3 ways we manage our projects for hypergrowth at Manypixels

5 months ago I flew from Jakarta to Yogyakarta, an artsy town on the island of Java in Indonesia.  The main reason of my trip was the following: Meet most of our team so that I could understand how they work and they could understand the objectives of Manypixels and share their ideas too. Thought I would share a few pics along this article!

Milaa (our Head of Production, first from the right) gave a lot of trainings with the same common theme : Project management and communication.

She started the training and started speaking about one of our main values: “Being Friendly”. As a Westerner I never realised how important this value is here in Asia. Being respectful and friendly towards each other helps us connect, work and grow together. We also decided to implement that value with our clients, since we find we do better work in a friendly environment with them too.


During our trainings, we rarely talk about design quality: Designers actually know how to use their pens and pencils. Rather, most of our trainings are about communication.

Attending Milaa’s trainings led me to think about the bigger picture: How are we managing projects for the whole team at Manypixels (not only with designers)? Should we set up best practices so that every project we do (marketing, sales, but also production) is successful and stuff gets done?

To be honest, while you are reading this it might seem simple on the outside but back then it wasn’t all that obvious: I kept on repeating things or explaining things differently not knowing why the projects were not moving. Since then, I have learned a lot about project management (especially with a team with a different culture), and I thought: Let’s write more about this!

Alright, won’t make you wait any longer, here are my key learnings!

1. Self-evaluate

I always have two priorities on my mind as a founder:

The first priority is focus which is :  Working on the right things. It does not matter if you work really hard but move into the wrong direction. Take time to think about which needle-moving tasks get the ball rolling for your business! I can’t stress this enough. Take some to talk to the team, spend time in nature so you can get that lightbulb moment and think “This is what we should be working on!”.

The second priority, specifically when managing projects is: Look at yourself in the mirror. Would you understand this project if you were the employee?

2. No excuses mentality

What happens 99% of the time: Projects do not get completed on time. Why is that? Because possible obstacles to their completion haven’t been laid out upfront!

We manage our projects in two ways at Manypixels. Firstly, each week, we have a 15-30min meeting where the team leaders talks about 2 or 3 things they’ve worked on and what they’ll be working on. Each team leader should be focused on removing obstacles for their team members, but also anticipating any possible blockers to their future long term projects. For example, if you are setting up a sales campaign, which email tool will you use? Have you thought about what could go wrong in that campaign not being launched in that day?

Secondly, projects are either done or not. If the task is clear and the deadline is clear then it is up to your team to execute it ruthlessly and there should be zero excuses so as not to do the work.

3. Self-motivated team and best practices

Project management is not simply “I will find the best project management app” and fill it with todo’s. This is a recipe for disaster!

Example of best practices for tasks

At Manypixels, we do two things in that regard:

1. Hire, train and put the best people on projects that motivate them immensely

This is the difference between good and great employees. Good employees do their work but great employees go above and beyond to complete the task and satisfy the client.  A great employee will yield 10x more value to the company.

2. Best practices to undertake projects.

We have a Trello with best practices (we always only put 2-3 tasks in each card, each with a clear due date and a clear explanation with blockers and expected deliverables).

Takeaways

Project management is best tested when things go wrong. If the team is stressed, if the projects are not being done, ask yourself: Could it be the fact that we have no system that work? That we are doing too much things (= Lack of focus), or that we do not have best practices in place?

Week in review 20/05

Hey guys,

Here is a short update of what happened on the week of the 20/05 at Manypixels.

In short, we learned that running a business such as Manypixels revolve around three things: People, Process, Product. Here is on update of what we did on all three fronts!

People: Hiring, and setting the team up for success.

  1. Hiring: We hired two new illustrators to join us. We are still looking for one Senior UI/UX designer to complete our team.

    In addition, we hired a new Graphic designer: Audi! He’s really doing a fantastic job and is focusing on Instagram posts designs, Posters designs, and all. I will interview him soon on this blog (Let me know in the comments what you’d like to hear from him!)

    Basically our team consists of three types of designers: UI/UX, Graphic designers, and Illustrators.

    Here is some of the work that Audi did last week:

2. Setting the team up for success

 

I learned one thing running a service business: It’s great to hire awesome people but you have to be extremely clear about what you expect from people. It goes from making sure they understand the culture, but also explaining them clearly what are the expectations.

As a founder, you always have to empower and delegate but delegating is not simply telling someone “Do this task”. It is about imagining the 10 different ways a project could go wrong and fixing the issues in advance and empowering the staff to undertake the project!

Process: Standardising requests

One big part of the work we did last week is standardising work requests. I will explain in a dedicated blog post how we’re doing this.

Product: We are starting the development of our new dashboard!

After 2 unsuccessful try, we just started a partnership with a fellow Indie Hacker (I will announce it soon) that will work along with us to develop a request dashboard for Manypixels. More updates on that soon!

 

Enjoy the week guys and let me know if the comments what you’d like to hear from those weekly updates!

 

Week in review 13/05

Hey guys,

Here is a short update of what happened this week!

We hired new designers.

Last week we hired three new Senior designers and one of them, Binsar, started this Monday.

Binsar has a lot of experience specifically in UX and we are thrilled to have him on board.

We are setting up 24 hours updates.

Very important update for us but for our customers too. We decided it was time for us to provide more frequent updates to our customers. This week we are testing whether we can provide constantly 24 hours update to our customers.

New features.

We should be releasing towards the end of next week a major new feature that will help you tell us your needs more easily, stay tuned!

Week 22/04 in review!

