Devana has always made me proud, but I am particularly proud of where we are today.
Six years later, I feel it is time that I reflect on Devana Technologies, the company I founded in 2010 and best known for its culture of innovation and the ManageWP product.
I am very proud of where we are now. We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs. This story is about that journey and the excitement I have for the future.
Creativity can be messy …
Matisse rightly so said “creativity takes courage”, at Devana we are not afraid to be creative, but sometimes this leads to something we like to call “productive mess”. We often produce chaos as a result of our need to make this place better, make it extraordinary. It seems that this chaos is an orchestrated effort. One of our employees already adopted a tagline ‘We are just chaotic, and that’s the way it is’. But, over time we have learned that it’s okay to make a mess, experiments can lead to beautiful things and so can rules. It’s having this fine balance that makes all the difference.
The number of problems that we either encounter or produce ourselves due to this chaos and sometimes just clumsiness on our part is mind boggling. We are definitely not perfect and this made me question a lot of things, until it dawned on me that every company out there is also not perfect. Indeed, every single company in the world has issues (even the wealthiest company in the world has issues). After all, companies are powered by people, and the beauty of people is that we are all different. On occasion this leads to conflicting opinions and even those most suited to each other will argue, often even a loving husband and wife will dispute (strangely they say this helps maintain a healthy balance in marriage).
A problem shared is a problem halved
At Devana we like to think that “a problem shared is a problem halved”. It seems that we are very self-conscious about our problems and, since we care a lot, we have a tendency to speak and act upon them loudly and often, perhaps even too loud and too often. The important thing being is that we share our problems with our colleagues, friends, however on occasion this then tends to magnify them. It helps to take a step back and look at the big picture – our problems are not that big in reality and the company is doing well.
Like for example, the business keeps steadily growing. Year to year growth has been 20% or higher. This tells me that our base beliefs in product quality and exceptional customer treatment, which keep the business going has strong foundations in the bloodstream of every employee.
We never stop learning
One thing I love the most about this job is the tremendous amount of learning opportunities available almost at every corner. Learning is all about moving forward, because “life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving”. We like to speed ahead.
I remember vividly the time when we went to Burlington, MA, headquarters of a multi-billion dollar giant EIG to discuss business partnership opportunity. Instead of flying business class, we decided to invest in our image and confidence. We chose to suit up at the famous Brook Brothers in Boston. We wanted to look the part and perform well on the day. We prepared for the day, woke up at 3am (thanks to jet lag) to practice our pitch, but the EIG guys had more experience at this game and taught us valuable lessons on how to negotiate. At the end we still sealed the deal that nowadays makes a significant portion of our revenue.
I think everyone hopes to create the kind of company they would personally like to work for. At Devana that translated to giving everyone access to exactly the same resources: information (which produced radical transparency), equipment, tools and meritocracy based decision making (whoever is the most qualified shall make the final decision). And if you want to build a company that will last for a 100 years, you need to do it thoughtfully. Things that last are always built with care, patience and enthusiasm and this aspect of working at Devana, being a part of something bigger than all of us, is perhaps one of the biggest sources of happiness for our employees.
You choose your path at Devana
There is no single career path at Devana. There are many different directions one might take to discover what they are best at and feel most comfortable doing. Devana, much like the Nile delta looks complex and overwhelming from high above, but underneath every drop of water is guided until it finds its way.
Every beginning is hard, and we’ve all been there. There are plenty of mentors around Devana that will help you learn new skills and encourage you to apply them in the workplace. Once you get to a certain level you can spend your time refining your skills and achieve mastery in the discipline you are passionate about. What’s most rewarding is having the chance to share your knowledge with new colleagues. Many people are glad to share their experience outside of Devana – for example we have forged a great relationship with academic institutions, where we with enthusiasm pass on our experiences.
We want to make a difference
A lot of companies preach about making a difference, and most of them have the intention of doing so. It’s one thing to have good intentions, and quite another to take action. At Devana we try to actively give back with our work, in more than one way.
I hope that you enjoy reading our blog and browsing our website, because we often write about our work. Sometimes words are not enough in expressing the satisfaction we get from the impact we have on the world. Through our main product, ManageWP, we are touching the lives of people on all seven continents, helping professionals in almost every country in the world be more efficient in their work and better provide for their families; we have even reached Antarctica and we regularly help a polar weather station manage their website.
Being a good company is at the heart of our culture. By supporting Zivojin Misic foundation (funded with 10% of our profits) we engage in a multitude of activities encouraging entrepreneurship in young people. We believe in investing in people that make the world greater. For example one of the projects I am especially proud of brings the best teachers in the country together and supports their often overlooked role in the betterment of our society.
