We've accomplished a lot in two years but we're still a long way from where we want to be. As we set out into our third year there are a lot of things on our mind. We have new goals that we hope to achieve by this time next year, fears that keep us up at night and inspiration that gets us through the difficult or mundane weeks.
Win Some Cold-Call Work - At this point we have a pretty substantial portfolio. We need to figure why we have such a hard time making that initial impression. When we can't be there in person how do we win some work from "strangers"?
Make New Friends - We can't say it enough, personal relationships are critical. We need to step up our social game to get more insight, as our business becomes more complex.
Diversify Clients - We're small and we have a few very important clients but if we have any hope of standing the test of time we need to make sure we have many sources of work. As we expand our business this will become increasingly important.
Increase Bandwidth and Capabilities - Contractor availability comes and goes and as we continue to bring in more work we'll need to expand our core set of contractors. We also have some gaps in our capabilities, particularly on small scale projects. New talent is tough to find so we need to always be on the look out. Who knows, maybe our first full-time hire is in the cards for this year...
No Work - We make our money project to project. Much of our work leads to repeat business but you can never count on it. A client can choose to change direction at any time and we need to be prepared. Part of what will help combat this is diversifying our clients but inevitably this is a reality of our line of work. That's why we make sure to maintain a conservative financial buffer to get us (and anyone we bring on) through the tough times.
Stagnation - The industry moves fast. We've tasted a tiny bit of stability and success doing things "our way" but we need to make sure that the second that stops working we are able to step back and objectively evaluate what needs to change. The more we get things right the more difficult change will ultimately be when things go wrong.
We've Got It All Wrong - We could deliver great work at a studio if we just wanted to work for one but we started Karman to achieve something different. What drives us to make Karman succeed is that we have a greater vision of how a digital studio should operate. We believe that our vision will attract better talent, keep people happier and ultimately produce better work for our clients. From our own experiences we think this will work but it is totally unproven. Over the next couple years our vision will really be put to the test and it's terrifying to think we may have it totally wrong.
"Nothing is Original. Steal from anywhere that resonates..." - Jim Jarmush
These are some of the organizations and ideas that inspire us, what they do, and how we're running with their ideas and incorporating them into Karman.
Buffer - Default to transparency. This post is our first step in that direction. The nature of some of our work requires us to be secretive about properties and clients. As a result there are some things we just can't open up about. However, any cool tech we discover for ourselves we'd like to share. We plan on embodying complete transparency to our employees when we move to that stage. Our belief is that there's more to be gained in being transparent than there is to lose. If, once an employee sees how we do things they think they can do it better themselves then more power to them. We really shouldn't be in business if every member isn't adding to the value of the whole.
Valve - The flat hierarchy and independent projects. From day one we've wanted to create a company where employees work on client work to keep their skills sharp and their ideas grounded in reality while being given the chance to explore any of their curiosities. A lot of employers want to hire employees with unlimited creativity and an insatiable curiosity but put them on work where they build to a spec. Where's the chance to use those two qualities? We want our employees to contribute to supporting the business immediately through classic client work but also over the long term through whatever they choose to pursue. In our line of work in particular, every skill learned from knitting to node.js is of direct value to our organization.
Undead Labs - Transparent and guaranteed operations - Similar to Buffer’s equation for calculating employee salaries, Undead Labs has not only made their method of calculating profit sharing open not only to their employees but to the public as a whole. We want our employees to trust that we’ll stay true to our word. The best way to do that is to put your promises in writing and act on it. As we solidify our own company policies we’ll be sharing them with the community. Hopefully, our policies inspire others to take our ideas further or, at the very least attract a few bright minds.
B Corp - A formal structure for social responsibility. To be honest, we’re still wrapping our heads around what being a B Corp means exactly. We’re big fans of the idea that corporations should operate in a way that is beneficial to their community and public but haven’t had the time to really dig into the details. We went through the initial application process but much of it seems geared towards much larger organizations than our own. In short, we’re on board with the ideas but are still grappling with the details. If you’ve applied to B Corp or had any experience with it reach out, we’d love to pick your brain over some drinks.
Teehan+Lax - Their story, style, and tech. If you have the time, take a read through Teehan+Lax’s story. It’s a fascinating read through the rise and lessons learned by one of Toronto’s top design shops. Our inspiration for writing these posts came from their annual blog posts where they share a lot of the lessons they learn. They also have a formidable R&D program that gives weary employees the opportunity to try new things. T+L’s R&D program is an idea that we’d like to take quite a bit further as we grow but I'll save that for another post.
The Big Picture
Today, we're just starting to dip into the really interesting big picture decisions. Up to now the objectives have been to form relationships, win work, complete work and repeat. Not much room for direction there. Now that we've established a modest foothold and have the experience of a solid year’s work behind us the direction becomes a little more open ended. Jon and I are clear about what we want Karman to look like in the long term (5-10 years) but the order of the steps to get there is up for debate. Do we want to focus on growth or put out our own IP? Should we start to hire? Expand our roster of sub-contractors? Get an office? Many would say, "Look at your finances. What actions were the most profitable and costly. Focus on those." While that information is helpful our goal for the business isn't for maximum financial return. We want to maximize stability, personal satisfaction, experiences that make people smile and ultimately establish an environment that enables others to achieve those goals as well. The steps to obtain those goals are not as clear and we will start to grapple with those challenges this year.
Well, that’s it for the Review posts for now. Let us know if you have any comments or suggestions. If you’d like to talk we’re always happy to make new friends, get in touch. Hopefully, I get the chance to write a few technical posts this year but if not we’ll see how things have progressed by this time next year!