In April 2007, I founded the company that in December of that year was to become Contrast. Paul Campbell and David Rice joined me in February 2008 and we worked quietly together until Des Traynor joined us in July. We launched in August and the rest is… this blog post.
Contrast has been officially alive and kicking for 452 days but today we’re celebrating our belated first birthday! We’ve written this post to record the adventure and share it with our friends. As corny as it sounds, it’s only been fun because we’ve had the support of so many amazing people at home and right around the world; every single one of your comments, tweets and e-mails is appreciated.
So we’re holding a Friends of Contrast Party ™ on Friday, 27 November 2009 in our new offices for all of of you. The details are at the end of this post.
Contrast was announced on the 18 August 2008 and we kicked things off with a launch party in our new but very unfurnished offices at 6 Merrion Street.
We had one client and some time on our hands! So we worked hard to prepare our first Contrast app for prime time.
We helped the great guys at dotMobi redesign and re-launch their dev.mobi site as Mobiforge at the end of September.
Exceptional came out of beta on 10 October and had its first paying customer minutes later. Since its launch Exceptional has had slow, consistent growth; the best kind. We can say that safely, having experienced the other kind…
Qwitter was launched on the 17 October and within 1 hour the server fell over, under ridiculously heavy traffic. Qwitter would see us featured everywhere from The Irish Times and The Guardian to the Wall Street Journal and CNN, and would teach us a thing or two about scalable web applications.
As a way of paying back the Irish community for their support, Contrast promised to deliver one lucky entrepreneur an app in a week, and TaskFive was it. On 24 October, 7 days after picking the winner, we launched Taskfive which was featured on Lifehacker and gained over a thousand users within the week.
But despite these amazingly successful launches, the company itself was struggling. The market reaction to the credit crunch, the implications of which were just being realised this month, was to batten down the hatches. Big projects got cancelled and we were left high and dry. Our bank balance at the end of October was €443! Salary cuts were the order of the day.
Me and Des spoke for the first time together at Barcamp Cork in early November, and the financials lows of the previous months were washed away as we began building several exciting applications, and consulted with Fairtilizer, and Qualcomm, providing development advice and interface design respectively.
While consulting with Qualcomm, Des learned of the problems with striptease.
Des began a long discovery process with the incredible Breandán Knowlton for the soon to be launched Comhaltas digital archive, which saw him travelling across Ireland, speaking with curators of traditional music.
January was a cold month to work without heating; but that’s the kind of thing you do when your landlord is a prick! (No further comment.)
Contrast consulted with top Dublin web design agency XCommunications, user testing a website they had worked on during late 2008, and helped Keith Bohanna design the user experience for his soon-to-launch dbTwang app.
As we finally accepted that we’re not very organised, we hired someone who is. Miss Lucie Coley joined Contrast early February as our office manager, letting us focus on things we’re good at.
Niall Harbison contacted us very early February about building a little Twitter app. We helped him shape his idea for Twitter-based recipe searching into Twecipe.
Washington activist, Michael Mossoba contacted us toward the end of 2008, looking for site that would be an alternative Fortune 500; one based on corporate responsibility, rather than profit. He wanted something striking, something remarkable. We delivered Goodness 500.
Ben McRedmond joined us in early March to work with us for a week during his transition year in school. Only 16 at the time, Ben is one of the most promising young talents in Ireland. In the week he was with us, Ben designed and delivered PicoMarks, and wrote about what he learned in Contrast.
FOWA came to Dublin during March, and Des and I were asked to speak at the event. Taking to the stage with names like DHH was a great experience and we got some incredible feedback from the Irish community.
Shortly after FOWA, Des travelled to Las Vegas to attend MIX 09, Microsoft’s conference for interaction designers, where he hung-out with his heroes such as Bill Buxton, Joel Spolsky, Jeff Atwood, Scott Guthrie and more.
My birthday in March was the excuse for the purchase of a very expensive yet very on-brand cake.
And our office was flooded after a pipe in the ceiling broke. Awesome.
