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Team Productivity

10 Things We Learned on Our Journey to 1 Million People

Nathan Gilmore
September 27, 2019

As I sit here writing this, I’m just so full of gratitude.

We’re a small team that started with 2 people in a basement. Now, over 1 million people have used TeamGantt to get work done.

We could not have done it without you. Thank you for joining us on this journey.

It took us just under 10 years of work, and we learned a lot along the way. Here are 10 things that have helped a small underdog like us stay steady and grow consistently over the last decade.

1. Be determined, yet flexible

We’ve heard it said that determination is more important than intelligence, and I couldn’t agree more.

Accomplishing anything significant requires staying extremely determined about reaching the vision. But you have to be flexible enough to adapt new strategies as you learn along the way.

2. Find a good co-founder

This is more important than deciding what you build or how you will market it. Those things will change. But your co-founder likely won’t.

It’s super-hard to do by yourself, so I recommend picking someone who brings an opposite skill set to the table and shares the same values as you. John and I have very different skill sets but align very closely on business strategy and values. This has worked very well over the years.

3. You don’t need big investment money to start or grow a tech company

We actually recommend doing as much as you can without investment. We’re 10 years into this journey and still take $0 in investor funding. That means we focus 100% of our time on our customers and 0% of our time pitching and reporting to investors.

We kept costs down by keeping things simple. For example, our first server cost us less than $12/month. Sure, we pay a lot more than that for the high-quality servers we use now. But you don’t need fancy ones to start small.

We also found ways to market TeamGantt without spending money. There are lots of free options out there these days (blogging, SEO, social media, phone calls, PR, etc.).

Perhaps the biggest way we kept costs down was by simplifying our space. Like I said, we started out in my basement. We eventually relocated to another basement, then to a $5,000 air-conditioned shed in the backyard before moving into the office we have today.

Here’s a shot of us in that sweet shed back in 2013.

4. Don’t be afraid to be the underdog

Pretty much all of our competition raises lots and lots of money to accelerate their growth. Our competition has always been bigger—some of them way, way bigger. Often with hundreds or thousands of employees. We have 21. When we started we had 2.

We’re used to being the underdog—but we use that to our advantage. While our competitors are busy securing investors, hiring loads of people, buying big ads, and jumping through red tape for each decision, we make quick decisions and work directly on the product with a small but talented team.

5. Listen to the customer and build a product worth paying for

Being 100% customer-funded means we answer to the customer. If we can’t come up with something that’s worth our customers’ investment, we’re not doing a good enough job.

Constantly talk with your customers or prospects so you can understand their challenges and goals. Then find creative ways to solve their problems. We’re always talking to project managers, business owners, and other team members to learn how we can make the best project management app for them.

6. Focus

Focus has been absolutely critical to us. It’s the only way we’ve been able to do a lot with a small team.

Staying focused during work hours is a big aspect. So we limit personal tasks and home interruptions. We also keep work chatter and meetings to a minimum to help our team get focus time each day.

Focus also applies to business direction. Do we create new products, hit more markets, do 100 different things? No, we can’t—and we shouldn’t. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way. As tempting as it can be to tackle more than we should, we wouldn’t be able to leverage our core strengths without focus.

7. Don’t rush growth

Rushing leads to investment. It took us 10 years, but we still reached 1 million people. And we did it without losing sleep. We weren’t worried about our “runway” of cash running out, having to let go of employees, or being forced to sell the company.

8. It can be done with good work-life balance

Most tech companies pressure employees to work 50, 60, or even 80 hours or more each week. We started TeamGantt on just 4 hours per week. Now we do 36.

Life isn’t just about work and making money. Maybe we would have gotten to 1,000,000 users faster. But we also may have damaged relationships, completely burned ourselves out, or lost sight of our faith and priorities in life. None of this is worth it.

Work is important but it shouldn’t be at the cost of everything else. And 36 hours a week of super-focused, uninterrupted work is actually a lot of time. Try cutting out meetings and encouraging focus time to make this doable.

9. Hire slow

Building the right team is just as critical as finding a good co-founder. We never rush it. There were times we were tempted, but we held out and were really happy we did.

We’d go through hundreds of resumes, interview the top 6, and still not have a fit. Then finally number 7 would be it—and 7 was way better than the previous 6.

If it delays the process by a month but means you get an employee that will kill it for years to come, it’s totally worth it.

10. Be kind

Be kind to your customers, and be kind to your team. Thank them for the work, and let them know they’re appreciated.

Get an inside look at how we do business

John and I are doing a video series on YouTube to cover more of our thoughts. Here’s episode 1 on why and how we bootstrapped TeamGantt (aka: took no investment money).

Also, this video was filmed in our office. We aren’t still in that shed. That was a while ago. 😊

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