It seemed like the perfect time to join Twitter. A year and a half ago, with an IPO in the works, Twitter “acquihired” Washington DC-based Web design firm Nclud, known for its work for brands such as Apple and Oracle. Among the new Twitter employees was Nclud art director Tom Giannattasio. If he stuck around for just 18 months, he could have had a small slice of the biggest tech story of the moment.
He didn’t. Instead, he left after just a couple of months to join edX, an online education initiative forged by MIT and Harvard.
But that didn’t last, either. Giannattasio had something gnawing away at him. His friends started telling him that a side project he’d been working on for about a year could really be something. Perhaps he should start a company.
And so, after six months at edX, Giannattasio moved back to Washington DC from Boston and, with a friend, started Macaw, a business to call his very own. Macaw is a code-savvy design tool that brings Photoshop-like power to the Web, a problem that has been a bug-bear for about as long as the Internet has existed.
“There’s been a huge gap in our industry for a long time,” Giannattasio says. Innovation in design software hasn’t been able to keep pace with the development of the Web. So you have Photoshop, which is a great design tool but doesn’t play nicely with the Web, and you had Dreamweaver, which is a great Web tool but lacks on the design front.
“The Web evolved really quickly and we had to grab whatever tools we had at the time,” Giannattasio says. “It’s been Photoshop for a long time.”
Macaw, which will likely launch in January, will come packed with seemingly impressive features and terms that make sense only to designery people, including “fluid canvas,” “responsive breakpoints,” and “nudge/pudge.” It’s a native OSX app, but it was built inside a customized version of Google’s Chrome browser. “We’re relying on a browser,” Giannattasio says, “Just not a consumer browser.”
Rather than raise seed money from angel investors or seek funding from venture capitalists, the guys have decided to raise money on Kickstarter as a way to get the enterprise off the ground. Their target for the campaign was $75,000. With two weeks left in the campaign, they’ve already hit more than $187,000 from more than 1,800 backers.
Ideally, they’ll never have to raise money, Giannattasio says, so the company can build the product in the way it thinks best without have to make sacrifices for commercial concerns or a perceived need to appeal to a wider audience. Macaw, he suggests, is very much a design tool for designers.
The two-man team will face a challenge not only in executing on its ambitious vision with limited resources and man-power, but also in fronting up to legacy powerhouse Adobe, which is working on similar tools of its own. It also faces another competitor in the form of Y Combinator-backed Webflow, which already has tens of thousands of users and a handy headstart on the Washington DC startup.
A macaw, by the way, is a long-tail, colorful parrot. Two of its four toes point backwards, which helps it clasp a branch. Perhaps that’s a good sign for Macaw – facing off against Adobe and Webflow, it will need a strong grip. And at the very least, it’s more of a fighter than that one Twitter has on its logo.