I hung out with Ara yesterday.
My main mission in hanging out with Ara (aside from getting my butt kicked by him on the bicycle) was to understand what the big idea with DOJO4's new pivot-noir as Ara loves to put it. As I could feel the bonk starting to set in I knew my only hope of being any kind of good company for Ara was to get him talking and that I did.
I essentially asked Ara to take it from the top and tell me the story of DOJO4 and how it has come to repositioning itself as the the go-to mission driven tech design/dev shop.
Ara took it from the top and began with a full character development of his grandmother, who by no stretch of the imagination is a strong candidate for an Alaskan Catholic Saint. She taught Ara formative values early in life such as:
- never complain (it's a demonstration of weakness) always return a borrowed item in better condition than you found it.
- build community with saints and sinners alike (everyone is worthy of forgiveness)
- respect adults and practice good manners work harder than everyone you know
- take other people's perceived limitations as fuel for your own tenacity (she lived for 30 years after doctors told her she only had 3 years left with Hepatitis C)
Ara explained to me that helping others, caring for the disadvantaged and the planet were values as basic as the water he grew up drinking. Yet, his athletic successes drew him down the path of personal excellence and achievement throughout his college and early post-college years until his life altering bicycle crash and injury. In an instant he broke his back in multiple places his hip and ribs he realized that he would have to find work that didn't require him to to be a world class athlete.
Since Ara was always good in math, he went back to college for a computer science degree and was the top of every class he took. From there he took a job programming satellite for NOAA and worked several of his colleagues out of their jobs. He didn't think that was fair so he quit and worked with an elite team of 5 working on highly classified night sky data analytics with one of the webs most prophetic pioneers and open source champions.
After a stint with the night sky project, Ara started contracting and from there was inspired to start an agency that would elegantly combine design and development into one team and under one roof. He spotted the future DOJO4 building moments after having the formative conversation with DOJO4's first designer, phone calls were made, the founding team was assembled, and DOJO4 was born.
In the first few months founders were shuffled around. Corey Kohn replaced Jeffrey. Eventually, Justin and Dave left the ownership team. Over the years DOJO4 has explored and experimented with several different small-agency business models including shared equity with clients, hourly pay structures, fixed bids, employee designers and developers, contractor-based teams, in-house products, and various project management tools and practices.
After surveying everything they could get their hands on in the tech world and building countless technology solutions for entrepreneur after entrepreneur, Ara and Corey are feeling a tug back to their humanitarian roots. They are hearing the call to purpose and meaning in the work of programming that they drank deeply of earlier in their careers.
Ara attended the Girl Effect Accelerator conference in San Francisco recently on Corey's prompting and was heartened to see that there are still companies doing amazingly impactful work all over the planet and solving compelling global challenges, despite the zeitgeist in the U.S. tech communty for solving problems no one has and then figuring out how to make people want them: some people are still solving real problems!
Ara called Corey on the phone after a late night of communion with inspiring foreign entrepreneurs and told her that he wanted to work on projects like these from now on. Corey was in after hearing 30 seconds of Ara’s pitch.
Seeking to bring deeper meaning and purpose into one's life and work is a primary agenda of modern times. So Ara and Corey and the DOJO4 crew aren't alone in this. As Ara pointed out in an earlier conversation, helping others is a primary contributor to happiness but alas for most of us in Boulder, life is relatively comfy. Is helping a fellow entrepreneur build the next social forum really a global priority and challenge? Maybe, if it's meant to organize a sharing economy in the third world. If you're working on this, contact us and we'll find a way to make it work.