Many big, fresh ideas start small. Mark Lee and Doug DeVries of Bellingham have spent the past decade growing their tech startup, Big Fresh Media, into a Web development firm with more than 20 employees, a variety of digital services and a division devoted solely to IT support, called Tech Help.
“You hear about big companies that started in a garage,” Lee said. “In our case, it was in Doug’s basement.”
Big Fresh is poised to continue expanding—potentially tripling staff within the next few years, according to its owners. Its growth, they said, would be driven by a new focus and a new parent company.
Big Fresh and Tech Help were purchased earlier this year by NVNTD (pronounced “invented”), a separate startup founded by Lee and DeVries, along with local real estate developers Troy Muljat and Ben Kinney.
While NVNTD is envisioned as a launching-pad for entrepreneurs with “remarkable ideas” for technology-related products, according to the firm’s motto, the concept developed out of Muljat and Kinney’s desire to create a company that could implement new tech tools for the real estate industry. With a number of projects already in development, DeVries said the parent company would add a new element to Big Fresh’s production.
“It’s added to our emphasis,” DeVries said. “Where we were sort of service-oriented—and we still are, we do a lot of websites and so forth—we now are working in the digital product realm.”
Among its first major offerings is an online real-estate database called Blossor, which would act as a nationwide portal for home buyers to search listings and connect with real estate agents.
Kinney said Blossor, which developers hope to launch in early 2013, would emphasize a reliable search engine and a series of social functions that have yet to be implemented in similar digital products already on the market.
Since Blossor is still in testing mode, full details on its features have not yet been released.
The popularity of online real estate databases has grown in recent years.
Zillow, one of the industry’s leading databases created in 2005 by two former Microsoft executives, reported more than 24 million unique visitors to its website in 2011.
That traffic level is more than double the number from the year before, according to Zillow’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Owners of such systems typically draw revenue from a mix of advertising and subscription-based services.
Kinney said the initial goal with Blossor would be to make it competitive against Zillow, as well as against other popular databases such as Realtor.com.
“We really want to do for real-estate search what Google did for Web search,” Kinney said.
To handle the development of Blossor and other new digital products, Big Fresh has brought on new Web developers, programmers and IT support staff.
Luring skilled workers away from established global tech firms in Puget Sound has been challenging. But Troy Muljat said he thought Big Fresh’s drive toward innovation and its ability to offer competitive compensation have given the company a good set of chips to bring to the hiring table.
“It’s competitive. [But] people have to see the vision in our products,” Muljat said. “I think once they understand what it is and where we’re going and how big it could be, they like the idea of being part of that.”
Moving forward, Mark Lee said Big Fresh would continue offering its standard base of web development and IT services.
But with his company’s established expertise and marketing ability, its new parent company could draw some interesting digital products useful to a variety of professions, he said.And while the initial focus will be on real estate, Big Fresh’s development team is open to just about any idea with the potential to be successful, he said.
“There’s a lot of people out there with a lot of great ideas, but they don’t have the ability to execute them by themselves,” Lee said.
Contact Evan Marczynski at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-647-8805.