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Ingrid Alongi of Quick Left on Growing Pains and the Benefits of Diversifying Revenue

Co-Founder and CEO of Quick Left, Ingrid Alongi sat down with me to discuss the benefits of diversifying revenue sources, Quick Left’s merger with Sprint.ly, and how she finds work-life balance through competitive cycling.

Ingrid co-founded Quick Left in 2009 with Sam Breed to focus on offering excellent service to funded startups. As of January 28th, Quick Left merged with Sprint.ly, adding the SaaS management platform product for software development to their service-based business and added two new locations in Portland and San Francisco. After touring us around their green, nature-inspired office in the center of Boulder, Colorado, just off of Pearl Street, we sat down to talk about how Ingrid faces the challenges of growing a business and what brought Quick Left to where they are today.

You can find more information about Ingrid Alongi and Quick Left by visiting their blog, and following them on Facebook and Twitter.

Video Transcript

Brent: I’m Brent Weaver, and you’re watching uGurus, the most watched web series for the more profitable and in-demand web professional. Today, I’m in Boulder, Colorado, at Quick Left with cofounder and CEO, Ingrid Alongi

Welcome to the program

Ingrid: Thank you so much

Brent: So, Ingrid, tell me about Quick Left

Ingrid: Sure. We’re a consultancy. We specialize in web and mobile technologies. We’re really more heavy on the engineering side, the application development side, and we also do UX and UI design

Brent: Who is a typical customer of Quick Left?

Ingrid: Yeah, we like to focus on early-stage startups. Those are people that don’t have a development team yet, have a really good idea, and they work with us to figure out what their product direction is going to be. We lay down a really strong architectural foundation. We kind of get them off the ground, their product launched, and we’ll even help them hire as they grow their own team

Brent: Now, are these startups that are bootstrapping, or are these funded startups?

Ingrid: Generally, they’ve got to have some budget, so angel funded startups or Series A. We’ve worked with a few Series A. We’ve also gotten bigger clients that are further along in their funding, such as Ping Identity. They’re very well established, but they wanted us to come in to bring a little bit more innovation into some of the stuff they were dong. So that’s a really good fit for us as well

Brent: So how big is Quick Left right now?

Ingrid: As of Tuesday, we’re actually 30 people now. We have offices in San Francisco and Portland because we just completed a merger with a product company called Sprint.ly

Brent: What does Sprint.ly do?

Ingrid: Sprint.ly is an agile project management tool. It’s really nice, though, because it focuses on not just developers in the process, but also their managers and the stakeholders as well. I actually even use it with my operations team. It’s very versatile

Brent: Sprint.ly is a product, and I assume they were a product company, and you guys are more of a service company

Ingrid: Yeah

Brent: That’s not something that I hear every day. Tell me about that merger

Ingrid: Yeah, it’s not easy to combine product and service. The work streams can be really different. So we’re really excited because we’ve always wanted to do product, but as you know, with consulting, if you’ve got client work to do, it always takes precedence

So the advantage of working with a company and merging that already has a product that’s generating revenue is that they’ve kind of gotten through a lot of those hurdles already. They already have a workflow. They already have strong leadership. So we can come together with both of our expertise and continue running both businesses together

Brent: What was the key driver? Was it like you guys just loved the product, or was it that you had some relationships with founders or whatever?

Ingrid: They were actually a client of ours — we did a lot of JavaScript optimization for them — and we just found that our companies had a lot of shared values, both in where we wanted to go in the future as well as our working style. So it was a really good fit. We kind of talk about it like it’s like peanut butter and chocolate

Brent: Gotcha. So what’s the plan for that merger in terms of what you guys see as being the big benefit of having both companies in the same house now?

Ingrid: We’re going to continue to focus quite a bit on consulting. That’s going to be the core of our business. But now that we have strong product leadership, we’re going to be able to release more products. So we actually have . . . it’s sort of like an internal labs kind of environment where people that work at Quick Left can bubble up product ideas and get them built and launched Of course, you have to know what the revenue stream is going to be of your product. You have to know if there is even a market for it. So there are definitely some rules to set you up for success, but we’re hoping to launch more products as well

Brent: One thing that I found was that sometimes my service revenue was propping up my product team, and sometimes my product team revenue was propping up my service team. How are you guys looking at that in terms of the business?

