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Combined experiences create ‘unique breed’ at Flying Hippo


The image of a winged hippo balancing on an electrical wire is one that Eric Groves and Ryan Parlee hope will stand out in people’s minds and encourage businesses to “get noticed online” through the help of their Web site development company.

“From a branding perspective, I wanted something that would help distinguish it from the pack,” Groves said. “There are a lot of names of companies out there that don’t even really register in your mind. I wanted something interesting visually. I wanted something interesting verbally. And I wanted something to build a strong brand around.”

Groves and Parlee, self-described entrepreneurs at heart, combined their talents three years ago to form Flying Hippo Web Creations. They believe Groves’ background in branding and design and Parlee’s technology experience have allowed them to create a unique partnership, coupled with a unique company brand. Their business’ steady growth has included the development of a diverse portfolio and numerous local, regional and national awards.

Though he did not start off in Web site development, Parlee became immersed in technology while still a child, having developed an early interest in computers and programming.

“At 11, I started my own software company and distributed software,” he said. “By the time I was 13, I had sold software on the Internet. And by the time I graduated from high school, I had job offers from some big companies. I took an offer at Cisco as one of their senior developers. I was 17.”

Through Groves’ work in advertising – he also runs Groves Design Co. – he began to field requests from clients to assist in their Web site development, but did not feel comfortable with the level of service he could provide. Having worked with Parlee on a number of projects, he believed that the partnering of their skills would allow them to provide a high level of service that would also improve their marketability with potential clients.

Taking that into consideration, they tout themselves as “a unique breed.”

“We have a very high level of talent on both ends, and I do think that differentiates us [from competitors],” Groves said. “In some firms, you do get designers who try to do code or you get programmers who are trying to do design, and you end up with a mediocre product.”

Parlee said Flying Hippo often takes clients through an in-depth thought process to make sure their Web sites are effective business solutions and often try to debunk the mentality that “everybody has a Web site so we need a Web site.”

“So many companies, even large companies, look at their Web sites as an expense, when really they ought to look at it as a business opportunity and that’s how they ought to treat it,” he said.

And those Flying Hippo-produced sites, they insist, are all one-of-a-kind products. Sites are developed based on the need of the client, who can never be forced into a template solution. The process allows both designers and programmers to fully analyze situations and think outside of the box.

Flying Hippo has produced Web sites for companies such as findahousenow.com, A Kick in the Pants and Griffith Home Builders, as well as for the Downtown Community Alliance, the AAU Junior Olympic Summer Games in Des Moines and avoidtherush.org.

Mitch Matthews, founder of A Kick in the Pants, said he was drawn to Flying Hippo after noticing the creativity in a newspaper advertisement for the company. His new company needed a high-powered Web site, which he describes as his “storefront,” that would inspire curiosity and be a conversation-starter with potential clients.

Though the site is more image- than technology-driven, Matthews said Parlee’s team of programmers was able to present him with other technology-driven options that could be implemented down the road if he chooses.

“We never think about just a Web site; we think about the business itself that that Web site is representing,” Groves said. “We try to put ourselves in the role of that business owner and analyze how we can make their business successful. So we take that same approach that we do with our own business – owning a business and trying to make it successful.”

Along with Web site design and programming, Parlee’s team also provides custom software applications. They are working under contracts with the FBI, Lockheed Martin Corp., several law enforcement agencies and Quebecor World Inc., one of the world’s largest print media services companies.

As Flying Hippo continues to work with clients on Web design and custom software, they hope to spend more time developing their own products, which have been forced to the back burner. Though they have not put a limit on their growth potential, they’re certain to keep it all in perspective.

“For both of us, family and faith are really the driving forces behind us,” Groves said. “Those are the most important things. So in all of our entrepreneurial ideas and visions and plans, we always have to keep that in perspective. Our wives make sure of that.”

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