Iron to Iron – One Year Later

Posted: October 31, 2011 Comments(11)

At the risk of starting out on a completely abstract note I’ll go ahead and say that I literally have no idea where the past year went. Tomorrow marks the first anniversary of Iron to Iron. I’d like to talk about that year. The ups, the downs, the people involved, the projects, the knowledge gained, and our plans for the future.

Thank you so very much

Iron to Iron would be nothing if it weren’t for those around us. I want to start by thanking my wife Carrie. Iron to Iron came to be during a pivotal part of our life together. We were planning a brand new company for the first time while we were planning a wedding, and it was a true stress test for both of us. Through everything, Carrie has been nothing but supportive and trusting and I relied on that more than she ever knew. She didn’t convey a shadow of a doubt surrounding anything having to do with the success of Iron to Iron from the first time we spoke about it. Carrie would talk about Iron to Iron as though it were this unstoppable entity where failure wasn’t even a word in it’s vocabulary. She has been there with a big smile every day through the past year, and her attitude toward the company we were working to build did nothing but convince me we were doing the right thing. Her support has been something I’ve valued day in and day out, and I’m so thankful for her being there each step of the way.

I can’t continue too much further without thanking both my partner Kevin and his wife Jen. We approached Iron to Iron as a four member team from before the day it was named while camping in the woods of New Hampshire. We make big decisions as a group and the value of their input as a couple can not be understated. They took on both the commitment and the planning of Iron to Iron during an integral part of their life as well, their first pregnancy and the birth of their daughter Rowan. Not once did the stress of that newness overflow into the thought of it being a ‘bad time’ for Iron to Iron. Carrie, Kevin, Jen and I have a balance I’ve taken extreme comfort in relying on for the past 12 months.

I also want to highlight a huge contributing factor to Iron to Iron making it through year one; Terra Nova Church. Kevin and I both attend Terra Nova, and Iron to Iron headquarters are located in their office building. I want to thank everyone there for the unending support considering everything from providing office space to affording us council at most opportune times. Kevin and I have requested both personal and business-spurred advice from the elders at Terra Nova on a number of occasions, and their availability has been appreciated by us so very much. Making the decision to start Iron to Iron was more than a simple handshake. It felt like something we were called to do, and the pastors at Terra Nova Church have been there helping and encouraging us since the very beginning.

I also need to thank you, the community. You guys have had amazing feedback for us not only with the work we’re doing, but the business end of things too, in addition to the conversations we have on a regular basis. I want to thank you all for not seeing others in our industry as competition, but as colleagues all striving towards the same goal. Beyond the community we have online, I’ve found it extremely valuable to be involved in person locally with other companies in our line of work. Through things like Build Guild I met local shops I had no idea existed, all doing great work and employing great people. Long standing relationships have been formed that otherwise would not have been and I’m truly thankful for that.

Reminiscing on the beginning

My first day at Iron to Iron feels both like yesterday and an eternity ago. As ridiculous as that sounds, I have vivid memory of Kevin and I making a trip to NYC with a goal of ‘furniture for the office’ on day one. At the same time, I think about the past year and how much has happened, how much we’ve both grown, and it feels like so long ago.

Kevin and I met nearly two years before we shook hands on Iron to Iron. We met at the agency I had been working at for the three years prior to that. I knew straight away that he was a solid addition to the company, one that would bring fresh eyes that to do nothing but benefit the creative dynamic we had going on. Over the next two years we grew both professionally and together as friends, eventually to a relationship that would work well in business. More on this later.

Both Kevin and I took work very seriously. We took process really seriously and we took quality really seriously. That determination ended up serving us to a fault given our existing circumstance, but we couldn’t shake it. We continued to work toward change, toward adaptation, toward progression. That turned into recoil and resentment from the machine we were part of. I don’t mean that to sound negative, it’s not. The way we tried to do things simply weren’t compatible with the direction of the ship we were trying to run as department heads. We had a different vision behind the work we did, and that was interfering with the vision of others who rightfully deserved the luxury of steering said ship.

We soon realized we didn’t want to be part of a machine, a gargantuan conglomeration of components that needed to be consistently exercised else the machine would fail. We wanted to be agile, we wanted to change things, we wanted to be able to adapt to the ever-changing industry without a fight. But most of all, we wanted to do good work.

As I began to take a more active notice of our surroundings it became all the more clear that change was necessary. It came to a point where God was showing me, on an increasingly consistent basis, that He had an alternate plan for me when it came to the work I was doing. The fact that Kevin and I had found ourselves in the roles we did contributed to that heavily. We had been undergoing our training for the next phase. Our teeth were cut while working together, we can’t deny that, but it was obvious our path was diverting from the agency we were a part of. We committed to it and set out on our own. The goal was simple: partner with clients and make stellar work in an optimized timeframe all the while providing a quality of life we felt important to continue on a healthy path of being a good husband and a good father to our families.

