Winn Jewett runs his web development company on passion for the Colorado Springs community — and the scientific method. Jewett, 35, owns Oxbow Labs, which specializes in building websites for clients in both the public and private sectors. He came here from New York in the late 1990s to attend Colorado College and fell in love with the region and his future wife Rebecca. Jewett spoke to the Business Journal this week about his company, the local web industry and why he thinks Colorado Springs is a great place to live and work.
Where are you from and what brought you to Colorado Springs?
I grew up in New York City and got my start in the web development industry working at Martha Stewart and iVillage in New York City. I came out to Colorado in part for the beauty and majesty of this place, but also for Colorado College. I was a physics major at CC. I wanted a small liberal arts college, but I’ve always been drawn toward the technical side of everything. CC offered the perfect balance between that liberal arts education where you learn how to think for yourself and to write — that well-balanced education — and also satisfied my desire to understand how the world works.
How did you get into the web development business?
Over the summers throughout college, I would go back to New York and work at various places within the web industry. After I got out of college in 2003 I started doing it full-time. At first I was a freelancer, just doing web development on my own. Then, in the next couple of years, it grew organically. As I got busier I added additional freelancers and eventually decided to take on full-time employees a few years ago. I’ve been slowly adding to that over time.
Does that physics degree translate at all to what you do now?
No. I think what college gave me was that ability to think on my own. The web industry is such a dynamic field and it is definitely a field where you have to continue your education — you’re constantly learning, you’re constantly testing. Part of the reason I’ve called my company Oxbow Labs is because I really do believe that we are in part a laboratory. In that we’re constantly testing new techniques and technologies, we have to stay ahead of the curve and innovate both in terms of techniques and also design, user experience — different ways of communicating our clients’ message to the world. In that way I have brought in some of those science methodologies.
Do you think this is a good place for your business?
I do, yes. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a bunch of local organizations and companies — from the Humane Society to the Sheriff’s Office to the Health Department to the YMCA. What’s so amazing about this community is that it is so tight-knit. … In a city like New York, the proverbial pond is so big that no one company can really dip its toes into every aspect of the city. … It’s really fun to watch the companies and organizations around us grow, and to be able to play a role in that growth.
Can you explain what Oxbow does and what part you play?
We build websites for both nonprofits and for-profit companies. We focus on one technology, one content management system, called Drupal, but we are diverse in the application of that technology. … What I love doing is playing the role of visual strategist. For a lot of organizations, the website is really a defining piece of their organization, so the process of building or redesigning a website is one where you dig deep and try and figure out who you are as an organization, and how you’re perceived by the community. So by going through that process with them, we are able to craft that message and help them better communicate who they are as a company or an organization. That web architecture is what I love doing, but I wear a lot of hats. I started off as a web developer, so I often put that hat on and do actual programming. My official title is web architect, so in that role I work with the customers to help craft a solution to build out their website in the most efficient manner possible — that’s the part that I love the most.
How does developing as a young professional here compare to New York?
I feel strongly that Colorado Springs offers an incredible balance between quality of life and all of that … but also brings to the table a very vibrant technology community. The open-source community here in Colorado Springs is absolutely phenomenal.
We meet regularly to share experiences, to share tips and techniques, and it feels much less like we’re competitors and more like we are in it together to help each other and to help the web community to help the greater community. That is something that feels really special … and definitely something I feel on a regular basis.
Even in the economic downturn of the past few years, it never really felt cutthroat or like we’re all competing for the same jobs. Even though I know some of us are bidding on the same jobs, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like there is enough work to get distributed around.
What do you do in your spare time?
I try to get out as much as I can. In the summertime I like to bike and climb, and in the wintertime I like to ski and climb. … I try to ride my bike to work as much as I can. n CSBJ