As the end of 2015 approaches, we have joined the masses in taking stock of the passing year and started setting our sights on the next. The last few years have been a big jump for us and we’ve grown a lot. These transitions haven’t always been easy (that’s why they’re called growing pains), but we’ve come out stronger and better than ever. We saw a lot of changes in 2015, particularly structurally, as well as hit a few milestones that we are STILL jazzed about.
Let’s take a brief tour through recent WDS history to get you completely caught up to today:
Prior to 2014, WDS worked in one group that took on projects based on developer availability, which was a controlled chaos, but chaos nevertheless. During that time, we transitioned from being a company that focused on small builds (blogs and businesses) to a full-scale design and development agency that took on enterprise clients; the kind of clients we looked to work with (and started to sign) expected high levels of customization and design work that was not only attractive, but effective, so we adjusted accordingly. This period also led us to narrowing our spotlight: we stopped splitting our labor between creating premium products and client services to focus exclusively on the latter.
As our workload increased, it became clear we needed more leadership and structure, as well as more people. As a result, at WDSCamp 2014, WDS created teams with a more hierarchical structure–including dedicated project managers and developer/designer leads.
In 2014, we also added a third team to our mix when WebDevStudios acquired Maintainn, a WordPress maintenance and support company founded by Shayne Sanderson. We were pleased and proud to bring Maintainn into the fold; combining their super-skilled folks with ours has allowed us to offer more comprehensive services to our clients. In 2015, we’ve been able to utilize this acquisition to offer clients a seamless transition from site build to ongoing maintenance and give them the opportunity to truly see their investment (their site!) in action. Being able to offer this has been huge for us; we get to provide clients the opportunity to keep their site in the hands of people they know and trust.
In 2015, these teams became more focused, allowing us to take on bigger clients and more complex projects. After facing a few unexpected challenges in 2014, we pushed forward to update our operating procedures and standards–an endeavor in streamlining our workflow and boosting our efficiency that has extended well into this last year. Creating standardized processes for how we handle clients, projects, and internal communication has transformed the way that we work, and is something we’re continuing to do as we grow.
In the last two years, as the teams were truly hitting their stride, we also had the opportunity to expand other parts of WDS, including our marketing. Dre Armeda came on as the VP of Operations and led the charge on amping up our marketing efforts. In turn, this led to hiring me at the beginning of 2015. Since then, we’ve had a steady concentration on developing a more extensive strategy and refining our process moving forward.
One of the big things we set out to do was organically grow WDS’ presence on the web, and of course, content marketing is a major part of that. When we started collaborating around what we wanted that to look like, we realized that our major assets (our ragtag team of jaw-droppingly smart misfits with varied life and professional experiences) overlapped with our fundamental values (education and community), and that we could utilize this to our advantage.
Both learning and teaching, as well as contributing to the WordPress community, has always been high priority for WDS, and we wanted our content to reflect that. As a result, in the last year we’ve more than doubled the number of posts put out during the course of the year. While some of those still include the basics, like which events our team members will be attending, the vast majority of our blog is dedicated to sharing what we’ve learned, what we love, and what we’re trying out, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
Over the last year and a half, we’ve seen our teams flourish into glorious, productive beasts, ready to take on pretty much anything, anywhere. As these teams have matured and improved the way we work, we’ve seen our folks do what they do best: get business done, learn well, and create fantastic work–even when the workload is intense!
Superheroes Stepping Forward
Part of that team growth is not only reflected in terms of numbers, but also advancement. Over the last year, these folks got promoted:
- Melissa Hoppe – from Customer Service Representative to Project Manager
- Dre Armeda – from Vice President of Operations to Chief Marketing Officer (and Partner)
- Justin Sternberg – from Developer Lead to Director of Engineering
- Chris Reynolds – from Developer to Developer Lead
- Rami Abraham – from Developer to Developer Lead
- Jay Wood – from Junior Developer to Developer
We created a few positions that hadn’t previously existed in their current iterations (Client Communications Specialist, Chief Marketing Officer, the Director of Engineering, and Maintainn’s Project Manager). All of these, of course, include tasks that were being completed before, but these positions were created to help ease the workload on those who were doing two, three, or four jobs at the same time and provide a concerted effort in areas that were being underserved.
