Sometimes you experience growth. When you didn’t mean to.
Meet Ian Lawson: He’s a designer, entrepreneur, father of two, and he loves music. A man after my own heart.
He came on our 1 to 10 podcast and told us all about Slickplan — his amazing website planning tool that is used by thousands of businesses (including ours). Here’s the interesting piece: Slickplan was never intended to be its own company.
Here’s what happened:
Necessity-Turned-Company: the History of Slickplan:
Ian was a partner at a web design development company. After months of creating client websites with designers, architects, engineers, the clients, and content developers, it was obvious they needed some sort of tool that allowed everyone to collaborate in real-time and provided a user-friendly interface with maximum visibility.
No such tool existed.
So they built one — in about 3 weeks.
It was so useful, they thought other web developers and designers may like it.
They were wrong.
Everyone loved it.
Their “grand opening” was putting a couple links on social media and allowing a few people to login and check out their somewhat completed software tool.
It went viral. Thousands of people signed up that year (2009), and they began writing ideas for features. By 2011, they had over 30 thousand subscribers, and an inbox full of suggestions. Ian decided to take the show on the road.
He spun off Slickplan from their website company, and re-released their product, incorporating the suggestions from the previous two years.
Now, National Geographic, Facebook, CBS, Viget, Samsung, and yes, even Google, all use their SaaS product. (I’d say the spin-off was a good idea.)
This Entrepreneur’s 3 Big Takeaways From Experiencing Insane Growth:
1. Keeping the Culture During Evolution:
Slickplan went from about 3 people on a side project to where they are today: a fully remote, global company with employees both stateside and in Europe. Since they spun off, they’ve created their own teams in everything from product development to support to marketing.
That sort of growth can often kill the culture.
Not at Slickplan.
Almost everyone who was there in the beginning is still with the company today (almost a decade with a SaaS company is nearly unheard of).
The respect, empowerment, and leadership Ian has provided have kept everyone onboard, even with accelerated growth.
2. Out With Waterfall, in With Agile
There are 2 fundamental approaches when it comes to application development: waterfall and agile. Here’s how Ian explained them:
Waterfall is essentially a linear process. Someone breaks out the scope of work into phases. It’s akin to a relay race, where one phase has to be completed before the next can start. Technically you aren’t supposed to come back to a phase once it’s completed. This process is a mess for something like website development, where a necessary change later in the relay, means going back to the beginning to modify.
Agile is an iterative approach where you complete things in small sections.
“Agile is a change in mindset, not only towards methodology, but towards management techniques.”
It encourages a project’s goals, and it introduces transparency and accountability, and empowers peer-to-peer communication without micromanagement.
Overall, traditional management is flipped: The project manager doesn’t actually dictate how things get done — they act as a facilitator to remove obstacles and protect the original goals of the project. They also act as liaisons between the stakeholders (say, the buyers of the application, or client, etc., and the actual developers).
3. Your Tech Stack Matters. Here’s a List of Ian’s Top Tools:
If your B2B tech company is experiencing insane growth, the digital tools your team uses become increasingly crucial.
Here are some Ian says you can’t live without:
- Slack (internal messaging)
- Jira (a suite of project management tools)
- Invision (collaborative digital design)
Slickplan in 30 Seconds (And Why You Should Use It)
OK, so why is everyone, even Google, all over this?
I’m going to give you the high-level, 30-second pitch.
Primarily, it’s a site-mapping tool, an organizational flow chart that plots out the information architecture. In other words: It allows a variety of collaborators (graphic designers, coders, writers, clients, etc.) to see the website before it goes live, make changes, suggestions, and comments.
A few of the top features:
- sitemap builder
- a diagramming feature
- content curation
- a suite of plugins for the website
- an API
Trust me, it’s amazing — that’s why we use it over here at ProtoFuse.
What’s 1 Thing That’s Going to Help Someone’s B2B Tech Company Grow?
I love this question. I ask it to every guest.
I think Ian’s may be one of my favorite:
He said to listen to music.
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