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Hit Japan Web site ‘blown away’ by platform of Chicago’s Table XI

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Updated: April 17, 2013 6:03AM

A party night to let people tell their stories in 20 PowerPoint slides in 20 seconds — think of speed-dating combined with a bottom-up Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED) conference — is going live online with the help of a Chicago software development company.

The party night, named PechaKucha, or “chit chat” in Japanese, has become a worldwide sensation, with everyone from cake bakers to architectural designers showing off their work in six minutes and 40 seconds worth of PowerPoints in open-mike-night settings, complete with beer, food and an audience primed for fun. The PowerPoints are automatically forwarded, with no stopping or redoing allowed during the live event.

Pecha Kucha’s creators, Tokyo-based architects Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, started the event 10 years ago to let young architectural designers show off their work in public. PechaKucha Night is a non-profit venture that charges $5 to $10, depending on the venue, to cover the cost of a projector or room rental.

“If a designer has just graduated college or done his or her first project, he doesn’t have enough photos for a gallery show and he probably won’t get covered in a magazine or newspaper,” said Dytham, who with Klein started their careers working for famed architect Toyo Ito.

The duo, who started their own firm, Klein Dytham, 21 years ago in Tokyo, watched incredulously as PechaKucha Nights spread to 612 cities worldwide and to everyone from children to creative professionals from Kabul, Afghanistan to Kampala, Uganda.

The demands on the PechaKucha website, which gets 25,000 views a day, prompted Klein and Dytham to search worldwide for a company to expand the site’s capabilities, import seven years’ worth of data and incorporate a presentation player that uploads the 20 PowerPoint images onto a file to be played online in their original, un-pixelated format. The website includes calendars of events — as many as 10 a day — and search engines to find the events from anywhere in the world.

The architects chose Table XI Partners, a digital consultancy on Chicago’s Near West Side, from among companies on the West Coast, the East Coast, Amsterdam, London and Tokyo.

“We’ve dealt with a lot of companies over the years, and [Table XI’s] proposal was by far and away the most detailed and professional,” Dytham said. “I am blown away. It’s a testament to the digital-tech professionalism in Chicago.”

The website was redesigned in 14 weeks.

Table XI is named for a database project that never got off the ground at a failed startup where CEO Josh Golden worked for one day before the company shut down.

Golden started Table XI after his first startup, UpZing, designed to install high-speed wireless access in high-rise apartments 13 years ago, proved tough to scale up and got hit by 9/11 security concerns. Golden took the market analytics he had learned from his startup and from working at Ace Hardware venture to pitch Table XI. His first big hit came after he had enrolled at the University of Chicago as an economics major.

“Now I was the kid in the back row, desperately trying to finish school in two years and keeping up with the business on my Blackberry,” said Golden, who grew up in Ontario, Canada, but remembers his regular visits to grandparents in Hammond, Ind., and in the Marynook neighborhood at 87th Street and Stony Island Avenue.

Table XI competes against a host of local web-development firms such as Caxy Inc., Duo Consulting, 8th Light and Tampa, Fla.-based Hashrocket, each specializing in different software development platforms.

The fast-growing companies go after highly sought tech talent with perks ranging from lunchtime chefs to lengthy sabbaticals to adrenaline-pumping hackathons. The culture places a premium on workers’ creativity, freedom and independence.

Table XI employees get free chef-prepared lunches, maximum 40-hour workweeks, lengthy sabbaticals and the freedom to be creative and self-driven. Every other year, Table XI moves itself to Costa Rica for a week’s getaway.

The highly prized web designers and software developers bill $150 to $200 an hour to clients, and experienced ones make the industry’s typical $70,000 to $100,000-plus yearly salaries.

Yet the company does business the old-fashioned way: Most of its clients are long-standing ones who appreciate getting complex web-site service that’s attentive, valuable and competitively priced.

Table XI has seen revenues nearly triple in the past three years, to $3.5 million annually, and has more than doubled its workforce during that time, to 28 full-time employees.

The growth comes from companies digitally enabling their business processes and sales channels.

Rona Borre, CEO of Chicago-based IT talent management firm Instant Technology, said the sophisticated software development companies play an important role in the city’s tech community and in allowing mid-sized businesses to be more creative with their tech solutions.

“Mid-market firms don’t have to resort to big out-of-the-box software systems,” Borre said. “They can use these boutique firms to be more creative and play around with different technologies.”

Greg Baugues, 33, Table XI’s director of client services, credits his five-week getaway to Turkey, Spain, France and Germany this year and his six-week travels throughout Europe in 2012 with helping him improve his programming skills and his confidence as a writer. He blogged about his and his wife, Rachel’s, experiences, including working for two weeks at an organic dairy farm outside of Barcelona, Spain.

“My wife and I wanted to not work for 40 years without ever seeing the world, and then try to see the world when we were 70 years old,” he said.

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