We also said goodbye to some folks we adore; we were sad to say goodbye to Patrick Garman, Stacy Kvernmo, and Shayne Sanderson, who moved on to new endeavors.
We’ve Learned Some Stuff
We’re a relatively small company, but we still work with big clients. As a result, much of our education has been a baptism by fire! Over the last few years, we’ve learned a few crucial things:
Get everything in writing.
The necessity for the Director of Engineering position became clear when we realized that our communication with clients wasn’t absolutely everything it could be. In the past, we made the mistake of not having every minute detail planned out and assumed it would be fine–only to find out that this sometimes wasn’t the case. By refining our process for project discovery and signing clients, we elevated the level of service we provide. We now have the ability to forecast more accurately, to be more efficient, and to make sure that everyone is on the same page–about absolutely everything.
Don’t be afraid to ask for accountability–both from your team and from your clients.
This is where the importance of leadership comes in. If you read our blog, you’ve probably already read a few things by our project managers on the importance of taking responsibility when leading a team; our three amazing PMs (and the developer leads they work with) have fearlessly served as advocates for both their team members and the clients they work with. Their motivation, organization, and fortitude has helped us all work better.
Know how–and when–to grow.
One of the conversations that is constantly taking place is: How and when can we extend? We work with big clients, but we’re still a small team. By being conservative but proactive in the way we hire, we avoid straining our resources.
Value the folks around you.
While we’re always accepting applications and have pushed for new hires throughout the year, you may have noticed that we love to promote from within. We’ve been lucky; we have a team of people who love to learn, love to teach, and have an overwhelming sense of humility when it comes to what they know and where they came from, as well as a strong sense of commitment (read: mild workaholism) and determination. As a result, we’ve ended up with a lot of die-hard WDS-ers who have grown within the company. Reward the folks you work with–not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it makes your team better.
WDSCamp 2015 was also an extraordinary demonstration of how our team is valued. The bonding was real and it was derived from the company culture created by our executives. That culture prioritizes value even in day-to-day interactions; the politeness, appreciation, and admiration, both expressed directly and when someone isn’t around, would be too Pollyanna-ish to be believed if it weren’t so obviously sincere. This is a fundamental component of how and why our team can do what it does so well.
Cause for Celebration
This last year has been good to us! We’ve been fortunate to accomplish quite a lot:
- We kicked off the year with a gorgeous new site complete with a fun little easter egg (that changes to one of Rami’s brilliant creations once a week).
- Maintainn also got a snazzy refresh in the spring.
- We worked on projects for major brand names, including Discovery Communications, Uber, HEB, National Park Services, Microsoft, and Campbell’s Soup.
- We saw our lead inquiries increase over 90%. Yes, seriously.
- With the help of Michael, all of our Project Managers (and I) got props in BuddyPress.
- Three new books on WordPress dropped: Professional WordPress: Design and Development, 3rd Edition, dropped in January 2015, WordPress for Dummies, 7th Edition, dropped in August 2015, and WordPress Web Design for Dummies, 3rd Edition, dropped in October 2015.
- We hosted our largest WDSCamp ever and it was a resounding success! We were having withdrawals for months to come (possibly still now).
- Custom Post Types UI was our first plugin to hit one million downloads.
- During the State of the Word, presented by Matt Mullenweg at the inaugural WordCamp US, we were recognized for the work we have done with Microsoft Dynamics.
- Brad was one of the organizers of the aforementioned inaugural WordCamp US, which was an incredible success, and mentioned in the decree naming December 5th, 2015 WordPress Day in Philadelphia.
WebDevStudios in the New Year
It’s a new year. 2016, we’re coming for you!