New Context gets a leaner name as Neo, still focused on development and design

Eric Ries became a household name among startup founders with his book on the philosophy of Lean Startups, so it makes sense that New Context, the company where he’s a general partner, would apply the same philosophy of structured focus to its growth as a design and software firm. The company, which is rebranding on Monday and changing its name to Neo, is committed to marrying the best of development and design, founder Ian McFarland said, even if it’s not an easy task.

“We spent most of the year getting the core team together, because we wanted to put together the very best in agile development and the very best lean UX (user experience),” McFarland said. “We think there’s a big inflexion point for this right now.”

New Context is a subsidiary of Digital Garage, the Japanese company that invested early on in Twitter and Path. In the past year, New Context has made several acquisitions to build the company, including Cubox, a Ruby on Rails development team led by Evan Henshaw-Plath, who was the lead architect at Odeo, which later became Twitter; New York-based Proof Innovation Labs; Ruby on Rails software company EdgeCase; and Pivotal Lab’s Singapore branch.

“We’re trying to establish the global brand in the lean startup space,” McFarland said. New Context, which launched in March at SXSW, is changing its name to Neo because McFarland said he thinks that name will be more memorable, not because it represents a pivot or shift in the company’s direction.

McFarland said he’s committed to building a company where designers and developers will work equally on projects for big companies like American Express, and small startups that might only have a few employees. He said he knows it’s not easy to have a truly equal design and development team, but he’s committed to the challenge.

“I haven’t seen firms that were really constructed from the ground up to have developers and designers as colleagues and equals in the firm,” he said. “In most cases, if you’re a really great developer you’re not going to go work at a top design firm, and if you’re a really good designer you’re not going to go to a top development firm.”

So how is New Context, now Neo, going to make that work? McFarland pointed to his own background as a developer whose parents were in design, as an architect and a fashion designer. But he also said it’s mostly about building top teams in the two arenas, and letting design-oriented people vett designers, and the same for developers.

“It’s honestly just a matter of valuing both within the organization,” he said.