Well, it’s happened again—Think Brownstone has been listed in the Inc. 5000 and the Philadelphia 100! These lists track the fastest-growing entrepreneurial companies; Inc. for the U.S., Philadelphia for our region. Brian and I were reflecting on that accomplishment the other day, thinking about the things we have done (consciously and unconsciously) to make sure we don’t lose our mojo while we grow.
With all of the analytics and data visualization work we’ve been taking on, we naturally turned to our own data to see if it backs up the strategy. Here is what we found:
Not Just More Clients, More Types of Clients
In 2010, we had seven clients spread across three industries. At the moment I’m writing this post, we have 60+ clients and I’ve lost count of the industries we’re working in now. Many Brownstoners are veterans of companies that grew like this, so we know what traps to avoid. One of the biggest concerns is when most of your revenue comes from one or two clients. On one hand, it’s a good thing that you’re so trusted by them. On the other hand, it’s risky. Companies merge, industries have downturns, projects end, client contacts move on… if 1/3 of your income goes *poof*, it spells in trouble.
During our 2010 leadership summit we were concerned that our client list was too short for our revenue plans. So we consciously set out not only to increase our client base—as any growing company would—but to diversify the industries in which our clients operate. This is easier said than done.
Taking what we’ve learned from one industry to another is part of our secret sauce. However, clients from “new” industries are understandably concerned about whether you can learn their business quickly. We have very unique ways to do that and it works very well. We also hire extremely smart people with diverse backgrounds. With the talent we have today, the question is no longer, “Has anyone at Think Brownstone worked in plastics before?” but “Which Brownstoners that have worked in plastics should we put on the team?” and “Which non-plastics team members can add insight to this project?”
Finding clients who value the diversity of our experience as well as our industry knowledge requires focused sales and operations efforts. So 2010 became the year of expansion.
Getting Our House in Order
While we had no problem generating sales and making sure we could deliver what we sold, many of us were doing those jobs simultaneously with our consulting and design work. As we grew, we knew this wouldn’t be scalable. Our existing clients didn’t deserve to have their work compromised in any way for the growth of the company. So, it was time to grow up and build a legitimate Sales team and an Operations team to better serve our clients and ourselves.
Once again, this is easier said than done. We had all worked at places where Sales and Operations were completely disconnected from what Delivery does. That’s not how Brian and Carl envisioned Think Brownstone, and that vision is what attracted the talented crew we already had to our door. We don’t just hire any designer so we can’t just hire anyone in Sales and Ops either. It took time, but we’ve built Sales and Operations teams that are not only amazing at what they do, but also have great ideas that match the ethos of Think Brownstone.
The new question became, “How do we build what they’re selling and maintain our standards?” There’s only one way:
Hire & Keep Great People
Boy, have we grown. Our headcount grew 166% between 2010 and 2013. Even better, we’re really good at keeping great people. In the past four years, we’ve recognized and promoted some great talent from within. We’ve also been wise enough to realize there are skills a growing company needs that we have to find outside the company. So our growth in headcount has been a healthy mix of maintaining the DNA that makes us who we are and finding talent at all levels who understand that and are stoked to contribute to it.
That isn’t to say that every Brownstoner from 2010 still works here today. Turnover is a part of any business and we’re lucky that the folks who move on from Think Brownstone do so with the best intentions. In fact, several of the new accounts we’ve added since 2013 happened because former employees hired us or recommended us for the job. So, losing talented employees isn’t always a bad thing, but you want to keep it under control. And one of the best ways to keep it under control is to:
Brian and I struggled with what kind of metric would show how much fun it is to work here. We have two big events each year and we host a collection of other industry events when we can, but that doesn’t explain why we love to come into work every day.
Everyone here has a great sense of humor. Photoshop, drawings and smartphone cameras are integral to the work we do. Back in 2009, Russ started preserving our artifacts of fun and nonsense in the cloud. Two years ago, Brian made a “culture book” and gave it away to employees and clients as a holiday gift. Perusing the collection of images is one of the items in our onboarding checklist for new employees so they can see how we interact.
So how much fun have we had? Well, by 2014 we had almost 4,000 images worth of fun. This collection will continue to grow. I selected a small sampling of my favorites; feel free to hover over the line to see thumbnails or click through to see the full image.
Awards & Recognition