White Whale Web Services: Why smaller is better

Jason and Buzz

I spent most of my early career in Web design and development working for and with small companies that tried desperately to appear larger than they really were.

They printed business cards for temps and freelancers; they listed employees on their Web sites that I'd never met; they had voice mail greetings that referred to the “support department” and the “design department” when those were both me and one other guy.

As a result, there was always a kind of low-grade paranoia floating around those offices, a fear that the client would one day see behind the curtain and find out that our company wasn't the large full-service agency the client thought we were, that in fact we were just one office, or one suite, or one floor of a building when the client thought we were three floors. This made for occasionally amusing misadventures when, say, a freelance copywriter would accidentally mention the name of his own company instead of the agency in a meeting, and would have to pretend like he misspoke.

When White Whale first started to add staff and undertake increasingly large-scale projects (around 2002), I decided that we were never going to play that game. Although the desire to make oneself appear bigger is a natural and understandable impulse (in bearded monitor lizards as well as humans), I think it ruins advertising and Web agencies. It removes accountability, it discourages risk, and it dampens or kills the feeling of individual accomplishment that comes from creating something amazing, on time and under budget (and that's the feeling that drives us all to work in the morning).

The companies that serve as role models for us, both within and outside the Web world— companies like 37signals, Panic, and Bruce Mau Design, and some of our own clients, like New Harvest Coffee and New Urban Arts— are also small groups of hardworking people that get a lot done. Why should we present ourselves any differently?

So, here we are. White Whale Web Services is five people who work constantly, and produce incredibly high-quality work at a volume comparable to much larger firms. We contract with freelance designers sometimes, to keep our portfolio open to fresh ideas, and we often bring in one or two friendly copywriters on large-scale Web redesigns that require a lot of writing and editing. But in the end, when you deal with White Whale you are dealing with me, Tonya, Alex, Donald or Jeremy. We have been lucky to attract clients who appreciate that kind of relationship: it works as well for them as it does for us.

Jason Pontius
President, White Whale Web Services

White Whale Web Services, Inc.   •   1904 Franklin Street, Suite 500  •  Oakland, CA 94612  •  510-808-4028  •  web@whitewhale.net