What a long strange trip it's been: our 2019 in review
Captain's log, stardate d520.y38/AB
After an initial big setback, 2019 turned out to be one of our best years. We want to share everything that's happened, broken down month per month in this post.
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
At the beginning of the year, we decided to write a comprehensive blog post about all the major happenings in our company during the previous year, as 2018 turned out to be an exciting ride. We compiled it all on the Our 2018 in Review blog post.
While we looked forward to kicking off 2019, we could not foresee what the future had in store for us. Hence, the name of this blog post: What a Long Strange Trip It's Been, inspired by the name of the fireside chat I had with Dhiraj Mukherjee, co-founder of Shazam, at our Startup Grind Tech 2018 (a name he drew from the 1977 Grateful Dead compilation album).
In the last days of 2018, our biggest client decided to pause our collaboration overnight. Four of our developers found themselves with no project, and we had to shift our focus to push sales harder than before.
This happened at the same time I signed the contract for my first book, Camino al Éxit(o), so it was a strange month for me as well, having to split it between sales and writing, both at full speed.
Luckily, we managed to revert the situation and started working on new projects like the new corporate website of Startup Genome and an e-commerce project called Freshis - not yet released. Further, I managed to finish my book in time, and I wrote How I Wrote a Book in a Month on Medium to explain the process.
In January we also announced that we started offering Node.js development and React development to the world. Also, and despite not announcing it until March, we began developing our very first product (more on this later).
Last, but not least, we translated the remaining parts of the web that were only in English. From January, the Work section is also available in Spanish.
In February, we premiered one of our internal projects. We launched the Startup Grind Tech Conference website we built using LocomotiveCMS. We also announced the final line-up of speakers for the 2019 edition of the conference.
Speaking of Startup Grind, I attended the Startup Grind Flagship conference in San Francisco, like I do every year. Some 7000 people gathered to witness one of the best conferences for startups out there. The line-up was stellar.
After the conference, all the Chapter Directors of the world spent 2-3 days in a get-together, where we enjoy workshops, Q&A with the leadership team, we review the year and we spend quality time together. Another interesting thing we do is that the best chapters are awarded according to different categories.
Our Chapter in Barcelona was awarded in three different categories, and we remain solidly at the top of the table since 2016 when we were awarded Chapter of the Year.
In February, we signed one of our most recent clients, Pivot Analysis, a no-hassle suite of tools for team and player analysis whose frontend visualisation layer we built using React.
March is always a most special month. We celebrate our anniversary in March, and this year we've turned five.
Five years running our first company is a huge landmark for us. We're simply elated with how it's been so far, especially taking into consideration how we've survived twice losing our biggest customer overnight.
In fact, in March we signed two of our biggest clients ever: Spin (a Ford company), who hired us as Ruby on Rails experts to help them speed up their development pace and scale up their platform, and then Everis, the biggest Spanish consultancy, who hired us to help them with Angular and Node.js for some of their most ambitious projects. Additionally, we signed the extension to two smaller clients with whom we've been working for well over four years now.
Having turned the initial setback around, we decided it was time to let the world know that we're building our own product, Rosetta. Rosetta is a tool for HR companies and departments to assess the language skills of their candidates. You can read our Rosetta announcement here. It was, indeed, a great time to announce it.
Paradoxically, and in spite of our rough first quarter, we decided to expand the team again to tackle all these projects.
After a month of big celebrations, April followed. In April, we celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of Startup Grind Barcelona. Every year, we host a really big event to celebrate this occasion, but this year, we decided to move our annual conference from Q4 to April, to have it all together.
However, having had only four months to prepare and - again - the focus shift to sales for MarsBased affected the conference, and we didn't raise enough sponsors to make it break even. As a result, we lost some money, but we still managed to pull it off.
Among other highlights, I presented my book there and Startup Genome's Laís de Oliveira premiered their new platform we developed.
Startup Genome at Startup Grind Tech Conference 2019
Startup Genome have been helping worldwide startup ecosystems to thrive thanks to their new platform, which allows them to publish their annual reports, valuable content, and information about each and every one of the top ecosystems on the planet. Check the Startup Genome platform here.
After a big conference and having signed so many (big) clients, May was really intense. It forced us to be at the peak of our creativity and productivity, but we managed to publish a new section on our website, the Services Pages:
We needed to double down on selling if we wanted to avoid other hiccups, so we published these pages to help potential customers to learn more about the technologies and services we offer.
In May, we also onboarded two new Martians to the team: Leire, our new Office Manager, and Genís, a fullstack developer. May was also the month in which we started going regularly to Madrid to expand our network. I am now spending one week every month to do business development.
Before the summer started, we celebrated our annual Martian Retreat. This time, we went to Menorca, to enjoy good weather and a bit of relaxing after the intense first half of the year.
The MarsBased team in Menorca
In June, too, we started our first year on the Catalonia Logistics Business Cluster board after a successful first year of helping companies in the logistics and mobility sectors.
At the end of the month, we also got another client from the US. We joined the team of ValuationMetrics to help them with our expertise on Ruby on Rails to scale up their platform.
Last, we reached 500 subscribers on the MarsBased newsletter exactly one year after its initial launch. All this growth has been organic and following our principles of not rushing things, adding value on every issue.
After such an intense first half of the year, we decided to publish one of our most successful blog posts ever: Here's (Almost) Everything We've Learnt in Our First Five Years. In this blog, we shared some of the lessons we've learnt The Hard Way™, some positive surprises and general insights on running an all-remote team of developers for five years.
