DjangoForce, a software development company, is by all measures a tech startup. But the CEO of the Boise-based business attributes much of their success to something a little more analog: their customer service, communication and trust.
“A huge challenge with developing software is there’s a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, and the client just sees the money going out,” said chief executive Jason Martin.
So DjangoForce goes all in on transparency. The startup invests time upfront to understanding the challenge their customer is facing and helping shape a targeted software solution. Then they provide a front-row seat to the engineering process, sharing notifications with customers each time a developer submits new code for a project.
“We probably over communicate,” Martin conceded.
But it’s an approach that’s working for Martin and his co-founder Patrick Falvey. The two software engineers launched DjangoForce in 2016, and three years later their bootstrapped startup is bringing in more than $1 million a year. They named their company after Django, a free, Python-based open-source web framework.
The duo are the only official employees; they have assembled a team of contract developers from Upwork, an international freelancing platform. They work with a core team of seven remote engineers who receive something more akin to a salary, as well as training and DjangoForce pays for their equipment. They hire additional workers from Upwork as needed.
“We find people with very specific skills,” Martin said. “It’s like puzzle pieces that we put together.”
DjangoForce recently moved to a new office in what Martin calls the “coolest building in Boise” — the Zions Bank Building in the heart of the city; it’s Idaho’s tallest building at 18 stories. The plan is to start growing a team of local employees.
“We really like the idea of having more people in-house to bounce around ideas with each other,” Martin said.
The startup also uses Upwork to advertise their services and find new clients from around the country. It’s their primary avenue for drumming up business.
Martin and Falvey had for years wanted to start a company together. The two were close friends and shared similar life goals and the “same crazy work ethic.” They tried to come up with an innovative, new idea for a company, but then realized they should play to their strengths and do what they already knew: building software for others.
When it came to launching a startup, “it was this feeling that it was meant to be,” Martin said, “that it had to happen.”
We spoke to Martin for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
What does your company do? DjangoForce is a software development company providing technology assessments and cloud-based web and mobile application solutions globally. In a nutshell, we can solve any of your custom software needs while adding transparency to the process via customer reviews, screenshots of work in progress, and clear up-front cost estimates.
Inspiration hit us when: We were biking in the foothills of Boise, enjoying a beautiful fall day, and having a typical dream session of being entrepreneurs. We talked about the industry issues that bothered us both, and addressing those by approaching software development in a different way. We understood the importance of being great employees and doing more than what we were paid to do, but it was time to become great business owners and make those dreams a reality.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap. We started the company with our own savings, and the way we scaled our growth, enabled us to stay on the forecasted path without needing outside investments to date.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Team trust. The fact that we are close friends in life transferred as confidence and reliability in the workspace. We find those to be some of the most fundamental values needed to grow a successful company.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: We used Upwork, the global freelancing network, to not just generate new business leads but to hire software engineers and other positions when we need them for different projects. Leveraging the network for both boosting the revenues and as an HR tool, really helped us to build a million-dollar company in a short amount of time, mostly with a remote, global team.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Not hiring in-house talent, sooner. While we have based our success on a remote team of amazing software engineers, we are at a stage when developing a larger in-house team is a necessity to grow further as a company.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? We would have Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard as our corner man, because of his lifetime of business experience, philanthropy efforts, and his mindset of building a multi-billion dollar business with as little impact on environmental resources as possible. He never sacrificed his core values over money.
Early on, he founded his businesses on the zen-like principle of simplicity, which we can appreciate in software development. It’s something we strive to follow when writing code for applications. The guiding principal stems from the French aviator, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who said, “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: We both are big fans of the outdoors and living in the Pacific Northwest means that we have some of the most beautiful mountains in the U.S. right in our backyard. We use hiking to spend some quality time outside of work, but also as a digital detox. There is no WiFi in the remote mountains!
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: People with a desire to learn and grow with us as a company. It’s one thing to hire extremely talented people in the field, but another to find those that also want to further their skills and help us grow DjangoForce.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Disrupt your daily routine. If you are making a transition to being an entrepreneur, you have to make changes and think differently. Visualize and define yourself by a vision that is bigger than you every single day. Be passionate about the vision, otherwise you’re left with the way your brain is wired from the past with the same predictable routine you have now. Most importantly, don’t only visualize where you want to be, take action and do something every day that gets you closer to that vision.