Creative agencies are secretly building Chicago's tech scene

August 3, 2015

Many of you reading this might be thinking it takes a certain type of entrepreneur or startup to work with an agency. We know this because when we go to meetups or talk to startups for the first time, the idea that we'd work together is usually cut short with a response like:

We're not outsourcing because we're focused on hiring our own team." 

When a startup is seeded at places like 1871 or any other incubator, the advice often given is to start hiring developers and designers and/or bring on a technical co-founder. If you need social proof, check out the job board on The problem with that advice by itself, is it assumes that an entrepreneur has the business acumen and focus to build a business AND the expertise to bring together and manage world class ux, design and technical talent.

The truth is, every startup that has raised more than an angel round of funding has had several major components of their apps and websites designed and developed by these secret agency teams. These investments are happening because few startups are adequately equipped to hire, manage and handle the benchmarks and quality needs of a product, while also meeting the strategic and funding goals required to move the business forward.

This could be more obvious, but agencies aren't always recognized for the work done because of strict non-disclosure agreements. To give you a glimpse, for the 5-10 projects our agency Eight Bit Studios is able to showcase, we've also helped launched over 100 big and small startups over the past 2 years. Of those, almost all of them either had several of their own team members or now have built teams around their existing product. It's worth noting, almost all of them have secured additional rounds of funding and are still in business.

To the inexperienced, agencies are expensive rentals.

To the inexperienced, agencies are expensive rentals. The reality is, reputable agencies literally spend years finding, recruiting, training and honing their teams skills and workflow to maximize the value of the output and speed for which they produce great work. It's hard to quantify that kind of value without having spent years building products. It also helps illustrate why so few agencies are still privately held or why so many VP and Directors at more established startups are former agency rockstars.

What's the point?

There is a stigma in our community that not wholly hiring your own team means that you won't own your product. We find this type of thinking and advice ignorant and effectively a race to the bottom. The reality is that Chicago startups that make headlines each day are taking a hybrid approach, building stronger brands quicker and with higher quality products than their competition. They won't tell you because it's part of their competitive advantage. We can't tell you because we legally can't talk about it. 


About the author

John W Ostler (@seahostler) is Co-Founder and Principal of UX & UI at Eight Bit Studios (@eightbitstudios), an award winning mobile strategy, design and development studio that focuses on strategizing and executing the visions of Chicago's most promising startups. He has helped lead and produce technical and interaction design engagements with brands like Cadbury Adams, Burger King, Motorola, Career Builder, Groupon, Exelon, Sidley Austin, and HSBC. His studios work has been featured in the USA Today, Brandweek, The Daily Beast, NewYork Times Tech blog,, featured on multiple CSS design blogs, and had multiple apps reach in the Top 25 and receive a "New and Noteworthy" nod from Apple. He is also Co-Founder of Bughouse (@bughousekids) a kids app, toy, game, books startup.

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