Ten years is a long time. Most of us get to live 7 decades according to averages. If you hit 10 decades you get a letter from the Queen. A decade is a quarter of my life so far, and certainly the most impacting decade I’ve had so far.
It was a decade ago that my first startup became successful – a fixed-price design to development service called XHTMLIZED.
I’d been working on startups for many years prior. Some ideas even had modest traction. But it wasn’t until XHTMLIZED.com went public that I knew it was something greater. Overnight I received the first orders. Demand skyrocketed. Within the first month I’d grown the team to over 10 of the best front end devs in the world. Sites like TechCruch and Digg – featured XHTMLIZED. It even became one of the top 100,000 trafficked sites on the entire Internet.
My life changed. I’d ceased all other work endeavors and spent the next years of my life delivering the best customer care I could. However the really big change was that my world got smaller. Much smaller. In prior decades I’d travelled extensively. I’d lived and worked overseas in multiple places. However virtually I took travel to a whole new level. The team continued to grow. It grew with a very simple belief – the best people can be found anywhere. My role became that of a digital seeker – travelling all corners of the web to find the best of the best. Each day I’d connect with people from across all timezones, countries, races, religions, beliefs and tastes. It became a mission to get on board as many nations as I could. The team grew to over 100 people from 17 different countries. We’d all meet in a chat room which was really like a digital youth hostel. We’d share in each other’s lives – from recipe tips to state of local affairs. Global news had a whole new meaning. We laughed and cried and became true friends. It wasn’t until a few years later that any of us ever meet in person – and I’ve yet to meet everyone. My world became smaller. My world used to be defined by a 6.6 sextillion ton rock (Earth’s mass). Now it was defined by a simple chat room which held friends who meant the world to me.
People joined the team because they were passionate about frontend development. Our first common language was HTML. But that wasn’t our mother tounge. The thing which drew us all together was high fives. I wanted to measure the company in a way that was more purposeful than the typical corporate world I’d experienced before. The team loved the team. I could see together we were making a difference in each others lives. I wanted to focus on this. So I measured our success by the difference we were creating in each other. The metric of success for the company was the day-to-day impact it that on the people working for it. I literally measured the company in the number of high fives given.
It turns out the culturally high fives are widely adopted. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t know what to do when you hold out you hand ready to share some skin. So I designed our own chat room and called fives. In the chat you could type /five Stano – that would give Stan a high five. At the top of the chat everyone had a little counter at which displayed how many high fives you had. It took a life of it’s own which is really a different story. Fives was infectious and crazy. The fives spread to our customers who got in on the game. It made our culture all about celebrating the victories of others. It made us unstoppable.
At some point we needed to move from our own chat solution to more specialised chats (we’re now Slackers). XHTMLIZED was also split into multiple different companies. When the team got too big, I spun off multiple companies so that everyone could be play an key role in becoming the best in the world at something.
For XHTMLIZED itself it turns out I was slightly wrong – the best frontend developers are not in fact from anywhere in the world – the best frontend developers are actually from a fairy-tale like city called Krakow in Poland! (just joking) Krakow is where the majority of the team behind XHTMLIZED are today. I’m very jealous they have that opportunity to give each other real skin-to-skin high fives (I’m still mainly limited to a chat room).
Over the ten years a lot has changed. But some things haven’t changed – importantly the culture of high fives which remains strong in everyone. Across all the companies our days are about celebrating each other. Newcomers to the team quickly become part of it and add to it. We seek to make our world smaller by making more meaningful connections. Now we have learnt even better ways of expressing our gratitude than just high fives. While we will still ‘/five’ occasionally – the culture is now so rich that it’s become a way of life. It’s now expressed by who we’ve become, and that’s truly remarkable.
I cried when I heard the new name the XHTMLIZED team picked for itself in it’s recent rebrand – Xfive! Ten years ago when XHTMLIZED started the public facing side of the business a compelling offer – fixed-price PSD to HTML – but what was really special was people and the tremendous culture of the people delivering the code behind the scenes. Today it makes me so proud that it’s the reverse. Publically Xfive’s compelling offer is the culture itself and the invitation for customers to be part of that. What Xfive does is really secondary – and I believe they can do anything! Happy birthday Xfive!
So how do you measure a decade?
For me it’s in high fives – and I’ve shared at least 6.6 sextillion.
Thanks for the last 10 years. Clearly it’s just the beginning.