Time goes so quickly when you are having fun. It seems like yesterday that Stu, Dave and I put £10K each of our personal savings into Red Badger and started working from our bedrooms. That was on 24th May 2010, 5 years ago, and Red Badger has come a long way since then.
In the last two years, Red Badger have been growing more than 100% year on year in terms of revenue, profit and employees. We have some great current clients in Sky, Tesco, Fortnum & Mason, Lloyds Commercial Bank and Financial Times and are doing some really interesting, cutting edge work.
Sometimes you get so busy in the now that you forget to look back at where you have come from and what you have achieved and I have to say that I am immensely proud of where Red Badger are at today. It has been an interesting journey with plenty of mistakes but we have learnt and adapted as we have grown and have achieved good success to date.
Two big reasons for Red Badger’s success are the amazing team and culture that we have built up and the fact that nearly 50 employees and 5 years later, Red Badger is still built on the same core values as it was on day one.
First I want to discuss our core principles and then we will get to our employees and culture.
When Stu, Dave and I started Red Badger, we were not seasoned entrepreneurs. This was our first crack at running a proper business. However, we were seasoned consultants and were battle hardened enough to know what we didn’t like about how other businesses were run and how we thought we could do it better.
To illustrate to some of our more recent employees that they were living and breathing a vision from 5 years ago, I recently pointed out this blog post that I wrote just 1 month into Red Badger’s existence, based on a term I coined ethical consulting. It was an incredibly simple blog based on one idea – we didn’t ever want to have an incentivised sales team because of the problems we felt it caused when it came to delivery. We wanted to do sales differently to the traditional way in which other companies operated. Our sales process would follow some guiding principles upon which we wanted to base the rest of the company: Quality, Value, Transparency, Honesty, Collaboration. When this blog was released, it was met by some with disdain and dismissed as being naive but still to this day, we do not have an incentivised sales team and have done perfectly well without one.
Strong opinions weakly held
A favourite mantra of Stu’s and one that ripples through Red Badger is “strong opinions weakly held”. We believed strongly in our core principles but were willing to listen and adapt if someone showed us a better way. If having no incentivised sales team hadn’t worked, we would have admitted it didn’t work and changed it. However, all three founders had a vision for how Red Badger should be run and to date it has worked and we have a great company built upon a strong foundation. A key learning is to never be afraid of trying something different if you believe in it. If it doesn’t work, or someone shows you a better way then try something else.
Doing the right thing
5 years on, our core values remain the same. We want to do the right thing. We want to provide quality and we want to provide value to our clients. If doing the right thing is at your core, increased revenue becomes a consequence.
At our last company day in the Summer of 2014, Dave our COO presented the following slide to all of our staff re-iterating that doing the right thing is paramount and the rest follows.
Doing the right thing – Company Day presentation slide.
We hang our hat on quality and don’t take on new business unless we know we can deliver it to the best of our ability. This has held us in good stead.
Looking at our current 5 concurrent clients, 2 are new but 3 we have been working with for over 12 months; Sky we have been working with since September 2013. All of these client engagements started with projects of no more than 4 months but through doing great work, the clients have continued to want to work with us for as long as is feasible.
We ask for no commitment. We just do great work by doing the right thing and as a result, end up winning lots of repeat business to supplement the new business efforts.
Core values are incredibly important but of equal importance is building a strong culture.
Of course, none of any of the successes over the last 5 years would be possible had it not been for our employees. We have built up an incredibly dynamic, talented team that are all simply a pleasure to work with. We put a hell of a lot of effort to create a great culture at Red Badger. We want Red Badger to be the best place that anyone could ever want to work at. A lofty goal but one we constantly strive for.
Great culture starts with recruitment. No-one gets to work at Red Badger unless we think that the existing team would love to work with them. This is a monumental effort. In the last month alone we have had 227 candidates pass the first screening stage and are currently hiring at a rate of approximately 4 per month. However, the effort is most definitely worth it in the long term. You don’t get it right 100% of the time but it is important to us to not hire the wrong person in haste because we are in a hurry to resource a new project. We’d prefer to turn the work down, be patient, hire the right people and focus on building a great culture.
