MADISON- While most undergraduates begin their first career after graduation, Jon Hardin couldn’t wait to begin his own business while pursuing his bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Hardin is the co-founder and president of Hardin Design and Development, a full-service technical developmental firm based out of Madison. At age 21, Hardin leads a staff of approximately 20 employees and manages accounts with several high-profile clients across the country from a fourth-story office off Madison’s Capitol Square.
“I thought starting this company as an undergraduate was the perfect way to pursue the bigger picture in life,” says Hardin, who completed his computer science degree in three years.
Although currently experiencing the fruits of his labor at Hardin D&D, Hardin’s first attempt at entrepreneurship was not as successful. He, along with several dorm-mates from Chadbourne Residence Hall, created the Web business Inzum, Inc., but couldn’t get the company off the ground.
“It turned out to be a miserable failure,” says Hardin. “The early decline of Inzum fueled the fire underneath me, and I really wanted this company to make it.”
In May of 2007, Hardin acquired his first clients during finals week working from a temporary office in his parents’ basement.
“I was working for $25 an hour just developing software for people in the Madison area and eventually got my first real clients during the busiest time of the semester,” says Hardin.
The following summer, Hardin D&D took off. The company became affiliated with numerous clients through word-of-mouth and more commonly, through the online community of Craigslist.
“The vast majority of our initial clients were attracted via Craigslist,” says Hardin. “We saw that a lot of promising clients were advertising there and utilized it right away.”
In July of 2007, Hardin D&D created an easily deployable and shareable widget for MSN Money, one of the most trusted sources of stock market information on the Internet. Later, the company would perform development and marketing tasks for clients such as CNN, Disney and Facebook.
Locally, Hardin D&D development teams have worked extensively with the UW-Madison Trace Center in increasing the accessibility of technology to people with disabilities.
“When you get a new client or close a big deal, there’s this rush of excitement and exhilaration that can’t be matched,” says Hardin. “It’s the thrill of the business that reminds us why we wanted to do this.”
Hardin D&D headquarters relocated to its first authentic office on West Washington Ave. In just two months, the company moved to a larger location off the Capitol Square to accommodate a growing staff, which consists of primarily UW-Madison alumni and students.
Scott Resnick, Hardin D&D’s vice president, manages technical development teams as an upcoming senior studying political science and legal studies at UW-Madison. Resnick, 21, defines his situation as a “constant balancing act.”
“It requires a limited sleeping schedule but essentially, you learn how to manage your time,” says Resnick, who also worked at Inzum, Inc., with Hardin. “This is more than a part time job. It’s getting done with classes in the afternoon and coming to the office for an eight or ten-hour day.”
“You have to imagine that we can work 60, 70, sometimes 80 hours per week with school thrown in there,” says Hardin, who was able to maintain academic success despite the schedule.
Hardin D&D’s core leaders hire candidates who seem to be able to handle the overwhelming workload.
“When people come to interview for us, we don’t actually look at their skill set as much as how well we think they’ll fit in with the team and how well they will respond to challenges of working for a small growing business,” says Hardin.
“It’s been a challenge to find employees who will embrace a high-stress working situation. As a small business, we’ve had to endure a high turnover rate because we employ a lot of students who are very talented and they often jump ship for bigger companies like Google or Microsoft.”
An additional challenge Hardin D&D employees endure is establishing credibility as young businessmen. Resnick says some clients may see them as “a bunch of kids,” but he adds, “we have a lot of confidence in what we do and the projects we deliver.”
Despite these obstacles, Hardin D&D has established itself as a legitimate competitor in the Web development realm. Continuing to evolve, the company is planning to open its second office in Washington, D.C. later this summer, which will house its marketing practice.
Although looking forward to expansion, Hardin and Resnick say their main office will remain in Madison.
“There’s an advantage to staying in Madison because the cost of living is so low,” says Hardin. “It’s also an asset that Madison is not always on the radar in the business world and a lot of people are intrigued with the idea that we began a successful business here.”
Resnick, who is considering applying to law school at UW-Madison, adds, “I absolutely love this city. I’ll be here whether I’ll be a student or a full-time employee at Hardin Design and Development.”
For more, visit the company Web site at http://www.hardindd.com/