Mixing the best of both worlds - they've got an aptitude for that

Thu, Jul 5, 2012, 01:00

START-UP NATION/Fluid Ink: Two brothers-in-law have joined forces, merging artistic and programming talents, to form a web and app development business that is client centred, writes JOANNE HUNT

IT ALL CAME FROM a chat at a family christening, when two brothers-in-law realised their fine art and computing skills might just make a good match. A year later, web and app development house Fluid Ink is hiring more staff.

“I’ve a background in Fine Art and I’d been working in a design agency for 10 years and he was finishing his Masters in Computer Science,” explains David Cooke of his pairing with Barry Gough. “We just thought it would be really interesting to work together and last year we decided to make a stab at it.”

Combining “a high level of design and an extremely high level of programming” their nifty web and app work is winning a broad following including clients as diverse as the Irish Caravan and Camping Council, the Association of Judges of Ireland and the OPW.

With 10 years design agency experience behind him, servicing big corporate customers such as eircom, Cisco and some county councils, Cooke is well attuned to client relations. He enjoys steering them through the whole new world of branding and sales possibilities brought by apps.

Specialising in Objective C development for iPhone and iPad, Cooke describes brother-in-law Gough as “the techie guy” and jokes “talking to him could be a bit baffling for clients”.

“I think a lot of programmers are used to a certain language that a lot of the rest of us aren’t used to, there are certain terms that baffle even me,” says Cooke, who acts as interpreter.

“Coming from a design background, I’ve been grounded in the idea of hand-holding clients and being very client-focused. A lot of our workflow is around including the client in what we do and educating them.”

With the world increasingly conducting its affairs through mobile devices like smart phones and tablets rather than desktop computers, Cooke says its a trend every company with a web presence needs to get to grips with fast.

He says Fluid Ink’s clients fall into two different camps – those who want to charge for an app they have developed, selling it through the iTunes or Android markets and those who create an app as a way to get their content out to the broadest audience possible.

“We did a project with the OPW last year which was an iPad version of an art catalogue. Their remit was to try to get the content out to as many people as possible, so obviously they didn’t want to charge for it.”

But Fluid Ink doesn’t push apps at all costs. If a website is a better solution, as was the case for the multi-language Association of Judges of Ireland site, Fluid Ink can do that too.

“We’d always look at what the client is trying to do, who they are trying to reach rather than saying, ‘this is what we do, you must do what we do’.”

Equally happy hand-coding websites as hand-drawing logos, Cooke says their web and app design aesthetic is geared towards reflecting the client’s brand and not theirs.

“That’s something we’re very good and intuitive about, making sure that the experience we create on an app or a website is appropriate to a brand. Even how a button reacts, that has to reflect what the client’s brand stands for.”

Fluid Ink also develops its own commercial apps on the side, including an iPad app for mountain biking enthusiasts due for release this September.

“We’ve realised the format of it could be leveraged out into a number of different sports so we are looking for investment partners to try and build on that into other things.”

He says though Enterprise Ireland hasn’t provided any funding for the sports app, “they’ve been very helpful in other ways such as networking and advice”.

While the pair will now take on a least one other developer, they say the best advice they’ve received is to “stay small”.

“One of the challenges of app development is that there are so many specialised skill sets … you would bring in certain areas of speciality like Java or Rails development unique to a project.”

Bur rather than over-hiring, their approach is to bring in specialists as needed. “But I still expect we’ll have to expand by one or two people over the next three months,” says Cooke.

And what if a bigger fish wanted to buy them out, swallowing them up?

“Some days it’s a fantasy,” jokes Cooke, “but we are really excited about what we are doing and about some of the people that want to come and work with us.

“Our goal is to be the best at what we do, to work with clients who want the best that they can get and to work with other developers who want to produce the best work that they can.

“That’s where it gets exciting for us.”

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