We’ve just recently crossed over the 4 year threshold and, around 200 projects and somewhere around 75 clients later, Fuzzy Math is healthy, happy, and chugging along. It’s been a tremendous pleasure to help lead this firm during that time and think someone, somewhere, might be interested in some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Everyone does lists these days, so why can’t I?
I. It’s about the people (co-workers)
This isn’t about creating the “A-team” or our hiring practices, but instead that somehow we’ve hired a bunch of really nice people. Much much nicer than I am. And it’s been a pleasure to work with them over the past 4 years. It makes coming to work, assigning projects, and delivering to clients much, much better. The team is also extremely talented which helps, but hiring nice people you want to work with should be higher priority for people.
II. It’s about the people (clients)
Business is about cultivating relationships with other people. It’s that simple. If I sense there will be a good relationship with a client, I’ll pick that work any day over something bigger or potentially more profitable. We haven’t always been in a position to turn down work, but there have been a few dodged bullets. These were either projects that didn’t work out or projects we said no to, that I think saved us some angst along the way. And yet we have a tremendous client roster and projects that have left us and our clients proud and happy.
III. Practicing my craft still matters
I tell people that I’m a practicer first and small-business owner second. I rarely say I’m an entrepreneur even if I started a business. For me an entrepreneur identifies a market for a product or service and tackles it. They’re driven by different motivators than someone like myself, who has always been part of the IA/UI/UX world and then decided to open up a firm. I think practicing the UX craft on projects keeps me closer to our clients, employees, and the problems people are facing. Plus I just really, really enjoy it.
IV. Co-founder don’t need to be a mix of sales and tech
This wasn’t a hypothesis I meant to test. This was reality and it worked. When we started Fuzzy Math we didn’t have a sales or marketing person. We still don’t. And yet we still manage to sell work because we form relationships with our potential clients (and grow relationships with current ones). Sure, if we wanted to scale past the teens we might need professional sales folk, but we didn’t need someone with sales and marketing expertise to build this business. And while I respect those crafts, frankly I think Fuzzy Math is better off when we aren’t worried about how to market our product. We focus on delivering exactly what our clients want and ensure they are happy.
V. Entrepreneurs can be cautious
UX is in a bit of a boom these days but we’ve always taken a very conservative approach to growth at Fuzzy Math. It’s part of the DNA of the founders and I think it provides a stable, secure atmosphere for our employees. And it’s a cautionary tale that explains how being cautious and going against the “risky” nature of entrepreneurship can actually work out for the better. We continue to hire and grow while maintaining our margins with healthy financials. We’re excited to move into a space 3 times larger, but we waited to do so until it made sense and the financials lined up. We haven’t taken a lot of risks, but the rewards have still been delivered with a stable, successful design studio.
VI. Discomfort can be beneficial
I’ve learned that being extremely uncomfortable is when I learn the most, push myself, and deliver. We try to put people in a position to succeed on projects. To accomplish this we ask our employees to find areas where they excel, areas that they are interested in, and areas where they can stretch. We want them to be happy and doing what they want, but we also want them to push themselves into areas where they aren’t all that comfortable — to stretch and grow. It can be extremely uncomfortable at times, but in the end it makes for better products and projects, and happier clients and employees.
So there’s my list — looking forwarding to another one at year 8.