"Growing fast is the result of just doing something you care about as well as you possibly can," says Chris Stegner, CEO of Very Big Things. Very Big Things is an award-winning digital product and experience design and development agency with a simple, yet comprehensive vision: building groundbreaking digital experiences and technology.
Since the outset in 2018, the company has been growing by leaps and bounds, staying true to three essential pillars: having happy clients, building exceptional products, and keeping the team motivated. This approach, as well as the team's ambitions and Chris' profound understanding and firm belief of how to drive the company growth, has helped Very Big Things proliferate in three countries already. Within a little over a year and a half, Chris and his partners have managed to advance the agency to over 55 people.
When asked what's the recipe for this short-term success, Chris remarks that "running a company is setting straightforward goals and doing our best not to complicate things."
Supporting the breadth of the entire company
Being a modern CEO with the gut feeling and understanding of what it takes to steer the company, Chris was keen on finding a platform that could support the directions he and his partners had set out for the company. Intending to sustain growth, the company’s priority was to make the team happy and ensure visibility across all the offices. Airtable seemed to support their ideas, but turned out to be missing key features that would enable Very Big Things to lock down who could access and edit critical information.
Outgrowing Airtable, Chris and his team had already made timely and expensive learnings on what they needed to strengthen the core foundation of the company. "The decision to move away from it," he explains, "was because it didn't allow us to add enough structure to the projects we were running. Things were becoming too legitimate for a company like ours to have so much important information in a solution with so many vulnerabilities."
Striving to never 'have to switch to another tool again', the team analyzed nearly 40 tools over a three month period. To make the selection process as efficient as possible, they created a set of requirements for the new tool that should help them steer the direction and spot where things weren't as efficient as they could be.
In short, Very Big Things expressed the need to cover every aspect of project management and provide transparency from initial estimate to invoice. What Chris and his partners at Very Big Things saw as critical for the company's growth and operational efficiency was resource and capacity planning. Having every single person on the team from around the world working on the same projects, he and the team chose Forecast for the unique opportunity to balance the workloads respecting everyone's time and effort.
Forecast is the best solution I've found across the breadth of everything that you need to be doing in a digital product agency like ours. From project management, resource planning, time management, down to invoicing, it has all the essentials.
The major shift
I could feel the major shift from the previous tool to Forecast from day one.
In the prior system, Very Big Things were doing a lot of unnecessary work on operations. The previous setup in Airtable required a lot of input and manual work, but it didn't necessarily mean that the output would be great. Crunching and collecting the numbers to generate a report could quickly eat up a huge chunk of Chris' day. "It's almost been completely wiped out by Forecast," says Chris. "Now we're just quickly opening up one of the preset reports to see the needed insights. Reporting would, in our previous setup, have taken us around six hours crunching the numbers. Now, when we've offloaded it to Forecast's automation, reporting has become a matter of seconds."
To get to this point fast, Chris began to manage everything in Forecast. Starting to scope projects, he quickly noticed a significant improvement in estimating what can be accomplished.
Today, when we are planning out new projects, we are more accurate than ever both time-wise and cost-wise. Simply because we have transparency into every corner of our operations and based on historical data, the AI helps us estimate more precisely.
The accuracy in scoping is helping the company stay true to three pillars and has a direct impact on the rocket growth they've been experiencing. With the ability to optimize and improve the estimation process, the clients become happier, the team avoids working off-hours, and the projects are healthier. But most importantly, it is providing Very Big Things with the necessary insights into where to improve and optimize the business.
Forecast has massively helped us be more transparent and clearly see the goals we are trying to hit and how close the goals we are aspiring to reach are. On top of that, it has helped us to be transparent and communicate and share insights with our client-partners.
Very Big Things’ investment into Forecast has allowed them to get their reporting more and more solid to where they could share the insights with clients and adhere to one of the three pillars for building a successful company. Being able to establish a more collaborative environment around the projects by explicitly communicating the true status of projects and tasks has helped Very Big Things move clients to even greater excitement, which is starting to reflect on the growing client base. "We get more new clients from word-of-mouth referrals than from all other sources of new business combined," remarks Chris.
Building long-term partnerships
Chris and his partners strongly believe that “digital product agencies need to be moving to hourly-based contracts in the coming years if they want to empower their clients to be agile and able to pivot as needed to ultimately find success.” Very Big Things decided the only way forward was to only work on an hourly basis, as fixed price projects are by definition, rigid. “If we are doing these fixed bid projects, we'll not be able to stay true to our three pillars. We want to work with the agile methodology and be able to adapt to changes."
According to Chris, the transition, though, can be terrifying to the clients unless there's crystal clear transparency into how teams spend their hours and act on their promises. "Not every client is emotionally ready to be billed per hour without knowing how much effort it will eventually take to finish the project," Chris points out. “Forecast is an amazing platform that helped us make this transition by adding the needed transparency.”