Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

How Pixish Happened

pixish-logo-for-pow.pngWith some stories, it’s hard to know where to begin. I could start with my obsession with photography and magazines that goes back to when I was a kid. Or I could talk about running a newspaper in college and working at HotWired in the ’90s. Or when I started a photography magazine and a publishing company.

No matter how I start, it seems insincere to not mention that I was forced out of that publishing company by its cofounder, because this story starts at that dark moment. Don’t worry, it gets better.

When that happened, I wrote about it here. It’s not that I wanted to cause a fuss. I just had to explain to the community why Heather and I would no longer be working at the magazine we’d spent three years building. Writing that post and the ensuing aftermath was truly one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced.

There are trees in the hills of California where forrest fires are a regular occurrence. Turns out, the fire is required for their seeds to germinate. No fire, no new trees.

It was like that.

In this case, one of the seeds that germinated was this idea for a site that enabled anyone to create open calls for submissions – an idea that actually goes way back to when I was working on Design for Community.

About the same time, I got an email from a guy named Jason Perkins. Jason and I had exchanged some email seven years prior about Fray (yes, you read that right – seven – we’re ancient in web years). He’d read my post and wanted to see what I was working on next, and if he could help. I believe his exact words were, “I wanna be your code monkey.”

“Well, I do have this one idea,” I said. Before I knew it, he had a staging server set up.

I started thinking about domain names. I can’t take a project seriously until I have a domain name – I’m nerdy that way. The first one I thought of was Pixish. I loved the way it echoed the words “picture” (ie “pix”) and “publish”. And I love its shape: tall first and last letters, medium x-height letters in between, and the wonderful visual combination of “ixi” in the middle.

Trouble was, pixish.com was taken. I moved on to other ideas and even registered a few, but I kept coming back to Pixish. So I wrote to its owner, Brendan McGuigan, and inquired about buying it.

Amazingly, he’d read my post, too, and offered to give me the domain.

Let me say here that I know I am a lucky man. And it’s so heart-warming to know that, even in the most difficult times, there are always people out there who want to help. I’m really, really grateful for that.

Jason mentioned the project to a friend of his, Dan Hodos, who is also one of the most talented programmers I’ve ever met. He dug the idea and came on board. Now we had three people and a staging site. I realized the code was going a lot faster than the design, so for the first time in my career, I decided to not be the designer.

I posted to Twitter, asking my contact list if anyone could recommend a designer. My friend Daniel recommended a friend of his in Sydney, James Goode. After seeing his work, I knew he was the guy. I wrote to him and he was into it. Now we were four.

Things really started to take off. I got us set up as an LLC and documented the vision for the product while James, Jason, and Dan worked like magicians pulling rabbits out of their hats.

I’ve worked as an interaction designer for a long time, so I have very high expectations of designers. About the fifth time James brought up a design issue at the very moment I was thinking it, I knew I could relax. James rocking it like a rock star.

My one visual contribution to the site was the logo, which continues my love affair with sign typography. But even that was a collaboration with James – he started the circle thing, and we were both very inspired by photos of old type tins.

We worked for months on the site. Some awesome things happened during the build (Jason had a new baby) and some not-so-awesome things (James lost work in a hard drive crash). Like Rands says, 1.0 won’t kill you, but it’ll try.

It all really came together in the last few weeks. We had weekly meetings in Skype, tracked progress in Mingle, and discussed in email. We were a virtual team, using online tools to build a site to enable others to collaborate virtually. There’s a nice synchronicity in that.

We reached a point I’ve hit with many other projects: to launch knowing that things may still break, or keep building in secret. I’ve worked on projects that languished like this for months – with launch always just a feature away. No one wanted that, so we decided, as a team, to put it out there and see what happens. We launched last Saturday night.

I’ve tried my best to learn from my past. This time the roles are clear – hi, I’m Derek, the CEO – and we’ve come this far with no outside funding. I’ve tried my best to forge a company culture that’s honest, excited, and collaborative. We’re all having fun, making something we love, and are filled to the brim with ideas for the future.

Where we go from here is unknown. If the company takes off and becomes the Next Big Thing, hooray! If it develops a small community that enjoys it and it breaks even, that’s okay, too. What it becomes is largely up to the community that forms around it now.

But one thing that I’m absolutely sure of is that I am an incredibly lucky man to have happened into working with such talented people, on such a fun project, at this fortuitous time.

Thank you, universe.


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Hi, I’m Derek. I make awesome community-centric web stuff. I sometimes post things to Flickr and Twitter. I’m mostly harmless. More.





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