We would all agree that a lot of turnover in an organization isn’t acceptable, yet sometimes it is inevitable. To help leaders understand if their turnover is reasonable or not, the Department of Labor measures what’s acceptable or not based on the industry and then some other criteria. In some industries, it’s normal that there is a revolving door of talent on payroll because of the nature of the business.
Organizations that are part of retail or restaurants and the tech industry. This is acceptable to have a high turnover. Our guest, Brad Weber, who runs InspiringApps in the tech sector runs against that trend. They experience very little turnover compared with their industry. It’s not easy to keep strong developers in a company but Brad the CEO and Founder and his team have figured out how to create a culture that keeps these in-demand talented developers for the long haul.
He’s had people stay with him for ten-plus years, which is remarkable for this industry. He also gets to work with great customers, which also reflects his culture. We are going to know how he’s turned the corner for the last several years and maintained an impressively low turnover rate. Brad Weber, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much. That was a terrific intro.
I’m so excited to chat with you about this because I feel like a conversation that I get into often with leaders is, “That’s the way that it is.” I want to challenge that and say, “It is not acceptable to have high turnover and you can have control over that.” When I say that, what comes to mind for you? What have you done to make this possible for your organization?
I’m not sure I would say I have control over it but influence it. People will still leave from time to time but I want to create an environment where they feel welcome and supported for as long as they want to continue their careers with us. As you noted in many cases, that’s an exceptionally long time for our industry 5, 10, 12 years or more. These specifics have many reasons but the culture started with me as the founder.
I wanted to create a company that I would want to work in. I have been a developer for a dozen years independently before founding InspiringApps. I knew what I liked when I was working with clients and what I saw in their companies that I liked or didn’t like and tried to carry that forward as I was growing a team with InspiringApps.
Foundational for us is respect and support for one another on our team and that goes a surprisingly long way. It’s also not as common as I would have thought that it is but that’s important to us. Everybody on the team is respected for their contribution and we want to help them grow in the ways that make sense for them, whether that’s technically or pick up non-technical skills that are important to them. We do all of that over the course of their career at InspiringApps.
Not that complicated. Many leaders think that they have to do some miraculous things but it’s respecting and treating people like adults. That’s been my experience. Let them do what they think. They have got to have a clear idea of where they are headed and what the goal is but once they have that goal in mind, let them go do the work and get it done the way they think it can be done. That’s great. Tell us more about InspiringApps. The name alone is great. Tell us more about how many people you have. What’s your team made up of?
We are about 30 people in 2022 and those are all US-based team members, all in the country. We don’t offshore outsource any of our work. Our work is to design and build custom web and mobile apps for all sorts of clients, from funded startups to multi-billion dollar companies in a wide variety of industries.
Your team of 30, how many of them are developers?
At least two-thirds. I don’t know the number off the top of my head but it’s quite a lot. We are a developer-heavy organization but supported by marketing and design and Q&A project management as well.
I was a developer. I don’t think I told you that. I worked for IBM for twelve years. I was more on the technical side withering away on the vine. Part of the reason I was withering was that I wasn’t wired to be a developer. I was more wired to interact with people and have more FaceTime with people. When you look at your developer team or development team, they don’t normally think that they are the people that need a strong culture. That’s one of those common industry comments but it sounds like, in this case, they do want that culture and they are staying because of that culture. What do you say to that?
I say a few things. 1) You are right but 2) Our development team is made up of people you would consider non-traditional developers. There’s a stereotype that developers don’t want to talk to people. They want to work in a dark room by themselves. One of the things that have been important to me and our team in hiring is that we have strong communication skills and that’s not just within our team but with our clients.
It’s important for us to be able to have the confidence to ask questions and be able to communicate the work that has been done. You’ll find in InspiringApps an unusually comfortable crowd talking to other people but you are right. That crew then also appreciates good culture like anyone else. They want to know that they are respected for the work that they are doing and the contributions that they are making. They have an opportunity to grow and the company and their teammates are looking out for them.
Have you had times in the past where you’ve seen the competitive side come out in some of the developers?
I haven’t seen that with one another if that’s what you are referring to. They feel like they need to step on somebody else to get ahead in the organization. That’s not something that happens.
It’s because of the tone that you set. That’s not acceptable based on who you are but that’s another thing I see quite often and you don’t have to put up with that.