Ingrid: For me, personally, I think I’m excited about the diversity of the revenue streams. Obviously, as a consultant, you’re tied to your hourly rate, and you’re tied to how many hours there are in a day that you can work. Ideally, the nice thing about product is that it’s recurring revenue. You can sit there, and it just keeps happening

But it is very much easier said than done

Brent: Gotcha. In terms of your team and your culture, you guys seem like you have a pretty cool office. You’ve got these . . . I’m going to call them crazy, yellow scaffolding desks. Is it yellow or is it green?

Ingrid: You know, it kind of is both

Brent: How do you guys attract talent?

Ingrid: Yeah, attracting talent is quite a bit more challenging than it was when we started the company because we started during a time where there was the recession, and VCs weren’t funding companies quite as much. So we had a lot of choices. But now, the competition for talent is pretty tight. A lot more companies are getting funded and getting started

So what we try to do is just focus on being able to do good work. Developers like to hang around other developers that are smart and get to do challenging projects. So we just really focus on that and the craftsmanship of what we do. We’re really integrated into open source and furthering software in general

Brent: Now, in terms of the consulting side of the business, who is a typical client that you guys are looking at? You said startups, but is it always just startups, or is there a potential range there?

Ingrid: You know, we actually have quite a range in terms of the type of business that a potential client will be running, but there are more characteristics of the client themselves that we really look for. One is perhaps they appreciate and need some innovation within their larger company, or they need some help from our developers to help train their team on some newer technologies

With some of the smaller companies, people really value software process and craftsmanship and really understand what it takes to get something launched properly

So it’s really more about, “Does the client have experience in building software projects?”

Unfortunately, it is the case that people have unrealistic expectations about how long things should take and how much they should cost, because the internet’s kind of free. At Amazon, you can see things, and you don’t realize that maybe they’ve spent 10 years and 100 engineers building it

So there’s a little bit of taking for granted the amount of time it really does take to build things at times

Brent: You mentioned Amazon. I’m assuming you’re talking about, maybe, a client coming in and saying, “Well, Amazon does this. Why can’t we do this?”

Ingrid: And I say, “Yes, we can, but it may not be within your budget,” or, “You may not need to launch with something so big,” or something like that

It’s really about expectation setting, and one of the things that we really work hard to do with our clients is help them understand that they might have really big ideas, but what we want to focus on launching, especially at first, is something really small because it’s really easy to invent problems that people might have and spend a lot of money solving a problem, and then they end up not having that problem, and features get thrown out later and things like that

Brent: Are there any specific methodologies that you follow as a team and as a company to try to solve those problems worth solving versus solving problems that nobody cares about?

Ingrid: Yeah, we really try to focus on lean and agile and iterating on small, digestible chunks of work that, ideally, can be released either with an internal team that the customer has or even the public, a small beta environment or something like that, just so that they can see how their product is really getting used in the public

Ingrid: How does Quick Left attract clients?

Ingrid: Up until recently, we’ve really focused on word-of-mouth and our own networks. I’m a developer, not a salesperson, but it’s really been easy and fun to talk with people about their ideas and be able to help them. So we’ve been really lucky and able to get a lot of clients just by doing good work and being able to talk about that work

But now, we’ve been focusing. We’re wanting to get a little bit more broad with our customers outside of this area, so we’ve launched . . . we have a marketing team that’s been working for a year figuring out how we can really reach out to our customers out of town

Brent: So with growing past 30 people, you mentioned that you were a developer before. Are you doing much development now at this point in the agency?

Ingrid: I am not. I dropped out of development probably about a year and half in, and now I focus just on sales, CEO types of things, a lot of email, a lot of meetings, and a lot of talking out in the public

Brent: Quick Left has been around for four years. What were you doing before Quick Left?

