The Techno Creatives was one of our very early customers and their team has been quickly growing ever since. We talked with their CTO, Oskar Hagberg, about what's changed from their early days and how they've maintained their company culture as they've scaled.
What made you initially choose 10,000ft?
Everyone had super bad experiences working with time tracking and project management tools that had been deployed in-house at previous companies. Many of us have been in the consultancy business in Sweden for a long time, and it's almost a shared joke: which time-tracking system are you forced to spend 20% of your day using just to be able to track what you do the rest of the day?
"We wanted something fresh, something new. It was a relief for many of us when we started working with 10,000ft."
We were ten people when we started with you. Now we’re forty people and expecting to add another twenty people or so this year, so we’ll be about sixty by the end of the year. 10,000ft has been growing with us the whole time.
Since you joined 10,000ft, what are the most significant changes your team has gone through?
Well back then, our name was Interaktionsbyrån, which is Swedish for Bureau of Interaction Design. I would say that the biggest change is that we used to have a sister company in Estonia that did our software development. Even though the developers were top-notch, it just didn’t work because of the physical distance.
When we disbanded that and brought software development in-house, we could really do whatever we wanted because we had the whole stack. That was a powerful change and our clients could then see what we were able to do. We also now have a way broader client spread internationally – all over Europe, China, and the United States.
Of course, growing in size also brings change. The way we have to work is different. We can't just be the start-up where everyone knows everything that's going on and everyone helps out with everything. It’s meant that we’ve had to define more specialized roles and give certain responsibility and trust to different people.
What adjustments have you had to make as your team has grown?
This year, we're going to try to distribute the planning work more broadly in the company. So far, it's been pretty centralized where there have only been a few people doing the planning in 10,000ft – putting in projects, making sure they get updated, getting the data out for billing, etc.
But we’ve reached the point where we can't keep up anymore, so we're making an effort to spread the responsibility to our recently established team leads to offload some of the work from our upper management team.
We’ve always strived to have an open, transparent environment where people always know what's going on. We’re not going to hide any data, because we believe that if our people have the right information, they can make the best decisions. For us, the data that people need is often the constraints around our work – so budget and timeframe. All of that gets added into 10,000ft early on in our projects, and updated as things change.
How does that transparency affect your company culture as you hire?
We’re picky when we hire and we trust our people to make decisions on their own. We don't have time to go through a hierarchy or review boards for all the micro-decisions that need to be made every day.
I read an article awhile back that really resonated with me. The author was looking at the old industry, like factories, and why managers and hierarchy existed. It was usually because if someone made the wrong decision, it was extremely costly because of all the repercussions down the factory line. It put a big strain on the company’s process, whereas now, it's the complete opposite in our case. If people don't take initiative, if they're not autonomous and decisions have to go through this narrow hierarchy, that costs us money. So we want to encourage people to always keep things moving.
Basically, if our employees know our business goals and the project constraints, they can do whatever they want. Then they analyze what they’ve done and based on the results, do more of it. Or, if it wasn’t the right thing, they do less of it and try something else instead.
Having 10,000ft as a part of that, where people can see the budget and the burn rate, has allowed us to put the right information in the hands of the people who need it.
How do you approach project planning?
It can vary a lot, but typically we divide our projects into two main categories: Problem-Solving and Vision-Based. With problem-solving projects, we have a pretty good idea of what we want to do, so it's a matter of getting it done in the best and most interesting way possible.
Vision-based projects are those where neither the customer nor our team knows where it’s heading and there are a lot of uncertainties. We start with a goal, and then we strive to come up with something to fulfill that vision.
We get the project information into 10,000ft early on. I'll usually start estimating the technical side of it – like time and resources – and then someone from the design side joins in to come up with their rough estimate.
Throughout this process, we use 10,000ft from two sides. First, we try to break it down into a rough estimate of how many hours we think we’ll spend – 10 hours, 20 hours, 100 hours – to get some kind of macro number. Then, from the other end, we allocate resources and get them updated on the schedule in 10,000ft as often as we can. We see if we can get these 2, 3, 4 people for X amount of time, and then we can see how much that costs based on their hourly rates.
Basically, we work from the detailed low level of our people’s time and availability and see how that compares to our high-level budgets, then we try to meet in the middle.
What has been the most valuable part of 10,000ft for The Techno Creatives?
The most valuable thing is that it just works. It's not a hassle. I say that in a good way because we don't want to be spending all day time tracking and managing projects – we want to develop digital products and solve our clients’ problems.
Another one of the most important things 10,000ft does is that it gives us good insight into if we're on budget and on track. The status bars on the side of the projects predict if we’ll hit our mark with the current burn rate. It’s straightforward.
Everyone who joins our team has had time tracking tools that they hate. Just these cumbersome, terrible tools with no valuable data. 10,000ft gives us the full picture and also gives each person more responsibility to understand how everything they do impacts the budget.
What’s your software stack?
We use tons of tools. Instead of trying to find one tool that does everything, I think finding the right kind of API hooks and integrations is the better solution.
- On the business development side, we use Pipe Drive, Google Docs, and 10,000ft, kind of in that order: deal, offer, project.
- For billing, bookkeeping, and salary management, we use Bokio which is free and online. It’s super cool.
- Alongside that, we also use Trello and Atlassian tools like their Wiki and Confluence.
- For the actual work, it varies, but the designers use Sketch and Photoshop and all that stuff. The developers use xCode and Git, tools like that.
- And there’s Slack. We've communicated a lot before, but now, it's just crazy. Slack has really boosted us. We built, of course, plugins to everything, so we get the full flow from SalesPipe to the bids to time reporting – everything.
Tell us about the rock climbing wall and stage you’re building in your office.
We wanted space for our growing team, so we decided to get another floor in our same office building. We came up with the idea to build a bouldering wall like in a climbing gym with some couches. We have a big international crew – we’re 14 nationalities, I think. A lot of people moved to Gothenburg to work with us and the office is kind of a social space, like their living room. We want to support that and create a space which is not just work all the time, so climbing is great because it's very social.
With the stage, we wanted something big to be able to host events like TEDx Talks and invite clients to attend. We encourage our team to get up on stage because they’re experts in so many cool areas, and it’s a way of getting people to step up and realize how amazing they are.
One thing we really spent a lot of time thinking about in our new office space was, how do we prevent people from getting stuck in one place and never seeing each other? How do we get people to move between spaces to create random encounters? Because that's where interesting ideas spawn. We put the coffee and the workshop in the middle of the office so you have to go through everything to get there. It's all planned.
What advice would you give to other companies who are trying to grow?
I think the most important thing is to pay attention to your culture – don't try to just create a culture. Figure out what you have and where you come from as a team, and then nurture that. Because as you grow and bring in new people, your culture will inevitably change. So, plan ahead. Use tools like 10,000ft to make sure everyone can see what's going on and communicate about it. Talk a lot as a team. And the more people you bring in, the more you have to talk to each other to keep nurturing that culture.