That brought me to be invited more often to speak at events. In fact, two remarkable events invited me to speak in July. First, I flew to Glasgow to be their special guest at their Startup Grind Summer Party, where their Director, Daniel Reilly, stepped down and passed the baton to the new Chapter Director.
Watch the Startup Grind Glasgow fireside chat, where we talked about a good alternative to venture capital: bootstrapping startups and running remote teams.
Later in the month, I was invited to take part in the Seaside Startup Summit in Sevan, Armenia. Unfortunately, there's no video recording on that masterclass about company culture I gave by a campfire (literally), but we published four blog posts about everything we know about company culture:
- How We Came Up With Our Company Culture
- Our Company Culture Helps Us to Hire Faster and Better. Here's How!
- Leading by Example: Transmitting Company Culture in Your Organisation
- Maintaining Company Culture in Remote Environments
August is traditionally a quiet month: almost everyone is on holiday. This year, something very cool happened: the three founding partners of the company went on holiday at the same time, for three weeks, and nothing bad happened! This goes to prove that the company had finally found stability.
While we were away, two other cool things happened: First, our Startup Grind Barcelona community reached 6000 members. An incredible landmark of an extremely loyal community, which has been with us for well over 70 events. You can check them all on the Startup Grind Barcelona Website.
The second cool thing is that our mobile app for Vies Verdes was awarded at a European level. To be honest, although we're grateful for the award, we feel more accomplished knowing that visually impaired people have now a tool to guide them around the hiking tracks in the beautiful province of Girona.
Back from the holidays, I found out that one of our best clients had been acquired. After four years of working for DPL ETT, the project came to a sudden halt during the acquisition process. Big part of that acquisition was the growth fuelled by the platform we developed for them since 2016, which helped them to grow 285% in only four years.
As a matter of fact, not only had they been a loyal customer for four years, but they were the ones who convinced us to develop a mobile app for them, even though we didn't do mobile at the time. It was our first Ionic project, and it holds really well after all the modifications we've done over the years.
Having grown a larger team, and planning to grow even further thanks to signing a second project with Everis, we decided to review our pricing scheme and the roles within the company. We are constantly auditing all aspects of the company, such as the tools we use, the services we offer, our marketing experiments, and it only felt natural to review pricing and the composition of our team to allow for more flexibility and be able to get more diverse clients.
In September, we always attend FullStackFest. This year, it was one of our latest hires, Genís, to attend it and he shared his list of favourite talks with us on his first blog post My Favourite Talks of FullStackFest.
This team growth made us see that we needed some processes and documentation in place to make sure the onboarding process of new hires worked fine. For that purpose, we released our Employee Handbook, along with two new pages of the website, the Newsletter Archive and the page of a new service we had just devised: Tech Audits for Venture Capital and M&A (Merger and Acquisition) firms.
As for Startup Grind, we had been riding a very successful year, too. At that point, we had sold out in almost every event of the year. In October, for the CTO month, we hosted Elisenda Bou, CTO of Vylinx.
Watch the fireside chat with Elisenda Bou here, where we discussed how to assemble AI teams and how to scale them.
In November, we hired another Martian, this time for the Ruby team. Mario Nunes joined the Martian spaceship to bring in his expertise in Ruby and become our 15th Martian. Hitting 15 full-time members is yet another big accomplishment we have achieved during 2019.
For the last quarter of the year, we did some internal cleaning, like Google famously does in their Spring Cleaning. We shut down the Startup Grind Andorra chapter after two years, got rid of a bunch of SaaS tools we weren't fully using, terminated some marketing experiments and cancelled a few memberships. Doing this process of internal cleaning should be done every few months in order to declutter the company, keep finance under control and be more aligned with our core value of less is more.
In one of the very last talks of the year, I was honoured to speak at IndieHackers BCN, a community for indie makers and bootstrapped companies. Since we have sort of become a reference in all-remote companies and even in the digital nomads space, I was invited to speak about how to bootstrap a development agency while travelling around the world and how to build trust with large corporations, who traditionally only hire big consultancies to have their consultants come to their office and do on-site work.
In terms of clients, we received the good news of a one-year extension with one of our favourite clients, zapptales after three entire years working with them. Having such loyal customers helps us to build a powerful reputation in the industry, and it proves we're here for the long term.
We wrapped up the month of November by developing a really cool thing during our famous Zerg Rush: a Slack bot to integrate with Spotify and help us with the weekly Spotify contest. It automates some of the processes such as the playlist population and the creation of automatic reminders on Slack and the playlist thread for everyone to vote.
December has been one of our most intense months. All the hard work of the year paid off even more.
We received word from all clients saying they wanted to continue working with us, and some even increased our dedication thanks to their successful fundraising and/or growth. We even managed to land a new contract with the GSCC (Strategic Communications at European Climate Foundation) to develop a prototype of a new spin-off they're launching next year.
Another great news came in the shape of perhaps the most outstanding accomplishment so far: we broke the one million revenue mark in a single year. We even shared it on social media as part of our transparency guidelines. We received messages from all over the world congratulating us for such a milestone.
We couldn't wrap up such a special year without being thankful to everyone who's been with us for the ride, so we wrote and published our Thank You 2019 blog post and invited our team and extended family (freelancers and providers) to our X-mas dinner. While we had been hosting X-mas dinners since the first year, this is the first time we opened it up to non-team members and it definitely made it feel even more special, as some of them have been working for us for some years now.
What a ride! We can't even begin to express how over the moon we feel with what we've experienced and enjoyed during 2019.
We can't wait to see you all in 2020! Have a nice end of the year!
Love from Mars!