The Software Hack that Launched a Full-Service Digital Agency

John (left) and JD in New Orleans at our client, Unilog’s yearly conference. April 2019
John (left) and JD in New Orleans at our client, Unilog’s yearly conference. April 2019

In 2010, I was a first-time entrepreneur running a small e-commerce and digital asset management stock photography company, Cutcaster. Two years earlier, I left my job trading stocks on Wall Street. I wanted to follow my dreams of starting my own business and create a marketplace for buying and selling digital content like one could do on the stock market. I successfully launched a content marketplace and after the initial ups-and-downs that any new company and founder experiences, things were running smoothly. That was until I got an email out of the blue from an unfamiliar name.

The email address indicated that the sender worked at a competitor company. He got right to the point: he had hacked my site, and it had been pretty easy.

The sender turned out to be JD, a 19-year-old computer whiz and white knight hacker from Minsk, Belarus. JD explained that he had hacked our site for fun. He had no malicious plans and was willing to help fix the vulnerabilities in the site. True to his word, JD expertly patched up our site and once it was fixed, he proposed joining Cutcaster as the tech lead. As a non-technical founder, I was impressed by JD’s skills. I’d learned that JD had a passion for building hardware and writing software for websites. This was something he had been doing since he was 12. But more than that, it was his curiosity, the ability to both listen and tell it like it is, and willingness to help that prompted me to forge an unlikely partnership with a Belarusian teenager that changed both our lives.

From that first hack onward, JD has been my technical partner and one of my closest friends. Together we started a full-service software development agency in San Francisco called Spiral Scout almost 8 years ago with the help of Andrew K., who was our first hire and now our lead front-end engineers. Today, we have completed more than 260 projects, large and small, for more than 95 happy clients. Our first customer is a company we still work with to this day. eLearning Brothers has grown from one person (a true, one man wrecking crew) to more than 100 (awesome) employees over the years. Likewise, we’ve grown Spiral Scout from a two-man operation into a full service digital agency. We have more than 75 highly-skilled engineers, designers, project managers, quality assurance specialists, and sub-contractors.

Spiral Scout is successful because our values represent that first hack: we’re responsive and get to the point quickly (the good, the bad and the ugly), not sugar coating a situation, trust each other, focus on stellar engineering skills, and have just the right amount of fun.

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