Dave Durand, Jon Shaw and Jesse Lucas, founders of the technology firm Forest Giant, started out in 2004 (it was then called Visual Scientists) building websites with Flash, 3D and motion graphics. Then technology changed and made those specialties obsolete. They adapted and now build apps for mobile devices and create other custom software. “Ultimately,” Shaw says, “we just solve problems with code and design.”
They’ve done projects for clients like GE Aviation, GE Appliances and Big Ass Fans, but they signed non-disclosure agreements so they can’t talk specifics.
Durand, a Connecticut native, moved here in 2003 from San Diego with his wife, a Louisville native. On the West Coast he’d created a web service where people could market products and find sales leads. He was skeptical at first about what kind of opportunities he’d find in Louisville. “I was like, there’s no way this place is cool,” he says. “It’s Kentucky.”
Ten years in and 13 additional employees later, Durand says he wouldn’t move the company anywhere else. “I have friends all over the country and they’re always complaining about a shortage of talent and how expensive it is to live there,” he says. “That’s another reason we like Louisville. It’s relatively inexpensive. A lot of people would disagree with us, but we think there’s a lot of untapped talent here.” Almost everyone who works at Forest Giant, including Shaw and Lucas, hails from the Louisville area.
Talk about opportunities for growth in Louisville.
“I think technology and food would really complement each other here,” Durand says. “Take OpenTable (the online reservation service). It’s a really popular thing. You’ve got an awesome food community here. Tons of restaurants. If you have a start-up that’s based on food, test it in Louisville. We’ve got UPS here, so if you’re shipping stuff, there’s probably no better place to have your warehouse. CafePress, Gilt Groupe (an online shopping site), all these companies are here now. So if you’re in that industry, it’s a great place to be.”
You mentioned that you’d like to see five other companies like Forest Giant here. What change do you think is necessary to bring more companies like yours here?
“We need to harness our creative culture a bit more and put it on a pedestal. The great arts and music scene here should have more things happening, like Austin (Austin City Limits, South by Southwest). Louisville is ripe for these types of events, and this is what really attracts people. Culture first! Then business automatically follows. At least that’s my hypothesis. But I would love for someone to prove it.”
Forest Giant collaborated on a project called Vision Louisville to collect public feedback about what the city’s goals for the future should be. Are there any responses with regards to entrepreneurship that you could share?
“Some of the requests were to get larger companies here like Apple and Google. We’ve seen what that has done in other cities. Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati is a perfect example of a company that helps support a city. Then on the tech side, there are Amazon and Microsoft in Seattle. A large tech company, not traditional manufacturing, is going to push the city to be more innovative. How much has been done to attract companies like that is uncertain, though, but I would be happy to be on whatever board is devising those plans.”
Photo Courtesy Mickie Winters