It’s a lot of fun to look back over the past 10 years. Box Clever really started a couple years before we became Box Clever. Steve and I launched a few freelance websites for schools and other organizations. As it turns out, we worked really well together, so I scaled back my teaching time for a couple years, took some business courses, and then we kicked off Box Clever in the fall of 2005.
It was a scary proposition. We both decided to quit our jobs to do this full time - I was working as a teacher at the time, and Steve was a multimedia director at a local church. I still remember the look of horror in our wives’ eyes when we got together over lunch to talk about quitting our jobs to start a business! Fortunately, the start-up costs were low using my basement as an office. Our first major expense was to put a wall up around the central vac so it wouldn’t be so noisy while we worked.
The first year saw us launch some pretty good websites: a couple of elementary schools, one for the MacEwan Centre for Sport and Wellness, and then a couple for private businesses. We hosted them all on a Power Mac G5 that we placed in the back office of one of our clients’ offices that had decent bandwidth - yikes.
After the first year we decided to lease an office. We put a lot of elbow grease and sweat equity into the space (see photos below). But it felt great to have a “real” office and felt like it legitimized the business to a certain degree - although, the noise of engines and smell of exhaust from the bobcat rental shop below sometimes detracted from that vibe.
We also had some fun missteps along the way. In the early days we were pretty convinced that wedding websites were a fantastic idea. We built a few for our friends and friends-of-friends, and then we decided to even rent a booth at Bridal Fantasy. This was not a solid business idea, not the way we approached it at least.
What We’ve Learned
One of the things we’ve been asked a lot when people find out we’re celebrating our 10 year anniversary is, “What have you learned?”. Well, we’ve learned to keep things simple. Neither of us have ever been fans of business plans, budgets, or financial metrics. Our business plan has been the same from day one: get bigger projects, grow the team, and produce amazing work. If we see a great opportunity - we try to seize it. If we meet someone that would be a great fit for the team - we make room for them. The “office vibe” as we call it, is important. If your team meshes well, coming to work is enjoyable!
Finances can be pretty easy too: money in goes in one column, out another, and you hope there’s something left at the end. If there is, you’re doing something right. We’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors that run very successful businesses in their own right - and these basic ideas hold true for almost anyone we talk to. There is always the temptation in business to over-think, over-analyze, and really lose sight of the basic principles that can lead to success.
We’ve also learned that people appreciate quality. They appreciate when their website is fun to update, and not a confusing chore. Our focus on beautiful, functional websites has meant clients appreciate the projects we have delivered. And with WebGuide (our in-house CMS) and the best team of designers and developers, we can deliver a product that our team can get behind and be proud of. Our team can honestly tell people that they will enjoy their website and that it really will be easy to use. These quality projects have also resulted in a lot of repeat customers. It also means getting noticed by our industry - with 15 international web design awards in the past three years we are pretty happy with the way things are going. (Read about some of those awards here, here, here, here, here… here and here).
So what do we see in the next 10 years? A growing team with growing skills - always focused on beautiful, functional web projects - whatever "the web" might be in 10 years. We love what we’re doing at Box Clever, and are excited to see what the next 10 years will hold.