Step inside the office of the budding tech startup Few at Sixth and Louisiana streets and you’ll see painted in red on the wall, “Beautiful work by passionate people.”
The co-working space founded by Chief Creative Officer Arlton Lowry and Chief Executive Officer David Hudson is open to anyone with an eye to “make epic shit,” per one of Few’s mottos, and it’s just one of the ways Hudson and Lowry have worked to unify Central Arkansas’s design and development community over the past few years.
“The way I see it, I don’t think that a highly creative agency with specialized people can sustain itself without bringing community together,” Hudson said. “It’s not entirely altruistic. We want to bring people together because this is a source for us. This is a community we want to be a part of.”
Few, “a company that builds companies,” Hudson said, develops web and mobile applications as well as full-blown business enterprises.
One of their proudest accomplishments is a startup called Tagless, which sells second-hand clothing sourced from Goodwill of a quality of “Dillard’s or better” and at about a tenth of the price of a Trunk Club men’s outfitter box, Hudson said. Goodwill recently gave Tagless 5,000 square feet of warehouse space in what used to be an AT&T building on Scott Hamilton Road, and when Tagless opened online registration for a month, it acquired 60 subscribers, forcing it to close registration early. Lowry and Hudson had hoped for about 10.
In the digital world, Few has also spun off startups like Grades.io, a classroom-management platform for teachers, and WriteGov, a website that streamlines the process of contacting government representatives. Soon Lowry and Hudson hope to unveil a new spam-killing startup called Truebox, though that name may change.
“We provide an unsubscribe link to every communication you receive,” Hudson said. “So when you hit that ‘Unsubscribe,’ our service has a very proprietary method of making sure that person or that company can never, ever email you again. And if they try and sell your email address, even that won’t work.”
But while Few remains a for-profit company devoted to developing startups and making money, the company has championed a business model with community building at the forefront, often at an expense.
Few hosts an annual design conference, Made By Few, where designers, developers and entrepreneurs from around the nation listen to speakers like former Google designer Marc Hemeon, freelance illustrator Tuesday Bassen and Customer.io founder John Allison. Few and its founders have lost thousands of dollars on Made every year since its 2012 inception, but they say it’s worth it.
“I think to get this community going, you need somebody who’s passionate enough to be completely fucking crazy,” Hudson said. “And that’s where we’re trying to go: just single-minded passion about the community. And that’s why it’s not a big deal to lose a buck, because we’re trying to do something here.”
If you look at their track records, it might seem like it’s never been a big deal. For example, Lowry sold his car to help fund his first open-office initiative, Conway Cowork, back in 2010.
“I take a lot of risks, don’t I?” he said. “But that’s how things happen.”
And making things happen means a lot more than making money for Few. It means closing the divide they see in Central Arkansas tech communities. Rather than try to resolve that tension politically, Hudson said, they’ve worked to achieve greater unity through design.
“We’ve seen a lot of division in the community between North Little Rock and Little Rock — a lot of political division,” Hudson said. Made By Few 2014 events were held on both sides of the Arkansas River, and Made By Few 2015 events will be, too. “We want people to know this is one big community,” Hudson said.
Not long after Few’s official launch in April 2014, Lowry traveled to Sweden, where he said he encountered a culture extremely heavily focused on design and community, largely in contrast to what he’s witnessed at home in the South, where that community has been scattered and divided.
“If it’s not there, you have to make it,” Lowry said. The two founders have tried to use their co-working space to do just that, hosting events like Refresh Arkansas and screenings by Splice Microcinema. Their co-working space will remain open to the public for the foreseeable future, Few’s way of not only drawing in potential recruits for their company, but also of centralizing a design, development and art population often scattered among coffee shops.
In line with his love of community, Lowry designed a T-shirt that says “Little Rock Big Fucking Heart” in all caps. He wasn’t able to print it locally because the printer didn’t want to be affiliated with the profanity. All the same, Lowry and Few gave 20 percent of the shirt’s proceeds to the Our House homeless shelter on East Roosevelt Road. They even generated some revenue as well.
“That’s our way of giving back,” Lowry said. “And people love that shirt, too, man. We sold a ton of those.”