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In a city loft, an eye for fresh designs

Rochester Business Journal
August 31, 2012

In a west-facing loft office in downtown's Cascade District, Greg Cunneyworth and his partners at We Make Nice Websites are building a business.
 
From smaller digs in the same complex, they moved recently into the sunny space with high ceilings, wide windows and brick walls. Russell, a Boston terrier, welcomes visitors with a hearty bark.
 
"We purposely chose a building like this because it fits our mentality. It wouldn't fit our company to work in an office with a drop ceiling," Cunneyworth says, laughing.
 
To Cunneyworth, the 24-year-old creative director who with Director of Operations Josh Lowery co-founded the digital design company in 2009, owning a business brings freedom.
 
"It would be easier, but not nearly as exciting or motivating, to work for someone else," he says. "Winning a contract and signing a contract-it's a little bit addicting. You get out what you put in if you work really hard.
 
"I like the responsibility. I like the pressure. I'm more motivated with this pressure on me because I feel a little more in control. Even though there's more to lose, there's more to gain."
 
When Cunneyworth responded to a Craigslist ad for a Web designer in 2009, the economy was in the toilet. Design jobs were scarce. He had just graduated from Rochester Institute of Technology with a bachelor of fine arts degree in graphic design and was doing what he could to find work in his field and stay in Rochester.
 
Lowery, who was working for himself, had placed the ad, and the two hit it off. They decided to go into business together, spending a couple of months laying the foundation and landing their first client in January 2010.
 
"We weren't friends before, so there were no preconceived notions about how we were together," Cunneyworth says. "We weren't stuck with each other."
 
Starting a business in the middle of a recession is a job best suited to optimists and carpe diem types.
 
From 2007 to 2010, the startup rate in the U.S. declined 12 percent, according to the Small Business Administration. The move may seem quixotic in hindsight, but with hard work and dedication, We Make Nice Websites has been self-sustaining from the start, Cunneyworth says.
 
Lowery manages business accounts and day-to-day administration, and Ian Maroney, director of development, handles Web development. Cunneyworth focuses on design and new business development.
 
Maroney, who joined the firm in 2011, keeps Lowery and Cunneyworth firmly rooted.
 
"He's that skeptical voice. It forces us to be not so naive," Cunneyworth says. "That in itself changed our company, having Ian come in and be that voice of reason."
 
In addition to website design and development, their company offers branding, print design, email marketing campaigns, mobile website development and social media marketing. The firm has worked with more than 50 clients including small businesses, non-profits and larger organizations, such as the Columbus Blue Jackets of the National Hockey League and the Tony Blair Sports Foundation.
 
A recent client is the Strathallan hotel, set to reopen this fall after a major renovation. We Make Nice Websites created a micro-site to introduce the hotel's new look and is now working on the hotel's full website. It will be launched soon.
 
Cunneyworth heard about the Strathallan project after bumping into someone he knew at Starbucks.
 
"It stemmed from just a handshake in line," he says.
 
Winning the work was an accomplishment not only because the hotel has a high profile but because it takes the firm another step toward drawing new business-a focus at the firm from the start, Cunneyworth says.
 
"We knew it was critical that every project we touched had to be good. There's no other option but to be the best it can be," he says. "Still today we hate to pass up an opportunity because it could lead to another."
 
Working with independent copywriter Joe Moore, We Make Nice Websites is refreshing its own look now.
 
"We're a different company than we were at our last rebrand. We didn't know what kind of company we were going to be. We want to find a way to tell the story better," he says.
 
As a child, Cunneyworth frequently moved with his family. His father is Randy Cunneyworth, a former left wing and coach in the National Hockey League. His 20-year career took them to eight cities before bringing them to Rochester when his two sons were in secondary school. He took the head coaching slot with the Amerks.
 
Greg Cunneyworth played hockey with the Pittsford Panthers in high school and considers Rochester his home. He is chairman of the social committee for Rochester Young Professionals and plays league hockey.
 
With his younger brother he is planning a move downtown.
 
"I like the size of Rochester. That's what originally attracted me back here. You don't feel overwhelmed by the city," says Cunneyworth, who spent a few months working in Toronto after college. "It's easy to get involved and have a big impact."
 
Cunneyworth and his partners someday want to add employees, a "small, nice, easy-to-manage team," he says.
 
"We know we have to accomplish small goals before that, but it feels obtainable. It feels fathomable because of each little thing we do. Our main goal is good design and getting clients who feel the same way."
 
8/24/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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