Captain's log, stardate d199.y39/AB
2020 has been a wild ride, to put it simply. We can't find words to describe such an awkward year, but we want to share a breakdown, month-by-month, of what we lived, to have a recollection of our learnings and feelings as a company.
Last year, we published our monthly breakdown and it was received very well by our community. It definitely helps to understand how we are doing as a company and what sort of projects we work on.
Looking back to it, it feels somewhat strange that the title I chose for that post is What a long strange trip it's been: our 2019 in review because 2019 was a year of pretty significant changes for us, and because we couldn't foresee what would happen in 2020 🤷🏻♂️
Let's get started!
In January, we decided that we would grow our team significantly, as a company, with 3 or 4 signings, as we had signed a few deals and there were only positive signs predicting growth for the company. Luckily for us, our approach of doing things calmly and organically prevented us from rushing things up, and when the pandemic struck, we had only signed one person.
Work-wise, we signed Prototyp, a former client of ours from Sweden, to work on a big React project they're building for one of the largest Private Equity firms in the world. Prototyp have always been one of our favourite clients, and it felt great to sign them again after one year of hiatus.
At the same time, we started another React project we had signed in December for a company in the industrial sector that will remain undisclosed as per our agreement. Both the Prototyp project and this one ended up being a full-time job until the end of the year.
As per our events, we hosted Iñaki Arrola (Managing Partner @ K Fund) at our Startup Grind Barcelona event, which turned into the monthly event with a record in revenues. Iñaki just announced that he sold his previous company, Coches, during our event. Check the video of the interview here. I really enjoyed this interview and Iñaki's humbleness.
Up until January, I was spending one week per month in Madrid as part of our international expansion. Little did I know that my January trip to the Spanish capital was going to be the last one, for now.
In February, all hell broke loose. We hosted our last Startup Grind BCN event before cancelling offline events for the rest of the year. We also cancelled our first company get-together of the year, our quarterly Martian Day, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
By then, we had signed our first hire of the year. Jose Luis Estébanez, who had been freelancing for us for a while, joined the team in full capacity to help us with our international clients zapptales and ValuationMetrics.
Facing the adverse situation, we focused on learning about how to navigate it and we sought advice from more seasoned people in the industry. At the same time, we talked to all of our clients and partners to see how we could support each other for the coming months.
In February, we started a second phase for the project of our clients at the European Climate Foundation, so it added up to all the work we had accumulated so far, and we had a team discussion to let them know that we had projects and cash in the bank to face this situation in a very favourable way.
We also saw the release of the zapptales desktop app to be able to upload WhatsApp chats without relying on the "Export chat" feature, as it was banned in Germany due to their strict privacy regulations. We had to build this project under uncertain conditions, totally pioneering in this area.
March was the strangest month. We cancelled all the plans we had for the rest of the year, including all company get-togethers, our annual Startup Grind Tech conference and our company retreat, just to name a few.
That being said, our bi-monthly get-together, the Martian Day, was moved to the online world. In fact, we moved everything to the online version: we started doing online Startup Grind events, but instead of once per month, we organised them twice a week. We knew everyone was lost, and too many people in our community are expats who live alone, so we decided to accompany them as often as possible.
One of our favourite persons in the community told us "you're what I listen to when I feel alone. You are like the radio", and that gave us wings to do this for three months straight.
In fact, one of the first events was with our co-founder and COO, Jordi Vendrell, to talk about how to do remote work the right way. We wanted to help people in their transition to work remotely. Find the video here and the rest of the events on the Startup Grind Barcelona website.
Project-wise, we were contacted by the Servei d'Emergències Mèdiques de Catalunya to develop an emergency project to help hospitals and health centers to keep track of their purchase orders of medicines, beds and sanitary equipment. We will give more details about this project shortly, as we're still clearing out the details with them regarding what can be disclosed publicly. Unbeknownst to us, that would be the last project we would sign until November.
April is always a month of celebration at MarsBased. We usually celebrate our birthday (although it is technically in March, we celebrate it in April), and then we also celebrate the Startup Grind Barcelona birthday in April. If you want to read more about it, here's two blog post we published to celebrate the sixth year of each initiative:
- No office, no investors, no worries - six years of learnings
- Six years grinding: How to manage your events and community
Moreover, the first two-three months of the year are pretty slow in sales, so April is when we start big projects, generally speaking.
However, in this case, we lost one of our bigger clients due to the pandemic, in April. Actually, they paused the project, so we know it's coming back, we just don't know when. Up until April, we were working for Real Madrid, the second biggest football club in the world, but the tool we developed for them is one to manage their seat allocation in the stadium. Since there are no matches with people in the stands, the project got shelved until normality comes back.
Last, but not least, in April we celebrated the fifth anniversary in the company of our second employee, David Gómez and the launch of our MarsBased YouTube channel.
May is when our Startup Grind Barcelona conference and our company retreat should have happened. We were supposed to spend a week in Asturias, northern Spain, after the conference, but we had to postpone both until 2021 for obvious reasons.
In May, we started signing a few extensions of projects for our current clients, but we had been two months without signing new projects. Although the finances of the company were safe and sound, and most of our clients are under a time & materials ongoing contract, we felt uneasy because we were hitherto used to signing a new contract every two-three months.
Since most companies were affected by the pandemic, they were sceptical about outsourcing stuff, and sales were dead. We went from 5-10 deals a week to 1-2 per month. This could've killed a lot of companies, but not us thanks to our long-term contracts with clients and the best financial management spearheaded by Jordi, our COO.
