What a year.

I always tell my friends that working in the tech space is like living in dog years: one year feels like seven.

In 2017, we made money.

We lost money.

We made our clients money.

And we had a hell of a lot of fun in the process.

But without question, there’s one thing that stood out above all else.

Drum roll, please…

Neon Roots and Rootstrap are merging.

At long last, our sister companies are merging into one big, beautiful organization.

Moving forward, everything in our business ecosystem lives under the Rootstrap brand.

It’s a sharpening of our focus.

Four years ago, Roadmapping by Rootstrap saved our business from going under.

Since then, it evolved into its own separate agency and came to define what sets us apart as a business.

It feels right to consolidate under the Rootstrap brand. It gives us a chance to hone in on what we do best and solidify our identity around our strengths.

Plus, with the new merger, we are the #3 largest dev studio in Uruguay – and we intend to be #1 by next year.

And I am so, so excited for that.

But that’s not the only thing that happened this year – not by a long shot.

This year saw us try new strategies, test new products, and enter new markets.

Some of it succeeded. Some of it did not.

Here’s what we did really well.

The Good

Communication.

We’ve been distributed since day 1.

That means we need to communicate better than our competitors. Managing expectations with our clients, partners, and employees is the most important ingredient to our success.

We improved here a lot.

We wrote over 500,000 words in Slack and gave out thousands of taco emojis. That’s what I call a happy team.

In the process, we saved ourselves from a whole lot of email (read as: wasted time).

Internal Projects.

We tried a lot of new initiatives as a business this year.

One of our biggest internal projects was the relaunch of our website.

We redesigned the whole thing from the ground up.

We worked with a badass artist who helped us go in a bold new direction with the site.

It took a lot of work, but NR5 is up and our site has never looked or felt better.

We shipped 4 internal products this year:

Bumpy Riders

Choose your character, choose your ride, and see how long you can last. Bumpy Rider lets you fight enemies, collect coins, and unlock new playable characters as you try to stay on top. Available for iOS and Android.

SwipeWarrior

Copy the swipes or get knocked off the pillar of tranquility. SwipeWarrior is Simon says for swiping. A seriously addictive mobile game, also out on Apple TV.

Goth Unicorns

Goth Unicorns brings a little more flavor to your iMessaging experience. It’s a sticker app that bridges the gap between pretty-in-pink unicorns and black-clad goths, out on the Apple App Store now with over 10k downloads to date.

Arbor 2.0

We relaunched Arbor v2. Since Arbor’s initial launch, users have produced more than 20,000 backlogs and voted us a #1 product on Product Hunt with tons of happy reviews.

We’ve also started putting out educational content using my audience on LinkedIn.

My guide for non-technical founders went viral on ProductHunt – here’s the DL link if you missed it. Completely free.

And we followed up with a Guide to Customer Development.

Engagement has been very strong with these guides, so expect more in the coming year.

Client Projects.

Things really heated up for us on the client side.

In March, we raised $2.5M on Kickstarter in 30 days for a client, making us the #15 most-funded tech campaign in history.

We completed 100+ new Roadmapping sessions, working with everyone from first-time founders to Fortune 100 companies. We’ve also worked to further productize the roadmapping service and fine-tune the process and offering.

For its part, Roadmapping is still one of the best investments out there for product owners. the average client who goes through the process gets funded within 30 days, and the average raise is about $246,000.

We’re pretty proud of those numbers. But we do more than Roadmapping.

After the success of our Kickstarter campaign, we expanded to include growth hacking + user acquisition as a standalone offering.

Taking growth marketing clients is huge, as we can offer it on its own or as a next step after development.

We’ve started moving into blockchain development, which I’m beyond excited for.

I used to be an avid crypto trader, so seeing how far the Blockchain ecosystem has come is amazing.

2017 saw us move definitively into the chatbot and AI space.

We’re working on 4 chatbots at the moment using NLP tech, including a bot for our very own website. Although I’m most excited for Raiya, a client bot we’re building for Slack and iOS that helps you with reminders.

 

We got back to our roots working on an exciting AR project for one of the largest TV networks in France, WeARTV. I’m looking forward to seeing that develop.