It’s also a case where someone else doesn’t have to lose for you to win here if there’s something that you want to do. For example, we have had several developers who came in focusing on one particular area of specialty. They might be a web developer but along the way, they got interested in Android development, for instance, and they wanted to make a switch. That’s as easy as asking at InspiringApps. We’ll help train you in the skills and the role that you want to be in if you decide that you need a change along the way. It’s not like you have to bump somebody else out to achieve that. We’ll make room for you in whatever team feels most comfortable.
How do you initiate those conversations? How do you figure out that someone wants to make a move like that?
Usually, they will bring it up, fortunately. We are in constant communication and we’ll often post messages, whether it’s via email or in Slack or something to the team that says, “We have got a project coming up. We are thinking about exploring this new technology. Who’s interested in that?” Sometimes we are surprised by the person or the people who might raise their hands that weren’t the ones we expected but that creates a great opportunity to have those conversations and see how we could support them in exploring something new.
One challenge smaller businesses have is building out the career path. It sounds like in a way, this open communication that you have is an opportunity for growth in their careers without it being this formal career path like what I probably experienced at IBM where you are developer 1 and developer 2. Is that how you see it? Is that these are different ways to also help them grow in their careers? Do you tie it to a raise or title?
I had a similar experience at Anderson Consulting back in the day. I was hired as an analyst and aspired to be a consultant and then the next step would be a manager and then an assistant partner and a partner one day if I stuck around that long. I did not stick around that long. That progression always felt strange to me and we don’t have that at InspiringApps. With our size, we can’t accommodate that to feel right.
Absent the ability to progress through a series of those roles or titles over time, we need to create other opportunities. Our organization is still relatively flat. Being able to pick up additional skills without necessarily changing your title or role is one way for people to continue to feel fulfilled and challenged in their job. There are still some opportunities to advance in the traditional sense but given the size, there may be fewer. We want to help people find those opportunities where we can that might be non-traditional.
Do you end up then tying it to compensation? Do you tie it to anything else when they learn a new skill?
Yes. If they are contributing in new and different and better ways, then their compensation adjustments go along with those.
My specialty technically was as a DBA finally. I still think of a relational database in rows and columns. I always think about career pathing in a smaller business as the intersection of a cell. Learn that skill and then you shade it in. The more shading you get, the more skills you have but there’s not an order to it so much. It sounds like that’s exactly what you’ve done in InspiringApps.
If you get into this industry and you get into the role of a developer and you expect to be doing the same thing forever, it’s probably not the right place for you. We are a place of not just InspiringApps but our industry is a place of constant change in terms of innovations with new technologies and new frameworks to learn, new entire languages to pick up. I find that to be some fun. What we do is explore new things and try new techniques. It’s a great opportunity for people. You might start in one place but if you know that you are going to be hopping over here eventually and then hopping over there, creates an exciting set of opportunities for you in the future.
Talk to us a little bit about your values and how the values play into your culture.
They are very important. We are not articulated for quite a long time. They were things that were important to me but it wasn’t until I had formalized a leadership team, which was surprisingly late in the game for me that we went about codifying that for InspiringApps. I have mentioned respect several times in this conversation. Integrity is important to us and commitment to one another. Our craft to continue to improve is on that list, as well as inclusivity and empathy for each other. Empathy is critical when we are thinking about our users and our clients as well. Those are our top five.
Can we talk about inclusivity? What is that? How does that show up in your culture?
Including or seeking out opinions and input feedback from team members, no matter what role you are in the organization or how long you’ve been with the company, how it plays out for us on a day-to-day basis is to ensure that we are hearing all the voices as much as possible within the organization.
How does that show up? What do you do to pull or draw people out?
There are several examples I could cite. One, we are happy to have been named a great place to work for the second year in a row. As part of that process, we seek input from our team in a lot of different ways but a formal way that we do that annually is to conduct a survey and ask the questions that are part of that great place-to-work process. From that, we hear things anonymously from the team that are important and they change from year to year, which is fun for us to have a few things to focus on.
Out of those, we see themes that are important for us to follow up on. We’ll invite people to participate. Focus groups or discussion groups within the company around those topics and come up with specific initiatives that meet the needs of the organization. In 2021, there was a lot to be said about our commitment to our community and what we are giving back as an organization. We have follow-up conversations about that and formalized a new program called IA Commits, specifically around that, based on team feedback entirely.
How do your customers experience your culture?
