, a web and mobile designer and developer, launched in Durham when the city’s startup community was in its infancy.
CEO Nick Jordan calls the decision good timing, and says “the help of other leaders who are investing tons of resources into Durham, it’s really come together and become a vibrant place. It’s become such a rich environment to be our home.”
As the Bull City continues to thrive, Smashing Boxes grows with it, and now the company is taking its growth to the next level by opening another office in New Orleans.
Building in the Bull City
Jordan moved to Durham in order to find the right work-life balance, and two years later, he and partner Brian Fischer realized they could put their skills to use by creating an agency that would help startups create websites and apps. The idea stuck.
Six months into their project, Jordan and Fischer were told about a new startup workspace called the American Underground. It was not long after they opened their offices that Durham’s startup scene began to explode. As Smashing Boxes began its trajectory of rapid growth, Jordan and his team realized how critical it was for them to help build and give back to their community.
“We don’t only work with local companies because with technology proximity isn’t a thing. But community is a thing,” he says. “The big picture is that the more Durham is recognized as a technology space the more we’re recognized as a company, so there is this rising tide lifts all ships thing.”
Ellen Gowdy, who is growth manager for Smashing Boxes, says she was skeptical of Jordan’s idea to open a code school in Durham, mainly because of the immense time commitment it would require but she says the team’s commitment to the school has paid off tenfold.
“Pushing ourselves that deeply into the community was an expensive investment, and it couldn’t have paid off better— the people who are being helped is amazing. We have had wonderful hires out of the code school, we are making ourselves a better company and it’s been amazing for our brand awareness,” Gowdy says.
But the company’s dedication to Durham does not stop there. In partnership with Durham Technical Community College, Smashing Boxes will offer a workforce training program at the school in order to create a larger funnel for talent and train existing teams in new skills. Director of Growth Margaret McNab says Durham Tech’s commitment to the program has helped Smashing Boxes become a bigger, stronger organization locally.
And it has definitely seen strong growth in both headcount and revenue. The company’s Durham office has added 17 new hires since last December, bringing its total number of full time employees to 65. Revenues for the company are projected to hit $6 million in 2015, up from $4 million at the end of 2014, according to McNab. It was named a Best Entrepreneurial Company in America
because of its "capacity growth" over the last two years.
Why New Orleans
As the company searches to lock in its New Orleans home, Jordan says he cannot help but be reminded of Durham seven years ago.
“With New Orleans, I went there for their entrepreneur week to give a talk, and I just felt like it was Durham seven years ago,” he says. “There was a lot of excitement, some centralized resources but a lot of different people and ideas that aren’t really gelling yet, so they’re in their infancy.”
Jordan hopes Smashing Boxes can be a mentor for other companies in NOLA—he views one company’s success the area’s success.
“I have spent time in San Fran and New York, and those places are great with tons of companies and tons of money, but it’s hyper competitive,” he says. “One person’s venture capital raised is your loss or one person’s news article was taken from you. Whereas in Durham, the people I started working with are now all running successful companies, and it’s great to see them out at events.”
After receiving incentives from the Louisiana Economic Development program, the company is already establishing big goals for its New Orleans’ branch, such as the creation of 85 new jobs over the next five years.
Even though more expansion is top of mind, Smashing Boxes is most focused on building and maintaining its company culture despite the nearly 900 miles separating its two offices. Proving once again the one thing that will never change is the company’s devotion to the area it is in, be it Durham or New Orleans.
“One way we think about it is that we’re a service company and we’re a service provider, and we see the community as an extension of that and as something that we also serve,” McNab says. “It’s something that’s very important to us within our values—to share the knowledge that we have to grow the community and help others build their careers in technology.”