The Firm List > The Firm List Spotlights > Jel

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FL: You've taken what I think is a very unique approach on your website, where in the course of explaining who you are, you sum it up by saying: "We've chosen Jel because..." You're not focusing on why a client should hire you, rather you're focusing on why your team has chosen to be there. What was the thinking behind this strategy? How successful has it been?
J: It's all about creating the perception that everyone at Jel has made a conscious decision to be here. That Jel is a group of smart, talented people who are attracted to a workplace that allows them to work with similarly talented people. The "unspoken" message is that customers will reap the benefit of this: great people working on your project equals a great project.
FL: Collaboration is a vital element in your firm's approach. While many would say that good work doesn't grow in a vacuum, it's quite often the case that in actual practice, things do get done in a hurry, often without the time for brainstorming and other group planning. How successful is Jel in achieving collaboration in it's day-to-day operations?
J: The reality is that different projects have different needs. When we feel that a project calls for it, we are very diligent about gathering as much information and creating highly collaborative environments for the discovery and planning phases of the project. For example, we're working with Roche ( on a Web Portal for their US operations. We've conducted research and worked directly with people from over 10 different US Roche locations (and Roche HQ in Switzerland), interviewing and helping prioritize their various needs. This collaborative approach has allowed us to uncover previously unknown issues, and helped Roche better understand how to create a comprehensive overview of an incredibly varied and complex set of products and services.
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FL: You address your firm's physical environment as an important aspect of your firm's success & identity. In addition to your team's happiness & well-being, is a fun, hip, open and inviting office a draw to potential and existing customers?
J: Partially. These days, clients are most interested in the bottom line; what can Jel do for me? How can we help create results that will save our clients time and money, enhance their brand positioning, etc. But our office does help reinforce the message that we are a group of people that "get it" - our space is just a physical extension of our branding message.
FL: Jel is located in Sacramento, CA which many people don't know is the capital of California let alone do they know where it is. How has being located in Sacramento affected the growth & success of your business? Would Jel be a different company if it was located 90 miles down the road in San Francisco?
J: Perhaps out of business if we were in the Bay Area? We avoided the whole "dot-bomb" thing, so while we didn't grow as quickly as others during the boom years, we didn't experience the same downside.

I think that we can say that we have a lower overhead, etc. Higher quality of life, more affordable leads to high quality staff who've chosen to leave the Bay Area. We do fight a "perception" issue, but counter that with great work and great people. We certainly have less "attitude" than some Bay Area firms, as we concentrate on delivering results, not flash.
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FL: What are the struggles Jel has faced in terms of finding & retaining talent both in the boom days of the economy and now in the rough days? Are the best talent lured away by the larger markets?
J: Finding talent was a bit more difficult in the boom days, however with the boom days came astronomical housing prices in the Bay Area. Therefore some great talent moved out this way to buy property which provided us with great opportunities to hire great people. To be honest, there are not many companies in Sacramento like ours, so they generally found us. We don't have any current problems attracting staff in these times.
FL: "The methodology of getting it right." These seem like simple words on your site but they address something I think is lacking overall in the web design business and that is follow-through. Does "getting it right" mean that Jel will continue to work on a given solution until they get it right, even if that doesn't square nicely with the initial site launch? Does the right solution involve follow-up and tinkering with a solution once it's being used in the real world?
J: Absolutely. We're always looking for ways we can improve our client's sites and processes, and offer solutions or ideas on how to do so. We take the time to get it right, not just launch a half-baked solution. Saturn went from "Web sites that suck" to being one of the top-ranked automotive sites due to this approach.
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FL: You work with some very large brands/businesses. You're one of the "bigger fish" in the Sacramento market. How does this change the perception of Jel in the mind of local businesses? Would a smaller business think that you are out of their league?
J: We do have a broad range of clients. We don't work with the "mom and pop" type businesses usually, but we are flexible, and are very competitive from a pricing perspective. We really try to work with clients who understand the value of our services, and seek to improve their internal processes, brand positioning, etc. We're not a good fit for a client who is only driven by short-term price considerations, as we try to develop solutions that offer long-term ROI, which sometimes involves a higher up-front cost.
FL: Your offices are in the same complex as a yoga studio. Does the meditative calm coming from next door affect the team of Jel? Would a potential client or employee sense this difference in overall Karma when they come to visit?
J: Of course! Well, not really. Whatever. Yoga is definitely a good thing though...
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FL: I usually ask early on where a firm's name comes from as I personally think it can tell you a lot about a firm. Where does the name Jel come from?
J: jel has two of my initials from Jon Lee. The funny thing is Jon is my middle name and Robert is my first so it doesn't really make sense. But that is the point. Things don't have to fit perfectly as our firm has the ability to make things jel... jel/'jel n 1: a state of cohesion 2: a solid mass capable of fluid motion 3: a substance of disparate parts congealed into a single state
(spotlight first ran June 2003)

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