So I decided to do on the top of the monthly summary a sort of week in review where I’ll go through 2-3 business and fun things that happened at our indie startup. Let me know if it is a good idea and what you’d like to hear in those short report 🙂

I am not sure on how the format will be but the idea… Is to tell you how we are doing week over week. It is a great way for us to 1. Keep in touch our customers on updates / developments 2. Get feedback/validation on our ideas and 3. It’s introspective, when I write it usually helps me structure my thoughts better.

Perhaps I’ll also use these short weekly summaries to give a few things or test new features with the readership so stay tuned 😉

What we worked on last week

 

  • Production — So Manypixels is organised into three main sections: Production, Sales, and Product. Production is basically responsible for making great designs. Then sales is to get more clients and to make sure existing clients tell us their experience and refer us to more clients.  Finally we have Product which helps us automate our business and make the whole experience of ordering a design better.Two months ago I hired Milaa to head the Production department (which is 90% of our work right now to be honest!). She has been terrific so far (I know, I say that in every post).  Of course, she has to improve some things but overall she impressed me and has a great attitude.
    Typical conversation with Milaa on Skype

    We have also recently hired Indah (right, on the front), who is doing customer service and finally we have got Sendy (left) which is Quality Manager. Sendy is a former UI/UX designer who’s basically building the quality processes and building training materials for our team.

    Last week Milaa and Sendy met up to discuss how we could improve the quality and the speed from the designer standpoint. We all concluded the following:

    The first step we need to do is to categorize our requests, like items on a restaurant menu, and have a clear way to go about doing them, like a chef following his recipe, the cooks being the designers“.

    Sendy made two presentations over that categorisation of requests but I felt we were not digging enough. He made great categories but I thought we needed to be more precise (have sub categories for example). We kind of found a way to improve vastly how we do these requests and should roll it out in the next couple of days  🙂

    Illustration header we recently made for a SaaS
  • Sales — Recently we started experimenting with direct acquisition again (mostly contacting companies with a simple “Hey guys, saw you were looking for a designer. We do amazing work, want to hire us?”) as well as asking our customers if they’d be happy to refer us to their friends in exchange for a referral fee (we pay USD $100 per month per referred customer). We just started doing this so it’s too early to tell the results!Also, we did something cool in April, we “hired” Indie Testers. Read the full post here.  Basically I gave away 5 Manypixels subscriptions to the IH community in exchange of weekly feedbacks. I asked them to give us a LOT of feedback and strategical advice each week in exchange of free designs. It has really been helpful so far!
  • Product — We are still developing our dashboard to better understand customer tastes and requirements. This is clearly the bottleneck though, it takes way too long to develop so we’re probably going to hire an in-house developer supporting our CTO.

 

Plans for this week

 

This week and probably the next 7 or 8 weeks we are going to be super focused on understanding who our customers really are and improving our service delivery.  One of our Indie Testers told us the following “Robin, your early success shows you’re on to a real need that folks have; the next step is to understand who those people are, what value you’re providing them, how to keep them subscribed, and where to find more of them.” This is where our focus is going to be for the next couple of weeks.

If you enjoyed this post, do let me know why on Twitter or via email (robin@manypixels.co)

 

Building a million dollar business and empowering 10,000 freelancers in 2018

Updated 16/05/2018: This is still a draft!

My name is Robin and I am the founder of Manypixels and I am from Belgium. Back in the Netherlands I was running a successful business during my studies but had to find another opportunity as I was getting anxious of not working and also seeing my savings decreasing. I looked around what people were struggling with in my coworking space and a lot of people had a hard time to find a designer. On my side, I had travelled extensively before and was in good contact with designers in Asia. On the plus side, I was planning to stay there for a while and thus it was a good way to start something in that niche. Last but not least, I felt a strong desire to fix that problem: Making high quality design for startups, so let’s go!

Moving to another country

Now… The thing is that running a freelance business is not exactly my goal. The problem with freelancing is that sell your time so it’s not really scalable. If you decide to take a two weeks holidays, you do not make any money. However, running a productized service is what I am aiming for. You reduce your service offering, you find something that people need on a monthly basis, you create a service delivery blueprint to ensure consistency, speed, and quality and you already have something more scalable. Sure, you need more hands to have more revenue but it’s much more scalable than freelancing.

One million dollar bootstrapped business in 12 months

Right now, Manypixels is making about $10k a month (we update this monthly on our Transparency page). Our goal is to scale this 10x (1000% growth target, so about 85% growth rate per month) to make that $100k/month ($1.2m ARR) by the end of the year. While it means we will have to aggressively seek new clients, it also means we have to keep in mind the most important thing: Make sure existing clients are happy and stay with us.  Hence, we have to find a good balance with our service delivery (making sure we have happy customers and a retention as high as possible and as few refunds or cancellation as possible).

10,000 freelancers

It has now been five months since I have been living in Asia.

Building in public

Why am I posting this? Because it will make us accountable to reach our goals. Honestly, these goals are very stressful but it push me to deliver, because I have a competitive mind and hate to lose competions 😛 but also because I plan to share our learnings of getting there with you. Sharing learnings might empower others to create their own business which I find cool but also we might receive feedback on how we do X or Y.

What this blog is going to be about?

  • Building in public, with our users: We plan to regularly ask on Twitter and here what type of features or which improvements as regard to our service delivery we could do.
  • Transparency: Every month we will share our metrics dashboard (and yup, this includes revenue and profits). We will also try to share as much as we can about our strategy.
  • Learnings on building a profitable, bootstrapped business: We will share weekly at least one learning.
  • Other type of posts & announcements: We will use also this blog as a way to show our case studies & important announcements about Manypixels.