Over two decades of design, development and digital transformation.
It was the year Britany Spears did it again, Denise Lewis delivered gold at the Sydney Olympic games, the Euros were a disaster and the Y2K bug was about to potentially cripple the coding world…the turn of the 21st Century.
Welcome to the year 2000 and the beginning of a 21-year journey for 4FX and later Code Hub 200.
To celebrate this amazing milestone, we caught up with founder Julie King to reflect on what she and fellow founder Chris Coomber have developed over the last two decades.
What did you do before you set up business together?
“Chris was a concept illustrator for GEC. A dab hand with an air brush, his artwork is amazing. He has always had a good mind for code too which is unusual for such a creative person.
I worked for Laing Management Contracting (now Laing O’Rourke) designing tender documents and doing technical illustrations to win large scale construction projects (before Illustrator was even a thing!). Then I moved the Hays IT and became an advertising designer. I’ve designed print and digital ads for many blue-chip companies.”
How did the two of you meet?
“I employed Chris at Hays IT for his impressive Illustrator and Photoshop skills. We worked doing creative recruitment advertising and marketing, hence our comprehensive understanding of the recruitment sector. Our team then went on to create its own division: Hays Creative Advertising.
When did you start working together?
“Over 25 years ago… OMG, that makes us both officially old!”
Why did you decide to set up in business together?
“Our department was sticking with paper-based advertising. We thought the future was heading towards digital. Chris had a really good knowledge of IT and coding and he wanted to move into online projects such as websites. The internet was only just coming into its own, so this was a really new thing. We initially set up 4fx Design & Multimedia in order to offer online and traditional marketing collateral.
A few years later we set up a purely development division, CodeHub 200.”
What’s the story behind the names 4FX and CodeHub 200?
“4fx was nice and short and when we set up we were able to get a three letter domain, which are like gold dust now. The ‘fx’ is the term for visual or sound effects, so 4fx sounds like ‘for effects’ when you say it and everything we did at the start was for an effect in some way.
CodeHub 200 is a strong tech sounding name and we’re very techie on that side of the business. It’s all about coding and bespoke software development. Also, ‘200’ in coding terms is the code for ‘successful’.”
What do 4FX and CodeHub 200 do?
“We have always been a graphic design, web development and marketing agency offering a range of services, then later offering bespoke software systems and app development. However, our offer has evolved over the years as new technology and design techniques have developed.
When we first set up camera phones had only just become commercially available, Bluetooth was in its infancy and the first IBM DiskOnKey USB flash drive only held 8MB of data. Social media did not exist, Wifi was cables and there were no Android or iOS smartphones.
The design and development services of both 4FX and CodeHub 200 have adapted as our clients adopted technology and their customers have developed different ways to consume media. How they want to be marketed to and the ways they want to buy are in hugely different from 21 years ago with the transformation of technology into a digital first world.
Now we offer a full range of on and offline services from graphic design for online and print, websites, apps, web and cloud based systems, website domains and hosting, search engine optimisation and much more.
We have also just been invited to join the Microsoft Early Adopter Programme so we are excited about more new developments with live streaming software to bring hybrid and virtual reality events to life.”
What have been the key milestones or highlights for you over the years?
“Apart from hitting a recession in the first year it’s been the best thing we could have done!
Keeping a business for over 20 years is the biggest thing for us both and we are proud of that. The fact that we set up right at the start of the digital transformation has always been exciting.
Everything is digital now, which is why we’ve constantly evolved in that direction and still enjoyed what we do. Changing has been imperative.
We were working with mobile devices before most people had even seen their potential. The launch of our first app was a big deal and winning our first £100k project was amazing.
Highlights for us are seeing the complexity of the systems we’ve built and how they benefit the client or end user, we build some clever stuff, but we can’t always shout about it. Seeing one of our apps featured in The Times Educational Supplement and on TV’s BBC Click was fantastic.
We’ve employed people too for 21 years and we’ve cared about them, it’s not just a job.”
How many people are in your teams?
“Generally we have around 6 to 8 people. Our Designers and Developers work closely together so that the technical stuff is easy to use and looks good. User interface design is important in development and the team is passionate about delivering a good experience for end users.”
Have there been particularly challenging moments for you over the years?
“Recessions are always hard, but because we pretty much set up during one, it has stood us in good stead going forward and made sure we didn’t get ahead of ourselves. Sadly, we’ve seen many agencies come and go during the same time.”
What are your roles within the businesses?
“We’re both Directors. I’m new business and creative, focus on the general running and all-round professional ‘chaser/nagger’! I tend to talk to the clients initially.
Chris is apps, web and development – anything technical. He’s both a designer and developer. We have a team to do most of these things but he project manages. His talents lay in being able to talk the talk and walk the walk in both creative and technical situations, which is quite unique in technical development.”
What is your favourite type of project to work on?
“One we can really get involved in and serves a real purpose, where we learn about the client and their industry and they work with us to help us understand. Only then can we design and build successful systems.
We learn something new about an industry in every project and it’s fascinating, even in things which look mundane, they’re not, there’s always something interesting to be found.
The best thing is taking a process that’s been done manually and developing an online system and possible an app too, to streamline a process. You really see the client benefit then and that’s important to us. Technology should be a benefit, not a hinderance.”
What is the secret to successfully working together for so long?
“Working together, but separately. We’re different people but fundamentally have the same values.
It’s important to us that work is enjoyed and not a chore. Not just for us but for the team too. This isn’t possibly every day, we have deadlines and technology isn’t an exact timescale, but most of our clients are great and that helps. That’s mainly why we’ve stayed small and bespoke, our team is everything and we’re still very hands on. We also laugh a lot, it’s the best medicine.
What’s the best thing you each do at work that you wouldn’t want to be without?
“For me it would definitely be Chris’ laughter. He laughs (loudly) at my dry sense of humour! For Chris he would probably say my enlightening life advice!”
If you disagree on something, how do you come to a decision?
“One of us gives in… life’s too short! And that person may be right, so long as it’s not the same person giving in each time, give and take, I guess.”
What’s their most annoying habit at work?
“Best not to say, we’d like to make it to 22 years.”
What are your aspirations for the future?
“To continue with a happy team doing projects we love with clients who appreciate our value and adding value to our clients’ businesses.”
If you knew what you know now, would you do it all again?
“Yes… but perhaps with more holidays planned in! There might be a few tweaks, but essentially, yes.”
To talk new business or creative with Julie or tech with Chris, why not get in touch on 01908 375200.