5/5 Interview with Kurt Elster on Shopify and Entrepreneurship


As an entrepreneur, Kurt Elster and his firm Ethercyle, moved from developing web apps to designing websites, swimming against the current in a sea of app-hungry startups. This week, we caught up with Kurt to find out what makes him and his team want to make that increasingly unique journey. In this, the first of what we hope will be many 5/5s, Kurt talks about worldwide tech startup culture, and what he thinks needs to change!

Hello Kurt! Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and your company, Ethercycle?

It’s best to work in the medium you’re most comfortable in, the one that makes you happy.

Five years ago I quit my job to launch a start-up. I tried to create an e-commerce platform that aimed to take the pain out of product entry. My co-founder and I worked feverishly for months from a café in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. Pretty soon we had a proof of concept. We’d even moved into a historic office on the northwest side. So was it the brilliant million dollar idea we promised our significant others it would be? Not quite.

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It turns out that our clients didn’t want to rent the tools to build a website, they just wanted working websites. After a year of people asking for our help, we pivoted, and began helping businesses with their own websites full-time. Pretty soon we needed additional help, and for that, we developed a network of competent and honest experts to work with us.

ethercycle office

Things have changed quite a bit since my days of working out of cafes. Today my consultancy, Ethercycle, is thriving as a self-funded, debt-free, and completely independent company located in Park Ridge, Illinois. We are small, focused, and great at what we do. By only committing to three projects at a time, we offer the highest level of service possible while maintaining quick turn-arounds.

At a time where most companies are moving from web sites to web apps, you guys made the reverse journey. How has it been so far? Do you miss developing apps at all, or are you happy where you are?

Starting with apps gave us a powerful set of tools to build websites. We have a great understanding of DevOps, project management, issue tracking, usability considerations, and overall a different way of problem solving than we would have had we started strictly in web design. We do still build web apps: we’ve built three for clients, and are building one for the design community and ourselves. I can safely say we don’t miss it. As a team, I know we’re happiest when building websites. It’s best to work in the medium you’re most comfortable in, the one that makes you happy. For us, that’s the web. Instead of chasing what the tech scene is doing, do your own thing and it’ll pay off. Hell, one of our most successful websites was an afternoon’s worth of work. CalmingManatee: We thought manatees giving inspirational messages was funny. So did everyone else, it received a million visits in its first month. We just did what we enjoyed.


What is the average day in the life of an Ethercycler?

We look at everything we do as problem-solving. No matter what we do: programming, writing proposals, design, testing, meeting– it all revolves around defining problems and coming up with or implementing solutions. It’s a pragmatic culture that keeps our business lean and focused. It also requires us to be honest with ourselves and with everyone who contacts Ethercycle. Brutally honest. We care about our clients achieving their goals and we do our damnedest to make that happen.

Oh, and we do have nerf gun fights. I count at least seven nerf guns from where I’m sitting.

If you could change one thing about tech startup culture worldwide, or in the US, what would it be?

I want to see tech workers held in the same respect as business owners. We’ve glorified ideas instead of the hard work that realizes them. Tech workers are literally building the future yet they’re often being exploited by their employers. I want to see tech culture stop intimidating the skilled workers it relies on. In America, being “a business owner” nets you a lot of unearned respect. When asked what I do, I say “I own a web development company,” I’m immediately met with respect and sometimes even adoration. We should be giving that respect to the people actually doing the work.


What is it about Hiveage that makes it a good fit for Ethercycle?

Hiveage take the stress out of getting paid for both of us and our clients. It offers an intuitive, direct solution to both billing clients and paying invoices. Other services seem to focus on only one half of that equation, Hiveage successfully balances the two. I also use the estimates feature to send quick quotes when a proposal isn’t appropriate. I enjoy its dashboard which lets me at a glance see where our cash flow is at.

5/5 is your chance to get to know awesome Hiveage users from all around the world. In each issue, expect five questions, five answers, and a load of insight from freelancers and SMEs just like you!

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