Much like 2010, 2011 kicked off with a flurry of activity.
In January 2011, Mobelux moved into its very first offices alongside Tumblr’s customer support team. That same week, we hosted an opening party at Legend Brewing Company to celebrate the opening of Tumblr’s new offices in Richmond. Tumblr’s Founder and CEO, David Karp, flew down from New York to Richmond to christen the new digs. He got a rock star's welcome.
Confidence and Culture
We gained a sense of confidence by being able to rub shoulders with Tumblr. We thought, “Yeah, we can do this.” We were beginning to understand that we could be a part of the national technology community. We realized we could compete with talent coming out of larger markets like New York.
Jeff and I never really sat down and said this is what our culture should be. We ended up setting the culture of our company based on what we did, not on what we said. It evolved out of our behavior.
It was all about focusing. We were six people putting out a ton of work for huge audiences. We had three people building the iHome website. That could have easily been a five or six-person team somewhere else. We were sharing our co-working space and wondering…what's the etiquette? When we started in the Corrugated Box Building, Jeff and I and the team were on an open office floor. We all put our headphones in and just learned to focus. It was anti-social sometimes. But we got a lot done because of it. Here is what we say in our employee manual:
The headphone rule is real. It’s kind of like a gentleman’s agreement for an office that doesn’t have a lot of doors. Wearing headphones means “I am in the zone and I don’t particularly want to be bothered right now.” We recommend communicating with them via Slack [collaborative team communication software] first to let them answer at their own pace.
Jeff recognized a new, emerging platform much like how he had noticed Tumblr early on. Instagram was founded in October 2010. The photo sharing app quickly took off. All of us at Mobelux became huge Instagram fans. We loved the simplicity of the app and the story behind how it came to be. We also found that we wanted a way to explore Instagram while we were working throughout the day on our Macs. We found it frustrating that we could only see Instagram photos via the app, not on the web nor on the desktop.
Being true to ourselves, we decided that we would build something for that need — a desktop app for the Mac. So we set out to build our first desktop application with our mobile development team, Carousel, which enabled users to view their Instagram feeds on a Mac computer.
We conceived, designed, developed and released Carousel in an eight week period between client projects. We pulled it off by building via our strengths and utilizing available resources, namely open source software. We were at the time inspired by the team at Icon Factory and the apps that they had built. They were beautiful and gave us hope that there was a viable market with the way that we wanted to design and build software.
Jeff had a great idea in the product concept and name. Just as important, that creative process made us realize Mobelux’s core DNA: We wanted to continue making products of our own, to keep experimenting and learning. That paid off as we registered the trademark and saw how ideas like this one could generate lots of organic buzz for each product as well as Mobelux overall.
Products + Services Company
As the previous story shows, Mobelux is not your traditional services company. We are a team of problem solvers that are passionate about building great products. We actually consider ourselves more of a product team for hire. We care deeply about the products we want to make and push our clients to make decisions we feel will benefit their product. We care immensely about design and user experience.
We love working with smart and motivated people. We love being pushed and stretched to grow. And we love it when something we made makes somebody else happy. We also understand that there is something special that happens when you get smart developers and designers together under the same roof. We have grown into a company that can develop complete platforms, from ideation to launch: branding, identity, back-end web development, testing and even support.
We love being able to make something quickly. We have remained lean and flat without a lot of hierarchy for a reason. We believe clients should be able to interact with engineers, testers, and designers. Being a great software company begins first with talent but is tied together in how well you are able to enable and communicate with that talent.
We love making things. So when we see a new opportunity to make a new product, we sometimes just go ahead and do it, taking on the risk ourselves, just like we did with our Carousel project.
Growing Our Team
Getting our own office space finally made us feel like a company. A lot of companies have proven that remote offices work well. But there is just something intangible about being in the same room together. And having an office with our company logo just feels great.
We didn't get our office until two years after founding Mobelux. We started in a down economy. Getting loans and raising money never seemed like a possibility. Now we had guaranteed work from Tumblr and a great office, conducive to building a team, right alongside our client.
Over the years, we scaled incrementally. First Jeff went full-time. Then we hired a series of contractors: Jamie Pinkham, Jason Emerick, Eddie Wilson and Jeremy Greenwood. It wasn’t until moving into our new offices that I finally left ZelTech and started working full-time at Mobelux. That was close to three years after we had started the business. My wife was happy that I finally began taking a salary. Jamie and Jason went from being contractors to full-time employees around that same time.
2011 wrapped up with an encouraging write up in THE ATLANTIC by Sarah Rich: The Guys Who Developed Tumblr's Mobile App Want to Help Your Startup. It was pretty cool to see this in print: “For Rock and Ross, the thrill of the job is in knowing how many people are using their apps--between two and three million a day, they say.”
Being together in the new office really helped us execute the Carousel concept and enabled us to launch it in a short time frame. We never could have accomplished that without our first office at the Corrugated Box Building.
Office culture needs to be organic and natural. It is very hard to force. When it evolves from the work you do, and that produces products you are proud of, you know you are on the right path. Along with the work, we did take note on personal tools. Laptop computers, nice monitors, and great chairs were a necessity. High quality headphones were important in the focus factor.
We didn’t know it yet, but the work we built for ourselves would have huge impacts for us over the next seven years. Finding a way to foster innovation was a key priority.
Garrett Ross is CEO & Co-Founder of Mobelux.