The first few months

Like a confident teenager feeling well beyond his years, we were expecting a very specific picture of our week-to-week experience being out on our own. Like that overconfident teenager, we didn’t get what we expected.

We took our agency experience and applied to it our dream process, it was awesome. We had the big angles and issues covered. We knew how to approach the various bumps that would inevitably crop up along the way. We had our workflow organized, our software picked out, and our schedule optimized. This all worked out, for the most part, as planned. It turns out that client work, no matter the industry or circumstance, is a very similar experience no matter what field you’re in. We also weren’t so naive to expect that we had it all figured out. If anything, the major lesson learned time and time again is that it’s impossible to figure everything out completely. We went in expecting to learn something from every single project.

Then came the legal. We wanted to do Iron to Iron right. Our first step as a team was to make Iron to Iron a legal entity. We got a lawyer to help with the formation of the LLC and that went as expected. A check, a bunch of paperwork, and a few newspaper articles later we were official. Then we met with our CPA. Without going into too much detail, I can say that you learn a lot about business operations and taxes in your inaugural meeting. It’s not that we were overwhelmed by information overload, there is just a lot to learn about your state government and the very intricate rules they have for running a business on their turf. If I had to pick a single aspect to label as ‘unexpected’ in the first year of Iron to Iron it would be the first tax season being a business owner.

Continuing, there was also another factor we underestimated: side projects and internal work. We’ve always held a special place for internal work and side projects. We feel it’s really important to remove the limitations of creativity with client work and do something for ourselves once in a while. We wanted to bring that to a head when we were out on our own, so it too was part of the plan.

Circling back to the origins of Iron to Iron, Kevin and I are now doing nearly the exact same thing we were at our past place of employment. We were both “managers” so the only additions to our responsibilities when running Iron to Iron were contract signing and accounting (invoicing, etc.). Client relationship management can be a major time-sink, and there is a level of customer service we strive for that requires a lot of devotion. That considered, we still planned on doing as many side projects as possible. While we were able to get a few things out the door this year, I can speak for both Kevin and I when saying that we wish we did more.

I spoke to this a bit in a recent interview on Creatiplicity, alluding to the fact that when you own your own company, the line that was once there between company work and a personal project has all but vanished. Everything we do, in one way or another, is contributing to Iron to Iron. That makes it even more difficult to accommodate a personal project in the traditional sense. Time needs to be specifically allocated for such things, else they will truly never see the light of day.

How quickly things transitioned

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t slightly nervous about starting Iron to Iron. It wasn’t a lack of confidence in our abilities, not at all. It came down to not knowing where clients would come from, how they’d keep coming. That’s where faith needed to play a primary role for me. A major difference between a long-standing company and another right out of the gate is having a history. That history can do the work of an entire sales team, which we didn’t have and had no plans of acquiring. When starting out, you don’t have any reputation to rely on, so it can be a bit nerve racking.

Those worries were completely and utterly extinguished within the first week. Kevin and I had prepared ahead of time by scheduling projects to begin right away, so after we spent our first two days getting the office painted and furnished, we were hard at work. We quickly fell into our process and the rest is history. We didn’t have time to be distracted in worrying about the next project, we were blessed with a full year tightly packed with work.

We’ve had some awesome projects over the past year, a number of which are included in our portfolio. We got to travel a bit and work with clients from Hawaii, spanning the continental US, and Canada. We got into the software game with Attachments Pro, and have more plans for that market. We’ve got a couple more WordPress plugins planned, a Web app we conceived at the beginning of last year that we hope to progress on, and a number of additional projects we would love to take part in. There are also quite a few internal and side projects we’ve had in the pipeline for a while now that we’re hoping to complete and release sooner than later.

Lessons learned

I recall being most nervous about ‘the unknown of starting a business’ when first planning Iron to Iron. I wondered why it was so difficult to find similar stories to mine so I could relate and take comfort in the fact that although so much is up in the air, “it worked here, here, and here” so of course things will be just fine and my story will have a happy ending too. I don’t want my admitting nervousness to overshadow the unanimous support from those around me, so please don’t view it as such. The reality of the situation though, is that there are things to be nervous about when starting a business for the first time.

I’m not a risk taker by nature. I think the majority of my family was completely taken aback when I announced I was quitting my job and going off on my own to start a company. It’s not my nature in the least, and they knew it. If I wasn’t being lead down the path so strongly, starting a company would probably be the last thing on my ‘realistic’ to-do list, and first on my ‘in my dreams’ to-do list. I would have stayed in the comfort of a steady paycheck, benefits, allocated vacation time and paid time off, and the ability to shove it out of my mind at 5pm. Under the hood, I was nervous; I was out of my element. I understood the risk involved in starting a company and I respected that risk.

