/ Our Journey

How we're succeeding as a self funded team of 2

People seem to be amazed when they ask how big our team is and we reply we’re a team of two.

It’s definitely an ego boost when we hear it, but it’s not something we’ve actively thought about before.

We know that if we had a larger team, in theory we’d get more done in a single day by the pure math of there being more people working. But we also know that growing our team too fast will likely divide and fragment our vision, which is crucial.

When we do sit back and look at what we’ve achieved so far as just the two of us, there’s no doubt we’re super proud of our accomplishments to date. Winning a National award for innovation, receiving investor interest, and growing our revenue 3,000% so far this year with no signs of slowing down.

But we’re both driven by success, not money. Which is also why to date we haven’t done a round of investment, we’ve completely bootstrapped our product** to keep us hungry and keep our focus.**

With success comes money, which should be nothing more than an enabler to fuel future growth. -> Click To Tweet

So, at a high level, our success to date comes down to hunger, passion and the *will* to succeed.

We truly want to change the way the customer care industry is viewed, and be the drivers behind that.

It comes from a mindset that we know that what we’re working on is making a difference to the people who use it, both our customers and their end users. We know because they’ve told us.

We also know from our data that when end users use elev.io, they’re more likely to succeed. Which means the site owner also succeeds.

Everybody’s happy. Which makes us happy.

In the early days before we started seeing the growth that we’re having now, we were predominantly fuelled by the fact that we knew what we were working on had value, we just needed to get ourselves out there and had the faith that others would agree.

That faith and drive is now paying off.

Our setup

We’ve got a pretty standard arrangement for a startup, whereby we compliment each others skill sets.

I take care of development, while Matt takes care of designing our UX and UI.

When it comes to business decisions we’ve got a dedicated area in our office that serves as both our chill out area, and our brainstorm area.

It’s only small, but it’s big enough for a couch, a couple of seats and a decent sized TV hooked up to Apple TV and a mac mini for research while we chat, and a Wii U for fun (I’m still the king of Mario Kart).

We let our minds wander.

Having this designated chill out / meeting area helps to have a separate zone that due to it’s setup allows for a different mindset. When we’re over there it’s almost like we subconsciously give our minds permission to wander, compared with the strictness of sitting at a machine and pushing pixels.

This is actually where elevio was born, as well as everything we’ve got in the pipeline.

It’s also led to a lot of ridiculous ideas, but it’s often from these seemingly stupid ideas that a lot of genuinely good ideas have developed.

We write down our goals.

As a contrast to the chill out area, at the other end of the room is whiteboard that, among other things, has our goals listed.

The whiteboard is updated daily with current progress and brain dumps. There’s plenty to be said about writing down your goals, in our case it keeps us focused on the end game, and any decisions we make need to have our goals in mind.

The wall of inspiration.

This is only somewhat new, but it’s growing. Periodically when one of the brain dumps on the whiteboard we take a photo of it, print it out, and stick it on the wall.

This also serves as a neat history of our progress since it’s got a snapshot of our goals and progress over time. It’s a good motivator to see our progress on our wall at any time.

We use third party services to do what they do best.

We rely on a range of services to help us communicate between ourselves, as well as with our customers.

We’re big advocates of slack for both our internal communication as well as creating custom integrations to have instant insights into what’s going on with our app.

We also use:

  • Basecamp for tasks (though we’re moving to Asana)
  • Google Docs for internal docs / planning
  • InVision for design iterations
  • Baremetrics for financials
  • Boundary for server monitoring
  • Intercom for segmented customer communication
  • Stripe to handle payments
  • TypeForm for customer research
  • … plenty of others

All of these let us do what we’re good at, and lets others take care of what they’re good at for a small fee.

Our customers help make our decisions.

We use UserVoice to provide a feature request system that we encourage our users to participate in, which is like free customer research.

They’re telling us what they want to see in elevio, it takes away the risk of working on something that you’re unsure about.

We also use automated messaging in Intercom to send timely messages to users asking them things like where they found us (which lets us double down on user acquisition there), what they think of a new feature, and what they’d like to see next.

It’s also great for automating the engagement of someone whose trial is about to end to try and find out what we were missing that made them not stick around.

The benefits of a small team

While we use a range of tools to do what we would need to hire someone to do manually, there’s plenty of benefits in keeping our ‘payroll team’ tiny.

No meeting paralysis. One co-founder asks the other, we agree, done. Decision made.

You’re talking to the owners. Whenever we’re in a live chat, or providing support, you’ll be talking directly to a decision maker. So we can provide answers at a deep level, as well as expand on future plans if that’s where the conversation goes.

Less expenses. Smaller teams = lower outgoings, which means we can use more of our revenue to fuel growth and experimentation.

Unified focus and vision. With a smaller team, it’s much easier to have the same goals in mind, and be on the same wavelength. Expand the team, and the vision gets fragmented.

Accountability. It’s hard to hide in a small team and think someone else will pick up the slack. Take a day off, and our productivity drops by half. This helps keep us on our toes and work towards fast turnaround times on both support and future development.

The downsides of a small team

Of course, it’s not all bells and whistles, there’s a reason teams grow over time. And we’re not immune to that. Here’s a few reasons that being a tiny team hurts us.

**Time. **The smaller the team, the less man-hours you can physically output. We’re not naive in thinking we’re the only startup that works more than 40 hours a week, but knowing the mountain in front of us we know that we need to put in what we want to get out. And for now, that means long hours.

Limited skill set. Our backgrounds are in development, and design. While we’ve learnt a lot over time in areas like marketing, we’re a long way away from being pro’s at it. It’s why we haven’t really focused on marketing at all to date. Something that needs to change.

Our future.

Inevitably, we’ll grow our team over time. Our first hire will likely be someone who compliments our existing skill set, and shares our passion and vision for changing the customer care industry for the better.

Should we potentially take outside investment to fuel our growth we’ll be doing it super strategically, and our investor would need to also share our focus.

But we’ll forever keep a lean mindset.

What have you discovered from being part of your large / small team?

Chris Duell

Chris Duell

Chris is one of the founders of elev.io. He's a lover of 80s music, SaaS, problem solving, and a good whisky.

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