Hilton Head company shows knack for apps

info@islandpacket.comOctober 3, 2011 

Jester Communications CEO Jared Jester is surrounded by members of his ever-growing staff, from left, Adrian Corbbrey, Trey McNair, Kim Molloy, Alan Perry, Ben Kulbertis, Joe Wright, Cynthia Swan, Travis Stephenson and Chris Wilhite.

JAY KARR

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It sounds like the setup for a joke: What do MasterCraft Boats, Island Car Wash and U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson have in common?

But for Hilton Head Island-based firm Jester Communications those names mean serious business. They are among the company's diverse and growing clientele.

Owned by Jared Jester, the company has capitalized on the rise of smartphones, which, according to a July report from the Pew Research Center, are now owned by 35 percent of American adults since their emergence in 2007.

In the past nine months alone, Jester's staff has increased from four to 16 employees. Though the business is thriving, success has been a decade-long quest full of setbacks.

After graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2000, Jester envisioned a bright future creating graphic designs for Internet companies. It was the peak of the dot-com boom, and opportunities for aspiring Web artists seemed almost limitless.

But the bubble soon burst, forcing the North Augusta native to reevaluate his plans. For four years, he earned occasional commissions developing graphic designs for local businesses, supplementing that income by tending bar at night.

Jester's break came in 2005 when a former SCAD colleague called to gauge his interest in pursuing a contract with Chaparral Boats, then among the largest aquatic craft companies in the country.

"My intention was just to get him off the phone," said Jester, who had been about to leave for the weekend, "so I threw a quote out that was seven or eight times larger than I'd ever asked for."

His submission, however, won the contract, giving him the capital to employ a small staff and take on more work. He continued to work primarily with boat companies, but had to change tack once again when the recession hit in 2007.

"We were doing real well back then, doubling revenue every year," Jester said, "but everything changed when the economy tanked. Suddenly, the last thing people wanted to spend money on was a boat."

But when smartphones debuted later that year, Jester realized their potential for small businesses like his. He began creating apps for his old aquatic craft clients -- ones that offered photos, videos and ways for consumers to locate their nearest boat dealer.

Soon, Jester's company was providing creative content for local car washes, restaurants and hedge funds. It shifted course once again when it created an app for Rep. Wilson earlier this year.

The West Columbia Republican's colleagues took notice, and today, Jester Communications works with so many politicians, including Gov. Nikki Haley, that in February it launched a subsidiary, Stumpmate, to deal exclusively with politics-based app development.

"We wanted to penetrate the political arena," said Jester, whose apps offer politicians the ability to aggregate and relay information to their constituents, inform them of upcoming events and even accept campaign contributions.

Jester says his business will move to Bluffton within the next few months, citing a need for more space, but asserts that its focus won't be changing anytime soon.

"Everything seems to be happening now," Jester said. "I feel like it's our turn."

Follow reporter Grant Martin at twitter.com/LowCoBiz.

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