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Carton Donofrio Partners

Building brand the old-fashioned way.

Most companies can be summed up in one sentence, but Baltimore-based Carton Donofrio Partners resists convention in even that. The consulting firm builds brand, examines customer management, and boosts interactive media capabilities, all with a team consisting of artists, business strategists, programmers, and even anthropologists. Co-founder Sean Carton talks about substance, entrepreneurship, and throwing away the foosball table.

Why is your firm successful at a time when similar companies are not?

I think there are several reasons. While many of our competitors, may they rest in peace, were trying to become the flashiest, hippest firms with the coolest dot-com clients, we concentrated on large, established companies that valued good ideas and communications expertise. We quickly differentiated ourselves with our consulting practice, establishing methodologies for diagnosing site problems. We also developed unique testing that showed that we valued communications practice and substance over flash.

Were there other ways that you set yourself apart from the dot-coms?

We never went for any of the dot-commie frills like foosball tables, personal chefs, and other trappings of the time. But we did try to create a work environment that values individual contributions, in which everyone has a voice and never feels intimidated about voicing disagreements with the way things are going. In fact, I consider it my greatest professional achievement that during the first five years of the company, in the midst of the dot-com craziness, that only one person voluntarily left the company.

What made you write “The Dot.Bomb Survival Guide”?

Basically because I was sick of seeing people make the same mistakes over and over again. I lost track of how many times I ran into dot-com entrepreneurs in the late ’90s spouting the same lines and believing their own hype. I often joke that Forrester and Jupiter killed more companies than anything else: So many people believed the “projections” from these places based on a year or two of datapoints that they never looked beyond the experts and listened to common sense.

I wrote the book because I believe in the Internet. I believe that the world can be improved by using technology to bring people together in ways that have never before been possible. I believe that the popularization of the Web in late ’90s represented a fundamental change as profound as the invention of the printing press. I wrote the book because I was hoping that we could learn from our initial mistakes and begin the hard work of realizing the promise the Internet represents.

How do you think your knowledge of dot-bombs contributes to your work now?

I feel that the greatest thing I’ve learned is to trust the voice of common sense and to never lose sight of the fact that it’s people who matter far more than the technology. Technology without people is useless: It’s the uses people find for technology that really matters. So many dot-bombs were in love with the possibilities of technology and never stopped to ask the simple question, How are people going to use this? Today, as I help develop solutions for our clients, this understanding of the social aspects of technology helps me develop things that work for and with our customers.

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