I think that (especially in our industry inundated with angel investors, funding, and venture capital) that there is this aura for many people that starting a company would be ‘easy’ so long as you have an idea. That money will come pouring down from the rooftops once you get the ball rolling. I’m here to say that starting your own company should not be viewed as a cake walk. Not at all. Your nerves will be tested, your faith exercised, and your weaknesses exposed.

But it’s totally worth it.

Kevin and I would say to each other during the first months of planning something akin to I can’t wait to be a year in and ask “What the heck were we so nervous about?” That day has come, and that question is now real. The past year has been invigorating; we didn’t have time to be nervous.

I don’t want to sugarcoat our story though. With the good comes the bad and in our case I can label the bad as stress, as ‘bad’ most often is. We chose to focus on client work, and with that invariably comes stress. It is unavoidable, and to think differently is an ignorance that will lead you to failure. We have had some of the most awesome clients I could dream of. They have been most accommodating, most understanding, most appreciative, and great partners. We have also experienced otherwise, and that’s an unavoidable truth we’ve accepted but continue to learn from. The fact is no matter how good your client and project evaluation process may be, there are clients and jobs out there that will (deceitfully or otherwise) work their way into your queue and take advantage of every opportunity to its maximum potential. Those relationships are sometimes unavoidable and more often than not miserable, but they’re also extremely valuable.

We’ve learned lessons with every single project we had the opportunity to work on over the past year, and will continue to do so through the next.

And then there’s Kevin

Prior to us leaving our past job, we had discussed what our options were. Leaving to work together wasn’t something discussed at first. In fact, I spent a number of months shopping around for a similar position at a different agency but nothing quite felt like the right move to make, even though all the circumstances were better than mine at present. By the time we both realized we were ready to move on, the first thing we had discussed was freelancing. I always have and always will admire freelancers, but it’s not something I saw for myself. I recognize and take comfort in my skill set, but also see major issues in other essential areas. On top of that, the projects Kevin and I had the opportunity to work on together showed that consistent collaboration is something I’ve come to know and love as part of the creative process. Kevin shared a similar sentiment, and once that common ground was discovered, we began wondering out loud why we hadn’t seriously discussed starting a company together yet.

Our company name is a tribute to that. We went into this knowing that we couldn’t do it without each other, and that we’re in it together. We recognize and value our differences and know that those differences complement each other. We’re pushing each other to the limit at first opportunity, and hold each other accountable every step of the way.

I believe that it’s no coincidence that Kevin and I had crossed paths when we did. The story of us ending up at the same company is crazy enough (him coming from Hawaii, living in a different state, and commuting to a small multimedia agency in upstate NY) but beyond that, Kevin is a very significant part of what I’ve become and what we’ve built together. Looking back on us meeting one another is one of the many evidences of God’s hand being active in what brought Iron to Iron to fruition. Kevin is a big part of Iron to Iron being successful in the first year, and finding a business partner like him was essential to that happening.

Carrie actually met Kevin before I did. She was working at the very same agency (in sales and marketing) and answered the door when he came to interview. That evening Carrie explained to me that Kevin was different than the other applicants that had come by for the design position, and shortly after I learned exactly what she meant. We still reminisce about that meeting to this day.

If there’s one word I’d use to describe Kevin it’d be genuine. He is by far the most genuine person I’ve ever met and it’s one of the qualities of his I hold in highest regard. Many times when a group is discussing good news, everyone will be happy for one another, with smiles and words of affirmation. Kevin is different. He reacts to that same news with a support and enjoyment that you rarely see in people, and it taught me to pay attention that much more; that people deserved attention and advocates. He truly sympathizes and empathizes with people and offers his full support.

He quickly became someone I looked up to, his authenticity representing the tip of the figurative iceberg. Further, I observed his artistic talent, his attention to detail, and his love for design. I met his wife Jen, their friends, their family, and Kevin grew to be a very influential person in my life. That was all before he brought Carrie and I to Terra Nova, where our life took a significant turn as well. It was through Terra that I was able to learn even more about Kevin, a context that showed me going into business with him would be a great decision.

Something like Iron to Iron could not have been built were it not for someone like Kevin. Seeing all the good Kevin has done for Iron to Iron has illustrated how badly it could possibly go should you partner with the wrong person when going into business. God brought Kevin and I together so that we wouldn’t have to worry about such things, that we’d know we were there for each other, that our families were there for each other. He brought us together to make sure we had our complementary personality to rely on, to keep one another accountable, and someone to alleviate our own weaknesses with strength.