In April we helped build Ftopia, a file sharing web app for Paris-based Philippe Honigman. It’s been a joy to watch Ftopia grow, and arrange partnerships with major French institutions.
At the end of April we began working with Barney Austen and Eoin Redmond to produce a project management tool, with a strong emphasis on financial awareness. Their pitch was that the current tools available don’t answer the questions agency owners need to know. What projects are profitable? What are the key issues we’re facing? How are my staff spread? Are they working too hard? We began building My Project Tracker to change that. More on that soon.
…and I defended “lifestyle companies” at that month’s Connector event.
Early May, Contrast embarked on a tour of North America, including Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York.
Vegas was hosting Railsconf, giving us a chance to meet Exceptional customers in the flesh, buy them drinks…
…give them some Exceptional cupcakes (in a gorilla marketing stunt that the O’Reilly staff really didn’t appreciate), and swap t-shirts.
While in New York, we got the chance to meet and present to Seth Godin, a long time hero of ours. Seth enjoyed our presentation and wrote a little about our thesis of breaking conventions.
After the American tour, we were sorry to say goodbye to Paul who left Contrast to focus on some of his own projects. You should follow his personal blog to keep up with them.
June opened with the great news that David Barrett was joining Contrast full-time, after we had been contracting him on a near full-time basis for months on end.
Des went to UX London where he learned about the importance of cupcakes and attended workshops on everything from sketching through to Agile design.
At the end of June, David Rice left the Contrast gang to return to freelancing in Belfast. You can follow him on his blog.
Des spoke again at it@Cork about iPhone development, and returned to Dublin to the good news that Darragh Curran would be joining Contrast full time, again after a extended period of contracting. Late July saw the launch of Grab My Table, for iFoods.
Des and I went to Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann where a screencast of the Comhaltas Traditional Music Archive (a project over a year in the making) was shown to attendees and received an excellent response.
Since attending Railsconf we had been in regular contact with the guys from Scout, a rails monitoring tool which we were impressed with. In early September we kicked off a partnership with them to help promote each other’s services.
In late September, John Davey took the risk of flying me and Des, two non-flash developers, to Flash on the Beach in Brighton. We spoke about challenges and conventions in web app design and how they compare with the Flash world.
September also saw a significant milestone for any company: we got our first set of business cards, after only 13 months in operation.
We also refreshed our logo that month to mark our first year and celebrate the new Contrast team.
At the start of October, me, Wal and Darragh travelled to RubyFoo London, again to promote Exceptional and meet a few more of our heroes; it’s not every day you get to have a Brick Lane Indian dinner with the inventor of the a programming language.
We’ve been huge fans of Less Everything for as long as Contrast has been running, so when Steve and Allan asked if we’d be interested in travelling to Florida to speak at Lessconf, it took all of 12 seconds before they received a firm hell yeah. Lessconf was an amazing event, where we shared a stage with guys like Derek Sivers, Gary Vaynerchuk, David Hauser, Mike McDerment and more.
Earlier, in August, we had dinner with Morten Bagai from Heroku, and discussed the possibilities of Heroku offering Exceptional as an add on to their hosted platform service. In October it happened, and it’ll be coming out of beta and available for use on their customers 39,000+ apps very soon!
The end of October saw us say goodbye to our Merrion Street home, to take refuge in temporary serviced offices, while our new office is being renovated.
Wal McConell joined us full-time this month, bringing our total count to six and completing an incredibly able and talented team. Plus myself.
Later this month we hope to launch both the Comhaltas Archive…
…and a beta of My Project Tracker!
The year ahead
It’s been an amazing journey over the last year, filled with highs and lows. The year ahead is sure to be equally exciting; we’re really only getting started.
The Friends of Contrast Party ™ will be on Friday, 27 November 2009 in our new offices: 51 Wellington Quay, Dublin 2. It starts at 7pm and when we say everyone is welcome, we want everyone. Bring friends of friends and tell them there’s free beer with their name on it. This should be a great chance to meet people in the local web scene as much as an opportunity for us to bribe you for more blog comments. See you there and thanks again!