The Jellyfish Alliance is a movement to help creative shops keep their independence and their dreams alive. And it just started.

Full disclosure, I didn’t study economics or business in college. Even so, I’ve managed to stumble forward successfully by being nice, hiring smart people and making mostly good decisions. As I look at the ecosystem of the web industry today, I take pause at the rapid growth of monolithic companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Twitter—as well as the growing cast of new players. Their accelerated expansion is directly leading to the struggle of small and mid-sized web shops.

Jellyfish Alliance logo

Understanding The Industry

While you could categorize the industry into countless buckets, let’s consider three segments. On the outer rung are freelancers and small teams. The second rung consists of established shops. At the core of the industry are the large product companies.

It’s healthy for the three rungs to exchange members. Freelancers join shops, leaders from shops join the big players, talent from the big players start new shops, and so on. There needs to be a positive flow of energy and knowledge that spans our industry to allow us to grow and innovate in a healthy way.

Surviving The Supernova

Over the past few years, however, the speed and approach to this flow has changed. The big players aren’t just hiring individuals; they’re gobbling up entire shops and dismantling them to get what they want. Facebook reportedly makes nearly $25 million per employee, so you can understand why they and other superpowers are hungry for more talent.

It’s hard to turn down Apple, Google, Facebook, or Twitter. You can’t blame people for wanting to be a part of building the future on the front lines, especially given the lure of wealth. An offer from a big player—accepted or not—puts an enormous amount of pressure on smaller shops.

Shop owners face tough decisions. Do they raise their rates to accommodate top producers and potentially price themselves out of the market? Do they stand firm, risking cultural rifts and the loss of key talent who feel undervalued? Do they lay off top producers and rebuild with a new wave of less experienced and less demanding talent, threatening the quality of their service? Do they sell their shops and dive into the stream to get their own payday?

Or is there another option?

What if the shops that want to stay independent start working together, taking care of each other and strengthening their numbers, skills and opportunities? All the while maintaining their independence?

What if they partnered up and grew as opportunities grew, just like jellyfish?

Enter the Jellyfish Alliance

It was last year that I met Kyle Turner of NightOwl, a mobile shop located in St. Louis. Kyle started NightOwl with illustrious plans to rule the world. Then he lost one of his key people to Apple. Looking around, it was tough to replace that kind of talent. So he started working with nGen and everything was going great. Except that his own company and its fast growing product, Nightlife, were slowly dying. Kyle couldn’t dedicate any time to them. They were going to suffer from a lack of attention if something didn’t change. But why don’t we let Kyle tell you about that…

Carl and I made a pact. NightOwl would bring life to nGen’s mobile efforts and create a team of developers committed to building the best mobile products for nGen and their clients. nGen would allow the NightOwls to follow their dream and see where the Nightlife journey would take them. We would both focus on what we do best… —Kyle Turner

Kyle Turner On Aligning With nGen

“For the past four years I’ve been pouring every free hour of my life into this product called Nightlife. My old partner and I conjured up the idea during our college days in Columbia, Missouri. We are now developing in 22 cities across the country. Our team consists of strangers who all want Nightlife to be the app used to answer the question, “Where should I go tonight?”

I quickly realized that Nightlife wasn’t going to pay the bills anytime soon. I had been contacted by the big players: Apple, Facebook, and Google, to name a few. My partner left NightOwl to join Apple. I considered making the jump west to join the Silicon Valley rat race. But I realized starting that new adventure would mean my Nightlife dream would come to an end. What’s a guy to do?

I wanted to put myself in a position where I could continue my dream, but also put food on the table. After a few conversations with Carl, it seemed an alliance could benefit us both. Carl wanted to have the best mobile team possible, and fellow NightOwl Stephen Lindauer and I were ecstatic to help.

So Carl and I made a pact. NightOwl would bring life to nGen’s mobile efforts and create a team of developers committed to building the best mobile products for nGen and their clients. nGen would allow the NightOwls to follow their dream and see where the Nightlife journey would take them. We would both focus on what we do best: nGen would build awesome strategies and products, and NightOwl would build awesome apps.

To me, my career isn’t about putting one of the big player’s names on my resume. It’s not about being in the glitz and glam of this industry. It’s about doing what I love and creating awesome products for people to use every day. Could I do that at Facebook? Sure. Could I work half the hours—from home—with time for the project of my dreams at Facebook? No way in hell.

This is a story for all the startups, freelancers, entrepreneurs and two-man shops who have a dream they think is too far out of reach. It’s possible to see the dream through and still put food on the table. There are people out there that want to help you succeed without trying to own your idea or empty your pockets. This is the first-hand proof.”

nGen had compassion for NightOwl because we had lost great people as well. We lost them because they had better opportunities, ones which we encouraged them to follow. I knew to keep the best people I had to find a way to let them pursue their dreams with nGen. So I approached Kyle about bringing NightOwl into the nGen family. It took awhile to understand what that would mean for NightOwl and nGen. It boiled down to this: nGen will make sure NightOwl has time to work on its products and NightOwl will make sure nGen has the best mobile team possible. nGen will provide stability and increase NightOwl’s ability to design and promote products.

So today it is my honor to welcome NightOwl as the first member of the Jellyfish Alliance.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got more jellyfish to find.