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Keen Studio partner launches new firm

James Mikrut creates TRBL, a web design firm with an emphasis on marketing.

November 1, 2019
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TRBL Team
The TRBL team (from left) Andi Rozell, James Mikrut, Sean Zubrickas, Jarrod Flesch and Jacob Fletcher. Courtesy TRBL

James Mikrut, a former partner and web developer at Keen Studio, has spun out a new firm.

The Business Journal previously featured Keen Studio in March 2018. A small design and branding firm on Grand Rapids’ West Side, the company uses web technology inspired by international companies to interact with businesses all around the world via live chat and webcam feeds directly to its studio.

Mikrut, previously the user interface and experience director for Keen, joined the company started by his brother and another business partner in 2015. Earlier this summer, he sold his shares in the company to start his own design and development company.

Mikrut said he chose to strike out on his own because of a difference in vision. He and his staff at Keen would focus primarily on digital design, and he wanted to work in an environment where marketing revolved around that.

“Just being able to speak the language is a skill in and of itself,” Mikrut said. “I found myself doing a lot of that work.”

Mikrut’s new firm, TRBL — pronounced “trouble” — spun out at the end of September and consists of five designers and developers working from Start Garden in downtown Grand Rapids. The group has a goal to hire about 20 more employees in the future.

The company name is derived from the order of setting margin space — top, right, bottom, left — when padding an element on a website.

“My first boss told me, ‘If you’re having a hard time remembering the order of those values, just remember the word trouble,’” Mikrut said. “It’s kind of funny … we are kind of troublemakers, so it fits who we are.”

TRBL presents itself as a design firm with a heavy emphasis on digital design. Most of its designers know how to write code as well, which was important for Mikrut.

“Being a designer and working on design for screens, it’s important that you know what goes into it after you design it,” Mikrut said. “You don’t just hand the design off to a developer and have it come out perfectly. There’s transition and a lot of thinking that happens between the design and the development.”

Mikrut said his split with Keen was friendly. He still talks to the owners, and as Keen’s area of expertise has become more hyper-focused on branding and web design, TRBL continues to support it with web development.

Many of Mikrut’s web development clients at Keen carried over to TRBL, including Rockford Construction, the Dragon’s Milk brand from New Holland Brewing Company, Custer Inc. and the Phoenix Society.

TRBL will continue working out of Start Garden for a few more months until it can find a permanent home, preferably one the group can purchase and build out.

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