Our 2009 Annual Report
We’re now just over 2 years into Unit Interactive’s existence and this is our first ever annual report. As we’re writers and designers, we’ve split the report into two components to best address both the real story and the fun trivia about our 2009. Here is where we’ll delve into what, for us, were the compelling moments of the past year. We hope you’ll enjoy both components as much as we enjoyed preparing them.
Our Mantra for 2009: We Refuse
As 2009 started, we weren’t experiencing crisis, but we were certainly surrounded by it. The deepening recession was showing its tangible effects in our market, as our designer and developer friends were being laid off and peer agencies were either scaling back or closing doors. Doom and gloom was the subtext to most market discussions. Like most folks we had clear reason for concern, but our optimism was holding strong.
Despite the global economic turmoil, by February we decided we needed another team member and by March we were turning down work because our project queue was too full. Then R.A. Ray joined us. Like Nathan before him, R.A. was a lucky find for us and a welcomed addition to the team.
By March, our contempt for the limp-noodle, doom and gloom sentiment in the media over the recession pushed us to boldly proclaim, “We refuse to participate in this recession.” We knew that we didn’t have to play by everyone else’s rules because of the winner’s exemption, which allows those who dare while prepared to craft their own rules. And as luck would have it, by April our business swelled to never-before-attained levels; well beyond what we’d planned for.
The latter half of the year was touched by some sort of fortuitous glamour. Just when our internal efforts to finish and launch Unify were required, our client project load cooperated flawlessly. After the Unify launch, our project inquiries jumped significantly, but there was a curious trend that followed. Most of the potential clients who inquired of us either fell short of our standards or the projects were somehow vaguely unsuitable. All of what followed had a bittersweet quality.
Having proclaimed just 6 months before that we’d not participate in the swelling recession, we were severely challenged to either demonstrate our conviction or see it crumble in the face of concerns. Truly, for any not yet convinced, the next few months proved to us that uncompromising standards have a very literal monetary cost. Instead of gathering a host of new projects, we were compelled to decline most of them. Just when the waning season required that we gather a bounty in preparation for the distractions of the holidays, our scruples demanded that we turn down much of the largesse offered us. It was a bitter pill to swallow, yet we held fast and looked to our belief that we could craft our own destiny.
Each time we decided to decline a project offer and we explained as much to our team (we don’t hide business mechanics from our team), our folks understood. Never once did anyone here indicate even the slightest concern, or deign to second-guess any choice to avoid a lucrative project that failed against some standard of ours. That was one of the blessings that lent us courage to forge ahead, resolved to our ideals. The payoff today is that we enter 2010 with no shame in our practice and no compromise in our standards.
Despite the decline in client projects, we never once failed to meet payroll or maintain profitability. Luck favors the prepared.
Developing a stronger unit
Not everyone sits idle through a recession. Winners are working to gain strength even in lean times, and so that’s what we aimed to do. Throughout the year and especially during the periods of diminished client work, we took on internal projects that challenged both our design chops and our development abilities. We let our eyes get bigger than our stomachs. We let our reach momentarily exceed our grasp. There was much to which we aspired with these projects that we simply didn’t have the know-how to accomplish. We took several seeming risks, but for us the outcomes and the benefits were never in doubt.
The result of all of this aspirational activity is that along the way our team learned new skills, developed more breadth and depth of ability, and we gained valuable experience and insight into important processes. In short, our folks bit off the tough meat; we invested time, effort, and money into working through the challenges, and emerged stronger for it.
From design agency to product retailer
We launched Unify in August of 2009. This immediately placed us into a couple of new business categories: product retailer & customer service organization (oh, and we design and develop websites, logos, and user experiences, too). Both are cumbersome hats to wear, but we knew what we were getting into.
Our staff includes those who have significant retail and customer service experience, so we had a fundamental base from which to draw in our new roles. That—coupled with an unwavering enthusiasm and belief in the product—made the launch and all that came with it a far less daunting prospect.
For us, the whole Unify development process and launch fit right into what had become our mantra for 2009 (“we refuse”) because it represented doing things some would find too risky or dangerous during a recession. Namely, we were taking time away from lucrative work for clients to produce and launch a retail product when many folks—our potential customers—had less and less to spend. Furthermore, the product itself was meant to help our industry peers to provide a service that we ourselves offer. This effectively made it easier for other designers to compete with us. But as we stated in the article, we refuse to participate in a fear-driven, cannibalistic market. We’re in the habit of collaborating with our peers rather than stealing from them, and working to support and grow our profession rather than trumping it. With our approach we’re defining our own market. We like it best that way.
Rounding out the year
Continuing our internal project and overreaching trend, we initiated two more fun projects late in the year. First we collectively produced 14 mini-projects for our client Advent calendar. This was our holiday gift to our clients; where they could visit each day in December and find a new freebie or game or just something to bring a smile to their faces. Some might consider this to be a frivolous waste of time and resources. We found it to be a joy.
Very late in the year we seized upon the idea to create a site where people could trumpet the nice things other people had done for them. We spent the last couple of months of 2009 conceptualizing, designing, and developing JustMadeMyDay.com (which launched in early January, 2010). It was a process that demanded that we learn from scratch how to do just about everything that the site had to do functionally. We were happy with the process and thrilled with the results. Thankfully, so are a lot of other folks.
So…not to put too fine a point on it, that was our year. We grew in all sorts of ways during a lean economic period and we’re now better equipped and prepared to meet the challenges of the coming recovery. We’re evolving in interesting directions these days and excited about all of them. We’re blessed with excellent clients, wonderful friends (many of them are clients!), and a terrific team that fits together perfectly. As for 2010: Bring it on.