Web design firms often use off-the-shelf tools like WordPress to build sites for clients. Winn Jewett and his staff at Oxbow Labs created a tool that enables clients to build out and maintain their own sites.
“Websites have undergone a pretty big design shift in the past couple of years,” Jewett said. “The line between design and content is getting blurred, so content creators now also need to be designers, and vice versa. It’s a big user-experience challenge.”
Oxbow Labs could have continued to just design and build attractive and functional Drupal-based websites for local and national clients such as the Palmer Land Trust, CamelBak and Pebble Beach Resorts. But along with the web development, the company provides Hero Content, a tool that allows clients to make modifications easily without having to be programmers.
Hero Content breaks a website’s content into sections. Clients can choose a different layout and make stylistic choices for each section.
“It provides a few branded colors and layouts that work together,” Jewett said. “It’s responsive out of the box and helps guide the site owner toward being able to efficiently create content that works well for them.”
At this point, Oxbow uses Hero Content as a sales tool. In the future, it will be marketed separately.
Jewett grew up in New York City, earned a B.A. in physics from Colorado College and fell in love with the Pikes Peak’s region’s natural beauty and strong tech community. During college, he spent summers working in the web industry, and he started doing web development on his own after graduating in 2003. His clients included Martha Stewart and iVillage.
In the next few years, his business flourished, and he hired a few freelancers to help out. When he decided to found a company and hire full-time employees, he called it Sandstone Media.
“At that time, I was doing website development and photography,” he said. “We were more of a widely distributed media company, so the name fit.”
In 2010, the company became Oxbow Labs.
“The idea was to focus on website development as our core service and to establish ourselves as a highly technical web development company,” Jewett said. “The word ‘labs’ is very important to us — it emphasizes the experimentation we do. Sort of contrary to other web shops that grab templates and knock out a new website every week, we spend a lot of time making sure we’re up to date and putting a lot of time and energy on each site, which requires that lab mentality.”
The Oxbow part of the company’s name derives from the oxbow lake formation, a U-shaped lake built by a stream or river meander, cut off from the river that created it.
“We see that representing our clients gaining independence and being able to maintain their sites without assistance,” Jewett said.
“What allowed us to make that drastic name change was that our business is highly relationship-based,” he said. “We don’t do any advertising. All of our business comes from referrals and word of mouth. That made the name change much easier for us to achieve. Most of our clients, it didn’t really faze them.”
Another reason for the shift was that the company was getting national clients.
“Sandstone Media was starting to feel a little bit too local and too small,” Jewett said. “I think it helped with the messaging that we’re not just a Colorado Springs company, that we can play with the big boys.”
Oxbow’s current and past clients include local organizations such as the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region and the Rocky Mountain Field Institute. National clients include the Mercedes Benz Club of America and Flagline, an online commerce site that offers 12,000 individual products and allows users to custom-design a flag.
Earlier this year, Jewett launched a startup company that serves nonprofit boards with another product Oxbow created.
“BoardSpot is a tool that lets nonprofit boards manage their communities, documents, board members and committees,” Jewett said.
Clients include the St. Francis Foundation, which supports a San Francisco hospital, and Grantmakers in Aging. Jewett donates the tool and other services to smaller nonprofits through a grant program.
Given Oxbow’s national reach, Jewett probably could expand the company if he wished.
“We’ve grown and shrunk with the market,” Jewett said, “but our goal is not to become a large agency. We want to stay small and personal.”