Tech company plans for growth spurt with expansion
Elevator Up expects to double in size by the end of the year.
Things are looking up for Grand Rapids’ startup community.
Since 2009, Aaron Schaap, owner of Grand Rapids-based digital product company Elevator Up, has put much of his energy into not only running his own business but also leading a successful downtown co-lab work space, The Factory.
The Factory, which has become something of a gathering place for the city’s entrepreneurial forces, has also been the space from which Schaap runs Elevator Up. But now, he’s ready to take his business to the next level — or at least across the hall.
Elevator Up recently announced it has added a 1,300-square-foot office space across the hall from The Factory, located on the fourth floor of 38 W. Fulton St.
“Elevator is still working out of The Factory, but right now we’re using that second space for internal meetings, to bring our clients over and to do workshops. We haven’t moved our team out of The Factory yet, but we’re about two hires away from having to do that,” said Tori VanDragt, studio manager at Elevator Up.
“From The Factory side, the more space Elevator Up takes, the less space for Factory members there is. As we grow, it makes more sense to move into our own space.”
The need for the new space is due in part to Elevator Up’s growth plan. The eight-person business is looking to nearly double its size by the end of this year, VanDragt said. The new positions are full time with full benefits.
The business also has plans to do more out-of-state work, and the idea of opening an office in Detroit is being tossed around.
The first stage of growth came last year when Elevator Up hired a new business developer and a new user experience manager. Marty Byle joined as business developer in July and Karen VanHouten took on the UX role in September. Both are Grand Rapids natives, VanDragt said.
Elevator Up is still looking to add “a couple of separate back-end software developers, and then a couple designers — basically we call them either senior designers or UX designers — and … we’re also looking for a product manager and a front-end developer,” VanDragt said.
A front-end developer designs what is seen in a web browser, and a back-end developer does all the code to make it work, she said.
The newest additions, particularly VanHouten, reveal a shifting trend toward UX design in the tech industry, VanDragt said.
“Companies in other industries are beginning to understand the importance of UX design and human-centered design in their processes, but struggle with how to implement it within their own company, or sell it to stakeholders,” VanHouten said. “That’s where Elevator Up can come in to help.”
For those unfamiliar with what UX and human-centered design means, VanDragt said, generally speaking, Elevator Up solves its clients’ problems by going one of two routes: Either people have an existing product they need help with, or they need help building a product from scratch.
“Some of the work we do in the digital sphere revolves around how people interact with a website or a mobile app, understanding that is what user experience is. Human-centered design means designing things for humans to use them. With a lot of the companies we work with, some of the problem … is (due to) how the human user is using the application,” she said.
VanDragt said a recent example is the firm’s work with a logistics company.
“They ship to the U.S. from countries all around the world and they kept having a problem in their ordering file. There was a point in the checkout process where people would stop the order and not carry it through.
“We found there was a point that just got really confusing for people, and they just stopped using it,” VanDragt said, adding that Elevator Up was able to fix the problem.
She described Elevator Up’s culture as “entrepreneurial” and said it’s mostly due to Schaap’s leadership, which makes sense coming from a man who’s running The Factory, its education aspect called coLearning, and Elevator Up all at the same time.
Schaap’s penchant for launching companies and products is something that not only defines the growth Elevator Up is experiencing, but also the attitude of change that’s driving it.
“Culture is something that we think about often here. We are a team that works very closely with one another, so working well together and enjoying each other’s company is important,” VanDragt said.