Dom and Tom: twins’ $11-million firm is still friends and family

By Alexa Adler
Medill Reports

Dominic and Tom Tancredi, the twin brothers who co-founded Dom and Tom, a privately-owned, nine-year old digital product development company with offices in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, believe the “secret sauce” behind their company’s success is working with friends and family, because they are “people who trust you” and whom you can trust.

Armed with this philosophy, the Tancredi brothers have grown company revenues from $4.13 million in 2013 to $11.87 million in 2017 and almost doubled the number of employees over the same period from 34 to 66.

While their basic business model of receiving “dollars for expertise and services” is “thousands of years old,” according to Tom Tancredi, their close-knit staff has proved adaptable in providing the corporate clients they serve with a menu of products and services that has evolved over time, beginning with their core expertise of “web services and development on an engineering level, to project design, development, ownership, quality assurance, project management and visual project development from inception to completion.”

Following the needs of their clients, according to the Tancredis, the company has become increasingly involved in new technologies like blockchain, voice applications and chatboxes, and recently, machine learning. Their website highlights a number of successful projects, such as designing and implementing a mobile platform to enable Fitch Ratings Co. to distribute its proprietary content to users.

Dom and Tom’s office on the “Magnificent Mile” in downtown Chicago (Alexa Adler/MEDILL).

The idea for the company was formulated in 2008 when the then 27-year-old twins moved in together in the Borough of Queens, New York. The iPhone had recently been released and the brothers saw an opportunity to develop iPhone-based expertise. Dom Tancredi had a background as a software developer and coder, while Tom had a background in finance and project management.

They began to develop apps for third parties and started a business, hiring their family and neighbors. Their father is their attorney and Joe Tancredi, a third brother, is the company’s director of special projects. Several Queens neighbors were also hired and remain with the company in senior positions, giving the company’s senior management a bit of the flavor of Vincent Chase’s Queens-based “entourage” in the popular HBO series.

In fact, according to Alice Fountain, the company’s public relations and content manager, “Around 75 percent of senior leadership has been here since the beginning,” making the company “really like a family.” It is this family-like atmosphere and the mutual trust that it engenders to which the Tancredi brothers attribute much of their growth and ability to motivate their employees to put in long hours and complete difficult projects in short time periods, as well as to cooperatively morph their expertise into newly emerging technologies. This friends and family-based approach also facilitates company employees’ ability to work cooperatively and to feel free to challenge one another in attaining optimal solutions.

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Your Senator Filled Out An NCAA Bracket – You’ll Never Guess Who They Picked

By Brian Baker
Medill Reports

Shortly before the NCAA Tournament tipped off last Thursday, Virginia U.S. Senator Mark Warner sent a tweet that included a picture of his bracket. “Just filled out my #MarchMadness bracket. @UVA’s going all the way,” it read. The University of Virginia did not go all the way.

Millions of Americans participated in the annual ritual of filling out a bracket for the NCAA Tournament last week. By the weekend, many were ripping them up.

On ESPN’s website alone, 17.3 million brackets were submitted. The reasoning behind selections can vary from school mascots to favorite team colors. For politicians, who are increasingly joining in on the bracket fun, the rationale seems clear: pick the school from your home state.

Senator John McCain, from Arizona, picked the University of Arizona. Former President George H.W. Bush, who lives in Texas, picked Texas A&M. Indiana Senator Todd Young picked Purdue University. Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto picked Nevada.

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In Evanston, a group creates quilts as a form of resistance — and therapy

By Vangmayi Parakala
Medill Reports

Over two days in February, about 20 people gathered to sew names of women, girls, and babies who died due to gun violence between 2016-2017.

Led by Melissa Blount, an Evanston-based clinical psychologist, the attendees sewed the victim’s name and age, accompanied by a motif on each of the sewing squares.

The event, held at 1100 Florence, an art gallery in Evanston, was to result in the squares making their way onto a remembrance quilt. This is the second quilt that Blount is leading, after her Black Lives Matter Witness Quilt last year, inspired by an exhibit at Northwestern’s Block Museum of Art.

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Ulta Beauty posts strong growth, price surges

By Charlene Zhang
Medill Reports

Ulta Beauty Inc. (NASDAQ: ULTA) stock soared 7.6 percent on Friday after the company announced strong fourth quarter results Thursday following market close. Helped by a tax benefit, net income increased 48.5 percent to $208.2 million, or $3.40 per diluted share, compared with $140.2 million, or $2.24 per diluted share, in the same period a year earlier.

“We achieved strong sales and earnings growth in the fourth quarter, while continuing to gain market share and make significant progress on our strategic imperatives,” CEO Mary Dillon said in a prepared statement during the conference call.

Adjusted earnings per diluted share excluding the tax bill benefit were $2.75, missing the analysts’ estimate by 3 cents.

Net sales increased 22.6 percent to $1.94 billion from $1.58 billion in the fourth quarter a year earlier.