I hope they see the same things. I think they do. That’s the feedback that I get. What I hear from them and people that they refer to us, they say the same time type types of things that I am mentioning to you. They are important to our team and as clients, they are treated with respect. They consider InspiringApps to be fair and for our team to have a great deal of integrity. To communicate effectively with them, have empathy, come up to speed quickly and understand their users, their business objectives and things like that.
That’s overlooked and organizations don’t always think their culture extends to their customers but a negative culture extends as far into a customer environment as a positive culture does. In general, customers would prefer a positive experience.
We also would prefer a positive experience with those customers. We look for the same traits and values in the clients that we work with. Fortunately, after fifteen years, we are in a position to be able to say no to customers that don’t feel like a good fit. It’s for the best and this also contributes to team longevity. If they are working with clients that respect them the same way that their team members do, then that’s a much more positive environment for them to work in.
I have only had to walk away from a deal a few times because one of our values at the show is no jerks. How that shows up for us is no jerks on the team and as customers. There have been occasional times when we have been in a sales situation so very early. We noticed that they were jerks and there was no self-awareness. They weren’t going to get better so we had to walk away. Those are telling moments around how deep values sit inside of you when you have to walk away from cash.
That’s true but it’s important. There’s at least an equal amount of cost that you endure on the other side if you choose to take that and it’s not well aligned with your team.
Normally, it ends up costing a lot. Anything toxic, you don’t thrive with it for very long. What are some of the things you are going to be doing over the next couple of years for your teams? Do you have a 2023 plan for things you want to do more with your culture?
We do. Our leadership team is working through that setting priorities for 2023. We’ll do that at a high level. We have some specific ideas but the next step is to seek input from the team on how we achieve these goals. Whether it be profitability, innovation is something that we’ll be focused on in 2023, as well as the notion that we give back to support our community and teams. There are some broad categories for people to contribute to and provide their opinions on.
Do you have any ideas of how that might show up by the end of 2022 in terms of how you might be contributing back to the community?
I can talk about our IA Commits program in a little more depth than I mentioned previously. This is what came out of 2021’s Great Place to Work Survey that our team was working on. It’s a big initiative. We have our work cut out for us for sure but we see an opportunity to help several different groups at the same time.
We want to give back to the community and for us, that means using our time and talents to design and develop the same way that we do for our traditional customers, startups and enterprise clients for non-profits and other organizations that might not otherwise be able to take advantage of services from companies like ours. We don’t want to sacrifice the quality of what we are delivering at all.
To make that work financially, we want to also provide career opportunities for less experienced developers who are having a difficult time breaking into the industry. There are loads of people who were promised a new career and opportunities after attending a 6 or 12-week boot camp to pick up their skills. They come out being told that they are developers and they can write code.
I’m not going to squabble about the particular title but there’s a big difference between what you can learn in that short amount of time and what you can make a career out of. We feel like there needs to be a bridge between that community and their first consulting or first client-based project. We are hoping to staff these projects for nonprofits with people who are getting started under the guidance of our more experienced team members. Hopefully a win for them, a win for the nonprofits and ultimately a win for InspiringApps. Not only would we feel great giving back to both of those communities but the people who do grow into those roles will have opportunities to work on our larger projects as well.
That is a great idea. I have supported a lot of the boot camps over the years. A lot of them have gone under as you know too. More from the job seeker side, a lot of them don’t know how they then go get a job. As I would review code and look at what they were doing, I was like, “They are not coders yet at all. This isn’t working.” You get the feedback from the market too that it’s not working but yet they have this passion for it. They are more passionate about coding than coders with a CS degree in many ways.
It’s exciting and I still remember when it was new to me. There are still things that are new to me but I remember when it was new and I couldn’t get enough of them. We see a lot of that energy from people in that community but they don’t have a place to apply that.
That is a win-win. I love that. It’s good. This is a perfect spot to close out and continue to inspire us with the way that you are doing things. Thank you so much for sharing what you are doing at InspiringApps. We’ll check in with you in a few months and see how you are.
About Brad Weber
Brad Weber, InspiringApps’ CEO and founder, has more than 25 years of software development experience.
Brad earned his MBA from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado and spent several years with Accenture before striking off on his own adventures, including the successful founding of four different technology companies.
With a passion for software artisanship, Brad founded InspiringApps to build a team that could tackle larger app development challenges than he was able to handle on his own. His leadership creates an environment where the most innovative digital products continue to come to life.