By Melissa Repko
The Dallas Morning News
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Where would you go if you needed a really great product built, whether it’s a software or hardware product but needed some serious support? An incubator in Dallas, Texas called “Dialexa” may be the perfect spot.
The Dallas Morning News
A former Ford Model T factory in the Farmers Market of downtown Dallas is now home to Dialexa, a company that has become a sort of modern-day assembly line for companies looking to turn their ideas into reality.
The tech and product design studio is led by co-founder and CEO Scott Harper, and it counts startups and Fortune 500 companies among its clients.
Dialexa began in 2010 in the garage of the mother-in-law of Harper’s cofounder, Mark Haidar. Together, they grew the company from two people to about 60 people.
Dialexa’s work spans from building a smartphone app to guiding companies through a technology transformation. It has also launched two startups through Dialexa Labs, an incubator for promising business ideas of employees. Haidar is CEO of one of the startups born out of the labs: Vinli, a connected car company.
As Dialexa grows, Harper said he’s tried to build a culture that encourages creativity and experimentation. Dialexa’s office has hula hoops stuck to the ceiling for drone racing. And each quarter, the team goes on a field trip, outings that have included skydiving, movies and annual visits to the State Fair.
Harper recently spoke about his business philosophy. His answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Question: How did Dialexa get started?
A: We [Mark and I] initially set out to decide on a new product to build. We didn’t set out to get in the services space initially. After brainstorming for a few weeks, we had 20 product ideas we thought were pretty interesting and we looked at the board and said, ‘Which one is the billion dollar company out of these? Which one should we decide on?’ It felt like we were trying to make a quick decision, so we said, let’s do some consulting work.
We saw there were a lot of digital agencies in the world. There were a lot of traditional IT [informational technology] shops, but we didn’t see anyone who was focusing on having the ability to build world-class products for people. …Where would you go if you needed a really great product built, whether it’s a software or hardware product? We didn’t see anybody in the market who we felt was really targeting that and could execute well on that as well as a great product company could.
Question: Why did you start Dialexa Labs?
A: We didn’t ever give up on the idea that we wanted to build our own things and continue to innovate ourselves, so we created Dialexa Labs. It is essentially an internal R&D [research and development] unit and incubator where we explore and launch new services and technologies and companies. If we find something we think is interesting, has commercial viability, that can be big and industry changing, we’ll launch a new company out of that and it’ll be a total spinout. So it operates completely independently of Dialexa.
So we have two pieces of our business — the services side and the labs side.
Question: How did you come up with the name Dialexa?
A: It’s a derivative of a Greek word that means “to choose” and being in the services space, that had some meaning. People have a choice in who they work with and hire. It was a very unique name. No one had anything similar to that and the domain name was available for ten bucks and we didn’t have any money. …It had some meaning, but that’s the true story behind it. It just stuck. It’s unique and it fit who we were.
Question: At Dialexa, you have a unique office environment and culture. How have you created that?
A: We had some basic principles that set the tone of what our culture is today. Number one, we wanted to create a place where we wanted to come to work every day. That was something that was very simple, but powerful. That translates into the type of work we’re doing, the type of space we’re in and everything that goes along with having that environment and a company that motivates you, so you’re excited to go to work.
We cater lunch every day. One of the biggest reasons we do that is it fosters deeper relationships with people. When you’re working in the morning, afternoon, evening with people, you’re focused on work, you’re not getting to build personal relationships, especially with people who are not on the project that you’re on. Building those bonds allows brainstorming. If you were to sit with our team during lunch and eavesdrop on the conversations, you hear a lot of creative thinking happening. Somebody has an idea or someone says “Has anyone thought about this?” People start a dialogue and go back and forth, challenging the thinking or adding something. We really feed off that creative energy.
Question: What do you think of Dallas’ tech and startup scene?
A: There are some places that are over-hyped and some places that are under-hyped. Dallas tends to be on the under-hyped side of things. That’s not necessarily anybody’s fault. Dallas-Fort Worth is such a big area and we don’t have a strong enough ecosystem as a whole. It’s not uncommon for you to hear about a company that sold for a lot of money and you’ve never even heard of it. I think that’s probably less common in some of the places that tend to get a lot of attention.
Any place you have a lot of startups, there’s going to be a lot of bull sh– out there. There’s a high rate of failure in any startup community. It doesn’t matter if you’re here or in San Francisco. You hear people arguing about the startup scene here and saying we need more high-quality startups — which we do — but that doesn’t mean there are none. We need more wins here.
That’s really what the Dallas ecosystem needs. When you look at places like the [Silicon] Valley, the reason why there are all these investors there and money there is people are making money doing this. There are lots of success stories happening and they’re visible.