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Founder Friday: Jonathan Gorczyca & Nicholas Barone, Helm Experience & Design


It’s no secret that an attractive web presence is crucial for any business these days. More often than not, your website or app is the first point of contact a potential customer has with you, so you want to make sure you’re making a positive first impression.

This week’s Founder Friday is with Jonathan Gorczyca and Nicholas Barone, founders of Helm Experience & Design. A successful website design is one that creates a positive user experience and is easy to use. They’ve worked with a variety of startups, including ACV Auctions and AirExpert, and some of Buffalo’s largest companies, like Independent Health and Basil Automotive Group.

Check out our interview with Jonathan and Nicholas about how Helm came to be and what they’re up to now.

How did your startup, well, start up?

Jonathan Gorczyca: Nicholas and I would get together and talk about our jobs and side projects when the idea of a studio came up. We had noticed an increase of friends, entrepreneurs, and companies in need of design. In the spring of 2014 we formed the company, bought some Helm stickers, and we were off.

Nicholas Barone: The story of Helm Experience & Design really started 12 years ago in the computer labs on the 3rd floor of Lyons Hall at Canisius College. This is where I met Jonathan Gorczyca. After college, we worked together as designers at a few local startups before parting ways for a few years. Around 2010-2011, we both began to work around startup companies again, but this time as community organizers with events like Buffalo BarCamp, Buffalo Startup Weekend, and others. As we both saw the early growth of Buffalo’s startup culture, we discussed how there was a lack of product and user experience design talent to work with these new companies. So in 2014, we both left our jobs to work together again – forming Helm Experience & Design.

What do you do? What does your startup do?

Jonathan: I’m a designer by trade and I enjoy working with people to make technology easier to use. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really great people over the past 15 years.

Helm is a product and user experience design firm. We work with companies to build software like mobile apps, websites, and web applications.

Nicholas: Like any founder of a company, I do a little bit of everything. I manage some of our accounts, working with clients to conceptualize and design new product features. I then work with our team to bring those concepts to life.

Helm is a studio that focuses on designing and developing digital products.

What is the best/worst part of your day as a founder?

Jonathan: The best part of any day is working with the team on a whiteboard. Ideas are flying, solutions are coming to life, and everyone is collaborating. It’s usually filled with a lot of smiles and plenty of laughs too. The worst part is feeling like there isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you’d like to.

Nicholas: The best part of my day is sitting down with our team to review and discuss the work they’ve produced for our clients. It’s incredibly rewarding to watch people more talented than you bring ideas to life.

A long time ago, I learned where my strengths and weaknesses lie as a designer/developer. This year, Helm has begun to grow substantially and often I have to do work I am not well suited for. Fortunately we’re able to hire to solve this problem –

When was the ‘aha’ moment for your startup where you realized this could actually work?

Jonathan: I knew this could be something larger when I hit my personal capacity and still had requests coming in.

Nicholas: For me there hasn’t been an ‘aha’ moment, per se. I am instead reminded that what we’re building is working whenever another company or a possible employee has heard about Helm. Winning this year’s Best Tech Team in Technology Services at The InfoTech Beta Awards was also a nice very affirmation.

What tools/apps/services can you not live without and why?

Jonathan: My calendar is my rock. It helps me prepare, manage the day, and allows me create the space needed for personal work or time with family. Asana is great as well. We use it everyday for communication and operations. It’s essentially a collection of lists. Prioritized lists make the world go ’round.

Nicholas: Google Calendar. Managing my work, personal, and family calendars would be nearly impossible without it.

What important advice did you receive when starting up and who told it to you?

Jonathan: “Do or do not. There is no try.”  – Yoda

Nicholas: Throughout my young adult life and early career, I’ve heard various versions of the same theme which have shaped my thinking as a business owner. Growing up,  whenever I was stressed at a situation I couldn’t control, my father would tell me to “go with the flow.” I didn’t know it at the time, but this zen-like approach to difficult situations would pay dividends later when dealing with any of the difficulties that go with starting and running a company.

Similarly, at one of the WNY Venture Association meetings, local investor Dan Penberthy once paraphrased a quote in his opening remarks that really resonated with me: “Walk and the path will emerge.” This put into words the way I’ve approached starting a business – planning is necessary, but you need to just get started in order to eventually succeed.

What are your goals for the next year? Next three years?

Jonathan: We’ll continue growing Helm as a place where designers and developers can do the best work of their lives. I plan to design some augmented reality experiences over the next year as well.  Outside of digital, I’m aiming to travel the world with my wife and have my blue belt in Jiu Jitsu. My objective over the next three years is to bring new ideas to life and to help existing products succeed. This should result in an increase of jobs within the companies we work with.

Nicholas: Our goal for this year is to hire 2 more people and continue our trajectory or growth. In the next 3 years, we plan to have grown our team substantially and also build some of our own products, diversifying our revenue stream.

Why Buffalo?

Jonathan: Buffalo is home! It feels great to be a part of this amazing community.

Nicholas: I was raised and educated here; also my family is here. Towards the end of college in 2006, I wanted to personally take on the challenge of bringing 1000s of jobs back to Buffalo’s economy. Looking back that was a bit naive, but it did set in motion a mindset that would serve me in the future. Whether reviewing a job opportunity or starting my own companies, I’ve always looked to work on projects that have a very high growth potential so it can positively benefit my city.

How do you do it?

Jonathan: One day at a time. I try to start each day feeling grateful for the people around me and the ability to design.

Nicholas: I have an amazing support network of loved ones in my wife, mother, and in-laws that make it possible for me to take entrepreneurial risks while keeping a semblance of normalcy at home.

What is your favorite local spot, and why?

Jonathan: I’ve really been digging Home Taste lately. Why? Two words – pork buns.

Nicholas: This is always changing for me, but currently it’s strolling down Chapin Parkway with my family right around sunset.

Tags: Founder Friday, startups

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