Kevin continues to be a very active influence in my life, especially as I watch him transform into the father he’s become. He’s someone in just the right spot for me to keep my eye on for guidance in the quickly approaching stages of my life as he’s just a couple steps ahead of me with being married a bit longer and having a baby girl he loves so dearly. I still hold Proverbs 27:17 close to my heart, and Kevin has been sharpening me continuously these past twelve months, even if he didn’t know it.

Encouragement

The past year has been a complete roller coaster. Usually when that cliché is used, it’s to reference both the good times and the bad rolled into one, but that’s not exactly the case here for me. My roller coaster, although with it’s ups and downs, was comprised with and focused on the double loops, corkscrews, drops approaching vertical, and breakneck speeds. It was * exhilarating*.

I can only infer that a number of you are in the very same position both Kevin and I were over a year ago, when we found ourselves out of line with our company and looking for something new. I can also speculate that the thought of going out on your own in any capacity is a bit too scary to seriously consider. I completely sympathize, but if getting out and on your own is something to have crossed your mind at some point, don’t let fear subside that desire, else it may extinguish before you know it. If your heart isn’t in the work you’re doing every day, and you’re unable to make applicable adjustments to your environment to make that the case, you’re doing a disservice to both yourself and the company you work for.

I don’t want to make it sound like working at an agency is a bad thing. Quite the contrary in fact. I learned a great deal while working at an agency. I saw things go extremely well, I saw things go poorly, unavoidable as it was. I learned how to work with clients, I learned how to work on a team, I learned how to take instruction and I learned how to communicate. I feel that learning what I did while working at an agency would be a grueling, excruciating process should I have attempted it on my own. That said, I look back on my time there as a training phase, very valuable in making Iron to Iron a reality.

Continuing, if you are less than happy in your current position, and starting your own company is something you’ve considered before, please don’t tread lightly on considering it. There should be a commitment that went under great personal scrutiny to ensure you want to take it seriously and do it right. Starting a company isn’t easy and I’d hate to give the impression that it is. Tied to that, ensure you’ve got a solid support system; people to trust and bounce ideas off of. Outside feedback is terribly important and finding a few select people to offer a helping ear will definitely be in your best interest.

Additionally, if you’re considering starting a company in a more plural capacity (with a partner or multiple partners) please take the time to qualify that decision as well. Going into business with someone else is an extremely big deal and it needs to be a very special person (or persons) that you trust to no end. I was able to find that in Kevin and I’m continually thankful for that.

Here’s to the future

Kevin and I have decided that we’re going to celebrate a year in business with some entertainment and a nice intimate dinner with our families and close friends, those that have seen us through the past year, and we’re very much looking forward to that.

We’ve spent the past month or so thinking about what 2012 is going to bring Iron to Iron, and we’ve decided that our focus will be on refinement. The first year will (ideally) be the most shaky, so with that under our belts, it’s time to optimize and take advantage of what we’ve learned. It’s time to put all of that to work. We’ve got workflow optimizations in place already, and I’m looking forward to seeing even more get done next year.

We’ve got a number of projects launching over the next few weeks, and the projects we’re about to begin have us extremely excited. We can’t wait to share everything with you guys, and I can’t wait to be writing a similar piece next year.

Thank you all again for your love & support, here’s to the next!

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Comments

  1. This is an outstanding article! The honesty and heart behind it is unlike others, and I value that as a reader. I can say that I can’t put into words how great it feels to push things forward and grow beautiful projects at an agency. I can’t imagine how great that would feel on your own when everything is 100% (or 50/50), your own.

    A huge congrats to the four of you. Even as a reader, it feels like yesterday you announced Iron-to-Iron. Time certainly flies, and I have a good feeling you guys aren’t going anywhere.

    Super excited to see what’s next!

  2. As someone who jumped into the same ocean (though in a differently shaped boat, to be fair) of self-employment at the same exact time, I can say I’ve enjoyed watching you guys grow and take off like a rocket. We’re in the same space, doing similar things, and instead of feeling like head-butting competitors (we’re not) like agencies would, I feel we became even closer friends, advisors and confidants. So here’s to the both of you!

    [insert proverbial 10 am toast and subsequent cheering]

    Seriously, congrats! 2012 will be an exciting year for all of us, to be sure!

  3. Dudes, you know I am your biggest fan. To see you two grow over the last year has been an honour. I’ve been challenged and inspired by the risks you and Kevin have taken and the level of commitment you have to your work. You guys have done and will continue to do great things.

    Here’s to another amazing year!

  4. Congratulations guys! You are both so talented and passionate about your work; it’s only natural that great things would come from Iron to Iron. I’m glad you both followed your intuition and were willing to take a big risk, it definitely paid off! Looking forward to more beautiful work in the future!

  5. What an inspiring read. It’s refreshing to hear success stories of people who’ve made the jump to doing their own thing and your willingness to share the lessons learned along the way is what I love about our industry. Congrats and best of luck for another great year!

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