It only took just over a year for Hardin Design & Development, to move from a home basement to a suite on the Capital Square, open a second office in Washington, D.C., buy a video company and acquire clients such as Facebook, People magazine, CNN, Apple, and Disney. It’s more than 20 mostly University of Wisconsin-Madison students and graduates that crank out Web 2.0 marketing tools, widgets, video products, iPhone applications, and new tools to revolutionize high-definition video delivery.
This is even more remarkable considering that company president and namesake, Jon Hardin, just became old enough to drink in Wisconsin. Vice President Richard Dovere is the “old guy” at 22.
Heady stuff for recent college graduates who hope to build the next mega-dot.com business.
Start small, think big
Hardin, who met me in his office dressed like a just-graduated 20-something – polo shirt, cargo shorts, and flip-flops – said he started the company as a $25/hour software service in the basement of his parents’ house. His first “real” client came on board during finals week in May 2007, and growth has been fast and furious ever since. This growth has been entirely “bootstrapped” with no outside investment and with clients initially being found on the online community of Craigslist.
The company currently boasts three business divisions—Hardin D&D is a media development consulting company that provides an immediate revenue stream, which allows the company to develop bigger opportunities where Hardin envisions the company’s future to lie.
The first “big-ticket” item under development is Hardin Definition, a high-definition video delivery platform that Hardin says will change the way we watch video online.
The company also recently purchased a video production company, 3rd Heat, which Dovere explained is producing the Wisconsin campaign videos for Barack Obama. 3rd Heat also has plans to release its first full length movie in 2011, but Hardin was reluctant to discuss the details.
Finally, the D.C. office is the company’s new marketing wing that, according to Dovere, who runs that office, focuses on political, government and investor clients. As diversified as the company seems, it also is well positioned to integrate its sundry capabilities for developing and producing a full range of viral and video marketing tools for its marketing clients, explained Dovere.
All of this is especially impressive since neither Hardin, who graduated from UW-Madison in three years with degrees in math and computer science, nor Dovere, who earned degrees in history and political science from UW-Madison, have any formal training in business. In fact, Hardin scoffs at the idea of formal business education.
“I think that people over-think business,” he said. “People with business degrees are so caught up with recommended ways to doing things that they completely fail… at the end of the day, a business is really, really simple. Business is figuring out what your customers want and figuring out a way to give it to them that makes money.”
Both Hardin and Dovere gained their business acumen while on the job. Dovere began a computer consulting company when he was 14 and Hardin had a software company in high school. In college, Hardin and several dorm-mates developed Inzum, Inc., which, he candidly admits, “…turned out to be a miserable failure,” but also was a valuable learning experience. Hardin indicated that Inzum was a very high-risk, high payoff company – claiming that it would have realized a multi-billion dollar payoff if it succeeded. The goal of Inzum was to take over the Internet television realm, but they “missed the window” he said.
Now, he wants to build “the next huge thing” and to be known as the most cutting edge and high-powered technology development firm. Hardin does not think small.
Focus and flexibility
What sets Hardin apart is “nothing complex,” just a driving ambition to build and run his own company. Quoting Donald Trump, he said that it is the “thrill of the deal” that drives him.
“It’s a lot more fun when you are running the show,” Hardin explained. “You sort of wake up every day with a chance to play God.”
Hardin attributes the rapid success of his company to its flexibility and youth, saying that they quickly adjust their business focus to match changes in the technology landscape. For instance, he said that Hardin D&D began making widgets for clients like MSN Money when that market was hot; but when it cooled off, they quickly moved into creating applications for social networking web sites. When demand for that waned, they began building new applications for Apple’s iPhone, and, according to Hardin, are the leading developer of iPhone applications in the country.
Dovere added that the company also is driven by the need to prove themselves as young businessmen. He repeatedly emphasized that they strive to ensure the highest quality of their service and products and to make sure that everything is done to satisfy their customers.
“We can’t make mistakes,” he said. “Otherwise clients would simply view us as just a bunch of kids.”
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