SLO digital firm takes the fast track to sales growth

Hathway - 50 Fastest Growing Companies

Hathway Chief Marketing Officer Kevin Rice, left, and CEO Jesse Dundon. With a slew of high-profile clients already under their belt, the team is poised to profit of its own technology. Photo: Nik Blaskovich

50 Fastest Growing Companies | August 22-28, 2014

By Marlize van Romburgh
Staff Writer

Nestled in the hills of small-town San Luis Obispo, a startup digital media agency is crafting campaigns for some of the biggest brands in the country.

Hathway was founded in 2009 by two Cal Poly alumni, Jesse Dundon and Kevin Rice. Since then, it has seen skyrocketing growth and landed big-name clients. The company notched $4.2 million in revenue last year, a 394.7 percent increase since 2011.

Hathway’s clients have included the industrial giant Applied Materials, paint supplier Behr, financial services firm Transamerica, the University of California system, the credit bureau Transunion and San Luis Obispo software firm Mindbody.

But just five years ago, Hathway was a fledgling Web design firm that had been hatched out of one of Dundon and Rice’s earlier ventures. In 2009, they decided to use the Web expertise they had built up with their earlier business to spin out a fully fledged digital branding and Web design firm.

Dundon said one aspect of Hathway’s early success was its decision to build upon open-source platforms such as WordPress and Joomla. That decision allowed the firm to save on development costs while leveraging existing technologies to offer its clients flexible Web design.

Hathway - 50 Fastest Growing Companies“One big component of our success has been predicting things that we thought were going to be big, like open-source for enterprise,” Dundon said. “That was also the case with mobile.”

These days, Hathway focuses heavily on native app development and responsive Web design. It recently rebuilt Applied Material’s corporate website to be completely mobile friendly. An iOS app it built for Behr Paint, meanwhile, allows users to snap a photo of something and find the corresponding paint color. Hathway is currently working on a number of confidential mobile applications for other clients with a few big projects due to launch soon, Dundon said.

Hathway is also gearing up for the so-called Internet of Things, the idea that many household electronics, from refrigerators to thermostats, will one day be connected to the Internet, apps and wearable devices.

“We realized that if we really want to keep growing we have to have our own products,” Dundon said.

That includes building out its own enterprise-scale apps that can be licensed by other firms.

Hathway - 50 Fastest Growing Companies

Hathway co-founders Jesse Dundon and Kevin Rice relax in the digital firm’s San Luis Obispo headquarters. Photo: Nik Blaskovich

Hathway launched an internship program this summer that recruits students studying engineering, art and design, computer science, industrial technology and business at Cal Poly. The Internship of Things, as Hathway has named it, had about 200 applicants vying for six spots in the program, Dundon said. The interns have spent the summer designing and prototyping an Internet of Things device that they hope to get funded through Kickstarter this fall.

Hathway has about 40 full-time employees and continues to hire, he said. It recruits heavily from Cal Poly, particularly its top-ranked engineering and computer science programs.

Just a decade ago, San Luis Obispo was a small California college town dominated by large government employers. Now, a handful of technology firms including Mindbody, Rosetta, Shopatron and iFixit collectively employ more than a thousand people in San Luis Obispo. Mindbody, a company that makes software for health and wellness practitioners, is also one of Hathway’s clients.

Growing up alongside that burgeoning tech culture has been a large part of Hathway’s success, Dundon said. “In terms of the community itself, it’s not just that there’s a technology culture now, but there seems to be a good community in terms of encouraging entrepreneurship,” he said. “The local governments are really supportive.”

Most of Hathway’s clients are within a day’s drive of San Luis Obispo, meaning employees can easily drive to San Diego or San Francisco and back to the Central Coast.

“If happy cows are from California and make better milk,” Dundon said, “happy engineers are from San Luis Obispo and build better mobile apps.”