January, a month of introspection and growth

It’s hard to believe that we’re almost a month into 2015. We were supposed to have flying cars and self-tightening shoes by now (but those are close!).

The last few years have brought a great deal of change to CHROMATIC. We’ve grown in numbers, decreased in numbers, and grown again. We’ve been able to work with some amazing clients and partners. We’ve been able to continue to expand our network and our friends in the industry. And we love the growing team that we have.

This month, I’ve had the privilege to attend two excellent conferences. Owner Summit, put on the Bureau of Digital Affairs, and Yonder, put on by our friends at Lullabot. Both conferences yielded similar emotions for me personally. I felt encouragement in seeing how CHROMATIC is growing, how we are able to provide for our team and generally how we compare to other companies in the industry. I felt challenged to continue to grow and improve our processes and expertise. And I felt a great deal of satisfaction in what I’m getting to do!

Owner Summit

I was able to attend the first ever Owner Summit put on by the Bureau of Digital. For a while they have been putting together amazing Owner Camps and Operations Camps, among others. Owner Summit was open to owners of companies of all sizes and consisted of a blend of keynote speeches and breakout sessions, both of which proved to be equally valuable.

I took 24 pages of notes during the two days that I was there; certainly too much to share in full, but here are a few of my key take-aways and favorite quotes:

  • Nancy Lyons of Clockwork said, "Culture is a product. Employees are users. Happy people do good work.” Her keynote was all about work-life balance and how for owners “it’s all life,” and the difficulties of trying to separate those two things.
  • Richard Banfield, of Fresh Tilled Soil and Digital Design Leadership, gave an impactful keynote filled with enough points and take-aways to fill an entire post or book (order his book!). While I loved everything he said, the phrase that has become my mantra of the month is “the aggregation of marginal gains.” This concept is that you don’t need to try to improve everything in major ways, but improving many little things by 1% will have a greater impact as they aggregate. This reminds me not to try to do too much too fast.
    • Jeff Robbins, of Orbit - I mean Lullabot, spoke about “Lessons Learned from Rock n’ Roll”. Another keynote that I wrote down more points than I can share now, but a couple of items that really stuck with me were to
    • Find role models.
    • Make art - code is art, business is art.
    • Assume abundance - when going in new directions assume the best)
    • People don’t just need leadership, they need vision.
  • Dan Mall of Superfriend.ly spoke about pricing design, challenging all of us to think about how we price and bill for the hour. In follow up discussion, it felt like everyone was asking the same questions and no one has a perfect solution.
  • Mike Monterio’s closing session was fantastic. One great quote that stuck with me: “Great design, if you can’t sell it, will not keep your lights on.” He also discussed how everyone in a company should be doing sales, from the designer to the business development person.

Lastly, a special shout-out to Jen Dary of Plucky. Jen spoke about curating culture, and how when we say culture we really mean retention and employee satisfaction. She talked about why people leave companies and ways to help reduce it. This was also the first time I was able to meet Jen face to face after months of weekly Google hangouts with the CHROMATIC partners. Jen / Plucky does executive coaching for digital agencies and I highly endorse her!


I barely had a chance to come down from the high of Owner Summit before I was thrown back into it at Yonder, which is a conference geared toward the operation of distributed companies. Mark and I were able to attend Yonder together.

We talked about the challenges of being distributed, tools for our teams, and many additional challenges for businesses, both distributed and co-located.

The format of Yonder was significantly different, consisting of the approximately 25 attendees around a table participating in curated discussions. Everyone that attended shared unique ways that their companies handled being distributed and/or general business strategy, everyone asked questions, and above all the attendees were extremely open and honest. The last point could be the biggest strength of this event and I thank Lullabot for leading by example.

A few takeaways for distributed, remote, co-located companies:

  • Communication becomes even more important when distributed. We can not have too much or too little, and this is a skill that has to be refined and refined again.
  • Compliance is difficult and expensive. Having employees in different states and countries can be difficult and having a team that can help with compliance is critical. Services like ADP for payroll and having a good attorney and CPA seemed to be keys to success.
  • Retreats and face-to-face time is critical. Team dynamics and cohesiveness improve significantly with these type of events.

I think Yonder’s size was another one of it’s greatest strengths. Being able to learn everyone’s name and company by the second day added a great deal of comfort. Also knowing that our leadership team at CHROMATIC now has a network of like minded people to reach out to at any time is encouraging and comforting. And who doesn’t want an in with an Adult Kickball League ?!

Over the next few months, we’ll do our best to share the lessons learned in more detail, as well as sharing how we achieve those 1% gains I mentioned above.

Cheers to a great 2015!