The story behind my career and Fourteen Inch, LLC

Actually it’s a long story, so bear with me for a little while.

Three years ago I had this idea to start a small web design agency. There are a lot of similar businesses in Egypt, most of them are divisions of big companies with (relatively) big names I won’t even mention. The core issue however, is they are missing in their work a very important component: care.

These people have a couple web services for news, entertainment, sports and so on, but none of them is really working “right”. I’m not here to judge, I’m just pointing out a sad fact that made the local web industry stand behind everybody else in the world.

Let me explain.

Good design means mainly “how it works”, everyone knows that (well, in our case not everyone, really) and basically the issue here is, obviously, bad design. Broken links, bad usability (sometimes none at all), performance issues and a plethora of functional mistakes that leave some users really frustrated. Not to mention grammar and spelling mistakes, bad typography, ugly images… you name it.

Let me be clear, there are a very few local agencies that really care about aesthetics and UX, but again, they are not numerous and the work they do is not targeted to large audiences anyways.

Some professionals put the blame entirely on clients, the type of clients that are not sure of what they want. That’s true, most of the clients don’t know what they want or what they need. They might have content but don’t have a clue about how to present it effectively. Here is when the experts appear on stage, making sure the right thing is done. As a professional you are responsible to guide the product design to the right direction (and I’m stressing here). Unfortunately, they end up doing whatever their clients ask for, without even blinking an eye. Who cares if the design is awful? Who cares as long as the client is happy and we make them feel in full control? And who cares as long we are getting paid? Right?

Wrong.

My first freelance job was on 2001 for a company in France called DMI which is probably dead by now. They had a very cool way to work with freelancers abroad and they were very flexible and understanding – At the time I was an ActionScript developer and I could earn good bucks out of it – on the other hand, some clients were very stressful, rushy and they knew nothing about Internet. They used to pop up on my email asking to do stuff like changing their own logo color, or using a red background. That, dear reader, was my favorite part. I call it Educating Clients. Later on that part though. Maybe on another post.

I strongly believe that if you have to make an online service (like a website), the audience have the right to live the best experience ever on it. Mainly, because of your own reputation as a business entity. Believe me, very few people want to see your awesome services from a crappy user interface, or most probably no one will. So that’s number one. Number two, if you are a web designer like me, you don’t want to put awful work on your awesome portfolio. Potential clients (the ones with great taste) will close the website immediately and even delete your URL from their browser’s history. You got the idea.

So, to go back to my business, my dream was, obviously, to change that. So I started looking for a business name to work under. One day, while searching for a good domain, I was chatting with Aly, mentioning my idea. Between brackets, Aly Badawy, is my best friend since college, who migrated to the states in 2007, but thankfully we remained in contact. Me and Aly worked together on many projects since the old days of college and I have to say, we developed a collaboration balance I could not find with anyone else. We have the same way of thinking when it comes to work, workflows and ideas. Not to mention he is awesome with server side stuff. Great pal.

When he knew about my intentions, my phone rang. It was him, ditching the chat window and calling from New York asking for details. Soon we decided to make this together. He came over for a visit eventually after a month or so.

We got the domain, made our Google Apps email accounts and started to do work using this name, Quartier Zero (a long story lies behind that name). We quickly started to make some clients, until the Egyptian Revolution took over and our clients decided to cancel their projects. It was frustrating and we stopped for a while. The country was a total chaos and nobody wanted to invest in projects anyways. At the time I was working at Yahoo, which took all my time, therefore I decided to stay low for a while. For three years I was an employed sleeve, but I knew that one day I would eventually leave and work for myself. This is what happened 2 months ago. I left and decided to start over. New name, new branding, new everything and most importantly, make it an American company (and eventually move to NY in the near future).

We filed our documents to the state, made a bank account and, finally, Fourteen Inch LLC was born making us official partners (thanks buddy).

Fourteen Inch is basically me and Aly. Our work, experiments, knowledge, mistakes, success all bond together into a single entity.

The idea behind the name “Fourteen Inch” though, is very simple. We are not teenagers, we were born in the early 80s. I personally witnessed and owned a very basic personal computer running MS DOS, booting from a floppy disk because Hard-disks were not widely available yet. Then my dad eventually bought me a Macintosh 512ke in 1987 and I became the coolest kid in the neighborhood. Additionally, on my teenage years between the late 90’s and 2003, the most common personal computer monitor size was the 14 inch. This was the era when people truly discovered the power of the Internet, and when us teenagers taught ourselves how to create things for it. As a result, we strongly believe we owe that period a fortune and we should always be thankful.

Fourteen Inch carries the legacy of those days and will always do, making modern products while preserving the same quality of the older creations of traditional craftsmen.

If you think you could do better on your own one day, please, leave your job right now and do what you are successful at. And remember, always for love and never for money.

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