From small to a little bigger
In the early days, when there were just a couple of us, balancing the needs of the customers, business and the employees was easier. As we grew, the challenges of running everything in an optimum way (and we like when things run at optimum efficiency) became increasingly difficult. These days people would routinely spend days and sometimes even weeks making a sophisticated decision affecting the future of our product in the market, making sure they take every little detail into consideration. On other days we’d combat the ‘CEO said‘ syndrome or brainstorm the best way to pass knowledge to new employees.
We needed a rock-solid, easy to use, scalable processes in place to ensure the company runs smoothly at all times. We spent a lot of time brainstorming this and all the books we read, were great in theory, but not in practise. Some might say that we spent too much time reading and that it hindered our productivity – but for me this is time well spent, as it is incredibly important to get the foundations right while we are still a relatively small and young company.
Not all of this comes easy. We are incredibly clumsy at times, and sometimes we do things as if we were not grown-ups. Sometimes we are plain clueless about things but eventually we figure them out.
I remember the time I felt the most clueless – but strangely at the same time also the strongest – when the two biggest events in my life happened just two days apart. My first daughter was born, and I didn’t fully recover from the celebration when we launched ManageWP just a few days later. People are often overwhelmed with just one of these events happening (birth of a child, launching a startup successfully), let alone two simultaneously. Both of these events were eye-opening and things couldn’t have turned out better. And we’ve been witnessing this over and over for the last five years. As if things around this place have an innate ability to turn out good. I admit it’s cozy to believe in something like that. We might just be lucky; but also we might be generating our own luck – there is a lot of intellectual prowess and empathy at the company that we consciously built after all.
We’ve been extremely selective in our hiring, because we look for people who we feel comfortable working with. Work should not be daunting, but it should make you feel good about yourself. We wanted to create an atmosphere where our employees feel good about going to work every day, look forward to sitting down with their colleagues and working together to overcome new challenges.
We admire people who speak their mind. When you speak your mind you automatically distinguish yourself from the notion of being just one more person in the company – you start to matter. At the same time we admire people who listen more than they talk, and make a real effort to understand views that differ from their own. We are free of prejudice of any kind, everyone deserves a chance to shine and every idea deserves to be heard.
In the 2016 employee survey, when we asked people what the best part of their job is nearly 88% outlined “the people”, 85% said they are proud to work at Devana and 95% said they “feel personally driven to help this organization succeed”.
And when the organization succeeds everyone succeeds. We value success and make sure that everyone feels like they are an important part of it, through above average compensation. We are as transparent about salaries as we can be. Everyone benefits from everyone’s hard work and goodwill through our global bonus scheme which takes profit across the company and gives a bit back to each employee. This has been very effective and the design of the bonus system got a 100% approval in that same survey.
Still growing …
We are still expanding and adding new building blocks to the company. Last year we introduced a dedicated design department which brought design oriented thinking with it, challenging ways that things were traditionally done. It is an exciting new journey that we embarked on.
Last summer we kickstarted Devana Labs, the innovative playground for the company where new products and technologies are being built, increasing our odds in the future market. Our internship program is founded on the idea that young talent is vital to innovation and growth of our company.
Everything we do is ultimately with a single purpose – helping customers of our products be better at what they do. It is the driving force that makes us work harder, sometimes iterate relentlessly and keeps us asking both our clients and ourselves the tough questions. We try to create an atmosphere in which partnerships with our clients can flourish. This will always be our priority, but we understand that there are many things we need to work on, and many lessons still to be learned along the way.
Devana is our second home
Perhaps the biggest professional challenge awaiting us in the future is to create an environment where everyone feels at home, sheltered, protected and trusted. This seems so obvious, yet there are not many companies that have successfully created such an environment.
Since I’ve became a parent, I have become increasingly aware that true leadership and parenting are two very similar things. For 40 hours a week, here at Devana, we have somebody’s precious child in our care and now I understand the profound implications of this. Like children learn from their parents how to behave and what values to adopt, our employees learn about company life and culture from us, and this is a big responsibility. The way we treat them affects the way they live, it affects the way they treat their family, raise their children and in effect it affects the future generations.
Leaders should provide guidance, goodwill and genuine care for the people they lead. But management schools and business books will only teach you to do the complete opposite – how to use people efficiently – not how to take care of them. Even the term “management” implies administration and not guidance, care and goodwill. This is why we strive to create an environment where manager/boss/supervisor paradigm is replaced with the mentor/coach/leader paradigm as much as possible. Because when we say “it’s all about the people” it really should be that way.
We are building this ship called Devana together. No one knows where it will take us. What we do know is that “a ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for”, and we are not afraid to sail away. I believe in the people that work at Devana. I know that we will continue to experiment, seek to reinvent ourselves, our products and this company all in an effort to make it truly extraordinary.