Building A World-Class Company In A Small Town
by John Gurski on Jul 02, 2019
My company turned five years old recently, so I’ve been retrospecting on some of the big decisions we’ve made along the way. We’ve come a long way since launching the company in my spare bedroom, and myself being the only employee. Today, over one thousand companies around the world use our software to analyze and propose the economics of solar and energy storage projects, including many of the most sophisticated energy companies in the world.
We’re very proud of the fact that in five short years we’ve grown our market share to a leadership position and built a leading brand name within the industry, and we’ve been able to accomplish this by doing some things unconventionally.
Be a big fish in a small pond
Our company is headquartered in Stuart, FL, which is a small beach town about 100 miles north of Miami. Most of our competitors are based in big tech hotbeds, such as Silicon Valley and Boston. There are some advantages to setting up shop in a small town. Salaries and cost of living are more affordable, which has enabled us to grow our team and scale up our business without taking on any outside capital. Office space is also significantly cheaper — our Florida office is located on the waterfront with floor-to-ceiling views of the Florida intercostal, a space that would easily cost ten times more in San Francisco.
Another benefit of being a big fish in a small pond is that we’re looked upon as one of the coolest software/technology companies in town, which is great for recruiting. When we exhibit at local college job fairs, our booth always gets a buzz. We’ve had success hiring young, passionate fresh blood out of college, training them up and giving them responsibility quickly.
There are plenty of benefits to building your business in a small town, but before you make the leap, there are a few things to consider. As a company, you need to make sure that your business can actually thrive and grow in a small town. Can you continue to maintain the customer base you have now, and gain new customers? Will you be able to find the right team for what you’re trying to accomplish? While our business model supports us scaling and our success from a small town, not every company can say the same. It’s important to ask yourself these questions before you make the move.
As we’ve grown our business, it made strategic sense for us to staff up in a few different office locations. Our sales and support team is based in another relatively small town: Murrells Inlet, SC. We also have a small satellite office in Los Angeles and we recently opened our fourth office location in Honolulu to better support Australia and the Asia Pacific region where we expect to grow aggressively in the coming years.
As we scale up our team in a more distributed manner, we’ve attempted to instill many of the same cultural norms of our HQ, like being scrappy and resourceful. From the beginning, we’ve always been an extremely hard-working team. At conferences, when teams get together from around the country, we are always the first ones on the floor and the last ones to leave for the day. It makes it worth our time and money, and we all enjoy the chance to get together as a team to grow our business. Our “scrappy” mentality means going out of our way for clients, meeting them for coffee, scheduling extra meetings to make sure they’re satisfied and staying late to cater to customers in different time zones.
We’ve certainly encountered new challenges with scaling up a distributed team that spans a six-hour time zone difference. If you’re scaling up remotely, I recommend using the latest suite of productivity and communications tools to your advantage. We are a Microsoft shop, so we’re always leveraging the latest tools available through Office 365. For intra-company communication, we regularly use Microsoft Teams, OneDrive, Dynamics and SharePoint, to name a few.
Video conferencing facilitates a more personal connection and keeps team members in different offices feeling more connected. Leverage video calling on a regular basis; our team is known to pull up screen-share sessions on the fly. Use industry conferences and trade shows as an opportunity to get your teams together in person that are based in different offices. There’s no better bonding opportunity than working all day together at a conference booth, then getting dinner together at the end of the day and all staying under one roof at an Airbnb.
To keep your teams connected, I recommend getting people from different offices together at least once a quarter. We do at least four conferences a year, bringing different team members along each time so everyone has a chance to meet. If you have remote employees who are closer to headquarters, consider bringing them in once every month or two to work alongside everyone else.
Always be thinking about new ways to make your employees feel happier and more engaged. Our office manager recently started using a software tool called Officevibe to solicit anonymous feedback from our team. It has given us a good insight into areas where our team feels like we have room for improvement.
As business leaders, we need to keep evolving to make sure that our teams feel engaged and connected. Whatever the future holds for my organization, I fully expect the next five years to fly by like the last five.