Ingrid: Before Quick Left, I was actually working at a local startup here called Gnip, and we worked to normalize and stream social media data. Right now, they’re one of the biggest resellers of the Twitter firehose, for instance

At that time, the engineering team was let go. They had a little bit of leadership changes. So that’s when I became a free agent and met my co-founders, who were already working under the Quick Left name. Once we met, we decided to really make something more like an agency, a business, out of Quick Left

Brent: So that was the plan. Once you got involved, you were like, “Let’s turn this into something bigger.”

Ingrid: Yeah, and they were in agreement, too. I was hopefully not like, “Let’s do this. Come along with me guys.” We had a really good synergy, and we really felt strongly that we had a good product, and the market was ready for more engineering focused shops

Brent: Now, you’ve got your recent merger with Sprint.ly. It seems like you’re kind of at a high point, maybe. Maybe I’m making assumptions here. Was there ever a low point for Quick Left over your four-year history?

Ingrid: Oh, of course. I always like to tell people that it’s really easy to start a company, but it’s really hard to grow one. For me, the hardest part was probably the third year because we started to grow to a size where we actually needed more process, more operations, more consistency, and sometimes, putting process in with existing people that are used to not having process, it doesn’t always meld well with everyone. That definitely was the hardest part

And then also, just as the industry has changed and as Boulder has changed, more of my competition has moved to town. So it’s gotten harder to get new business, and it’s just more competitive

Brent: Is there any daily practice that you keep, that you do or practice, any routine that keeps you sane with all this craziness going on?

Ingrid: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s daily, but it’s definitely a focus, but I am a competitive cyclist. Racing, for me, is something that allows me to really disconnect from work. If you’re trying to hang on to the cat 1 or 2 pro packs here in Colorado, which are very competitive, you really can’t think about that client that maybe yelled at you or something like that

So that’s been really fun. It also gets me out from my office chair, and having a training program really helps. Some of my coworkers are also racers, so it’s fun to be able to go out with your team and company and do fun outdoor things

Brent: I know cycling is a very big thing in Boulder, so I’m sure there are some good cyclists here

Ingrid: Yes, there are

Brent: What are you best at at Quick Left?

Ingrid: I would say I am more of an implementer. I definitely am not the person that comes up with some fancy idea, but I am the person that really knows how to get things done. Even when I was a developer, I was always the person that was able to launch software. It didn’t have to be perfect, but it had to work, and it had to launch, and then it’s always going to get changed anyway. It’s soft, software. So I would say an implementer

Brent: Launching is good. Is that part of the culture here at Quick Left, launching and shipping product?

Ingrid: Yeah, we definitely try to push for that. It’s definitely another easier said than done because, again, if you’re dealing with a client who doesn’t necessarily have experience with agile projects, and they’re emotionally tied to feature sets that they feel like they have to have, sometimes those discussions can be really difficult

Some people’s early releases need to be two weeks long, and some people’s need to be three months long. So there is a lot of fluidity in releasing early and often. We try to be a little bit more loose with our philosophies here and make sure that the tool is fitting the job rather than creating just rules for rules’ sake

Brent: And that’s what’s sometimes hard because there are so many little pieces of software out there that’s going to fix this problem and this problem, and you’re going to use some [inaudible 00:14:12] for this or [inaudible 00:14:14] boards for that

Brent:How do you guys work into all that craziness? How do you evaluate tools to pick for your team?

Ingrid: That’s why Sprint.ly is so great, such a great fit, because Sprint.ly really helps us stay organized in a lot of those ways. In terms of other developer tools, because of our involvement with the open source community, it’s pretty easy to find tools that we like using because we’re kind of embedded in the community that creates the tools

Brent: Now, Quick Left has three offices right now currently?

