“Can you adapt to change?” With Mitch Russo & Jake Weaver

Throughout the years, another lesson that continues to ring true is the importance of team. If you surround yourself with an incredible team, one that is agile, determined, resilient and collaborative, your company’s ability to weather storms and recover will shine through. Together, you will be able to rebound stronger than ever. As a part […]

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Throughout the years, another lesson that continues to ring true is the importance of team. If you surround yourself with an incredible team, one that is agile, determined, resilient and collaborative, your company’s ability to weather storms and recover will shine through. Together, you will be able to rebound stronger than ever.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful App or SaaS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jake Weaver, Founder and CEO of Codesigned.

Jake Weaver is an Atlanta-based businessman and software developer behind multiple award-winning companies and digital products. He is the CEO and Founder of Codesigned, an Enterprise Intranet solutions company, a Microsoft Gold Partner, and a member of the Inc 5000 for three years running. Through Codesigned, Jake launched IntranetPro for SharePoint in 2017 and has grown the platform to serve more than 500,000 end-users and dozens of Enterprise organizations today. Jake is a pioneer in employee engagement, and analytics in the Intranet space. He is always focused on building “that next wonderful thing” for companies and employees alike.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Icome from a family of small business owners in the Midwest and was born to follow in their entrepreneurial footsteps. My introduction to technology was gradual, as my high school didn’t offer typing until eighth grade. We also didn’t have internet access at school — or home — until I was 15. At 17, I built my first computer with friends, and shortly after I started getting into computer programing. This became my passion — and I never looked back.

In the 90s, it was the wild west of the internet. New websites were being created constantly. New web technologies were also being developed. Everyone was pushing limits. It was an inspiring time to be involved in the industry, and the motivation to keep expanding beyond limitations has never left me. I am always excited to explore new technological possibilities.

Fourteen years later, I found myself with a unique and boundary-pushing opportunity to use Microsoft SharePoint to create new innovative tech solutions. This led me to found Codesigned in 2010. Today, our company is uniquely positioned as a hybrid company, offering both hosting and professional services for user experience, and platform development services. We’ve been incredibly successful over the years, having been included on the Inc 5000 list for three years in a row.

In recent years, the intranet space has changed dramatically. Technology shifts have made old ways of working irrelevant. At Codesigned, we focus on reinvention, and are passionate about taking learnings forward from each project to make our robust, yet easy-to-deploy solution, IntranetPro, the best it can be.

IntranetPro is an Enterprise SharePoint-based intranet that can launch in a couple of weeks. It modernizes the enterprise intranet experience and provides robust analytics for employee engagement. While many competitors shifted to software in a box, we recognized that no two Enterprise organizations are the same and have found ways to deliver robust consulting experiences that offer something truly unique for each client. IntranetPro gets us 95% of the way, and then we’re able to customize elements to make our products truly sing. This customization is why our clients love us, and stay with us.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for Codesigned? Can you share that story with us?

My “Aha Moment” was when I presented Codesigned’s work to a customer and received disbelief as a reaction. People didn’t believe that SharePoint could be so flexible, nimble and adaptable. Organizations were encountering a lot of challenges with their intranets, and employee dissatisfaction. This was all the result of the technology being poorly understood, and not designed for optimal end user experience. We provided a solution to this through Codesigned.

Recognizing an opportunity to show people a new way forward, and that we could create solutions to address their specific problems, our team started pioneering the ground-breaking technology that we use today. This is something I am extremely proud of.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Any business owner who has been around for a while would be lying if they claimed not to have experienced hard times. In my first year of business, I had some tough encounters involving clients refusing to pay us for our service. That taught me some harsh, yet valuable, lessons about the importance of saving cash, getting payments upfront, and preparing for the unexpected.

Throughout the years, another lesson that continues to ring true is the importance of team. If you surround yourself with an incredible team, one that is agile, determined, resilient and collaborative, your company’s ability to weather storms and recover will shine through. Together, you will be able to rebound stronger than ever.

So, how are things going today with Codesigned? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Today, things are going great! We’ve just launched a new intranet solution for companies to do our part to help during the COVID-19 pandemic. We swung into action because we wanted to help organizations and their staff adapt to the sudden shift to working from home.

We recognized that our top tier clients were using our IntranetPro solution for their crisis communication needs, and that they were getting incredibly positive feedback from their staff.

This prompted us to conceptualize something new to help companies communicate with their employees during this unprecedented time. Working quickly, we developed and launched a platform based on our flagship IntranetPro solution — one that is focussed specifically on providing internal communications, access to resources, and alerting across a workforce wherever staff are physically located. It’s called IntranetPro: Express Communications, and we decided to offer it completely free for one year to organizations that need it. This is one way our team felt we could help and make a difference.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting up? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

I’m not sure if it counts as a mistake, but when we were getting started as a company, something funny happened with a major client. I was invited to a special event, where their Chief Information Officer brought up the topic of how big Codesigned was. He thought we were a team of around 200 people, but funnily enough, we were just four people at the time. I realized that for our entire time working together, he thought we were much larger than we are. It was also a lesson in how you present yourself and your company. The professionalism you carry yourself with can have a very big impact on the perception of existing customers, and new ones coming on board.

What do you think makes Codesigned stand out? Can you share a story?

