At the end of the year, companies usually tend to go over the last twelve months and evaluate their decisions and performance. Naturally, as a young company, we have a lot to go over.
Mistakes were made.
Lessons have been learned.
Milestones were reached.
We went through a lot, and there is a lot more to come.
Plans are made to be broken
“Plans go to hell as soon as the first shot is fired.” - Lee Child
I have not been a part of a planning for a software project, that was executed as designed. Almost every single time something happens within the first two sprints that makes everything obsolete on the spot. Same goes for every other type of planning. Put that in a rising company and the effect increases tenfold. At the beginning of the year, we were planning to add 10 more people to our team. Want to guess how much we actually did add? It’s a number alarmingly lower than that… A series of mistakes were made that lead to that result, but each and every one of those mistakes was a lesson learned and never repeated.
The value of putting your name out there
Running a business is hard. Like... Really hard. There are so many aspects of it, that will make your head spin. In our case, the Software Development consultancy, the actual software development was the least of our concerns. That’s something we know how to do, it’s our domain, our safe circle. It was the other stuff that took its toll. Marketing, Lead generation, Social presence, Brand development, Financials, etc. As a software developer, many of those things proved to be quite the challenge.
The one approach I found out works well - networking.
I never actually said it out loud, but I always kinda thought that, if we are good in the thing we do, business is guaranteed to bloom. Bad news. That’s not nearly enough. Especially in such a competitive market as Outsourcing. In Bulgaria. What I found out was that when you open yourself up to other professionals in your field, things start to happen.
That’s the chart for the traffic on our site. Can you guess, where I started to realize that?
What worked for us, may not work for others, but… Blogs, Social presence, Conferences, Cooperatives… All a good way to start.
You never know where the golden goose hides, but it may present itself in the most unexpected places.
Caution is advised though… Some geese are not what they look like…
Find a focus
Now this one is both a personal and company related. If you try to be more than one thing at a time, you can’t expect to exceed in any of them. Once you start deviating from a certain goal to pursue other ones, you naturally stop giving 100% of your focus to any of them. The chart above is a real-world example of that. The moment I decided my main focus is to drive the company forward and not just be a Consultant, that does it in his spare time, things started to take off. Of course, since we aren’t particularly big, I still have to do some Development from time to time, but I learned to focus on one thing at a time.
Same goes for the focus of the company. In the case of Software Development Consulting, this boils down to two things:
Technology Stack - You have to have a clear idea in what you are good at, and what you can bring to your client as an added value - that’s something we were pretty clear on since the start. Many of the big players in the market offer a wide variety of stacks they offer their services on, but I can promise you that, all of them have started with a single domain.
Industry - That’s something we are still struggling to find. Even though most of our projects are focused around the Sporting industry, the added value we bring isn’t actually related to sports. What we have brought our focus to is Digital Transformation and Major improvements on existing systems. There still is a lot of room to bring the focus down though, so we keep working on that.
Perhaps the biggest mistake a rising startup can make is counting on deals that are vaguely promising when making financial plans. If we closed every deal with a client who was “super excited” to work with us, we would have become a million dollar business in a year. Alas, this is not the case. Not all customers will turn into paying ones, and even those that are happy with a “test” project, are not guaranteed to stick around.
Until you have a signed contract, nothing is certain.
Standing your ground
This one is tightly related to the previous point. Securing a contract isn’t a done deal. Sometimes clients will try to bend the terms. You have to stand your ground. In the end, this will be the better decision for both parties.
When you are the ones they hired to be the expert, act like it.
Again that’s something we learned the hard way. I have experienced it before when working a nine to five job, but when it was in the context of the company, it did put a strain on our financials, and eventually, led to a mutually agreed termination. While that freed a lot of resources on our end for new ventures, it left the client in a limbo where they had to onboard another team, which of course, puts a strain on their financials as well. All in all, both parties lost something directly as a result of poor planning and sporadic resource management.
Having the right team
Now. The deals part could have been easily avoided, had we sought the advice of a sales specialist, before learning the lesson the hard way. Starting with only Software Developers in the team can be quite a humbling experience… We are a special breed that thinks we can do almost anything. The real world, however, can prove to be quite challenging. We had to go way out of our comfort zone, sitting in front of a keyboard and coding the problems away. Networking. Pitching. Clients interactions. Not things of our day to day experience so far. I even had to give up coding almost completely…
All of that has made us way better professionals. We started networking. Found the value of… just asking… I was absolutely blown away by what response one can get by simply cold messaging some people on LinkedIn.
So all in all… If you have the Sales and Networking guy in your team from the get-go, things are probably going to be a bit easier. Same would probably go for other roles as well. We did learn to ask though, so let’s keep our fingers crossed we won’t run into the same wall again.
Ok. Enough of that.
There was a lot good going on all that time as well.
As a small company, we rely almost predominantly on co-working spaces for our offices. For the first six months of the year, we resided in Work&Share in Sofia, Bulgaria. Maybe because we still haven’t lived through the cathartic experience of realizing the benefits of networking, our time there wasn’t something special. After that, however, we moved to the offices of CampusX. Calling it a co-working space will be a severe understatement. This place has literally stepped up our game during each and every day we have been here. The community here is huge. There are people of all kinds of industries and all of us live to share our knowledge and expand the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Bulgaria. If you get the chance to visit the Campus, do it. And maybe drop by?
Man, did we work on some cool stuff… Sure, code-wise, it wasn’t rocket science, but the scale of things was phenomenal.
We worked on the biggest US Scouting platform for soccer. We had to migrate the platform to Azure… Some might argue it’s not something special, but it was a first for us. While we did know how things work on paper, putting that knowledge to use on a real project of that scale, was a bit scary… And very, very exciting.
We solidified the use of our Gymnastics Judge Scoring System on yet another World Cup event here in Sofia. Because of that, we got to see how the big boys do it when we were invited to be technical consultants on the 36th Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships in Sofia.
The road ahead
Ever since we started, we never changed our core belief that everyone deserves to see their vision brought to life. With that in hand, we started working on a project of our own, that will empower inventors to easily validate their product ideas. Stay tuned on that one ;)
So to conclude…
Don’t throw everything into planning - plans are bound to evolve in our line of business.
Don’t be afraid to expose yourself. It’s amazing what you can achieve if you put yourselves on the radar of potential partners.
Find your focus.
Deals are not adamant. Keep that in mind.
Defend your opinion. After all, you are the expert.
Build your team. You can’t do it all by yourself. If someone claims they can - they are lying.
Take what you can from your surroundings. Don’t hold on giving back either.
Work on things that excite you.
Keep an eye on the bigger picture and the thing that drives you.