Captain's log, stardate d77.y39/AB
We have been around for well over six years. As we learn day by day, we feel the impulse to give back to our followers and community not only to explain how we do things, but also why we do them.
There is a lot of literature out there about creating, running and growing a business. Most of it focuses on good times, forgetting that most businesses struggle and that every now and then (like right now) your city, country, sector or market - or, heck, the entire planet - can be hit by a big disaster like a big regulation change, an economic crisis or a pandemic.
Since we created MarsBased, this is the first big crisis we are facing. Undoubtedly, some companies will do better than others, and it's up to those who can lead others out of this situation to step up and inspire and help others to weather the storm.
We are a small development consultancy from Barcelona. We are 100% self-funded - read: bootstrapped - and we have never had an office. Right now, our team is 15 people strong.
We are very lucky in that the pandemic hasn't really hit us, and that our clients have been able to withstand the situation, too, but global disasters aside, there's one thing that's rung true since we started the company: we haven't built a fairweather business.
We started out as a three-person boutique dev shop specialising in Ruby on Rails and Angular, building web-only platforms with the firm intention of creating a profitable, healthy business with the best reputation we could afford. We knew development agencies and consultancies get bad reputation for indulging in opaque pricing, shady tactics and burning clients just to grow at any cost. We didn't want any of that.
In fact, we set in stone a few values we didn't want to compromise for any client, and this is why we always try to explain how we do things, but also why we do them.
We never get projects just to have more clients. We'd rather work with fewer but better clients. For most of our current clients, we've been working for over three years now. Also, we never sacrifice quality just to drive down prices, to finish earlier or to cut corners. We know it's a short-sighted decision. We've got a few principles like these two and we live by them.
In fact, during the pandemic, like in other occasions before, sales were really slow, and even though we've been still profitable nonetheless, we could've gotten an extra client or two to compensate for those who've been hurt and have reduced our capacity in their projects. We had a few opportunities floating around, but all of them required that we compromised one, or more, of our core values. We ended up declining them.
Would they have been good for our business? Perhaps. Would we have betrayed our employees, had we taken these projects? Maybe yes, maybe not, but we didn't want to risk it. As Clayton Christensen put it:
It's easier to hold your principles 100 per cent of the time than it is to hold them 98 per cent of the time.
After only six months after the foundation of the company, we generated too much work for only the three of us, so we hired our first employee. A year later, we had four full-time employees (plus the three of us, of course) and every year we've been growing 2-3 people. Our original intention, though, was to be only the three of us.
We have never grown as a result of arbitrary predictions or financial forecasting we had just made up in our heads. We have always grown as a consequence, never as an intention. Doing good work for our clients brought longer and better contracts, and occasionally referrals to new clients, too.
When we hire, we only do it provided we can ensure that person a few months of his/her salary and once we've signed a long contract with the client this person is going to work for, but never on promises. We also budget for our internal projects taking into consideration the worst-case scenario more often than not. We never take anything for granted because we know it all can fail. It might sound pessimistic or conservative, but we'd rather think of it as not wanting to gamble on people's jobs and money.
We currently work on a dozen of projects around the world (check all of our active projects on this blog post), and we're constantly referred by our clients, friends and people in our communities alike.
Even though we've been pigeonholed as a startup, we're not. In fact, we're not a startup: we're a lifestyle business (and we love it). Nothing wrong with being a startup. We love startups. We work with them on a daily basis and do a lot of things for the startup scene in Barcelona (check our community page), but we're an established business, who knows what we sell, to whom we sell, and what our products and services are.
Throughout the years, we have consolidated what we're building: a strong company culture around well-being and remote work, an incredible team of talented & motivated people and a strong band supporting the tech and startup scenes locally through multiple community projects.
Every now and then, I like to remember the naysayers, who in 2014 predicted that our business, a 100% remote, specialised, with above-the-average prices doing web-only projects with Ruby on Rails as our core technology, was going nowhere.
Only six years later, we're working for big corporations, tier-one football clubs, international music festivals, the Barcelona city council and for SMBs and startups from all around the globe.
We don't know exactly what brought us here, but I know one thing for a fact: we never took the conventional way and did things just because everyone else was doing them. We never raised funds, never had an office, never bought ads, never hired advisors or even configured a board.
While everyone else is taking the crazy road of high-growth, VC-backed, hockeystick projections, we're driving slower but safer. We're enjoying the ride while we enjoy other aspects of life, too, because there's more to life than work, because we want to enjoy our personal & professional growth with our friends and families and because we want to prove that you can go far staying away from the beaten path.
We've never given a name to this philosophy, but I'd like to call it the Martian way because I can't come up with a better name to explain how we do things and why we do them. And since we're growing an ever-growing community of fantastic individuals and companies around us, we want to share more and more what we know so other people can profit from this knowledge.
If you're interested in learning more about how we do things and why we do them, make sure you check out what we publish on multiple channels. We've got a blog, an employee Handbook, a Playbook, a bi-weekly podcast (in English and in Spanish), a YouTube channel, a newsletter and much more!