And we prioritized upping our corporate game this year, which saw us work with some of the biggest brands out there including Disney and Ericcson. How’s that for enterprise?

The Business Side.

2017 was a lot of growth and evolution for our business.

This year, we made the decision to incorporate my personal brand into our business.

That decision led to us saving $50,000 per month on AdWords and Facebook marketing, all thanks to LinkedIn.

Merging my personal brand with my company has been one of the best business decisions I’ve ever made, and it’s generated massive returns for us.

In all, I’ve racked up close to 75 million views on my LinkedIn content.

On the subject of press, I made #13 on the list of Forbes Top 15 Influencers to Follow (not gonna lie, I’m pretty stoked about that).

We also got a fun write-up in LA Confidential magazine about our process for helping celebrities take their brand digital.

I gave a college lecture at Cornell Tech to business and entrepreneurship grad students.

And I did my first AMA on Reddit. It was a blast and I learned a lot – the folks at r/entrepreneur asked some excellent questions (although, as always, there were trolls). Over 10,000 words of dialogue that went on for 6 straight hours!

More gains on our sales team.

We hired 3 new sales team members in 2017. This is big for us, and we’re working to consolidate all of our tools now with HubSpot and start up a regular newsletter for clients.

On the other side of the globe, we got a long-overdue office upgrade.

Our new Uruguay office sits in Plaza Independencia, the center of Montevideo’s historic Old City – right next to the Office of the President.

It’s a big investment, but it was the right choice.

The new space gives us room to scale to 150 people, and it also provides more conference rooms, more opportunities for clients to visit and work onsite, and plenty more room to grow.

That’s a good thing, because with the new merger, we’re one of the largest IT providers in Uruguay.

And to think, all this started when I met a few people in Montevideo back in 2011.

Qué buena es la vida, no?

The Not As Good

Business isn’t all sunshine and roses.

There’s a lot we could have done better this year – I’ll be the first to admit that.

We need to improve our reporting and analytics. We’re tracking a lot of numbers, but not making them actionable.

Moving forward, I want to create more sophisticated financial models for our business.

Forecast revenue. Analyze our largest profit drivers. Identify predictable patterns in the business.

And communicate all of this to our sales team so we can close better projects and make smarter business decisions.

It’s also time to make sure every penny spent is tracked against an ROI.

We’ve spent close to $500K building internal products and we’re far from positive ROI.

That’s OK – we learned a lot building those things.

But as we move forward, we need to prioritize our money makers.  Being frugal is the new cool in business.

Hand in hand, we need to stay lean.

We’re now 70+ team members and growing, and this is the stage when a lot of companies lose their agility.

We need to remove unnecessary bureaucracy and maintain a startup-style workflow, whatever our size.

I’ve learned that operating light, lean, and agile is the only way to survive, no matter how big you are.

And across all of our projects, it’s important that we communicate a clear vision to every team member and stakeholder.

Moving forward, we need to make time for more monthly email updates and newsletter communication to keep everyone synced: clients and team members alike.

What’s Next

As always, my eyes are on the future.

2017 was big. 2018 will be huge.

Moving forward, we’re prioritizing content creation.

We’ve put out more than 100,000 words of content this year, and it’s been the biggest revenue driver in our business.

I want to expand our content operation to podcasts, video, and a platform to feature the brilliant startup founders we work with and give them a voice.

I’ve also got my eyes on the big apple. Now that we have an NYC office and sales team, it’s time to grow our presence there by offering a competitively priced nearshore provider to our east coast partners.

As projects go, I see us doubling down on the following:

  • More blockchain
  • More bots
  • More AI
  • More happy product owners
  • More ROI for every customer

Staying Agile.

But the truth is, all of that is guesswork.

The reason we’ve succeeded is that we take stock of our situation in real time and pivot based on what’s working.

Agile is as much a part of our business strategy as it is our development framework. That’s one thing (maybe the only thing) about this business that will never, ever change.

2017 – and the past six years – have been unbelievable for me.

I can’t wait to keep innovating, keep disrupting, and keep growing in 2018.

We ready to do something brilliant together?

Happy Holidays,

Ben Lee

Author

CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.