We are always pushing the limits as a company, and always working to provide the best possible customer service and support we can. For example, during the COVID-19 situation, we worked quickly to develop an intranet solution that allows Enterprise clients to quickly set up a communications site. It’s based on SharePoint and can be ready in a matter of days. It’s called IntranetPro: Express Communications — and we are offering it for free to help companies during this unprecedented time.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

It’s so important to find a healthy balance between having fun at work and being efficient. At times, this is a difficult balance to achieve. If your environment is too fun, you won’t make a ton of progress. But if you keep things too serious and process heavy, then you can burn out and start to feel like your work is not something you actually want to do. We have been on both sides of the spectrum, and I feel that we have finally found the balance.

For us, this includes making sure we celebrate all the various wins along the way. We work to ensure that everyone feels good about organizational changes. And we also take the time to meet as a team to connect. This includes pizza parties, Friday afternoon movie days in the office, and simply touching base regularly to chat about possible business stresses.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are several people who have played a big part in the growth of our business. The first one that comes to mind is Patrick Baca. He is the customer that took a chance on us for our very first project. He was the CIO of a company in Atlanta, and when asked why he chose us, he simply said he liked how solutions-focussed we were. He helped me understand the value of what we were providing, and remains a close contact to this day.

Another person would be Chris Spears. He co-founded another Atlanta-based company called Arke Systems. We were introduced by our second major client, which was WellStar in Atlanta. We formed a quick friendship that has lasted to this day. Over the years, Chris has been an incredible business peer, and we have always supported each other throughout our careers.

The last person is Doug Tatum — another friend for many years. He wrote a book on small business called “No Man’s Land” that really resonated with me. Doug has been a great business mentor and has provided tons of sound advice throughout the years.

Patrick, Chris and Doug have helped me better understand the business world. They have also challenged me to think more deeply about how I am running my company.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

We have around half a million users on our platform right now. We are uniquely set up in that we don’t charge our clients per user. This places us in an extremely strong position and lets us work with enterprise companies from around the world at a scale that our competitors just can’t touch.

There are three main places to focus on when growing as a company — customer service, showing constant improvement, and offering flexibility.

To me, these are the key elements — well beyond having a great product. You have to provide a great service to customers, because at the enterprise level, they can simply go with another vendor. You need to make sure you are providing a level of service above what they expect to get. You also have to show them you are growing and constantly improving to deliver an even better customer experience year over year.

It’s also necessary to be flexible because customer needs are going to change over time. They have their own complexities internally, along with personal and budget challenges as their business grows. You have to be flexible as a company to meet these challenges in order to show what a great partner you can be.

In addition, it’s great to take pride in your work, and the calibre of your client base. As someone who was motivated to create software at an early age, I find it inspiring today that we have big household name enterprises using and loving our products. It’s important to hold onto that sense of wonder and excitement.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

We are different. We are a layer on top of SharePoint, which provides a great deal of functionality and flexibility. Our solution sits inside a customer’s existing environment, so we don’t have the typical backend SAAS cost that other companies have. This means we don’t have to price our solution based on the number of users, which allows us to deliver a higher quality enterprise solution at a lower cost.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful app or software? Please share a story or an example for each.

One — Does it solve a problem? It seems simple, but if it does not solve a problem no one will use it.

Two — Is it different? Is it different from what else is on the market? If it is the exact same as what’s already out there, you are going end up competing on price alone. That is a race to the bottom.

Three — Can you adapt to change? In the tech/software field, your idea might be relevant for a couple of years. But is your software built to adapt as the industry changes?

Four — Do you have the right team in place? This goes way beyond the designers and developers. Do you have the right product leads? Do you have the right people collecting feedback? Having a successful product is much more than the product itself, and having the wrong people can undermine your business, no matter how incredible your work is.

Five — Are you listening to your customers? If you offer a product for long enough, the things that are needed from it may become different than the original vision. If you cannot keep up with your customers and how they change, you won’t have something that’s relevant for the long term.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am going to shift away from what I have been talking about for most of this interview, but it’s still founded in my desire to be on the cutting edge of technology. I am firmly behind cryptocurrency and blockchain. I think we are maybe still a decade or two from understanding just how much it will impact the world. The idea of decentralizing everything is a hard concept to grasp. It’s beyond the idea of currencies, or blockchain.

I once heard a phrase that shook me to the core — that “blockchain just provided scarcity to a digital asset.” That hit me like a brick. We’ve been living in a digital world for some time now, but there has never been the concept of true scarcity for digital objects without a centralized authoritative system until blockchain and cryptocurrency.

Let me elaborate a bit. Right now, the Honus Wagner of digital assets has been created, or will be created soon. When I was a kid, I owned a lot of baseball cards. My mom got me into them. Every young baseball collector’s dream was that they would find old baseball cards in their grandparent’s attic and land on untold millions. No card is more valuable than the 1909–1911 Honus Wagner card. It is the most expensive and sought-after baseball card in existence, having set the record for baseball cards at $3.12M. That level of scarcity has never been created in a digital space that is shared by the world without being controlled by a single entity.

So, I don’t know if it’s so much an idea of starting a movement, but something that is ongoing that I am fully behind. I want to watch closely as this technology changes the world.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am most active on LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/in/jakeweavercodesigned/.

You can also follow our product here www.linkedin.com/in/codesigned

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