As Airteam heads towards its fourth year in business, we took some time to reflect on how we started out, what we’ve learned so far and where we want to focus our efforts for 2020.
How it all started
Airteam was officially registered as a business on the 20th June 2016 but it wasn’t until later that year when we really started to formalise operations.
The original idea for the business was to create and run a series of nimble, digital scrum teams we could “fly-in and fly-out” of organisations to help design and build their digital products. The idea came off the back of seeing client frustrations with digital agencies creaming them for huge retainers they didn’t see value in. Big consultancies were also charging millions of dollars to deliver exotic PowerPoint decks that clients didn’t know how to execute on. We’d also seen some organisations look to save money in their software development by going offshore and having a horrible experience.
So based on what we’d seen in market, Airteam was able to address a number of client needs through:
- Parachuting in nimble, agile teams to work specifically on-site with clients in a collaborative partnership model
- Deliver an actual tangible product
- Allowing team resources to be turned on and off as needed, essentially providing a “pay-as-you-go” model, leading to better choices around project budgeting and resource allocation
In the early days this worked well, and we got off to a great start, primarily winning work where the client needed a high-performing scrum team at short notice to get a product up and running within a tight timescale. At that stage we were concurrently running about three projects with mini-scrum teams made-up of developers, UX designers and a project lead. We carried on in this guise and slowly built the team up with a blend of full-time staff and contractors until mid-2018. That’s when we hit a bit of a wall. We had three large projects in-flight, everyone fully utilised and expected at least two projects to keep running. But all three projects stopped at the same time leaving us with a dozen people to try and keep busy.
What we learned in the start-up years
The original Airteam model was all well and good when it worked, but we quickly realised it was difficult to build a team around “project by project” based work. It’s impossible to try and align multiple, significant sized projects to dovetail perfectly so you can roll one team seamlessly from one engagement to the next. We saw the problems with this first-hand and quickly had to shift our perspective in the way we operated.
The world had moved on a lot since I started working in agency and consultancy land back in 2007. Several shifts had happened in the market whereby:
- Large companies had in-sourced a lot of digital skills
- Some companies were just looking for the cheapest solution and would try offshore
- The freelance and contractor market exploded
- Some skills that were once considered niche and specialist became more commoditised
So we set about going out and asking our clients why they’d been working with us, what they might need in terms of our services and support in future and how they saw the future of the digital landscape in terms of agencies and consultancies. Some of the responses we got were along the lines of:
“You have good people; you listen and deliver what I need and don’t try to sell me something I don’t need”
“Your end product is good and we like working with you”
“I know I can access your talent at short notice and the model works for us to just pay for what we need, when we need it”
Some of this feedback reinforced the original idea behind Airteam but we couldn’t afford to rely on project-by-project work in the future. It was at that point we essentially split the business model in two:
1. Airteam Digital Product
This was still working to the original Airteam proposition whereby we’d work with clients to design and build their software solutions by assigning a dedicated scrum team to the client and project. However, instead of seeking out one-off individual projects which we'd done initially, where we’d placed a lot of focus on start-ups, we now focused on seeking long-term relationships. This was where we could form meaningful, ongoing partnerships with mid to large sized corporates and could become their trusted digital partner, working with them throughout the course of their digital transformation journey.
2. Airteam Digital Resourcing
In order to have consistent and ongoing revenue coming into the business and to keep the team utilised, we realised we needed to contract some of the team out and found this was also a need for some clients. We might get a call to say, “I need 2 x UX Designer’s to come in and work with us for 3mths”. Because the client knew we had a good team and individuals whom they came to know and trust as an extension of their own team, this became a critical service we couldn’t afford to turn down. It was then about being able to balance and manage the team so everyone had a good mix of work across Digital Product and Digital Resourcing.
Where to in 2020?
Looking back at 2019, we tried a few new things, some of which worked and some of which failed, but both were important as it shows we’re trying to grow and learn as a business. Now 3.5 years into our journey it's starting to feel like we better understand our true worth and where we best fit in the market.
Our focus for 2020 will continue to be around building-up and strengthening our two business models of Digital Product and Digital Resourcing but what we’ve learned in the past 12 months is that within Digital Product we’ve now built up considerable IP around Financial Services, Healthcare, Education and Government organisations to:
- Deliver full digital transformation programmes
- Design and build cutting-edge digital customer experiences on top of outdated, or traditional back-end systems
- Develop software for complex, technical digital products with a focus on improving overall customer satisfaction
Our focus for 2020 will very much be around building lasting partnerships with clients we can support on their digital transformation journey. This may be through the guise of Digital Product, whereby we own and manage the process, team and outcomes or through Digital Resourcing where we provide the people and skills into client teams.
A final focus for us in 2020 stems from two things that happened over the course of 2019. Firstly, we had several team members involved in attending various conferences and events and returning with a deeper desire to work on projects where we can all make a positive impact on the world. In addition, we’ve seen more and more frequent events happening around the world stemming from climate change.
We want Airteam to exist as a business with a purpose and to try and do what we can to deliver on social good initiatives. Whilst we make donations to various causes such as the RFS and have recently joined the Pledge 1% initiative, we want to do so much more. We want to grow not to become a business of profiteering fat-cats but to create a company where awesome people can work together for the greater good and where we can give back to create a better life and better world for others. So in 2020 we’ll continue to give back where we can through Pledge 1% and will also look to seek out opportunities to work on projects that will have an impact in making the world a better place.