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May 07, 2008

It's a Hash-rock't Life For Us!

Tim and Alex

If you're an active blogger (like I am) then I have this question for you: Does your own blog writing activity have some correlation to your amount of blog reading? I think it does for me -- the busier that I get with life and work, the less time I have to read blogs the way I usually have for the last 3-4 years -- 10 to 20 hours a week.

On the other hand, maybe 10 to 20 hours of blog reading per week are excessive for anyone? Actually, based on my relative happiness level I think I can assure you that much blog reading is definitely unhealthy and unproductive.

Thing is, the less I read, the less that I am compelled to write. But it's not for a lack of interesting topics to write about, that's for sure! So here's an effort to break the silence. Besides the exciting U.S. presidential election, which thankfully is now looking quite favorable to Obama, my main concern has been growing my company, Hashrocket.

3-2-1 Grow!

Hashrocket is now about 4 months old. We're shooting for a few million in revenue this year and as of May 1, our headcount is 22 people (or "Rocketeers" in our lingo). Yes, that's a torrid growth rate, like 400% in a few months.


I'm still interested in hiring one or two more senior Rails people, especially if they're high-profile superstars, but I think we're getting fairly close to the size that we're going to be for the rest of the year. If you're a Rails rockstar who is not necessarily interested in becoming a fulltime consultant for Hashrocket, you might consider taking a working vacation with us -- I regularly hire temporary contractors to help us out with the workload, "hired guns" if you will.

Tim Pope

Among my new hires are a couple of developers from Texas (now relocated to Florida) that are fairly well-known in the Ruby/Rails community: Rein Henrichs and Tim Pope.

Being based across the street from a beautiful beach does have many perks, among them the ease to attract top-notch Rails talent -- Rein came in as a hired-gun to do a 3-2-1 Launch project and never left!

First Coast Impact

We're also hiring top talent locally in the Jacksonville beaches area, also called "First Coast", which happens to be a major suburb of Jacksonville proper with no lack of IT jobs. I'm pretty sure that at our current size we are now one of the major progressive consulting operations in this area.

Our success with local recruiting is due in no small part to our involvement with the RubyJax user group that we helped launch last year. Here's a couple of locals that came aboard recently, whom we met via RubyJax, Les Hill and Wes Gibbs:

Wes and Les Pairing

I still strongly consider pair-programming to be an important aspect of our value proposition and an essential way to ensure productivity, knowledge sharing and continuous peer-mentoring! It impacts our sales process, as we strive to staff projects with pairs of people rather than individuals or odd-numbered size teams.

Just call me Chief Obies

As Hashrocket has expanded, I've taken on more of a real CEO/COO role and I'm down to billing only a couple of hours a week, if any. I'm still sporadically pairing/mentoring/coding as the need arises, but frankly I'm immensely enjoying the new challenges offered by shifting over to doing more business and management kind of things.

For instance, as CEO I'm responsible for heading up our sales efforts and defining the long-term strategy for the company. One of the jobs I recently tackled with my CEO cap on was to write a first draft of the Hashrocket Mission Statement:

Become the world's premier supplier of custom web development services, by partnering with top designers and supplying rewarding, challenging work to talented and disciplined software developers who embody Ruby and Agile philosophies.

Yeah, it's wordy, but gets the point across. You might note with interest (hopefully) that partnering with top designers is a key part of our mission. In my experience, if a client doesn't care enough -- or have enough money -- to enlist excellent design talent in their web project, then it's simply not worth getting involved in that project.

You might also note that there's no word about products. It didn't take me too long to realize that it takes a significant amount of time and investment to build up a world-class product team, including sales, marketing and design people. World-class programming we can do, but the other stuff, not so much. I don't want anything that bears my name or the Hashrocket brand to be less than the best, which means that product plans are on hold, or low-priority for now. We are actively choosing a diminished role in a key aspect of our overall business, in order to exceed expectations at another: an important part of success for a service business.

Day-to-day Operations

When you exceed a certain size, say 5-10 people, handling the day-to-day operations of the company becomes a big and important job. Luckily, I have excellent help. For instance, this is Ben McDonald, our Business Manager (and probably future COO):


Ben has a programming background, but excels in business. Over the course of the last couple of months I realized that and let him take charge of resource-planning, budgets and cash-flow, as well as assisting me with front-line management stuff. Every Monday morning we meet up for breakfast and go over financial statements and plan the week. I have to tell you that having qualified business help is essential for technically-minded entrepreneurs like myself. Cash-flow, profit/loss, AR aging, budgets and other critical reports don't write themselves!

Speaking of finances, I have to introduce you to the lovely Stephanie Hart, who handles our books and invoicing. She's the person you'll be talking to when you owe Hashrocket some money.


Did I mention she's one of the most photogenic people I know?


Finally, I'm spending a fortune to give the Rocketeers a few days off and flying all of them to Portland for Railsconf, so if you're there you'll get to meet us in person. We're not sponsoring the actual conference or an official party this year, but do find us and join us for drinks -- I'll be picking up tabs.

If you read this far you should probably follow me on twitter:


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