Happy October 10th everyone, and happy 10th anniversary to Showit!!*
Where were YOU on October 10, 2006? Where have you come since then? Ten years can teach us a lot of things, and we wanted to share ten lessons we’ve learned these last ten years.
10 Lessons Learned:
- “When your business is about helping others, you will never run out of work” – This quote comes from a man as humble as he is wise: Phil Jay, David Jay’s father. We took his words to heart when we began this business, and we continue to see the truth of it day by day.
- Community is more rewarding than a balance sheet can show – As many of you no doubt know, there’s a lot more to running a business than brass tacks. Plenty of expenses have a clear correlation to how much money we’ll be able to bring in, but some things we may never know the true value of. Community has been one of those things for us. We have invested a LOT in community, from the original OSP (Open Source Photo) community to bus tours (more on that in a moment) to Shoot & Share to our beloved Showiteer community. We may not be able to say just exactly how those things positively impact our business, but we know that they do. From customer loyalty to the sense of fulfillment that comes from investing in others, we value community.
- Buying a bus makes you a bus company – There was that one time when we bought a bus. Like all small software companies do, right? The idea was that we would take our team on the road a few times a year, having meet-ups and workshops both large and small around the country, and when we weren’t using the bus we would rent it out to others. The plan worked…kinda. We did some tours, and then we rented the bus out a few times. Michelle Branch even used the bus once! But she was followed by a rap band named Tech N9ne (in rap, 9’s can totally replace i’s in words…) who probably treated the bus with the utmost respect, but after that we decided not to rent the bus out anymore. When we first bought the bus, the bus salesman handed us the keys and said “Whelp, you’re a bus company now,” and we didn’t realize then how true those words were. A bus is not a passive possession. It requires care and upkeep. It requires a place to store it. It requires a specially-licensed driver. It requires…so many things. That bus was a heck of a lot of work, but in the end I’m thankful for the stories and the memories we gained!
- Mo’ money, mo’ problems – Truer words were never sung…rapped…whatever. (Well, Tech N9ne may have something to say about that.) There was a time when business was simple. Exhausting, but simple. The company was tiny, the product was popular, and we had very few expenses. We were working day and night, but almost every dollar that came in was ours. Then we decided to expand, and hire others to help us with our vision. For a period of time we hired eagerly, using the profits from our initial product to cover our expanding costs. We are a privately owned company, and we never took money from investors, so those dollars that were once going straight to our pockets were now going to cover the cost of having employees. When things got tight, there were months when we couldn’t give ourselves a paycheck because we needed to pay employees. At one point we realized we had more employees than we could justifiably maintain, and we had to let some go. (This is my least favorite part of running a company.) But when I long for those simpler days I also remember how much more we have been able to do together, and those “problems” become worth it.
- Technology changes and so do we – Our first software was developed using Flash. Remember Flash, everybody? As a developer, I loved Flash. It was a great platform that got a bad reputation from advertisers who used Flash to create annoying, terrible online ads that irritated everyone. When Steve Jobs published his missive against Flash, he broke my heart. However, he also created a paradigm shift that ultimately led to our development of Showit 5. We can’t control how technology will change, but we can take charge of how we change.
- Tech guys have feelings too – I figured if Steve Jobs broke my heart, I was going to break his…by making sure our team of about a dozen people didn’t use iPhones. We were all Android all the way for a few years… but now we are back because iPhones are awesome. Time heals all wounds, and Apple is back in our good graces.
- Investing in memories is important – As a company that embraces creativity, we wouldn’t want to have cliché, boring staff retreats. We had one retreat at a beautiful and spacious cabin in Flagstaff, AZ in the winter, which lent itself to skiing and hot chocolate and sweaters. It was cozy and charming and very very cold. A couple years later we swung the pendulum the other way and rented a mansion in Malibu for a few days, where we enjoyed the peaceful and expansive grounds and received massages and endured the constant and disapproving attention of the crotchety owner. A couple years later, we went rustic again, but this time it was really rustic. We rented some old, sparse cabins in the woods of northern Arizona on an Indian reservation, where we awoke each morning to cows mooing around our cabins (and one night we’re pretty sure a pack of wolves was roaming and snarling around). From fancy cabin to fancy mansion to not-so-fancy cabins, we made memories each time around, and now we have those shared experiences together. A team can do as many trust exercises as they want, but real relationships happen when you make memories together.
- Remote teams make it difficult to overcome isolation – When this thing started, David Jay was in Santa Barbara and I was living and working at Hume Lake in central California. As we added employees, our remote-ness spread. My family moved to Flagstaff, AZ, and we had employees there, in central California, southern California, and the Phoenix area. We’ve even contracted developers out of the country at times. Initially we thought this was a wonderful freedom we possessed as a small business — the ability to work from wherever we wanted to be — but over time we learned that working remotely has some serious drawbacks. Communication is difficult and something is lost when you try to have meaningful conversations over video calls. Plenty of people have comically demonstrated this idea, but the reality was less funny. Eventually we realized that for the quality of our working life to be better, something needed to change, and so my family and I moved down to Gilbert, AZ. Later, our business split to have a single company in each location in either Santa Barbara or Gilbert. We still have the freedom to work from home, but now we spend much more of our time in the same location and we love it!
- Where you work doesn’t have to be boring – Our office is painted like the inside of a spaceship. I don’t know that there’s much more to be said on that subject. Make your work space into something that gets your creative juices flowing!
- Hiring friends and family is hard…but it’s also pretty fun – You know that age-old advice to always hire friends and family? No? Is it actually the opposite of that? Oh, well, I missed that memo. It seems that everyone who works for us is a family member, friend, or friend of a friend. My brother recently started working for Showit, and his wife has been with us for many years now. My cousin in-law works here, my elementary school friend is our lead developer, some friends from Hume now live in the area and work for us…and the list goes on. I get that working with friends and family can complicate relationships, and of course no one wants to think about the possibility of ever having to let someone go, but I absolutely love working with people I know and like, whose characters I can vouch for and whose abilities I know well. This is one of the things I value most highly about our company.
So, there they are. I could probably make a list of 100 things I’ve learned…but I’ll let my grandkids write that post when Showit is celebrating its 100th anniversary. In the meantime, thanks for sticking with us and supporting us over this last decade! We’d love to hear some of the lessons you’ve learned in that time.
*Calculating our anniversary is a funny task. In truth, Showit’s first software launched near the end of 2005. Meanwhile, Showit as you know and love it now has only existed since May of 2014. But on October 10, 2006, Showit (led by myself and David Jay at the time) officially became a company, and we are thrilled to be celebrating our “official” 10th anniversary of that day!