Arts and Sciences in Communications and Rhetorical Studies, Farah entered the iSchool’s Information Management Master’s program at a mid-point “between being an engineer and being someone who makes business decisions,” he said. “I wanted to do something that allowed me to explore curiosities on a daily basis. I wanted to be allowed to be obsessed for a while and then move on to the next thing.”
He’s had many entrepreneurs as inspiration, he says, including his business-owner parents, iSchool entrepreneurs and mentors Dean Elizabeth Liddy and faculty members Jeff Rubin and John Liddy; Bruce Kingma of Syracuse University’s Enitiative; his roommate, who now works for Microsoft; and entrepreneurial friend Shay Colson, of the iSchool staff. Farah still works for the iSchool as a technical mentor to Student Sandbox teams, helping them through the process of creating a prototype, bringing the idea to the product stage, then moving the product to a company.
To date, Rounded LLC has developed much along those lines. “All of what we’ve done is in part raw talent, and part trial by fire,” Farah said. “We’ve got a lot of partners and a lot of voices in the room – brilliant individuals, highly capable. The direction of this company will be determined by the seven individuals who own it; they set the vision for what we want to do.”
More information on the company is available at: http://roundedco.com.