At Out:think Group, creativity trumps conformity
By Bryan Gentry, The News & Advance, Lynchburg, VA
Published: May 18, 2009
In the back corner of a nearly empty business incubator site overlooking downtown Lynchburg, two Liberty University graduates are building Web sites for high-profile clients around the country.
Having left steady day jobs to pursue Web development in a small firm, they are cashing in on a high-tech business that lets them run a company to support their families, but still have time to spend with their families.
“I can charge New York prices to New York clients, and live on Lynchburg prices,” Tim Grahl, founder of Out:think Group, recently told the city’s Economic Development Authority.
After obtaining a computer science degree, Grahl worked for several companies in the Lynchburg area. He lost interest in working for other people for several reasons, including a cookie-cutter 40-hour workweek and a micro-management environment that stifled creativity.
About two and a half years ago, Grahl quit his job and started Out:think Group, serving clients he had done freelance Web design for. He gained more clients through referrals, and last year he reached the point of having too much work.
Being a workaholic wasn’t an option, because Grahl wanted time to spend with his wife and two children. “I was really getting overrun with work, and was going to have to start turning it down,” he said.
Enter Joseph Hinson, who met Grahl at Grace Evangelical Church. He was a graphic designer for a sign company, but he wanted the chance to be more creative. Grahl invited him to join Out:think.
Hinson said it wasn’t the most ideal time to leave a secure job — his daughter was just a few months old at the time — but he discussed the idea with his wife and decided to go for it. “If I’m ever going to pursue Web development, now’s the time,” he said.
To make room for Hinson, Grahl moved the business to the 10th floor of the Bank of the James building on Main Street. There, the city has a little-used incubator site for technology businesses where Out:think could stay for free for six months, and for a nominal fee after that.
Out:think is serving clients that include Barbara Corcoran, founder of the multi-billion dollar real estate firm The Corcoran Group; Ramit Sethi, author of “I Will Teach You to be Rich,” a New York Times bestseller; and Sonny Merryman, an Evington-based company that sells buses.
Hinson said that some of their clients come to Out:think because they aren’t pleased with their existing sites. Out:think’s custom design and development is key to their satisfaction.
“When our clients get their Web site, they know it’s exactly what they wanted, and they really feel good about the time we’ve spent getting to know their company,” Grahl said.
The atmosphere of their office reflects the ideology both of them have about work: creativity trumps conformity. Jeans and flip-flops are acceptable work attire. The idea is to finish the job, whether that takes 30 or 50 hours per week.
Grahl said that there is a growing number of young professionals who realize, based on seeing the previous generation’s pursuit for money, that money doesn’t create happiness. Respect for creativity and time for family are more important to the young generation of workers.
“It’s not so much about money as it is finding something you believe in and you enjoy and you look forward to,” Grahl said in a later interview. “People will quit job after job after job until they find that.”
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