Building a culture
Once you have the right people, a lot of work goes into maintaining culture and creating an environment which is great to work in. A lot of this is to do with trust. As a Director you have to let go and trust your employees to get on with it.
In Dan Pink’s “Drive”, a fantastic book about what motivates us, he talks about three key elements: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.
In a nutshell, these mean the following things:
Autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives
Mastery – the urge to get better and better at something that matters
Purpose – the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves
These three elements are really important in creating a great culture.
Red Badger trust our staff to do the right thing. We don’t micromanage them, we have flexible working hours, we trust them to run projects how they see fit and we even give them a £2K training budget per year to spend on what they like. The key thing is for them to be in control of the decisions that they make day-to-day. The more autonomy you provide your staff, the more productive and happy, they tend to be.
We also try to provide our employees with the best possible environment to collaborate and share knowledge. We explore various ways of doing this, including a monthly company meeting back at the office where everyone takes it in turn to present on key bits of knowledge, be it a demo of a client project or some thought leadership. We encourage them to innovate. We don’t take predetermined solutions to our clients but cater solutions specific to the requirements and if this means using technology that we haven’t before, that’s fine. Our staff are always driving the evolution of how Red Badger do things because they are passionate, smart people who love what they do and we don’t get in their way. To see a good example of this keep an eye on our tech page and see it evolve over time.
Every year we also have a company day during which, we get our employees to do a workshop on our vision and purpose. The outcome of the workshop is a whole bunch of post-its written by our employees on why Red Badger exist, how we realise the why and what the tangible outcomes are. We then use the outputs of the workshop to drive our value propositions and service offerings. By doing this, all of our staff feel part of a common purpose because they have been instrumental in building it.
Why?, How?, What?
Some favourite statements written by our employees from the workshop include:
Why – “To make the internet a better place” / “Fix the nonsense”
How – “Best people, best tools, best methods and processes and always innovative consultancy”
What – “The place you go to find great software and deliver value to clients”
We hired an island!!
More important than anything is that we have lots of fun. We do lots of social events inside and outside of work. Many of our employees would consider themselves best of friends. Part of our culture is to also share the success of Red Badger with our employees when we do well and being fair with how that is distributed. This summer to commemorate our 5th birthday and to thank all of our staff for their continued contribution, we have hired an island and will be taking them all away for a full weekend of relaxation, fun and plenty of drinking. A just reward for all of their efforts and something to be really excited about!
The location of our 5th birthday party
The Badger Way
Core values, culture and great employees are key to the success of the business. By getting those things right it has allowed us to get incredibly efficient in delivering value to our clients. We have built up what we call the “Badger Way”. It is an ever evolving process through which we help big corporations to transform their business with a core focus on enterprise scale web applications. Our focus is on three key things:
Help clients to focus their efforts on being customer driven
Build a solution that delivers the best possible technology to meet the client’s requirements
Help clients to be much leaner in their approach
You can read more about the “Badger Way” elsewhere on our website in existing and upcoming ideas and blog posts.
Who knows what the future will hold but our intention is to continue in the direction in which the last 5 years have gone.
Red Badger has always set out to work with large corporations for a number of reasons, but most importantly, they have the most complex problems to solve where our ways of working can provide the most value. We thrive on complicated and we want to help large corporations feel like startups, implementing lean ways of working, cutting edge tech and delivering great customer experience to their customers.
We will look to continue to grow sustainably. As Red Badger has grown there has naturally been some growing pains. The key is not to ignore them and to make sure you are always listening to your employees. We are putting all of the right things in place to fix them.
The three founders, Stu, Dave and I are committed to our core values. We are determined to continue to hire amazing people, maintain a great culture and we want to continue to do the right thing.
Scaling excellence will not be easy but I think that Red Badger can continue to do things a little bit differently and in growth, succeed where others have failed by providing the best quality and value to our clients and have fun in doing it.