Philly Creative Guide

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Ian Cross

I-SITE's Theory of Evolution
by Ian Cross, 1 May 2008

I-SITE, Inc. was one of the pioneers of the Philadelphia interactive scene. Founded in the 2nd bedroom of an Old City apartment building in early 1996 the company has lived through early confusion, the dot-com craze, 9/11, and eight years of the current administration.

Ian Cross is co-founder and CEO of I-SITE. He promises to have a party at I-SITE soon. In the meantime drop by for a Guinness or Brennivin if you're in Old City.

Check out I-SITE online at

So what does it mean to be around twelve years later? What I-SITE has emerged in 2008? For starters our philosophy is the same – be innovative, take some risks, have a laugh. We're fundamentally the same company with a few more wrinkles and wisdom to match. The world has changed and like other pre-teens we've had to constantly adapt.

It was definitely fun in the beginning. No one took the Web too seriously in the early days, so we had time to hone our craft, not to mention have subversive gatherings of like-minded folk without intrusion – the basis for what evolved into PANMA.

I-SITE's Theory of Evolution

The evolution of I-SITE can be divided into four distinct periods. The Age of Innocence ['96-'99], the Mad Period ['99-'01], the Healthy Period ['01-06] and the Rebirth ['06-].

The Age of Innocence ['96-'99]

Highlights of this initial period were the release of Netscape 1.1, thanking Al Gore and watching the ad agencies looking perplexed. Back then most of us were grabbing anything that came off the conveyor belt. Many of the publishers were first to play. In 1997 we designed the first website for Philadelphia Magazine – thank you WayBack Machine for sharing with the world.

Other I-SITE clients of this period included the Ritz Filmbill, Deloitte and Mylanta. The latter was a sign of things to come. Not that we were full of gas – we had to back up ideas with something solid.

Of course the Age of Innocence didn't last forever. The clients were becoming sharper and some of the old dogs were nipping at our ankles. Our company needed to be swift and move on.

The Mad Period ['99-'01]

AKA: The Dotcom Daze. We all lost our minds and drunk a lot of champagne and Guinness. First step was a new office with lots of stuff that glows. The Age of Ideas was upon us. We knew the ropes, had established some national clients with generous budgets, and now, of course, needed a new lab for innovative products and those legendary parties including our Workspace v4.0 launch on November 2, 2000. You can still RSVP – see you there!

We also had a start-up baby, a cute fellow called Aardmark – the first name in online bookmarking. Now it's called We even ventured into venture territory briefly. As for many other dotcomers, this virtual dream was never realized as we watched online advertising fall apart. Fortunately unlike those who only focused on the Big One, we had a steady day job called I-SITE. The previous four years of building a robust service business with clients such as the National Dairy Council and Johnson & Johnson had paid off.

So we planned the next phase – a suitable cure for the 2001 Web Hangover.

I-SITE's Theory of Evolution

The Healthy Period [01-06]

One thing we learned along the way was that there is not always a direct correlation between the quality of the work and which company is hired for the job. But as the browsers and bandwidth evolved, there was plenty of opportunity for the cream to rise, especially in online consumer health. So there we went. Appealing on the outside but sometimes a little gruesome when you peeled away the skin.

Of course to cut it in Big Pharma you need account teams, strategists and anatomical knowledge of a most probing nature. While others standardized their work we fought for creativity. We were without doubt one of the few companies established in the space that would have created a Flash site with a music mixer and animated band video to educate teens about acne. We got it, but did anyone else?

By 2005 we'd built an impressive portfolio of big names – Aventis, Novartis, St. Joseph Aspirin, Lactaid and others – but the big boys of Madison Avenue and the mid-size specialists had finally joined the party. This time rather than a physical move a mental one was required.

Rebirth Period [06-]

We experienced a rebirth around our 10th birthday – a return to a broader portfolio, smaller, tighter group and more global outlook. The I-SITE team had always been a diverse crowd – Australian, South Korean, Bulgarian and British of course. Inspiration from around the world has always been integral to the company credo.

This time the fuel was Iceland where artists are plumbers and plumbers are artists. The first step was a new team structure more akin to those wooden Russian dolls. Remove the designer shell and find the developer underneath. OUT - the barriers between design, development and project management. IN – Viking spirit and the village green where minds meet.

So in 2008 our portfolio is increasingly diverse and focused on marketing new products. Recent projects include 3-A-Day SuperFan for the NFL and National Dairy Council, Soundwave, Museum of Recorded Sound and Vectrix, the new high-performance electric two-wheeler. We haven't turned our backs on healthcare – just balanced the scale and our experience.

And as for the next stage of evolution. We can't wait.

Print Article Brought to you by: Ian Cross | Co-Founder and CEO of I-SITE

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