What we're up to now - Reflections on the first half of 2021
Captain's log, stardate d413.y39/AB
We have completed the first half of 2021, and we thought we'd let you know about what's going on at MarsBased regarding projects, team, strategy and more!
The first half of 2021 is over, and we're still looking to go back to normality after 18 months of the pandemic. Although as a company we have been barely affected, if at all, a lot of us have on a personal level, as we shared in our previous entry Beating the virus: lessons from our seventh year running MarsBased.
Not even in the wildest predictions would we have thought that 18 months later we would still be in this situation, so we thought it'd be interesting for many people out there that we shared how we're navigating this uncertainty.
We kicked off the year signing a few new projects - more detail later on - and so we decided to grow the team. 2020 was a weirdly bizarre year but we solidified a lot of workflows, methodologies and tools inside the company.
The general motto of this year has been let's go back to growth, always following our organic growth philosophy.
We're working intelligently hard to navigate this pandemic and to face head-on all the possible scenarios when this will come to an end.
Our most valuable asset, the team, has grown by three people. Since January, we have hired two developers (José Miguel and Laura) and one project manager, Núria. In fact, José Miguel is the first non-Spanish team member we have, and this has allowed us to become a fully-fledged English-first company at all levels!
The company is growing in terms of projects, so we require new hires on a regular basis. However, as opposed to most companies with other growth strategies, we have never hired more than 3 or 4 people per year, and we plan to stay this way.
Transmitting company culture to new hires is one of the hardest things to do in all-remote work environments. Therefore, we must ensure doing our best as a company to help new hires to soak up our company culture and everything they need to perform as expected.
We have also started working with a few extra freelancers to help us with bigger projects. Over the years, working with a stable mass of highly skilled freelancers has helped us to manage more projects than we could assume, but also we've ended up hiring a few of them to be part of our team. After all, if they can do a great job as freelancers for us over a long period of time, it's pretty sure that they will become great employees.
We have also grown the roles of tech lead. Not in quantity, but in quality, taking over more responsibilities within the projects. We have also rotated some of our devs from one project to the other, which usually happens between the 12th and 18th month of being in a project.
Last, but not least, it is worth mentioning that in September it'll have been four years since the last employee walked out of the company. Having no employee turnover helps us to plan long-term, and this is something we discussed on our podcast, in the Seven years of MarsBased - Q&A with the founders episode.
In terms of new clients, we have signed quite a few this year!
First off, we started working again for Rundit, after a couple of years of hiatus. It feels always good to work again for old clients.
We have also started working for the giant multinational HP, in our first ever project for them, to help them to re-build one internal tool using Node.js and React. We're excited about working for them!
Another big project we have started this year is the re-build of the Infopraca platform, one of the biggest jobs portals in Poland. After many years of operating with their platform, they have hired us to rebuild it using Ruby on Rails, and it's proving to be one of the biggest and most technically interesting projects we have found so far!
Closer to home, we have started two new projects: first off, the new Singularu platform, for which we are re-engineering their Shopify engine and building a headless e-commerce platform using a combination of React and LocomotiveCMS to help them to scale as their business expands, as they're hitting hyper-growth mode, now!
Secondly, we have started working for Minka, a spin-off of the social network for naturalists iNaturalist. For them, we are doing a rebranding, building a new UI and forking off the project to operate independently in their pursuit of a new strategy.
Last, but not least, in Q4 we will start working for a new Barcelona-based startup called DeWocracy, a company helping other businesses to transition and optimise for a hybrid working model through the fine-tuning of their usage of their real estate capacity. We will build their mobile apps using React Native.
As of September, we won't be working anymore for our biggest client to date.
Last June, and after well over two years working together, we decided that we would be slowly transitioning out of the project due to a big cultural clash and contractual friction.
Long story short, their company is undergoing a lot of structural changes and they're forcing new conditions unto all providers that would not only compromise the quality of our work but also our integrity as a company and the privacy of our employees. This is a line we're not willing to cross, and so we decided to part ways amicably.
We will be sharing more details over the coming months both in our blog and our podcast, as we believe this is a transformational moment for the company. This client had amounted to almost half of our revenues in the past.
As for the rest of the clients, we keep working for most of the clients we have had for years. It's been five years with zapptales, and six with Naiz, for which we've helped them to implement their latest redesign, lately!
We're especially excited about the new platform we are developing for the European Climate Foundation to help them to keep their internal knowledge more centralised and properly organised using technology. Having an expert in information cataloguing like our COO, Jordi, has been critical to the correct definition of this project.
We also keep working for Spin, Localistico, Blueprint, Startup Genome, ValuationMetrics, ZeMobile, C40 and more. All of them have been our clients for well over three years now. As you can see, we don't have client turnover either, and that brings stability to the company.
Being a services company is always tricky when it comes to financials.
On the one hand, you grow based on your clients, thus not depending on investment, which is always good. It gives you independence and a sort of predictable revenue, especially when working with retainer contracts as we do.
On the other hand, each client has a different payments schedule (net 30, net 90, etc.) and different prices. We give discounts on project length and volume of hours, so it's not like we're invoicing the same price to everyone. There are also some temporary discounts or exceptions we do here or there. We helped a lot of our clients financially, last year, during the most trying months.
And on the other side of the coin, we are also clients to some of our providers, so we need to balance when our money comes in versus when it goes out. We always pay our providers on time because we want to be their best clients. This will allow them to do their job without having to worry about financials.
Last year, we strived to grow our bank reserves because we didn't know what would the situation look like in the near future, and here we are: we are in the near future now knowing what the next near future will look like, either.
Thus, we're being very responsible with our expenses, especially knowing that we work for big companies who sometimes take extra time to pay their vendors, or do it in batches of a few months at a time. Also, we need to take into consideration that from September we won't be working for our biggest client, so we have been working on ensuring a strong cash position for the next six months, at least.
We're extremely proud to say that our plans for the next months and years are to remain the same.
That is, we will not change to pursuit hyper-growth. We won't adopt more technologies to dilute our knowledge and become a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. We won't change the way we manage our projects and we won't compromise our company culture only to bring in more money to our bank account.
As we discussed in our Seven years of MarsBased - Q&A with the founders podcast episode, we will have to pay special attention to keeping the company the same. Inevitably, there are things changing, especially now that we're around twenty people, so we have to strive for keeping the company the same to avoid losing our values and everything that has brought us to where we are now.
We're extremely proud of all the steps we've taken to arrive at this point and we're sure they show the way to our next stages as a company and as the lifestyle business we always wanted to work for.