Ingrid: That’s correct

Brent: How has it been going from a single office to a multi-office in terms of culture and growth pains? Maybe they’re not pains. Maybe they’re growth pleasures. I don’t know

Ingrid: Well, I don’t think we’ve had enough time to feel the pains, but it’s definitely something on my mind. For instance, most of the Sprint.ly developers are in Portland. They’ll be working on consulting projects, and it’s really important to me that they don’t feel left out. So we’re going to have some of them come here for a period of time to just work with the other people that they’ll be working with

We also just had a big company retreat, so people got to meet face-to-face, which I think also really helps. And we’re all kind of in group chat, so we try to have fun and pal around and post animated GIFs together and things like that

But it’ll definitely be a challenge. I’m ready for it, but I don’t know what the challenges quite yet will be

Brent: You’ve been developing for the web for 15 years. What have you learned over those 15 years that you think other web pros should know?

Ingrid: Yeah, one of the things that’s really interesting about the state of the web that I’ve seen over that amount of time is JavaScript and open source

Back in the early years, everyone was racing to try to make their own proprietary closed systems that would be adopted as the new standard. Browser renderings weren’t even consistent. They used different standards. And so JavaScript was really an unreliable tool because, really, all you could do was forms, submits, and image rollovers. That was the extent of your cross- browser compatibility. We were always at odds with the design team, the designers. They wanted to do all these things that couldn’t be done

So what I think is really exciting now that’s changed is there is more openness and agreement to follow web standards. So now all of the browsers, instead of trying to create their own way of doing things, are following a standard, [inaudible 00:16:39], W3C. JavaScript, because of it, has advanced quite a bit, and you can pretty much do anything, any kind of animation, with it, and it can be seen on an iPad or a browser or anything like that

So that’s been really exciting to see how openness really helped enable and advance the technology rather than closedness

Brent: I remember in 1989, I had a JavaScript book, and I got into it, and it was kind of like there wasn’t a whole lot you could do. It seemed like it was very limited. I think you’re spot on. It was maybe a rollover or a dropdown menu or something like that, but it wasn’t anything like people are doing with JavaScript today

Ingrid: Right. And the book had all these cool things you could do, and then, of course, you got all excited about it and implemented it, and then you’d get notes from your friends like, “I can’t see this thing,” and you’re just like, “Oh. What web browser are you on?”

Brent: So at Quick Left, obviously, you guys are developing probably some of the most cutting-edge, state of the art technology in terms of web software and all the different things you guys are building. What trends are you following today?

Ingrid: I think we’re really focusing in on JavaScript as one of our strong points. My cofounder, Sam Breed, is a core contributor to Backbone, and we’re really interested in those trends. Node is also very exciting because we’ve been having some pretty good success with server side JavaScript to help manage traffic spikes for applications and things like that

So those are some of the exciting things that we’re seeing on the performance side. As well, the performance of JavaScript is also getting better, and things are getting faster and more clean, and there’s a more clean feeling to it

Brent: Do you see that there is still a continued, extended future for JavaScript as a technology on the web?

Ingrid: Yeah, I think it’s finally starting to get taken seriously as a language and as a useful technology

Brent: Are there any other languages that you guys focus on at Quick Left?

Ingrid: Yeah, we focus on Ruby, Python, native iOS development, and Android

Brent: Very cool. What’s next for Quick Left? A big merger, obviously, just this week, so a lot of work to do to make that actually play out nicely, but what’s the two-year and five-year look like for Quick Left?

Ingrid: You know, what I’m really excited about is getting some bigger customers and more diversity in our consulting clients. We’re really excited to continue working on early-stage startups all over the country and of course, launching more product. We’re really excited to be able to have a product portfolio that includes Sprint.ly and whatever else that we dream up

Brent: Is there anything that you guys are ready to talk about?

Ingrid: No, not yet

Brent: Or is it just thoughts in the head right now?

Ingrid: No. Hopefully, people have thoughts. I will implement. I don’t have any ideas that would make any money, unfortunately, but I’ll make sure we keep the trains on the tracks and keep running on time

Brent: Very cool. Well, Ingrid, we appreciate you taking the time for us today and wish you all the best at Quick Left

Ingrid: Thank you so much

Brent: All right. Well, stay tuned for more great content from ugurus.com

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