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Harvest Christian Bookstore deflects internet with customer service

By Richard Foster-Shelton
Medill Reports

“In these times of online stores and books that can be delivered immediately to your favorite device, one independent bookstore on the South Side of Chicago has weathered the storm by turning to a very specific demographic: Christians.

Harvest Christian Bookstore, at 10600 S. Western Ave., specializes in Christian products. The business, which was founded in 1988 by Pastor Dorothy Jacobs of Consuming Fire Ministries, has gained a loyal following by prioritizing customer service over all.

“There were other bookstores when we opened and they didn’t have very good reputations,” Jacobs said. “The one thing that we were most concerned about was treating our customers well by serving them and ordering what they needed if we didn’t have it. We found our niche to serve the community the way they want to be served. Almost every Christian on the south side of Chicago knows about us.”

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M1 Finance users double after firm ends trading fees

By Jinman Li
Medill Reports

Can a securities brokerage make money without charging transaction fees?

M1 Finance LLC, a Chicago start-up, removed fees for its customers’ trades in December 2017, and has witnessed its number of users more than double to 25,000 since then. The company’s assets under management now total $100 million.

Brokerage firms have been drawn into a “price war” in the past few years, as a result of increasing efficiency brought by technological improvement and the popularity of passive funds and exchange-traded funds, or ETFs. Big players such as Fidelity and Charles Schwab both trimmed their commission rates in 2017.

“We saw price compression everywhere in the industry, from automated robo-advisers to old institutional players,” said Michael Savino, vice president of investment operations at M1 Finance. “We saw this as an inevitability and we wanted to be one of the first people there.”

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West Side substance abusers find an oasis for free treatment

By Yunyi (Jessie) Liu
Medill Reports

Nichelle Groves hesitated for a while before entering the door near the intersection of Lake Street and Sacramento Boulevard. Since her insurance wouldn’t cover any more inpatient hospital care after a month, Groves followed a recommendation to the Above and Beyond Family Recovery Center, though she didn’t really believe she could get help here to overcome drug abuse.

Now, more the a year later, she knows she went to the right place.

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Pain management remains vexing in opioid epidemic

By Juliette Rocheleau
Medill Reports

When Hercules faced the Hydra of Lerna, he learned the hard way that cutting off one of its many heads would only result in two more growing in its place. As the U.S. attempts to battle its own Hydra in the form of the opioid abuse crisis, victory remains elusive.

Though the opioid crisis has grown to encompass thousands of Americans struggling with heroin addiction, one root of the epidemic can be traced to the prevalence of highly addictive legal pharmacological substances. However, measures put in place to control the growing epidemic are having adverse affects on people struggling with pain management, and unconventional treatments are gaining more attention.

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Chinese students find love and community in the Werewolves Club

By Xiaozhang (Shaw) Wan
Medill Reports

Anqi Hu, a 27-year-old Chinese graduate student, didn’t expect to find the love of her life in the Chinese Werewolves Club at Northwestern University.

“If it were not for the club, we wouldn’t have met each other,” said Hu, in her 5th year as a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student.

Five couples have found their significant others in the club over the last year, according to Xin Xu, 26, president of the Werewolves Club and a 4th year PhD student in applied physics.

The club was officially established on the Valentine’s Day of 2017.
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Pilsen Garden looks to grow beyond stalled plans for the El Paseo Trail

By Nathan Ouellette
Medill Reports

As the weather warms, greenery already can be seen in some of the garden plots. (Nathan Ouellette/MEDILL)

The raised plant beds that dot the wood chip-covered pathways of Pilsen’s El Paseo Community Garden begin sprouting vegetation in early spring.. These community and volunteer-run growing stations are not merely an aesthetic choice but  a necessity.

Years of lead smelting and other industrial usage has left the soil of the Sangamon Corridor – a section of land running south from 16th Street along Sangamon Street to 21st – inundated with various heavy metals such as lead and arsenic. The El Paseo garden’s use of raised beds responds to their proximity along the corridor and  prevents the leaching of toxins from the soil to the growing vegetation.

The El Paseo Community Garden’s raised beds were  installed to prevent plantings from leeching up any toxins that may still be present in the soil. (Nathan Ouellette/MEDILL)

“That’s why we have raised beds,” said Antonio Acevedo, community garden co-director. “There’s still some levels of lead in the soil. …But over the years we just add wood-chips on top. [Except for] some tomato plants, the roots don’t get that deep, so we’re pretty confident that anything we’re planting isn’t leaching up anything toxic.”

BNSF railway no longer utilizes the tracks along its Sangamon right-of-way; Loewenthal Metals Corporation had ceased lead and zinc smelting at their former industrial site on Cullerton Street in the 1950’s before a fire razed the facility. Land restoration gained little attention in Pilsen until 2016 when the city broke ground on the El Paseo Trail, a bike path that would lead from Pilsen to Little Village along the abandoned BNSF right-of-way which the railroad still owns.

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