In May, too, we saw a couple of small changes, which were a bigger push in marketing to drive sales accordingly (we published, among others, our Services: E-commerce page) and we also quit the business cluster of Catalonia Logistics after two years, to focus more on our own company.
If June is a slow month usually, June 2020 was dead as fuck. In fact, between June and September we only signed a couple of one- or two-week extensions with current clients, so we had to focus on other areas of the company. Luckily enough, we had a lot of work to do, so we were relatively calm and didn't have to worry about the immediate future.
Because we were stable in terms of projects - we were actually maxed out -, we couldn't push sales. At the same time, we were released from our three-months-long confinement, and the situation went slowly back to the new normal. Consequently, we also stopped doing two events per week, but this idea gave birth to our very own podcast: Life on Mars.
We decided to grow our own brand through a different channel: we released a podcast in two languages, where we discuss technology, entrepreneurship and innovation, and thus Life on Mars was born. Check out the English feed, and the Spanish feed.
July marked the lowest point in the season sales-wise.
Most changes came internally, as we revised a few things in the company such as processes, vendors and whatnot.
However, we can't highlight much besides the fact that we finished the project we developed for the Servei d'Emergències Mèdiques (aka COVID project).
All the things we revised in July came into fruition during the month of August. We tweaked a few internal procedures, we started using English on Slack as a de facto language company-wide, we restructured all of our Basecamp projects, we devised a new way to use passwords and security at a company level and other minor changes to improve our quality of life.
August is, indeed, a great way to test new things, so that's why we published the following blog post: Experiments in summer. In this blog post, we dissected why and how we apply deep transformational changes in a company like ours during summertime.
In August, we signed a significant extension to the Prototyp project we had signed in January. They extended the project for six more months, thus keeping us busy for the rest of the year.
On the flipside, in August we signed someone who didn't quite work out very well and we lost a lot of time there, so it was not all good during the summer.
In September, and after our failed signing, we decided to hire someone else. We started collaborating with our signing based in the UK, Leandro. Leandro replaced one of our freelancers who's out on parental leave but will stay permanently.
Since we had gone through a very strange summer, where most people were not in a condition to travel, we decided to up our game in physical activity to make sure our employees enjoyed a healthy lifestyle. That's why we decided to challenge each other to do more sport through our MarsBased Strava club.
Two great news in September, besides the above: for one, we passed 1000 listens in under three months on both feeds of the MarsBased podcast and we also hosted our 100th Startup Grind Barcelona event with CEO & Co-founder of TravelPerk, Avi Meir.
Also in September, we had our founders quarterly meeting and it turned out to be a highly ambitious one. We decided it was time to up our game and that we should plan for the next five years. And so we did: we laid out a plan for the next years where we would build a bigger team, maxing out at a ceiling of 30 people, and what was the ideal roadmap we should follow to reach our goal.
After a few months without signing a new project, we signed two of them. One with our current client, Localistico, to increase our capacity for a couple of months and develop a side project to increase their B2B side and service their large enterprise customers better.
On the other hand, we signed this contract with a new client on the e-learning sector that has to remain undisclosed by contract, but it is the largest client we've ever signed as a company. A good comeback after a dry spell of more than half a year without signing new clients!
If October was a good month for sales, November was the best.
In November, we signed three good projects to keep us busy for the most part of the first half of 2021. First of all, we signed two former clients, Rundit (a Finnish investment platform we built in 2016-17 in Ruby but then they moved to Node.js back when we didn't do Node) and Aparcandgo (back after a couple years hiatus). For the former, we will be helping them with Node.js, and for the latter, we'll work on the frontend side of things doing HTML/CSS + Angular development.
Second, we signed a new client: Grupo Intercom's Infopraca, one of the leading portals for job hunting in Poland. We will have to rebuild a platform that's been stagnating for a while, and we will do it using Ruby on Rails.
That month, we also completed one very big project we had been working for a good couple of years. One of our first clients, Naiz, deployed the redesign we helped them to build. It is a very ambitious design for a humongous multimedia platform with many magazines and newspapers like them.
We have been working with Naiz for well over five years now, and joint successes like this one are nothing but a confirmation of the good understanding between us.
At the same time, we also had to take a rough decision, in November 2020: the Startup Grind Tech conference we had postponed for Q2 2021 had to be cancelled. Given the standing uncertainty, and the fact that Mobile World Congress 2020 was also pushed back to more or less the same dates, made us take a hard decision that will be easier to swallow later next year.
December is still unfolding, but we know two or three things already.
First of all, next week it'll have been a year since our last in-person meeting. That's right: the MarsBased team met for the last time in December 2019 in Barcelona for our annual X-mas dinner.
As a matter of fact, this year, our X-mas dinner will be virtual. As much as it pains us, we decided to prioritise everyone's safety and not take any chances. We have devised a different Martian Day for the occasion, including our very first MarsBased trivial to make this celebration more special from the comfort of everyone's homes.
If all goes well, we might even release the first version of our podcast's webpage before the end of the year, but that is still being worked on, so stay tuned!
All in all, 2020 has most likely been the strangest year we've ever experienced.
Straight up, we've all suffered from stress, anxiety, burnout and other issues not so much from work, but because of the whole pandemic and how we've dealt with it individually. At the same time, the company has grown beyond our wildest dreams and closed 2020 with a record in revenues and profit.
That being said, we just can't even wrap our heads around what will 2021 look like. With a bunch of new projects, our best team so far, a consolidated company with our own procedures and policies and a more than solid forecast, looks like 2021 can be anything but boring.
Join us in this adventure! We are hiring!
Love from Mars!