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2015: a rollercoaster year for Wiredcraft

Ronan Berder on

2015 started out weird at Wiredcraft. Our team had been around for about 5 years, hovering between 10 and 15 people. In all honesty, things had been stagnant for a while, mostly because a part of the team was working on building products of our own. We shipped a few, but only a couple found any real audiences.

By the end of 2014, things were actually looking pretty good: Wiredcraft had a few exciting things in the pipe, such as the Myanmar elections software, and the devo.ps team (me, Vincent and Juha) were invited to join Techstars. It seemed we’d try that “real startup” thing while leaving Wiredcraft in a good spot.

But, ultimately, we didn’t go to Techstars and we didn’t take on investment.

Not going to Techstars

We had been through the whole process, registered a C-corp in Delaware, and were about to sign the last paper that would officially make us a part of the program. I told my colleagues we should head out and discuss it one more time before we jumped into this new venture.

Sitting at a bar a couple blocks from our office, we evaluated a lot of things. Some of it was personal, but there was also the looming fear that our traction and engagement weren’t high enough: we would most likely have to start the accelerator program with a complete pivot. And shouldn’t an accelerator program help us “accelerate” to raising a seed round rather than building a completely new product with no user validation?

Sh*t hits the fan again

So we stuck with Wiredcraft and worked. A lot. Up to the summer, we worked on many fronts, experimented with a few things, and started building out what is our strategy today. Revenue was starting to go up, we hired a few more folks, and started looking more seriously into our expansion into the US and Europe.

The few months leading to August had been pretty busy and everybody needed a break. We decided we’d send the entire team to Berlin and Prague to give them a chance to see what Europe was all about before we opened an office there (from what I’ve seen of the pictures, mostly beer and kebab).

Shortly after we got back home, a couple of our more senior folks left… Sh*t.

Chaos has a way to make things better

Every major issue we’ve run into helped us grow up. It’s hard to predict what will throw you onto the right path, but somehow it rarely looks (or feels) good. If somehow you manage to overcome it, you get stronger in the process.

I’m actually still organizing some of my thoughts around this, but I recommend you watch Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth Stanley. It was pretty eye-opening for me (I’d put it on the same level as Siddhartha).

Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective

The sudden exodus pushed us to build a larger, more resilient response to key staff departure. This forced us to improve our approach to recruitment with better processes, more thoughtful job ads (we write them like product pitches), and better promotion, which in turn led us to experiment more aggressively with marketing.

How did we do?

Things worked out pretty well in the end; the second half of 2015 ended up being even better than the first. Some numbers from the year:

  • Staff grew by 250% (we’re over 30 now and are shooting for 50 folks by the summer).
  • Revenue grew up by 300% (alright, it does depend on where you start counting).
  • We opened two new offices in Berlin & DC (with full-time staff in both locations).

We had some big wins, building the software running the Myanmar elections, winning a bid to rebuild the Open Data platform for the World Bank, and taking over the entire digital strategy of a major F&B company for the Chinese market, among (many) other things.

We also expanded our services with management/strategy consulting (helping other teams get their sh*t together and focus on what matters) and some hardware design (hello, Internet of Things).

Growing pains

We had to address a few things along the way:

  • Fragmentation & Overhead: One of the side-effects of growing is that, even at our small-ish scale, we started noticing some fragmentation across the team; people didn’t necessarily know everything that was happening at a given moment and some of the newer recruits didn’t seem to be aware of things that until then had seemed ubiquitous. We had to start doing things like a monthly newsletter from the CEO (yours truly) to create some transparency and creating an “Employee Happiness” position. It gave me some perspective as to how these things creep along the way.
  • Focus: We still very much want to build (successful) products. ChatO.ps, devo.ps, & Sweepboard were interesting experiments and attracted some users, but they definitely took a back seat to our projects. We learned a ton of lessons from building and shipping these tools; the most important one we finally internalized: focus. If you want to have a shot at building something successful, you can’t half-ass it.

What’s in store for 2016

Stick around, folks. Things are gonna be pretty fun in these next few months:

  • We’re working on a new product: The logical evolution of devo.ps, it’s called Pipelines and we want it to be an alternative to both Zapier and Jenkins. We’re going to make it 100% open source, as we figured this is probably a safer and more attractive way of releasing developer tools.
  • A new marketing strategy: I’ll probably talk about this more in the future, but we’re going to try and apply everything we’ve learned about marketing products to our consulting business. We actually have a product: our team. With our upcoming new site we will be doing things like drip campaigns, e-bombs, optimized landing pages…
  • Work-life balance: Some of the more senior staff have been having some difficulties taking time off. We’re going to enforce a minimum break every few months.
  • Balancing our portfolio: Up until now, we’ve been pretty heavily focused on non-profits. We’ve been brought in by the UN, the World Bank, USAID and countless other organizations to work on humanitarian, democracy, and development issues. Moving forward, we’ll still be working on projects with impact but our portfolio will include more for-profits.

Are we a startup, ma?

I hope to answer, at least partially, this question in the next few weeks. But it’s been bugging me for a while now. We’re increasingly applying strategies that we use for regular SaaS startups and have been experiencing a decent growth (both in terms of revenue and hiring). Does it qualify us as a startup or are consulting businesses not cool enough to wear that badge?

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