The past year has been a busy but exciting one for VentureDevs. From growing our business development team to adding new roles in marketing and product development, we’re thankful for the chance to have expanded and adapted during an otherwise unprecedented time for many companies.
To take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re headed next, we sat down with Joe Gardner, our CEO and co-founder. Along with our CTO and co-founder Wojtek Sobczuk, Joe has spent the last four-plus years building VentureDevs into an award-winning, international software development firm. Now, he and Wojtek are launching VentureLabs, their next big project that brings their tech and business-building expertise to the startup studio model.
Let’s get started!
Joe Gardner: It’s been great watching our team and client base grow while preparing ourselves for substantial growth going forward. Wojtek and I have been building the company for four-plus years now, and we’ve had plenty of ups and downs along the way, but we’ve really matured as an organization over the last six to nine months.
We’ve added a core leadership team, made some critical hires that we’ve been wanting to make for years, added an R&D department, improved the feedback process company-wide, and made it easier to share content internally and externally, to name a few highlights. Everyone across VentureDevs is more involved than ever and all departments have matured incredibly to the point where their initiatives are taking the entire company to the next level. That’s been extremely encouraging and fun to watch.
Also, getting ready to launch our startup studio, VentureLabs, has been exciting. We finally reached a place this year where we could prepare for fundraising and outreach. After working on this idea in the background with Wojtek for so long, it feels like we’ve reached the pinnacle of years of hard work, so it’s really special.
JG: For Wojtek and me, VentureDevs started when our network kept reaching out to us for our tech and business expertise. It was small and informal then, so to see it grow so quickly to a company with over 100 employees has been really rewarding.
At the start of COVID-19, we were just as anxious as every other business out there. I’m proud of our team for adapting and finding new opportunities during a tough time, and I’m confident that the improvements we made over the past year are setting us up for big things next year!
JG: I’ve worn a number of hats at VentureDevs over the years, just like any founder or early employee does at a new startup. One of the most important, time-consuming, and, honestly, unintended roles was Head of Sales/salesperson. This was mainly by default due to the fact that most of our business in the early days came from my close network of friends. However, I’ve really never been a very good salesperson, and I’m probably an even worse sales manager, so moving me out of this role was a huge initiative that took years and involved changes across the company
Personally, I don’t feel that you can be an effective CEO while you are also in a Head of Sales role or acting as a main sales rep at the same time. In my case, I was usually in a “qualifying” role, since I was taking many first calls with people pitching me their ideas or trying to understand the basic operating model of VentureDevs. Obviously, it’s not ideal for a CEO’s schedule to be filled with qualifying calls, so being in this role was never really ideal for VentureDevs, for our clients/friends, or for me personally.
Over the past six months, our Growth Department, which for us includes Sales, Business Development, Marketing, and Customer Success, has done an incredible job, and that has allowed me to pass the torch of this role and be much more of a CEO than I was able to be before. Being removed from the Growth Department is probably the biggest reason why we were able to focus on VentureLabs, and launching that will certainly be a substantial change for us in 2021 and something that we are all very excited about.
JG: Between building our own companies and helping so many friends build theirs along the way, Wojtek and I saw how valuable our combined tech and entrepreneurial experience was. Our dream was to be able to build any company we wanted, whenever we wanted. So, about seven years ago, we became a little obsessed with the “process of building companies” rather than focusing on “building one specific company.” That’s an important distinction and it’s at the core of where our passion comes from.
We felt that if we could create a blueprint for building companies, then we could utilize that blueprint to repeatedly create new companies with ease and eliminate the pitfalls that so many others fall victim to. When we finally got some free time to focus on creating our blueprint (after the acquisition of Modasphere), we also started getting flooded with requests from friends to help with their companies or new ventures. This became the accidental start to VentureDevs, and luckily for us, it was the perfect platform for us to refine this blueprint, test our assumptions, and, most importantly, build our dream team over the past four-plus years.
Now we are ready to take the next step and start creating some new companies backed by a strong process and an even stronger team, and that’s what VentureLabs is all about — a company that's core purpose is to create new companies (aka, a startup studio).
JG: After four-plus years, VentureDevs is at a place where it’s a pretty smooth-running machine. While it’s great to see the company doing so well, we’re not the kind of people who want to kick our feet up, relax, and rest on our laurels. We want to keep pushing.
