IMAGES BY ABBEY GARLICK
Stoke is a co-working and entrepreneurial center in Denton, TX that plays host to a hotbed of some of Denton's most creative folks working in the tech scene. In this collaborative series, we speak with some of they key people that put in work at Stoke. In February, we spoke with President of TechMill and Drupal developer, Kyle Taylor. This month, we pick the two minds behind Shepherd Dog: Brandy Thomas and David Brunow. Shepherd Dog works with small businesses and non-profits to help them with technology services such as websites and app development. We talked with them about items such as working closely with a partner, their favorite small business projects, and whether or not they could win in an arm wrestling match with Kyle Taylor. Read on for more!
WDDI: Can you tell us a bit about what Shepherd Dog does?
Brandy: We build web and mobile applications for other small businesses, non-profits, and start-ups. We work with clients that need a specific piece of technology built, figure out exactly what they need, and then build it to fit their needs perfectly.
WDDI: How did Shepherd Dog get started?
David: I've wanted to start my own thing for years – I'm a bit particular about how I think things should be done and haven't been able to find a workplace that shares my values. So about 2 and a half years ago in late 2014 we were both working really hard for a local, small startup in Addison building web apps for a multi-national company. We kept bringing up the idea of starting our own thing, the whole cliche of "if we're going to work really hard, we should do it for ourselves." Somewhere we had the spark of calling ourselves "Shepherd Dog" and from that point I was sure I was going to start the business – having a name made it real. Then I just had to convince Brandy...
Brandy: Yeah, it took me a little longer to come around on the idea. After searching for jobs that would get me out of driving to Addison, it eventually led me to jump on board with David and create my own job here in Denton.
WDDI: Since it's two of you working together, how do you divide up who does what?
David: We've tried a couple of different strategies and I think we've landed on a good one. At first we thought we would each take on our own projects and work in parallel. But over time we each found a place that we felt more comfortable. Brandy talks to people and manages projects while I do most of the technical work. That allows me to get lost in code for hours at a time which is necessary when building complex tools.
The best advice I can give is to find someone that complements you and with whom you can speak openly and honestly. Brandy likes talking to people and I'd rather not. Brandy doesn't want to get deep into the technology and I do. When working for other people I thought I was well-rounded but in the last two years I've found that I have a lot of gaps in my skills. Brandy does a great job of covering those gaps and I think I do the same for her. That also means that we disagree on things sometimes but because we can talk it out we come to better solutions than if that friction didn't exist in the first place.
Brandy: Yeah I agree – communication is hard but it has been critical to our success. If you can’t effectively communicate with your partner it will lead to issues.
WDDI: What has been your biggest challenge?
Brandy: Our biggest challenge has been estimating how long a project will take. Since we build things to perfectly fit a client’s needs, we can’t easily look at our previous work to see how long it took us to do it and apply it to another project since no two projects are the same. Plus, we spend the extra time to make sure things are done right and that’s a really tough number to come up with at the beginning.
WDDI: What made you want to become a part of the co-working environment of Stoke?
David: It was a number of factors. The building is really cool, we thought we might be able to better give back to the community by being a part of Stoke, and we hoped that being here might bring us some business. After 9 months, all three hold true.
WDDI: How does your participation and involvement benefit your business and the community as a whole?
Brandy: I’m a member of Women Who Code, and on the board of Denton Young Professionals (formerly Denton County Young Professionals), and we both regularly volunteer with Keep Denton Beautiful. It benefits the business by allowing us to meet more people in Denton that could potentially lead to work or could help us find employees as we grow. It benefits the community as a whole by allowing us to give back whether it be through cleaning up trash and planting trees, volunteering at an event through DYP, or giving us a chance to mentor others we encounter in these groups.
David: I agree with Brandy – we're both really big on giving back to our community and that's our motivation for being parts of these organizations. Personally, I want to be able to share the tech knowledge I have in my head with others and try to move the entire community forward.
WDDI: How does Denton creatively inspire your company?
Brandy: We strongly believe that being in Denton is a big part of why we're still around after 2 years. We've been able to get involved in the community and find work just by meeting people. Denton is so inclusive that all we did was show up and we were warmly welcomed. Before Denton we lived in Grapevine and I don't think we could have had the same start there.
WDDI: What advice would you give to a Dentonite looking to get involved with the local tech scene or Stoke?
David: Show up and say hi. I can't emphasize enough how welcoming Denton folk are – you will be greeted with a smile and genuine interest in who you are. If you can manage an 8AM meeting I always enjoy the bi-weekly Little DOCC at West Oak Coffee Bar. Check out the TechMill Meetup calendar to find all our events.
Brandy: Yeah, just find an event online through the Stoke website, on Facebook, or on Meetup, and come get to know us. I don’t think age affects involvement as long as they want to be involved.
WDDI: What project are you currently "stoked" about?
Brandy: We are building a tool for a local business that has a lot of moving pieces – a web app, an Android app, and an iOS app. We really enjoy these more complex projects so that alone is rewarding but it is also a tool that will be used to improve people's lives.
WDDI: What is your favorite small business project that Shepherd Dog has completed?
David: We were able to work with a local church to create a web application that helps them to better take care of their members. Their budget was small so we started with some open-source software and were able to shape it to suit their needs perfectly.
WDDI: Do you have a 'dream project' that you would like to take on?
David: We're going to give two answers. Our dream right now is to build something of our own that makes a small dent in the world. We're not sure exactly what that is yet but have some ideas. Our other dream project is Shepherd Dog. We want to build it to be something more than just the two of us so we can help to strengthen the Denton tech community by creating more well-paying jobs.
WDDI: If a high school student asked you what they should do if they wanted to design websites or apps for a career, what advice would you give to them?
Brandy: Find a project they want to do and build it in their spare time. One of the most important things to us and to many other companies is to show them that you can complete a project.
David: I'd recommend that she get a variety of experience. Brandy and I both have diverse backgrounds and I think that that allows us to be better problem solvers. Also, I strongly believe that everyone should wait tables and develop a mindset of service.
WDDI: If you arm wrestled Kyle Taylor who would win?
Brandy: Well if the two of us arm wrestled Kyle together, then Shepherd Dog would definitely win.