Give us a quick overview on Designli. When and how did you begin this journey and what were your motives to be successful?
A college athlete and engineering student turned college dropout, I wanted to pursue entrepreneurship rather than getting a degree. Keith and I created a startup focused on building apps, and the rest is history. Solving business problems for our clients is like the most interesting game in the world to me. As long as we stay focused on that, our own success will keep taking care of itself.
What is your mission as a Co-Founder?
Of the two of us, Keith is more responsible for selling Designli. That allows me to stay focused on delivery, which is exactly where I thrive. We’re both involved with every project, but I truly enjoy digging into technical problems and getting my hands dirty for our clients.
What is your role in the management and development of Designli?
On a daily basis, I’m overseeing the operations and delivery side of the business. That means I spend most of my time working with our talented project managers, UX designers, and developers. The buck stops here for all of our clients’ technical challenges, and I’m also responsible for making sure our engineering efforts translate back to business goals.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced as a COO?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced as a COO is getting everyone to row the boat in the same direction. When running a software development company, you have a lot of different customers with different needs, staff with varying skill sets and interests, and the need for processes that are both detailed, yet flexible enough to satisfy a wide range of projects. I’m a process guy and engineer first, but realizing how critical it is to get the people part was a big change for me early on.
What specific metrics do you use to keep track of a company’s progress?
On any given project, we might create a number of reports to measure key performance indicators. That said, having a high net promoter score from our customers is what every Designli employee strives for, and it’s key to our success as a firm. If a customer has a high NPS, it means we solved their technical needs, and it also means we made the customer feel heard throughout the process.
Tell us about the most challenging decision you’ve had to make when leading an operations team.
This is a tough one. I have found that most processes and technologies are pretty straightforward after you have experience with them, but it’s solving people challenges that are the most difficult. This could be as simple as selecting the right person for a project, and as difficult as deciding when to let someone go. That said, Designli has a culture that’s open, transparent, customer-centric, and focuses on setting the right expectations from Day 1, so there is rarely a problem.
How do you act in the face of ultra-tight deadlines?
The first thing we do when we hear that a customer has an ultra-tight deadline is to understand the importance of the deadline. In software, tight deadlines are almost always a recipe for failure. There’s a famous saying in the development world that “you can’t have a baby in 3 months”, and I have found that to be true. Pushing engineers to deliver faster than estimated can lead to defects, bugs, and underdeveloped features, so our firm always raises these issues with clients rather than being “yes men.” It’s always better to set the right expectation up front, even if it means losing the project to another firm that tells the client they can hit an unrealistic deadline just to get the job.
That said, if a deadline isn’t doable with a certain set of features, we will consult with the customer to see what’s needed for their deadline, and figure out what alternatives there are to meet their needs. Maybe we can ship a smaller set of critical features, and save the optional ones for a future deployment, or perhaps some features can be simplified and their more complex versions get pushed to a feature release.
This helps ensure that we give customers get what they need without overpromising.
How do you balance the need for innovation with the need to maintain operational efficiency?
As technologists, we certainly need to embrace change and innovation. We’re also business-minded entrepreneurs, so we don’t get excited about “the new big thing” just to hop on a trend. It really depends on the situation and the technology. Usually, opportunities to innovate pop up on projects that we feel could effectively utilize a new technology to push that business forward in a way an older technology might not.
Can you provide an example of a time when you successfully managed a budget and reduced expenses?
This happens on pretty much every project we work on. During our discovery engagement called the SolutionLab, our team works with customers to figure out the business requirements for the project, and we then recommend various paths to accomplish those goals.
Most features in software are on a spectrum of complexity, and sometimes, the “best” and most complex way of implementing a feature isn’t actually right for the client at that point in time. This is especially true if a startup or enterprise is trying to iterate on a feature set to see what sticks. It’s better to start with something simpler, then grow into the more complex (and thus more expensive) solution.
How do you approach leading an organization through a major change or transformation?
It depends on the type of change, but it helps to focus on the “why” behind the “what.” That is, we don’t just go in and start dictating changes to people. We take the time to explain why we’re changing and how it will help the business. Starting with clear communication makes change management easier, less stressful, and more effective.
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