From Mobile Apps To Startup Mentoring, These Guys Know A Thing … Or Few

by Casey Penn (casey@pennwords.com) 61 views 

Editor’s note: This article appears in the latest magazine edition of Talk Business & Politics, which you can read here.

At the corner of Sixth and Center Streets in downtown Little Rock resides Few, a young Web development and mobile application company that, after just one year as an “all-in” agency, is already standing out for its cutting-edge capabilities and somewhat avant-garde approach.

Co-founders Arlton Lowry and David Hudson, along with agency partner and UX/UI Designer Gabe Couch, have more than a few things in common. Aside from their affinity for strategically unkempt beards, the Few men share a love for clean design, a strong sense of community and high regard for things unconventional.

The guys share a penchant for hard work, too, provided they enjoy it. “We live and breathe our projects. We love what we do, and that is a big part of our sales pitch,” said Hudson of the company’s service list that includes Web and mobile applications, startup fostering and Few’s annual Web conference known as Made by Few.

Lowry, Hudson and Couch encourage this same level of enjoyment from their team of six employees, and a handful of designers and developers who help them on a contract basis. “If we don’t love it, we don’t do it,” Couch adds.

Few does client work (The Integer Group, Heifer International, Slingshot) and works on internal projects. They have created apps for clients that include Eyenalzye, a company offering real-time profit analysis to busy restaurant owners.

Internal Few projects have included Grades.io, a Web application that allows educators worldwide to track and manage classes and student information (grades, attendance, assignments) through a user-friendly interface.

Another internal concept, WriteGov.com, began as a labor of love by Hudson. It aims at making “armchair activists” into “actual activists” in a matter of minutes. When it comes to a political party, Hudson aligns himself with Thomas Jefferson. “I’m in a sect of one,” he explains. “Who speaks for me? How do my representatives hear my individual voice? WriteGov is an answer to that.” WriteGov makes it easy for citizens – without regard to political party or economic status – to get their individual voices heard on just about any issue.

THE PATH TO FEW
Lowry and Hudson were friends long before they were colleagues. They met Couch through freelance projects over the years. Couch and Lowry were each involved with the annual BarCamp Conway community conference, though they did not meet at the time. The event focused on education, technology and development. Lowry also helped found the now defunct Conway Cowork in 2010. He credits his involvement in such events for spurring his passion for community.

More recently, the three have collaborated to plan, coordinate and host their own conference celebrating design known as Made by Few. A precursor to Few, which officially formed as an LLC in 2013, Made by Few remains a huge identifier for the agency.

Launched in January 2012 by Lowry and Couch, the first Made By Few conference was small but mighty. Since that first year, when it was planned around a single venue and roughly 100 attendees, the event has grown to include multiple venues, more speakers and attendance in the hundreds. The 2014 event (held in August) featured 11 leading-edge designers, illustrators, developers and entrepreneurs. Among them were New York City-based illustrator Tuesday Bassen (the New York Times, Snapple, American Greetings) and Google Ventures UX Designer Marc Hemeon and others.

The mission has remained consistent, they say. In their words, Made By Few is a “kickass” conference focused on making the Web a more beautiful place while fostering camaraderie among designers, developers, entrepreneurs and others in the community.

FORMATION OF FEW
Over the years of collaboration, these friends began to notice a trend. “We realized we enjoyed working together,” said Lowry, who like his cohorts had plenty of experience working alone. “All of us were adamant that we do the very best work possible. We pushed each other, and we shared the same goals to create the best design, the best development.”

It was Hudson and Lowry who first decided to form a company together. Shortly thereafter, they pulled in Couch. Each partner brought to the table a unique skill set.

Hudson, 30, knew from a young age his path in life. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world,” he says. “From age 12, I knew I wanted to write code. I spent every waking hour learning it.”

At 24, Hudson launched his first full-time Web development position. Since then, he has worked on projects large and small. He was head developer for a Texas tourism website and also helped work on a huge health insurance website. “It was very much like healthcare.gov, except that it worked,” he says. “I’ve led small teams, large teams, and now here I am at Few, living the dream.”

Living the dream isn’t always easy and many times requires sacrifice. “We left awesome full- time jobs,” says Hudson, who was a new father to a one-month-old baby when he decided to partner with his colleagues. “I normally don’t take big risks, but this is one of those once-in-a-decade situations where I could ‘go for it.’ I could have stayed with my current job for years and then try something like this again, but I decided to take the leap and quit my job full time. It’s been one hell of a ride ever since.”

Lowry left a secure job, too. “That was the key,” he says. “[What we left] were just jobs and not our dreams. We wanted to build our own.”

Couch held several positions, many remotely, before finding a permanent home with his friends at Few. The Dardanelle native majored in fine arts with an emphasis in design before holding design positions at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Acumen Brands, Saatchi X and other places. “I moved around,” Couch says. “I was looking for that challenging environment.”

Lowry, 33, grew up outside Jonesboro, near Black Oak. “It was rural. My grandfather was a cotton picker,” he recalls. After attending Arkansas State University for a short time, Lowry finished earning his degrees (mass communications major; IT minor) from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, where he now teaches a senior-level Web development course.

Since college, Lowry’s IT minor has served him well; he has worked for several companies over the years (AETN Marketing Outreach, Conway Cowork among them) and has also worked remotely for Less Everything (Florida), Walmart, Mozilla and others before joining Artletic full-time for two years. “My [biggest] goal was to work with my friends,” Lowry says of finding the ideal work environment. When the opportunity presented itself, he was ready.

FROM FEW TO MANY
Few leaders are hoping to find more amazing designers and developers who would like to join their team and share their passion for the Little Rock community.

“We’re very careful about who we hire,” states Hudson. “We have a certain environment to cultivate. I can honestly say that nobody in the state is doing what we’re doing now. We want people that love what they do to work with us not for us. We want to encourage them in their careers, and in their education. We want them to be themselves and not to placate us or pour themselves into a mold that we create for them.”

Hiring the right team isn’t always easy, especially when local designers are often tempted by opportunities that exist outside the state. “It’s an interesting thing trying to keep people here,” Couch says, elaborating on what he says sometimes feels like a catch-22 situation. “A lot of our most valuable people, we’re bleeding them left and right. We need to retain that talent by creating a culture of communities that want to make and do things together here, not going out of state.”

Community is key, they say, to fostering a business environment here in Arkansas that is profitable and competitive over the long term. “From a business standpoint, sure, it helps us immensely to have amazing designers and developers right here in Arkansas. When they leave, we can only hire them remotely. We can’t bring them into our office – and our community. From an altruistic side of things, we genuinely want to see this community thrive.”

The business community in Arkansas is still getting used to Few. “The types of things that we do are brand new and cutting edge – the type of stuff going on big in Silicon Valley, in Austin and in New York City, but not really happening much here yet,” Lowry says. “There just isn’t a big understanding yet of what we’re trying to do.”

At the same time, something is getting across, as evidenced by the large group of sponsors – some direct competitors – who came together in support of 2014 Made By Few. “Maybe we fooled some of them?” joked Lowry, who felt great pride at seeing so many in the industry come together in support of an event he readily admits may not be for everyone.

So just what is it that these Few Arkansas-loyal entrepreneurs are trying to do?

At its most basic intent, Few is about providing a space for the local community of designers, developers and entrepreneurs to grow, to learn, to utilize as they see fit. As a business, the company is all about providing beautiful Web work, cutting-edge mobile applications and startup mentoring.

Lowry says the agency’s future is somewhat mapped out. “We plan to continue to grow startups,” he says, “expand into new markets, expand our conference and community activities, hire the best talent and build the company we would want to work for.”

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