In continuation of a tradition we began at the end of 2017, we recently sent out our annual letter to a number of our clients, partners and old friends. And, as we did last year, we’ve decided to post the letter on our blog, as well. There’s a lot, here – some might argue it’s too much. And while it’s true that I’m particularly open and candid in my remarks, here, there’s nothing in this letter that I’d censor our team from discussing with a client or partner.
I hope you enjoy reading it!
Happy New Year, JT
For the second year, I sat down in early December to compose this Annual Letter. This is a new tradition for a young business, but it has become one of my favorite projects. Taking time to reflect on the year we’re now wrapping up – and being thoughtful about communicating our plans for the coming year – has helped me, tremendously. If you don’t do this or something like it in your own business, I urge you to try it, yourself. In fact, my own inspiration for this comes from a client of ours, whose Chairman and President have been jointly-authoring one for over 30 years. While our mentors lead a much larger company, I immediately saw good reason to do something similar, albeit on a smaller scale. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I have enjoyed composing it.
While WorkBook6 began to assemble in 2016, 2018 is actually just our second full commercial year. This is important to note, as I believe our accomplishments over the past twelve months resonate just a touch more meaningfully when one considers the truly nascent maturity of this business. As a parent of young children, it’s hard not to see the parallels between starting and growing a company and raising children. In that sense, I like to think of WorkBook6 as a promising adolescent. We are at once proud of our progress and mindful of how we can continue to grow. Among other milestones, we’ve accomplished the following, this year:
- Our team has doubled the company’s topline revenue for the second consecutive year. While this may be ‘table stakes’ for a young firm, I can assure you that we don’t take it lightly. Growth like that is the product of the entire team’s tireless work, as well as the trust our clients and partners have invested in us.
- Our partnership development team has increased performance-based revenues by over 250%, Year-over-Year. This figure, which refers only to those fees that the firm earns through our clients’ execution and performance in new partnerships, is perhaps the single most important indicator of WorkBook6’s health. 2018 was a year of tremendous progress in this area.
- To meet this growth, we have expanded our team. WorkBook6 is a technology enabled service business. To provide great service, we’ve added great people. This year, we welcomed Anna Lewis, Chris Cox, Justin Guido, Savannah Day and Kyle Casaccio. We also announced the acquisition of Maszi, Inc, which brought Kara Hutcheson into the firm on a full-time basis. Each of these people have made material contributions to our work and to our clients’ growth.
- We have developed a fully-functional and entirely proprietary technology platform. This system, which we call Perenn.io, is the backbone of the entire operation. Today, our team leverages this technology across many disciplines, including relationship management, sales and marketing automation, task management, business intelligence and even billing. In fact, we believe Perenn.io to be the first many-to-many business and relationship management platform. This, as I will point to later on in this letter, is critical to our business’s identity. We’re particularly thankful to Max Richardson and Savannah Day’s work in this area.
- Through the hard work of our client success leaders, we have successfully launched and incubated our full-service partner management program. This effort, which involves full scale partner program management, came at the request of an ambitious client, to whom we’re deeply grateful for the trust and resources they’ve committed.
- We’ve continued to build out our workshop series as a marketing and partnership development mechanism. In 2018, WorkBook6’s workshops at LeadsCon and InsureTech Connect attracted over 300 attendees.
As I think through these accomplishments, I’m left with what might best be described as a ‘dumb grin.’ That’s because throughout the process of building this momentum, it didn’t always feel as if we were making such progress. As I’m sure many entrepreneurs will tell you, it’s hard, sometimes, to see the business’s progress while it’s happening. I spent much of my time this past year thinking through new kinds of challenges and evaluating new types of opportunities. This, I’ve learned, is what growth feels like in this business. I once listened to a keynote given by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah (who co-founded and continue to lead HubSpot). While I recall many useful lessons from that talk, perhaps the assertion that best applies to the year behind us is this: “companies are more likely to die of over-eating than starvation.” I don’t think there are more useful words of advice for a young business that’s lucky enough to be growing, quickly. The message, which speaks to focus and discipline, could have been better applied to some of our work this past year, and will certainly influence what we decide to do – and not to do – in 2019.
In this sense, I’m most excited about all the things we can still refine, here. I think the holidays are a fine time for candor and for vulnerability, so I hope you can find some value in reading about a few of our hard-earned lessons, too. Key learnings for our business this year include the following:
- We have a sweet spot, and we also have the opposite. In 2018, we sometimes stretched ourselves too far to meet demand that didn’t actually align with what we do best. Good growth takes time, and sometimes it’s actually best to pass up immediately available revenues until more befitting opportunities emerge.
- Doing what you’re told to do and doing things right aren’t always the same. On a couple occasions, we deferred to external direction despite a ‘gut feeling’ that the strategy might be off-target. We’d have been better off pushing back in those cases, or even walking away.
- Finally, there may be CEO’s out there who are great at account management, but ours isn’t one of them. In 2018, I learned that the most respectful thing that I can do as a leader is actually to avail our best resources to our clients. And, when it comes to account management, that ain’t me!
These lessons have informed our plans for growth in the new year, which will differ somewhat from the past. As we begin our third full year in business, we’ll do so with a few important themes guiding our strategy. These themes, which have been drafted with input from our entire team, are designed to help us focus on quality growth and revenue diversification while taking a deeper approach to serving our clients. Each of these themes are outlined, below:
- We will stay independent. Our business has not raised outside capital. We plan to remain on this path, because we feel that having the autonomy to operate this business and apply the learnings we’ve worked so hard for is paramount.
- We will focus on deepening our relationships with our existing clients, and also limiting the number of new clients we agree to take on. Two consecutive years of rapid growth is fun, but we feel we can continue on this trajectory without taking on business that doesn’t ideally suit us. More importantly, we plan to expand several existing relationships to include our full-service management offering, and we’d like to focus more of everyone’s time on client growth than we do on our own.
- We will continue to invest in technology and systems. Through continuing our work on Perenn.io, we believe we are building a company that can mature far beyond being perceived as a mere ‘relationship’ business.
As you can see, we’ve got a lot to be thankful for. For both the growth we’ve accomplished and the opportunities to continue improving, we are grateful. In this light, it only makes sense to end this letter with a sincere note of thanks. Because so many people and companies impacted our successes and our lessons this year, we must stay general here. To each of our clients and partners, as well as our friends and families, we offer a very heartfelt and earnest ‘thank you.’ It’s been an incredible year, and we’re brimming with optimism for 2019. We wish each of you a happy, healthy holiday season and a new year filled with accomplishment.