Meet the Founders: Jason Allum

At Tonic Design Co. we aren’t interested in feeding the status quo. We all come from wildly different backgrounds, experiences, education levels, and walks of life – and all proudly call Tonic “home”.

It makes sense, then, that our Meet the Founders series would start with the fascinating and unconventional story of Jason Allum, one of our partners. He embodies Tonic’s assertion that smart, talented, hungry people can – and do – come from anywhere, and that a person is far more than their alma mater.

The Early Days

Jason’s love of technology and penchant for tinkering was apparent from a young age: He started pulling things apart and putting them back together at his family’s computer repair shop in the 80s. By high school, he had already taught himself to code, and he got a full-time job as a developer. Realizing that the high school curriculum was only taking away from his ability to make money and get valuable hands-on learning, he dropped out.

Jason took a leap into the fast-paced world of banking for a brief time, living in Manhattan and building software that managed transaction records. After a few years, though, it took a toll: “I was sick of building things that weren’t making the world a better place.”

World Traveler, Boat Builder, Entrepreneur

Slightly disillusioned, he took an enviable hiatus and moved to Japan. By happenstance, he found himself at a marina in Tokyo and struck up a conversation with the owner of a particularly stunning 100-plus-year-old boat. He was awed by the beauty and longevity of the craftsmanship and decided he wanted to learn how to build something so captivating.

So naturally, he moved to a remote island off the coast of Vancouver to study at a small ship- and furniture-building school. He made a go at building boats for a few years afterward but never quite shook his deep-seated love of programming.

He got back into the coding groove by building a DVD-ripping tool called RipIt as a passion project. It took off, became profitable, and after a few fortuitous meetings at Apple’s WWDC conference, he was back in the world of tech.

Firefighting and DmgCtrl

Jason met Mac Morgan (who you’ll hear more about in later installments of this series) when they were both contracting for a large ad agency in the Philly area. They played “firefighter” – each coming in to fix software projects that had gone awry for one reason or another.

Because they left damn good work in their wake, word-of-mouth led to many more opportunities; they decided to team up officially to form DmgCtrl in 2010. DmgCtrl was a development company that mostly came into projects with broken code and efficiently turned them into something clean and beautiful – their tagline said it best: “83.8% of software projects fail. Ours don’t.”.

As DmgCtrl grew, Jason and Mac found themselves being called in to some of the same projects as a small visual-design studio called Tonic Design. Mutual respect blossomed quickly, and the two teams began collaborating and sharing workspaces. They soon realized it just made more sense to join forces to become one super-studio with development and design in-house. Tonic Design Co. was officially born.

The Rest is History

In DmgCtrl and now at Tonic, Jason has always been steadfast about judging potential employees on their personalities, their passions, and their work ethic – decidedly not on their educational background. He puts it best: “I won’t run a company who wouldn’t have hired me.”

Being completely self-taught, he’s also a huge advocate for personal and professional development. Name the course you want to take or skill you want to develop, and he’s on-board to help you get there. He’s a big supporter of cross-disciplinary learning too, which shows in the ways he encourages members of the tech team to sit in on design conversations and designers to watch programmers build code.

Ultimately, we’re just a motley crew of curious, smart, talented folks who love to teach and share the things we’re passionate about. As with any good company, that type of culture has to start at the top – and with Jason Allum at Tonic, it does.