COVID-19 and embracing remote work
We welcomed 2020 in a brand new modern spacious office in Gdańsk in a very lively but still cosy Garnizon district. We did not enjoy it for long. COVID threat reached Poland in early March 2020.
Obviously, pandemic had a huge impact on us. Practically overnight, we became a remote company. Not only we survived this change, but many of us found such setup more effective than our previous traditional office-based model. It turned out I’d say we did not have to change much! We had already used tools supporting us well also in the completely remote setup (e.g. Confluence, Jira and Jira Service Management, Slack, Meet, Zoom). The biggest change was about replacing physical face-to-face interaction with chat and video calls only. For sure it helped that we had already employed a few remote employees who had made us more remote-friendly even before COVID-19 struck.
More focus time gained by makers because of no small office distractions and time saved on commuting is so valuable that we decided that we are not going back to the old office co-located model.
We are going to stay as a remote-first company once the pandemic is over. We are not going to mandate coming to the office. However, we will maintain the office for those people who want or need to work there.
Mandated work from home had a very negative impact on some people, especially those who did not have good working conditions at home (e.g. no comfortable working space, disturbance from their family, poor internet connection) or who suffered from loneliness and need more physical interactions with others. Once it’s safe to mingle in the same place physically, our office will be available for such people.
The office will also serve us as a harbour where we can periodically (quarterly, annually?) gather to deepen our personal relationships and strengthen the team spirit. Sporadically teams may decide to do the team gathering in the office when it’s really beneficial (e.g. to do brainstorming or kick-off of a new project), but it will serve more as an exception than as a rule as we don’t expect any longer people to live in Gdańsk or its close vicinity.
We also hope that when normal social interactions are possible again outside of work hours, the sense of isolation and loneliness (which may lead to depression) that develop easier when working remotely, will be a far smaller issue.
Embracing remote work also has a very profound impact on our recruitment strategy and exposure. We are finally ready to offer a job to anyone from Poland, and we don’t expect our employees to relocate to Gdansk area. We are also open to B2B-style cooperation with contractors who reside in neighbouring countries (+/-2 hours time difference).
Switching to fully remote work disrupted various team practices that we had used, especially those leveraging physical whiteboards that our teams used intensely to effectively brainstorm, retrospect, plan or track their sprint progress. Agile Cards is the product which we originally built for this purpose though many of our customers has been using it for many other purposes which we never thought of.
So we found ourselves overnight without our precious physical whiteboards in the office. Our people rushed to find an electronic substitute and quickly brought Mural and Miro. They were quite fine and enabled remote collaboration. However, we missed a very important thing there: a deep bi-directional integration with Jira allowing us to quickly populate a whiteboard with existing issues (e.g. for a planning session, retrospection, backlog refinement session, or prioritisation) and easily push changes back to Jira to make the outcomes durable and keep stakeholders in the loop (in the spirit of transparency - so important in Agile world).
That’s how a new product - Whiteboards.io was born. One of our most experienced engineers - Grzegorz Tańczyk - started it as his pet project. After a few weeks of work he showed an impressive demo and we decided to fully fund it by assembling a small team focused on bringing this product to the market.
In July, we rolled out a free beta version of Whiteboards for Jira and quickly afterwards Whiteboards for Confluence. In October, we started offering both products as regular commercial apps. The initial reception from the market so far has been really good. Despite a wide choice of whiteboarding solutions, many people find the powerful bidirectional integration with Jira and seamless integration with Confluence very useful.
Our Boarders team quickly iterates on the feedback we have been receiving from our customers and incorporates new ideas we have for this product. The recent roll-out of powerful Issue Tables is probably the best example of the „magic” teams can now do with Whiteboards which become for some teams the main interface into Jira.
We are optimistic about the future of Whiteboards. Obviously, we need to further improve user experience and polish user interface of the app. But we want to make it even more powerful for Jira users (e.g. allowing linking issues by linking cards) and support full integration with Jira inside Confluence Cloud. We are also planning to release an integration with Jira Server and Data Center as customers have been already asking for it.
The next big milestone would be expanding to other markets with equally deep integration with other important task management systems. Our first experiments here are very positive (yay, Whiteboards has just won software development category in the recent Monday.com app hackathon), and we already have an integration with GitHub Issues, so the path is paved.
