Chicago-Based Parsecco Brings a New Spin to Collaborative Projects

January 27, 2013

12:00 pm

A new economy means new jobs, new employees, a new ethos.  Freelancers, consultants, creative professionals, and solo-preneurs have taken main stage, but the way in which they work and find work still lags behind.

Miki Johnson is attempting to solve this with, a team-building tool powered by a project-focused social network.  Current highlight projects range from iOS productivity appcontemporary cookbook, to a vintage train birthday party for a three year old.

Tech Cocktail caught up with Johnson to learn more about why she and her team moved from San Francisco to Chicago, where Parsecco sits amongst the competitive landscape, and what early learning lessons she’s gathered since launching Parsecco’s beta last year.

Tech Cocktail:  What was the inspiration behind Parsecco? What do you enjoy most about working on it?

Johnson:  Jackson Solway and I came up with the initial idea for Parsecco from our own experience as independent creatives. I was an editor at American Photo magazine and a content marketing consulting. Jackson was a freelance photographer and founded an iPad-only photojournalism magazine.

Both of us knew how important it is to find independent workers that they find great projects to work on and great people to work with. It was happening all around us every day, but it was terribly inefficient; there was no online home for this kind of work, and our friends were constantly stressed out or taking crappy jobs because the recommendations they rely on feel so much like luck. We are excited to be removing a little luck from the equation, but still retaining the personality and magic.

The way we connected with Peter and Waylon also reminded us of how hard it is to find great people. Peter was a friend of Jackson’s from college. Waylon we met at a tech event. It felt like a lot of luck and a little magic when we all teamed up so easily. We recognized just how easily it could have gone the other direction, and wanted to spread that luck we felt to as many people as possible. Working toward a common goal with people you trust and respect is one of the most fulfilling things we do as humans. We love that we get to help people do more of that.”

Tech Cocktail:  Who is your greatest competitor, and how do you differentiate yourself?

Johnson:  LinkedIn has done a good job of showing people the importance of “mutual connections” when job searching, but it’s still based on an outdated model of work that’s all about resumes and job titles, not fluid, fulfilling project work. They also focus on hiring individuals, not the dynamic teams that help companies stay ahead in today’s shifting marketplace. Lately, LinkedIn has also become extremely impersonal and overrun by too many connections, decreasing the ultimate value of any single one.

We also see networked portfolio sites like Behance or GitHub as competitors, but they too are focusing on individuals and “deliverables,” instead of collaborative teams and projects that range from paid to passion.

Finally there are Elance and oDesk, which we see less as competitors than proof of why Parsecco is necessary. Once you’ve experience their race to the bottom, where talented creatives have their work devalue and those looking to hire creatives waste valuable time trying to find someone who they can trust, you understand Parsecco’s value even more.

Tech Cocktail:  What is the biggest advantage and disadvantage of starting up in Chicago?

Johnson:  Jackson and I moved from San Francisco to work with Peter and Waylon full-time in Chicago. People often look at us funny when we say we moved FROM the Bay, but it makes sense for us. In SF, it feels like everyone has a startup, so although there are lots of resources, there is also intense competition for them. Chicago is smaller but more nurturing, especially with 1871, which opened the same month we moved here. Plus, to be honest, Chicago is just cheaper. Our bootstrap dollars go further here and growing our development team will be exponentially easier here than in the Bay.

Tech Cocktail:  Describe a challenging moment or a crucial decision for Parsecco. How did you deal with it, and what did you learn from it?

Johnson:  We pitched publicly for the first time on Oct. 30 and simultaneously opened our beta up. Since then we’ve added a steady stream of users, but they aren’t creating as many projects as we had hoped.

It has been a classic build, measure, learn experience for us. We’re going back through every step of the process and asking ourselves (and our users) what’s going wrong? We’re looking at where they leave the process and re-examining every assumption we made on those pages.

Most exciting, we’ve pared down our development cycle to one or two days, instead of one or two weeks. Peter and Waylon now frequently develop in tandem, so more assumptions are challenged at the most granular level. And with every decision we prefer to “pick one and test it” over spending time arguing which is the “right” one. Getting so much feedback and taking things back to the drawing board has only re-ignited the passion we all have for solving problems and helping people.

Tech Cocktail:  What’s one quirky fact about you, the Parsecco team, or your office culture?

Johnson:  We are all pretty into bikes. Waylon raced for years, Peter worked in a bike shop all through college, and Jackson and I have four bikes in various states of completion on our back porch. Peter, Waylon, and Jackson often ride before work, and are planning to build out their “startup peleton” once the weather warms up again. There is always a nice pile of bikes in our corner at The Coop (where we work), and we’re planning a company field trip this spring to the Chicago Velodrome.

Parsecco showcased at Tech Cocktail’s Chicago Mixer on November 29, 2012.

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When Zach Davis isn't getting lost in the mountains, he is hustling from Boulder, CO as Tech Cocktail's Director of Marketing. He is the author of Appalachian Trials, a book chronicling the mindset necessary for thru-hiking all 2,181 miles of the Appalachian Trail, a feat he accomplished in 2011. Zach is a green tea enthusiast, die-hard Chicago sports fan, and avid concert-goer. Follow Zach on Twitter: @zrdavis.

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