Leeann Drees and Laura Eagin of ellell & co. joined the Grand Circus coworking family in Summer 2016. To say it’s been a treat to have them in our space is an understatement! While monthly massages certainly keep them excited to come in on Fridays, Leeann and Laura have both been super involved in the Grand Circus community and are a great addition to the Detroit’s Madison technology Block. Read on to find out more about friends founding a company together and how Detroit has fostered its growth.
Quick: elevator pitch! Tell us about your company.
The web design struggle is real. You’ve heard frustrating stories of unfinished website projects and developers who disappear. It’s a common story. Business owners just don’t have time to solve their own website headaches. As a result, people are desperate to find real, helpful, local web development support.
ellell & co. is a breath of fresh air. A small but mighty web design studio here in Detroit. The team at ellell & co. isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves, ask good questions and build a better website. They take phone calls, enjoy client meetings and practice empathy on a regular basis.
So, how do you create a friendly web studio? Start with two female co-founders who are approachable, helpful and know their stuff.
Meet Leeann and Laura of ellell & co.
Leeann: I love to write code and teach other people how to code!
Laura: I’m a designer and web developer who geeks out about building great things.
How did you first start getting involved with Grand Circus?
Leeann: We’ve both been involved in Girl Develop It Detroit, which is actually also how we first met each other. GDI workshops are often held at Grand Circus, so before we even joined the coworking space, we got to know and love the staff and space.
Through Grand Circus I’ve also had the opportunity to teach coding skills to youth in our city schools.
Laura: Grand Circus feels like the epicenter of Detroit Tech. The events, meetups and workshops hosted here are an awesome way to get involved. Just last week I participated in an “Improv for Business” workshop here. It was a fun interactive event and a good example of how learning comes in many formats.
“The Grand Circus classes stretch us to try new things and build a stronger, more diverse community.” – Laura
What role does Detroit play in your ellell & co.’s identity and culture?
Laura: I moved to Michigan in 2013 and Detroit won me over quickly. Detroit has been so supportive and welcoming.
We help clients from all over the country, but we especially love working with local small businesses and nonprofits making a mark. Last year we built websites for a non-profit connecting community organizations to funding and resources, a coding bootcamp you may have heard of and a Detroit startup bringing better care to local diabetes patients.
Being a Detroit small business building tools for other Detroit small businesses feels great.
What are your company’s core values?
We’re friendly, approachable, and we care about developing good relationships with our clients and community.
We’re committed to mentorship. Both of us have benefited greatly from having awesome mentors at the beginning of our careers. Last year we worked closely with Phil Salatrik, a graduate of the Front-End Bootcamp at Grand Circus. He joined our team as an intern this Fall, eager to learn the ropes. It was great working with him and helping him grow his skill set one real-world project at a time. He now works as a daytime web developer. In 2017, we want to help even more people get their start in coding and freelancing!
What’s the biggest challenge your company has faced, and how have you overcome that?
In 2015, when our business was in its infancy, each of us were living in different cities. Life threw curveballs at us, and this was just one of them.
It’s a huge challenge to run a business in different timezones, but we tried to look it as an opportunity. After all, we already knew how to work remotely with our clients, couldn’t we also be smart about communicating and getting the work done no matter our location?
So we treated the challenge as a strength. The systems we put in place are the same ones we use today when we work side by side. Location isn’t a hindrance for us going forward, and that feels like the right way to run a business in 2017.
What advice do you have for friends going into business together or budding entrepreneurs?
Leeann: Oh, we have so many thoughts on this! The first thing I tell people is: you can take things slowly. Laura and I worked together informally on projects for over a year before we decided to officially start a business. We both had part-time jobs while we were growing our business.
Laura: We’re not your typical agency looking to take over the world. We know the kind of problems we’re best suited to solve and we’re careful to partner with clients who use our strengths.
Is a client open to suggestions? Is a new design solution on the table? Or are they looking to solve a problem the same way and expect different results. These are all important questions we ask before taking on a project.
On a personal level, it feels great to value each other’s strengths and give ourselves permission to say no to things that don’t fit with our vision. It’s part of the magic of being your own boss.
Why cowork at Grand Circus?
Leeann: The location is unbeatable, and the perk of once-a-month massages is fantastic!
Laura: The emergence of coworking instead of a traditional office makes sense for a small business like ours. It wasn’t a mandate – we could have continued to work remotely for years, but I know we made the right decision. Detroit is growing fast, and it is important for us to be close to what is happening, to participate rather than just observe. I feel incredibly lucky to have an office in the heart of this city.
In what ways are you involved in your surrounding communities?
We’ve been closely involved with Girl Develop It for years, and we teach coding workshops for teens and adults throughout the year, but this year we’re also excited about some new projects.
We know 2017 is going to be a big year of growth and community for women in tech. Look for some big announcements soon. We are planning fun ways to bring people together, because that’s incredibly important, now more than ever.
Cheers to that! Thanks to Leeann and Laura for sharing insight on what drives and inspires them and why Detroit is the place to be.