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Started as an Internet incubator, duoDesign has evolved into a company that helps others jump on the Web and stay there. Founder Michael Silverman talks about asking the right questions, and falling in love with the open road.

Chicago-based duoDesign helps companies jump on the Web and stay there, and its extensive client list proves that it’s doing something right. Founder Michael Silverman talks about the heady days of Internet incubators, asking the right questions, and falling in love with the open road.

How did the company get started?

duoDesign was founded in 1999 as an Internet incubator and Web developer. We planned to exchange half of our consulting hours for equity in startups that we helped create, and the other half for cash to support the operation. Six months after we were founded, we raised $1.5 million in angel investments to support the “incubator” portion of our business.

What makes duoDesign different from other companies that offer Web development? We provide integrated services in Web design, technology, and marketing for results-oriented businesses and organizations. We act as a trusted source, advising clients on the most cost-effective methods for achieving their online objectives, and supporting them after launch with hosting and maintenance services.

What made you start was my second startup. My first, PinDot Products, was a manufacturing company that made products for people with disabilities. We specialized in custom seating and wheelchairs–known as rehab equipment. After selling the company to Invacare Corporation, the largest manufacturer of wheelchairs in the world, I decided to start to help people find appropriate medical equipment using the Internet.

What did working on that site teach you about the Internet realm?

I learned how to develop database-driven Web sites with decision trees to help people find appropriate products using plain-English questions. I learned how to focus on usability to make it easy for people to find the information they need. I learned the importance of online marketing to drive people to the Web site you just spent so much time and money building, and I learned to break projects into small pieces, to focus on maximizing ROI, and adding functionality as requested by the users of the site.

What kind of challenges do you find in running duoDesign?

Managing a Web development business over the last few years has been a challenge. Average billing rates have decreased by 33 percent while salaries have not, so we have been forced to maximize efficiency and cut as much cost as possible without sacrificing service. This has been the main challenge. Luckily, the people working in the field today are dedicated to building great Internet applications, and the business is not going away, so we’ve been able to stay busy in this tough environment.

You’ve spoken before about your fondness for road trips. Are there qualities to road tripping that might help you in business?

When on a road trip, you know where you are and where you want to end up, but there are many ways to get there. That is the way I see business–you have a vision of where you want to go–but it is the turns along the way that make the journey interesting.

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