Letter from the founder 2020
2020. A year for the history books.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve learned more this year than in the past 11 years combined. Or maybe it’s that the lessons I’ve been learning for a while just suddenly clicked all at the same time.
At the beginning of the year, I shared that Tiller was aiming far too low. I wanted 2020 to be a year where we all explored what we were capable of – as a company and as individuals. We’d been living under ceilings for far too long and it was time to break through. At the time, like everyone else in the world, I had no clue what challenges this year would bring. Turns out business textbooks don’t prepare you for a global pandemic.
Challenges have a way of sharpening you – if you’ll allow them to. In the 10 months since COVID hit Alberta (our home), I’ve been inspired watching companies pivot, innovate, and do whatever they can to survive (or even better, thrive).
Survive or thrive?
We are fortunate to be in a business where we can easily transition to WFH (although it’s definitely not our preference). Our office was so small we knew we couldn’t stay open while keeping everyone safe. So like many others, our team moved remote on March 16th. Within a week, we lost our largest customer due to the impact of COVID on their business. I heard from a few other agency owners who’d seen even worse overnight. I knew Tiller would not be immune to the effects of this pandemic. There was so much uncertainty. When would we be hit? How big would the hit be? What could I do to mitigate the impact? I knew that above all else I didn’t want to have to lay anyone off. So I did the only thing I knew I could do: work harder and secure as much business as we possibly could, as quickly as we could, to reduce uncertainty and mitigate risk. This led to weeks upon weeks of extremely long hours. And while we met with some no’s, we also met with many exciting yeses. In the months to follow, we had some of the best months in Tiller’s history. It was insane.
Hard work played a role, but we were also very fortunate. So many businesses also put in the work and didn’t necessarily see the same outcome (it’s heartbreaking). That’s the thing about entrepreneurship – hard work is always required and there are certain things we can do to reduce our risk, but ultimately we put in the work without knowing whether it will pay off.
“Hard work – including, long hours, big and detailed plans, major investments – may never pay off. The benefit is discipline, practice, experience, but it might not come in the form of profits, bonus, or direct success. Nonetheless, successful people are willing to take the risk because they see it as necessary. Even the chance that hard work will lead to success is better than the certainty that not working hard – or putting in lackluster effort – will lead to failure. Successful people don’t fear risk; they embrace it.” – Tony Ewing, Forbes
And so, with a global pandemic on our hands, we didn’t sit back. Instead, we made some big, bold moves.
From the “agency for all” to the “agency for tech”
Over the past 5 years, we’ve worked with some pretty great tech and SaaS companies across North America, and we’ve seen the impact we were able to drive together. Do you know what we realized? We love this niche. And we’re good at it.
It might seem counterintuitive – the idea that niching down could be the very thing that helps you go big. But while we’ve loved working with companies of all shapes and sizes, we believe that narrowing our focus to tech will help us scale, and more importantly, enable us to drive more value for our customers. The exciting news is that tech is prevalent everywhere, so we’re still collaborating across many different industries.
This new focus has inspired our new website and other changes too. We’ve refocused our recruitment approach and our professional development to support a deeper understanding of tech. We’re also building some exciting strategic partnerships.
Now, we still have many customers that aren’t part of this tech category. Some that have worked with us over the long run. We still have the chops needed to help these customers grow. And with the continued growth of tech in every industry, we expect our new focus will greatly benefit these customers in 2021 and beyond.
Ambitious goals & the launch of OKRs
With a newfound focus and ambitious goals, we knew we’d need a framework for growth. After reading John Doerr’s “Measure What Matters”, we made the decision to implement the OKR framework (Objectives & Key Results). We’re only one quarter into the rollout and we’re already seeing how it’s increasing accountability and accelerating progress. The framework has promoted transparency, alignment, and teamwork like I’ve never seen before. And the results speak for themselves.
A few highlights…
- We’ve achieved 84% revenue growth YTD
- Since March we’ve created 9 new full-time jobs, plus expanded our contract team
- We became investors in Alberta-based tech company, liveweb, and worked closely with them to bring their product to market (we’re now proud investors in 2 tech companies)
So what’s next?
Well, we’re not taking our foot off the gas. We are heading into 2021 with a clear vision, even bigger goals, and an intense resolve to help our customers win. We hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Oh, and one more thing. In case you haven’t heard, we officially moved into our new office (the Tiller House). It’s the best upgrade we could have imagined. We’d love to have you for a coffee soon.