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The Point of Pointless Corp.

A Pointless LogoBack in January, Doug let the ... uh ... bear out of the bag, so to speak, with his post about using geometry in design.  In it, he showed his design process for the Pointless Bear -- the mascot of Pointless Corp.  What's Pointless Corp. you ask?  Well, it's neither pointless nor a corporation.  But, first, some history.

Ever since we started Viget almost a decade ago, people have often said "you guys have all the talent to build web apps -- designers, developers, marketers -- and you must have ideas.  Why don't you launch your own products?"  It's a fair question with a simple answer: we don't want to be a product company.  Our goal at Viget has always been to be a great consulting company, working with great clients on a wide variety of interesting projects. 

Consulting isn't easy.  There's a ton of work that goes into all aspects of the business, including traditionally boring things like accounting and operations and interesting things like how you can closely collaborate with clients with methods that are customized enough for their needs but still structured enough that you can count on the results.  The standard advice we all give start-ups is to focus.  Without focus, a business has no hope.  At Viget, our focus has been consulting, and trying to build products would put that focus -- and our success -- at risk.

That's not to say we haven't built our own stuff.  Like most web shops, we built our own content management system in 2002 (since phased out).  Being open source advocates, we're constantly contributing code to the community.  When we have time between client projects, we're always playing with new technologies and ideas in one way or another.  Even with all that, we felt that we could be more effective with our downtime, learn more from our experiences, and become better consultants providing more value to our clients if we had a more structured approach to internal projects.

Enter Pointless Corp.

Pointless Corp. is a way for our teams to rally around an idea and work together to launch a web app independent of client work.  It's not an original concept, but I think we have a slightly different take on the approach.

Why "Pointless"?

The name was inspired by Harry Nilsson's story The Point! which includes a character called "The Pointless Man" who said "a point in every direction is the same as no point at all."  We want Pointless Projects to take us in all kinds of experimental directions.

More importantly, the name is a constant reminder about focus.  The focus of Viget is working with great clients to build great products and web sites.  That's our point.  Pointless Projects themselves are far from pointless, though -- they're a chance for us to learn about technologies and processes, to grow and experiment with new ideas, to share and contribute to the web community, and to have fun working together in tight teams.  But, were we ever to prioritize Pointless Projects over client work, we'd be putting everything we've accomplished thus far as a company at risk.

We're proud of what we've done so far at Viget as a consultancy, and we've still got a long way to go.  By launching fun, useful projects under a different "brand," we don't have to worry as much about people misunderstanding Viget's purpose.

How Does It Work?

We've kicked around lots of details internally, but I'll cut to the chase:

  • Anyone at Viget can spark an idea.  That person then becomes the project champion.
  • The project champion "pitches" the idea either at a Pointless Party (where interested folks come to discuss ideas and form teams over pizza & beer) or just in the hallway.  Pitching first means getting at least one other teammate involved (there are no solo Pointless Projects), then selling Andy and me on making it an "official" Pointless Project.
  • Once official, the project has a slot on our weekly project schedule, just like any client.  It also has deadlines.
  • Progress is shared at least weekly on our internal blog and during staff meetings.
  • Generally speaking, late nights are enjoyed by the team to hit deadlines.  The projects are labors of love, and since client work (again, our point) takes precidence over Pointless Projects, we often have to find extra time to get them done.

How Doesn't It Work?

We've learned some good lessons there too, but that's for another post.

Results?

So far, we've launched four official Pointless Projects:

Each one had a different team, approach, schedule, outcome, and set of lessons to apply to the next one.  We have a few more in the hopper at various stages of completion.  If you're interested in what we're working on, you can check out the Pointless site (currently just a blog), follow Pointless on Twitter, or keep an eye out here at Viget.  We'll make sure to spread the word about any big things happening.  If you have any questions or ideas about Pointless, please drop a comment below or contact us.


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