Another reason is that VentureDevs gives us such an incredible advantage for launching a studio like VentureLabs. Studios normally help build startups with pre-existing, standardized resources like HR, legal services, executive leadership, product design, software development, or whatever their particular angle might be. VentureDevs has over 100 people actively working to help grow companies with one of the most challenging components facing businesses today — quality technical talent — and we also happen to be uniquely positioned to detect trends in the market and identify promising startups and founders.
I don’t think the timing could be any more perfect than it is currently. We’ve been working for years to get to the point where we had the foundation in place for VentureLabs and the bandwidth to focus on it, which we finally have now.
JG: When building any new company, Wojtek and I always have the goal of scaling ourselves out of the day-to-day operations. Some people are surprised when I say this, but if you think about it, it’s actually pretty obvious. For example, when you start a company and there are two founders, you wear all of the hats. The goal is to build a team of people who can take more and more responsibilities off of your plate, and ideally, you are adding people who can do the job better than you could in the first place.
I personally don’t think that this process should ever stop, and for me, one of the biggest benchmarks to measure our success is based on asking myself the question, “How much am I needed on a daily/weekly/monthly basis?” Once the answer is “very little” on a weekly or monthly basis, it means that the team is performing at a high level and moving our organization forward in a sustainable way, which means that I have free time to do something else.
That’s what we’ve been doing at VentureDevs over the past four-plus years, and now we are at the point where that “something else” is VentureLabs. Luckily, the stuff that Wojtek and I have been doing day in and day out for years at VentureDevs is what we’re going to be doing at VentureLabs. The only difference is that instead of focusing our efforts on others’ companies, we will be focused on refining our blueprint for our own new companies or partnering with the most promising startups that we come across. It will largely be the same function, but with slightly new focus areas.
To get to this point feels like a significant milestone, and it’s really a testament to our amazing team and our faith in everyone to carry the VentureDevs vision forward without the need to insert ourselves on a daily or weekly basis anymore. It feels like the result of years of hard work, and I’m super proud of our team for getting us ready to embark on the VentureLabs journey. And since we now have a large team, a great network, and so many resources to help launch VentureLabs, I think that leading both companies will actually be easier than when we started VentureDevs when it was just me, Wojtek, and a small handful of others.
JG: Well, we will be fundraising for VentureLabs soon and that’s always a challenging task, and doing so in the middle of a pandemic probably won’t make it any easier...so I’m mentally preparing to embark on that journey...haha! However, I’ve been dreaming of creating a company like VentureLabs for years, so the fact that we are finally ready for it is enough to propel me forward in any climate. And, we’ve received extremely positive feedback and a number of investor commitments all before officially launching, so that’s giving me tons of energy as we get started.
On the VentureDevs side, we are mostly focused on hiring and continually shaping the organization in the best way to allow us to scale efficiently while always seeking to improve the excellent service we provide to our clients and work environment we provide to our team. While that is a challenge for any growing company, it feels great to be focused on the highest-level objectives for the company rather than putting out smaller day-to-day fires like we did in our early days.
And one personal challenge — with the launch of VentureLabs, I won’t have the same bandwidth to personally field all of the requests from my network or be as accessible as I once was. I keep reminding myself of a quote I came across recently: “You can do anything once you stop trying to do everything.”
This quote really hits home for me right now. I definitely feel a little guilty about my lack of availability as many of these requests come from good friends who have been supportive over the years. It’s going to be personally challenging to have to say "no" or have someone else on the team be the main point of contact in most situations, but in the end, I know this is better for all parties, and it will allow me to focus on the big picture priorities that my team and our investors are expecting me to focus on. And, ultimately, concentrating entirely on these efforts will allow me to expand my ability to help out long-standing friends with their own endeavors even more.
JG: Definitely! I’m obviously excited to officially launch VentureLabs and start building some new companies. We already have a few new startups up our sleeves, so the sooner we can launch those, the better!
Second, the annual planning process for VentureDevs this year has felt very different than in years past. We are operating at a very high level and we are looking to do some pretty big things in 2021 and beyond, so that feels really special:
Expanding our technical, product, and possibly sales resources globally so we can operate in new markets and reduce various timezone constraints.
And lastly, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with our team and our network in-person! COVID obviously put a stop to most in-person activities, but getting people together, sharing ideas, and meeting new people is at the core of what we do, so I can’t wait to have events, meet people out in the world, and have some fun with our friends again!