We're not a startup: we're a lifestyle business (and we love it)

Captain's log, stardate d360.y37/AB

Lifestyle Development Company Culture MarsBased
Àlex Rodríguez Bacardit
Founder & CEO
We're not a startup: we're a lifestyle business (and we love it)

In the wake of everyone's frenzy of creating businesses and raising funds, we're often confronted with questions like "can I invest in MarsBased?", "if you want to expand to other countries, why don't you raise money to do it faster?", "there's so much revenue you can make with a team of ten, so why don't you hire more salespeople and a bigger team to sell more?". More incredibly, we were approached to be acquired to "help your business grow" last year.

Why didn't we do it? The answer is clear: we are not a startup.

Even though pretty much any new business is a startup, I have come to define startups as follows:

A startup is a young business looking for a long-term sustainable business model and a solid base of loyal customers.

A couple of weeks ago, I discussed this on Twitter, whether a startup is a fast-growing business. My opinion is that growth is just another phase and that a startup begins before it finds the means & reason to grow. Read the discussion on this Twitter thread about growth and startups.

Thus, according to my definition, MarsBased is not a startup anymore, and it hasn't been for quite a long time: as a development consultancy, we know our business model, and we've got a solid customer base that enables us to be stable and grow as a business.

Since the conception of the company, we knew we wanted to develop projects using Ruby on Rails and JavaScript through consulting, which is a solid & repeatable model. Each of the founders had been consulting for so many years in previous ventures, which gave us experience and know-how. We just had to learn how to run a business.

As for the clients, we spent the first year or year and a half looking for our ideal customer - and that might and will change over time as the business grows - and became a profitable business since day one. Very early in the life of MarsBased, companies like Wuaki, Naiz or Ajuntament de Barcelona trusted us to develop their applications. Soon, we grew a regular stream of dealflow from both existing & new clients to make our business sustainable.

By my definition, we stopped being a startup pretty quickly, to become a solid business. But more than that, I am inclined to think that our values set us apart from being your regular startup. We are a lifestyle business instead.

What is a lifestyle business?

Before reviewing how we work, we will take a look at why we do it.

When creating a business, one can do it mostly for three prominent reasons: to make lots of money, to create impact on the world or a certain area (think of NGOs - for instance) or to lead a certain lifestyle.

The first two are quite self-explanatory and I won't cover them. Lifestyle businesses, however, are harder to explain.

According to Wikipedia:

A lifestyle business is a business set up and run by its founders primarily with the aim of sustaining a particular level of income and no more; or to provide a foundation from which to enjoy a particular lifestyle.

One good example of a lifestyle business is freelancers. Skilled people oftentimes become freelancers because they want to set the rules on how and why they work. Want to work only six hours a day, four days a week? Want to work remotely all the time? Want to work only on environment-friendly or ethic projects? Want to choose your clients? Become a freelancer then!

We are proud to say we are building a lifestyle business. MarsBased reflects the way we want to work and live.

When the three founders created the company, we were adamant on creating a consultancy with radically different values from the companies we worked for in the past.

Among other things, we wanted to be able to work from home, to be perfectly transparent to clients with pricing & methodologies, to use the technologies we like, to be able to say "no" to things we can't or don't want to do, and to be free from stress. All of this, while growing organically: no shortcuts. Shortcuts, in consulting businesses, are short-sighted and detrimental in the long term.

MarsBased in Tenerife

We also invest a lot in doing things differently: once a year we do a company retreat (this year we went to Tenerife - see picture above), we attend conferences together (like Fullstackfest or EuRuKo), we organise the monthly Startup Grind event in Barcelona, we organise conferences like the upcoming Barcelona - San Francisco Summit, and we do the bi-monthly Martian Days and Zerg Rushes.

In the Martian Days, we fly everyone to Barcelona and enjoy one day of non-client work: trainings, hands-on session with the founders sharing strategy & future plans, workshops, group activities, brainstormings, etc. We normally wrap up the Martian Day with some group leisure activity like going to some event, a team dinner or a football match.

In the Zerg Rushes, we do 8-hours marathons to work on internal projects: Ruby gems, internal tools, the website, spin-off products, documentation, proofs of concept, to catch up on the things that get stuck because of our daily obligations with client work.

These are just a few things we do to ensure everyone is happy, and to provide our employees with an attractive workplace in today's highly-competitive scene. But there's more we do to ensure we enjoy working!

In general, humans sleep one third of their lifetime, and work the other third. If you're unhappy at work, you will only have one third of your life to enjoy yourself (while being awake!). We're happy to contribute to making people's lives better.

