Foxbox Digital 2019 Year-In-Recap (the Good and the Bad)
When I first started Foxbox in 2018, I knew what I set out to achieve, but I honestly had no idea what it would become or how it would evolve. So, let me start by saying thank you to everyone who has contributed to making 2019 an amazing year.
2019 was by far our best year, not just in terms of revenue and headcount, but a sort of confirmation that what we’re doing is working and making an impact. We’ve also increased our confidence in the role we play in the market (and even the role we don’t play).
We definitely found our stride by figuring out our core strengths and identifying some differentiators from our competitors. But, for this recap, I wanted to not only cover the good, but also some of the things we learned the hard way.
I’ve never been a big fan of, “EVERYTHING IS GREAT, LOOK AT US!” When, in reality, the exact opposite is the truth. Business is hard. So, my goal with this is to share a behind-the-scenes look into growing a business, the good and the bad.
Here goes nothing:
We Nearly Tripled Our Headcount, Moved Into a Chicago HQ, and Opened a New Development Center in Santa Fe, Argentina
We crossed our stretch 7-figure revenue goal, which is incredible. We are only a 2 year old company, and crossing this mark in our second year is a huge accomplishment. We expanded our team from 8 to 25 people, including 20 full-time equivalents. We opened our headquarters in Chicago and our first development center in Argentina, which I will talk more about below.
Overall, this definitely beat my expectations, and we’re on an incredible growth path.
A Bigger and Better Senior Team
Additionally, we’ve placed a much bigger effort into hiring more senior talent and promoting the highest performers. We brought in Minh Quan Phan Huy as our VP of Engineering and promoted Jasmine Slivka to Head of Project Management. We also hired on Matt Chen to our agile-related projects and Syamil MJ as Software Architect.
We Added More Clients to Our Client Roster, With Many More Extending Through 2020
One of our biggest goals in 2019 was to continue to add value to our clients beyond the initial project, and many of our clients renewed their agreements after the first scope of work. The three clients who didn’t renew were mostly out of our target audience, as we refined our core strengths.
We also signed a large healthcare company in 2019, and we’re happy to announce that we have an extension in place to last us through the rest of 2020. This has everything to do with our new executive team, team layouts, and an increased focus on core engineering skills.
We recently launched the NSLC case study, which we’re really proud of. It’s amazing how businesses are really being impacted by digital.
Source: How NSLC’s Move to Digital Increased Parent Communication, Student Engagement, Staff Productivity and Program Referrals
More Face Time With Clients
We definitely upped our game in terms of building in-person relationships with our clients. Yes, everything can technically be done remotely or in our office, but once we made the attempt to be on-site with clients during key meetings, projects went smoother, and communication was improved. This meant a lot more flying for many in the executive team, but it was well worth it. It’s a win-win for everyone involved.
We Started to Produce More Content
I’ve always had a lot of ideas to talk about but never dedicated the time to do it. This year, I decided to bite the bullet. Here are a few that we’re most proud of:
- Slack is Ruining Employee Productivity
- Agile & Scrum: How to Build Better Products, Faster in 2020
- Why CTOs Should Choose React Native as Their Mobile Development Platform
- The Definitive Guide to Agile Product Development for the Enterprise: How to Build an Amazing Product in 2019
Major Lessons Learned
OK, enough of the good stuff. Here are some major lessons learned the hard way.
I can’t do everything (I know, that’s hard to believe, right?—Kidding). I know you can’t believe this, but I just figured out I’m not Superman. Much of what we do is complex engineering and digital transformation work, something I think I’m pretty good at, but I struggled to lead the engineering team and grow the business at the same time.
I finally brought on someone who’s smarter than me and will excel at leading our engineering team as VP of Engineering. Minh will work with a few of our key clients to ensure successful delivery. I’m still involved in many key projects, but now I can trust that Minh will either take a larger role or install the right person to provide technical leadership on each project.
Making senior architects the main technical interface with clients changes everything. We had one project, in particular, that we really struggled with. We had great engineers and a great project manager, but the project still didn’t go as well as we wanted out of the gate. We struggled in the first month, and our client wasn’t happy. You never want to get this sort of call, but I did!
