Informal Interview: Joseph McCullough Of Vert Studios

Informal Interview: Joseph McCullough Of Vert Studios

Joseph McCullough – Vert Studios

My second Informal Interview is with Joseph McCullough, co-founder of Vert Studios, a web and graphic design company located in Tyler, Texas. He’s been in the industry since 2008, and has been featured in respected web development publications including 1stWebDesigner and Onextrapixel. Joseph is currently pursuing a computer science and math double major at the University of Texas at Tyler.

I found Joseph through a random link, and we have traded comments on each others blogs, as well as Twitter for a while now. Feel free to follow him! Let’s get to the questions, shall we?

How did you get into web development?

Joseph: There were many starting points in my life leading to programming. You could say it was in 3rd grade when I made a pokemon website. You could say it was in Middle School when I would program TI-Calculators to do my math homework for me. Maybe high school when I took my first Computer Science course. There was no one defining event that ushered me into web development – It seemed like life was leading me to it all along.

How did the partnership with fellow co-founder of Vert Studios, Justin Edwards, come about? Were you friends before and just thought about starting a web development company, or something like an ad in the paper?

Joseph:We had a mutual friend/professor that suggested we meet up. At the time, Justin and I were competitors. His design was great, but was ranked on page 6 for our main keyword. Similarly, I was on the first page, but my design sucked quite badly. Back in July 2010, we met up at a Starbucks and talked web design, SEO, development, local competition, everything you could think of. It was a nice conversation. Eventually he offered a partnership, of which I was first skeptical. I had many contract jobs lined up, and I was hesitant over giving up so much easy money. After exchanging a few emails, I decided it would be a good idea to hop on board Vert Studios, allowing Justin and I to both stick to our strengths. It was the best decision I’ve ever made in regards to web development. Now that I don’t have to BS design, I can focus on programming – my real passion.

What does Vert Studios do to get their name and brand out to the public? Buisness cards, mailers, ads on Google…?

Joseph: We ran AdSense campaigns for a while due to low competition. The cost-per-click was extremely cheap. Eventually competition caught on and the bid began to increase, so we backed out. Our main channel with the public is Twitter (@vertstudios).

How do you go about getting clients?

Joseph: Most of our clients have come either through references or through Google organic rankings. Google likes the fresh content we put out on our blog, so that keeps our rankings relatively high.

After completing your degree at the University of Texas, what are your plans for the future? Will it still be Vert Studios?

Joseph: If Vert Studios is successful at the time of my graduation, I imagine I’d like to stick around with it. Justin is a great guy to work with, and it’d be damn hard to find people like him to work with. Since I’m double majoring in Math and Computer Science, I have at least 3 years until graduation, so plenty of things can happen.

What is the hardest thing you find in operating your own business?

Joseph: Definitely client acquisition. Justin and I aren’t businessmen. Additionally, our competitors here are heavily branded, and have been around for over a decade. We believe our work is far superior, but overcoming their name recognition is proving extremely difficult.

Do you only handle the development while Justin does the design, or do you two cross into each other’s realm fairly equally?

Joseph: There’s only been one occasion where I’ve ever made an adjustment in Photoshop since partnering with Justin. He’ll occasionally take some recommendations on design, but I trust his judgement 99% of the time. As for development, our work flow usually consists of some variant of the following conversation:

Justin: “Hey, you know what would be really cool?”
Me: “What?”
Justin: “If you did ………. with jQuery”
Me: “…I can do that.”

Justin does have knowledge of PHP and jQuery, which is extremely useful. As long as I make my code extremely readable, customizable, and document it well, Justin can take his ideas and tweak my code for the optimal result.

I find your blog slightly different than most in that you or Justin sometimes seem to write articles for potential clients (people looking for websites), rather than other web developers (though you obviously do that). Is this a business decision to get clients to find your website, or do you guys like helping out the people who are looking for a designer? Who is your intended audience with Vert’s blog?

Joseph: As the question implies, we have two audiences. We want to communicate with fellow designers and developers, but we also want to demistify the web design world to potential clients. We believe that providing resources for prospects on how the web design industry works builds trust, a critical component to making a sale. However, these resources can easily be used by other developers for their prospects. For example, a web design company could point prospects to our Web Design Dictionary so that the team and client can communicate better. Essentially our blog has two main purposes: Provide an educational outlet for designers and developers of all skill levels, and establish credibility to potential customers.

I read an article on your blog that seemed to target a specific competitor because they used templates, and you implied that they over charged. What was the intent of that article? Was this a direct strike at a competitor, or a general dislike of using templates by any web studio?

Joseph: We have no problems with templates. However, the company in question was simply profiting off client ignorance by redistributing templates at an insane markup. Additionally, the company’s own site was a template, signifying that they’re incapable of providing a custom solution. Despite the markup, their prices were still lower than ours. We were being price gouged by a company with the technical capacity of a middle schooler. You could call it immature and in poor taste. I’d agree. However, when you’re losing clients to a company who makes a living off CTRL+C and CTRL+V, it’s hard to keep your cool.

What is the one thing you are really focusing on learning in web development right now?

joseph I’m really diving into the power of regular expressions. I’m moving past the common notion of regular expressions == form validation. I have an article coming up that discusses useful regular expressions in IDE’s for our IDE Friday series, and I’m really excited about sharing the power of RegEx in your workflow.

Is there anything you would do differently in your web development career so far?

Joseph: I’ve let clients walk over me in the past. Besides that and other small things, I’m quite happy with my career thus far.

What advice would you give someone just starting to get into web development, or thinking about it? Anything specificto learn or master?

Joseph: Learn to think in terms of functions and objects. Avoid hard-coding projects, especially while you’re learning. Take a problem and dissect it on paper before you even get in front of a keyboard. Draw pictures to help you better understand a situation or an algorithm. Be patient with your coding, and learn to document well. Make your code amazingly reusable and intuitive. And, above all, keep learning!

Two down…whos is next?

I have no idea yet, but I hope you enjoyed this Informal Interview. Joseph is a cool guy, and I’m glad I found him through some random clicking. Check out Vert Studios’ blog and do some good reading.

Any suggestions for the next person I should interview?

Coupon Code: webmachine

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