Our buddies at Bugfender (a Mobile Jazz product) blogged recently about "Why a lifestyle business beats a startup" and I couldn't agree more with it. Their blog post was the icing on the cake for me to publish this one.

Both Mobile Jazz and MarsBased have got similar values that set us apart from regular businesses.

The MarsBased values

MarsBased has slowly become a way of doing things, and a way of operating a company, borrowing aspects from certain companies' company culture - such as Basecamp or thoughtbot - and some personal beliefs we wanted to set in stone in the company standards.

Let's review three of our core beliefs, which explain this better. Let's dive into them!

Quality over quantity

We'd rather do less, but better. That applies to the services we give, the technologies we work with and the number of people we've got in our team. Quality will always prevail in everything we do, as a provider of high-end IT solutions.

While we like moving fast, to maximise the chances of providing a good timing for our quality outcomes, we will always favour quality if that doesn't compromise any hard deadline.

Startups, on the other hand, need to try loads of different business models, hire large teams they can't afford (usually with heaps of interns as well), to test as fast as possible their business hypotheses using quick & dirty methods. Quality is not expected, as most of them believe in the "done is good enough".

Simpler is better

Life is enough complicated as it is. Most projects and products come with too many functionalities and requirements that will end up in the trash bin or never used. We clinically dissect the projects we develop and question whether our clients need everything they ask for, and help them to conceptualise a better product with fewer functionalities, thus sparing them both time & money and focusing on developing the features that do matter and increase their chances of success.

Conversely, it is often the case that startups will overengineer their tech solutions to impress both potential hires and/or investors, as it is the case with the team: oftentimes their website's Team section will feature people who are not involved with the startup at all, or at least just partially, to give the impression of being bigger & more solid than they are. Fake it till you make it, if you will.

Work/life balance

Consultancies are often conceived as toxic environments where employees work long shifts for extended periods of time, in highly stressful conditions, to meet impossible deadlines imposed by super-demanding clients.

While that might well be the case at most consultancies, it is certainly not the case at MarsBased.

As a small consultancy, our employees are our best asset. We are most thankful for having such an amazing team, so supportive of everything we do, delivering really good products/services to our clients.

We advocate for 40-hour work weeks where you're in charge of deciding where and when will you work. We're 100% remote, so you're entitled to work from the comfort of home, from your summer apartment or a coworking space if you want. We also give complete freedom to choose working schedules, as long as there's good coordination with the rest of the team.

Want a free day this week on Wednesday to travel, and want to work on Sunday instead? Go ahead!

As funny as it sounds, startups tend to adopt the big consultancies' working conditions of having to meet impossible deadlines imposed by investors or market needs, often being overworked on the premise that you're working against the clock. Funds aren't endless, so you need to make the most of your time lest you go out of business.

In all fairness, they're also good environments to learn fast for young people, whilst also having fun. If you like the Work hard, play hard philosophy, that's the place to be for you.

More reasons to keep being a lifestyle business

First of all, it's about priorities. It all boils down to how you want to do business instead of what you want to do. We're perfectly ok with having fewer clients, but better ones.

We, too, want to be able to be in complete control of our decisions. Bringing in external investors, board members and advisors will most likely cause any company to stray from the original path for many multiple reasons. In our case, though, we know the endgame, and we know how to reach it. We need no external drivers to bring us from where we are to where we want to go.

Likewise, we want to be able to maintain or improve our lifestyle as the company grows. None of our employees has ever been imposed to work over their 40-hour workweek since we started the company or been downgraded to worse working conditions. We are not taking new projects at the expense of our wellness & working ethics.

Granted, some projects are more interesting than others, but we try to look for either innovating technologies or challenges we can solve with our expertise. For instance, we rebuilt zapptales' product to be able to scale and serve their customers internationally, from a really modest MVP that could serve two people at a time at best.

We have also been able to investigate and use really new technologies (Angular or Ionic when they were advanced Release Candidates) to help businesses to automate their internal processes and save them money. Or else, we also chose to work with companies like Wuaki or Zinio because of their international prestige and their working methodologies. We've learnt a lot from them!

Finally, this philosophy grants us the possibility of most of the times of bonding deeper with everyone we work with: clients, partners, employees and pretty much everyone in the business world.

Most of the aforementioned things wouldn't have been possible if we had a different kind of company, and we look forward to maintaining this for the years to come!

For all these reasons, and many more you can find in our previous blog entries, we are simply elated to keep growing MarsBased organically the way we want to do it.

If this sounds interesting to you and you're a Ruby developer, we want to hear from you. We're hiring again! Shoot us an email at [email protected] with your CV & Github account!

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