However first things first - we want to finish first our awesome integrations with Jira & Confluence Cloud and also deliver integration for Jira Server & Data Center.
Pandemic made Agile Poker product boom.
Many teams worldwide needed to switch to fully remote planning & estimation sessions, and our product perfectly met their needs. To improve the remote experience, we made relative and bucket sizing estimation sessions truly interactive and real-time. No more screen-sharing needed! With the growing use of the product, we decided to support multiple parallel estimation sessions per project/board, and we invested in operational maturity (e.g. monitoring, alerting, logging, staged roll-outs) and performance improvements. With four various estimation models supported, the product became quite complex, and we decided to radically change UI and UX related to managing estimation sessions of all kinds. Lastly, we added or improved many smaller features requested by our customers, e.g. we introduced the observer role for traditional interactive Planning Poker estimations.
All these improvements plus a big world rush towards remote work triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the strongest year ever for Agile Poker with nearly 100% year over year growth. Quite incredible growth for an 8-year old product :).
However, we don’t want to rest on our laurels. We have some further ambitious plans for Agile Poker, such as adding capacity calculator, supporting more complex estimation models involving several fields, automatically aggregating estimations and offer the product outside of the Atlassian ecosystem.
Canned Responses also had a very strong year. The pandemic triggered companies to look for further cost optimisations. Many customers realised how more effective their support personnel can be when they are equipped with Canned Responses. Additionally, the consistency and the quality of support services increases then too.
We embraced the new Atlassian rich text editor and document format in Cloud and built smooth migration to this new format of all existing user templates. We added support for seamless Server to Cloud migration - all Canned Responses templates configured in Jira Server or DC can be automatically migrated if a customer migrates to Cloud. We also made various operational improvements making the app more robust and 3 x more performant in the Cloud.
New & Old Spartans
Year 2020 witnessed serious changes in our crew. We bid farewell to several people who did not live up to their promises or did not deliver up to role expectations. It was painful, but it was necessary, it cleared the air and simplified our structure. At the same time, we greatly reinforced our engineering team. We finally have a Head of Engineering! After four years spent in our other company managing Jira Cloud teams working for Atlassian, Roman Lutsiv accepted a challenge and joined Spartez Software. As a company whose business is moving fast to Cloud, we need to invest in operational maturity. We need to build a stronger YBI-YRI culture and further harden our software products for running at scale in a Cloud environment. This is the top priority for our Head of Engineering and his multiple years of experience building Jira Cloud with Atlassian has already helped us a lot grow in this area.
Later in the year, a few more trusted people followed Roman's path and moved from our service company to our product company. Additionally, in summer we brought a few interns and juniors to the company and they have been doing incredible work so far. Also, our former great employee - Mateusz Zieliński - who had left us for 2 years for another stint, decided to return and we warmly welcomed him. I cannot be more happy to work again with trusted and fantastic people.
Lastly, 2020 was quite turbulent for 3 other founders and me. In June, I resigned from co-CEO role to focus completely on our other company - providing software services for Atlassian - to secure its great future. Sławek Ginter agreed to take over from me co-CEO role in Spartez Software. My job in our service company ended up with the acquisition by Atlassian in October 2020, and all founders (including myself) left the service business. We all decided to focus entirely on our product business. I was asked to be CEO again, and as of November, I am back. Quite a crazy year. Two CEO changes and exiting from one business in one year! With COVID frenzy on top...
All these changes led us to grow to nearly 40 people. We have still a strong appetite for a great talent - especially for versatile software engineers and a technical leader. If you have ever thought about working with us on our products, this is the right time!
2020 was undoubtedly the most difficult and turbulent year for us so far, and we experienced the greatest amount of change. At the same time, it turned out to be the most successful year in terms of our revenue with more than 50% year over year growth. Last quarter of 2020 was by far our best quarter ever. As a result our recently rolled out bonus scheme for the crew has had a fantastic start: we are now paying more than 35% extra on top of each salary for the next three months as a bonus. I am sure that our crew’s appetite is growing and I cannot wait to see what the future will bring us.
2020 was the Year of COVID. We hope that 2021 will be the Year of Cloud - the very first year in our company history where we will have more customers, users and revenue in our Cloud products.
Spartez co-founder & CEO