We changed the structure of this engagement to include a Software Architect as the technical client-facing role, and once that happened, things went back on track. The Architect will support the engineers and unblock them in a way that is beyond our PM’s capabilities. They’ll work and plan with other teams on the client’s side. This decision has made clients happier, and honestly, our developers are a little relieved they can go back to their core work.
Having an architect on every project also sets us up for success with our enterprise clients. Having a technical leader who can effectively communicate what our team is doing to the other architects is key to success. They’ll take the burden of planning and communicating to let our engineers focus on building.
Not many agencies of our size have a Software Architect role on each project. We aren’t going to succeed without it, and this will set us apart from our competition.
We learned who our target client is. We found early success in building products for early-stage startups. But we hit friction because we learned that our culture doesn’t align with the quick-and-dirty mentality of startups. We focus on delivering quality, well-tested software. We’ve found that we’re most successful with larger companies where we share the same goal and are able to put in place a team large enough to deliver without sacrificing.
Our new target clients have established businesses from Series A-funded companies to Fortune 100 enterprises.
We prematurely launched a new service offering. We built an Agile transformation and Agile workshops service offering, but eventually decided it wasn’t the right time for it.
We still believe in helping businesses transform to Agile, but now is not the right time for us. We recognized we’d be more successful focusing on our core skillset: delivery quality software solutions. This includes digital transformation, building and rebuilding systems, and engineering products with React Native, React, and Elixir.
So, it was a little premature, but nothing that would set us back. We now forward all of this work to a trusted partner agency.
Cash is king. We placed a bigger emphasis on how we handle the cash flow of the business. As we’ve grown, we’ve had to change how we get paid to match our maturity as a business and our growth goals.
Goals/Vision for Next Year
A bigger emphasis on digital transformation work. The work we’ve done for our clients can definitely be classified as “digital transformation”-type work. In addition to building digital products, we've started transforming the way clients run their businesses from manual to automated with our software solutions. A good example of this is moving NSLC’s operations from manual spreadsheets to an automated and digital solution, and architecting Brideside's initial infrastructure to a more scalable, data-first environment to support their current & future growth.
Expand our business development efforts. I’m looking to hire an experienced business development leader who knows agency sales well and has sold large enterprise consulting deals. If that’s you, or if you know someone, please let me know.
To get on the Inc. 5000 in 2021. 2021 is the first year we qualify to be featured on the Inc. 5000. One of the requirements is being in business for at least three years with certain revenue and growth metrics. We are on track and ahead of schedule. Now we just have to keep the momentum going and continue to deliver.
Define our Culture. We have a strong culture at Foxbox Digital. We’re smart, passionate, risk-takers and free-thinkers. We love what we do. But there’s more to it that I can’t even articulate yet. My goal in 2020 is to define our culture and incorporate it into our recruiting, onboarding, and training processes.
My first step is to publish a culture handbook. This is something I’ve been working on for quite a while. Similar to how Basecamp published their employee handbook publicly, we will do the same. Be on the lookout for it.
Open micro-offices in Latin America. We opened up a small development center in Santa Fe, Argentina, which is the first of our micro-office concept. We’ve found success in recruiting talented developers in smaller cities in Latin America. Instead of opening one large office in Buenos Aires and competing with Facebook and Accenture, we’re experimenting with opening many small offices. All of these offices are in relatively the same time zone as Chicago, so nothing really changes from how we work.
THANK YOU + WE’RE HIRING!
Lastly, I wanted to say thank you to everyone who made 2019 such a great year for us—specifically my incredibly talented team and my network. Thank you to our team members who continue to help Foxbox Digital thrive, and thank you to our clients and community who continue to engage with our content.
If you are reading this and want to join our team, please head over to our careers page or reach out to me directly. I would love to hear from you.
Rob Volk is Foxbox Digital’s founder and CEO. Prior to starting Foxbox, Rob helped Fortune 100 clients, including Pfizer, USPS, and Morgan Stanley build and scale enterprise apps. He was the CTO of Beyond Diet and implemented technology that scaled to over 350k+ customers, and was the CTO and Co-Founder of Detective (detective.io), a venture-backed intelligence platform that amassed 200k+ users in a short time frame. Read more