Lifelong friends Steve Ohanians and Valod Amirkhanian remain close even fifteen years after co-founding a digital agency.
The story is so familiar that it is almost a cliché: friends start a business together and end up becoming enemies. Tragic, but too often true. Fortunately for Steve Ohanians and Valod Amirkhanian, the friends and business partners are celebrating their fifteenth year together as the co-founders of WebEnertia, a growing digital agency.
Ohanians and Amirkhanian are literally lifelong friends. Their fathers were friends first, so the two found themselves growing up together. They were the best man in each other’s weddings. How have the two remained friends and continued to grow an interactive design firm? The key is their complementary nature.
Ohanians originally attended University of Southern California to be an aerospace engineer, but early into the program found that his creative side wasn’t satisfied. He took a stab at the rockstar dream and became the lead guitarist in an LA rock band, only to find his scientific mind wasn’t being stimulated. Meanwhile, Amirkhanian was finishing up his mathematics degree at San Jose State. Ohanians and Amirkhanian reunited again back at San Jose State and launched their business in 1999. The decision to be in San Jose was a natural choice: it was their hometown, and they liked being situated right at the center of Silicon Valley.
Since Ohanians and Amirkhanian were already doing a little bit of web design on their own, they dove right into their business, before even thinking about a business plan, and got to work. Ohanians’ creative side and Amirkhanian’s analytic side has allowed them to build an innovative digital agency in Silicon Valley.
The balance between Ohanians and Amirkhanian is reflected in the success of the team that they lead today. Ohanians recognizes that if he was running the business on his own, his more “get down to work” mentality would be much more like a “military camp.” While if Amirkhanian was to fly solo, his jokingly fun side would make the place a never-ending party. Although, the duo is admittingly “stubborn at times,” they’ve learned to appreciate what each brings to the success of WebEnertia and make it work.
It is never just a programing solution or just a design solution.
Ohanians and Amirkhanian didn’t have an official plan when they launched, but with a rooted commitment to quality and each other, WebEnertia has developed an ethos that is reflected in their corporate culture.
One of the traditions the duo has incorporated into their agency is daily lunches together as a team. What had already been a habit for Ohanians and Amirkhanian became a norm at the agency when new team members gradually began to join in on lunchtime bonding. The communal style lunch table at WebEnertia’s downtown San Jose office on Third Street helps facilitate
The camaraderie and family nature of WebEnertia also contribute to the uniqueness of the business. They have never sought to grow fast, but instead add quality people “to the table” as is naturally needed. “We are not just a UX design house or a coding house. We are a super collaborative environment,” says Ohanians, recognizing that his team manifests his and Amirkhanian’s desires.
Looking back, Ohanians doesn’t really have any regrets about the way he and Amirkhanian started their business on a whim. It’s that complementary nature of theirs that has served WebEnertia well all these years. Ohanians does have one bit of advice for those thinking of starting a business in Silicon Valley, though: take risks.
96 N. 3rd Street, Suite 100
San Jose, California 95112
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Interview and photography by Daniel Garcia