We talked to Samuel Jones of Codevate about its bespoke software development service and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Samuel Jones: My family is doing well and is in good health, although some of us are unable to work due to current restrictions. My niece and nephew have been in school and have both unfortunately contracted COVID-19, passing it on to some family members. Thankfully everyone has made a full recovery.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Codevate.
Samuel Jones: I co-founded Codevate almost eight years ago with my business partner David. We had noticed a gap in the local market (Birmingham and the West Midlands, UK), where software agencies typically only worked with WordPress and PhoneGap (at the time). Not many companies were offering a fully bespoke software development service, and if they developed mobile apps, they were typically done using web technologies (which is not ideal in many ways).
We decided to launch Codevate, a specialist bespoke software development company that delivers large-scale, advanced custom software, and mobile apps. We work with UK-based small-medium sized businesses to digitize processes, build SaaS platforms, and develop mobile apps that improve productivity and scale client businesses.
Over the last eight years, I’ve been working as a software consultant with our clients, as well as growing the business — and now, navigating COVID-19’s effect on the UK economy and our clients’ businesses.
How does your company innovate?
Samuel Jones: We develop cutting-edge web and mobile apps for small-medium businesses. We incrementally digitize processes to add value for our clients and their customers with automation and digital integrations.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Samuel Jones: The first UK lockdown (late March 2020) saw the economy take a tumble. A number of prospective clients pulled out, and some contracts didn’t go ahead. Things certainly slowed down across Spring and Summer 2020.
We responded to this by going fully remote as a business. All of our staff now work from home. This means that we have better reach for employees, now accessing the UK’s talent nationwide, rather than just locally. It also meant that I personally could focus more of my time on growing the business — saving on that commute time has been put to good use!
Across the course of 2020, we invested more time in our existing clients to help them through a difficult time. This, in turn, meant better client relationships, and we eventually agreed on a new long-term retainer with a large client business, providing some much-needed stability. In addition, we invested more time into writing content for our website — which has improved our SEO significantly — and we’re now generating more organic leads than ever.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Samuel Jones: Going fully remote was a big decision for us. It had some ripple effects, as not everyone on our team was happy working remotely. The decision was made rather quickly, so I think the lesson learned would be to communicate more transparently and involve the team more in the game-changing decisions. The staff did have the option of working in the office if they wanted to, but the atmosphere wasn’t the same as it was usually empty.
Company culture shifted and suffered a little in the first few months of being fully remote. We now have ‘drop-in’ lunch meetings a handful of times a week so the team can catch up, as we have people working on flexible hours.
It’s been part of the learning curve to know when to hold team-wide video meetings and when to use asynchronous communication. Being ‘always available’ for video calls can be quite disruptive — especially for software engineers who are faced with solving complex problems — so we’ve learned to use asynchronous communication in public channels (rather than private messages) so as to involve the whole team but at their convenience. The usual fortnightly retrospectives and other Agile components are in place, and we’ve found them to work well remotely.
Overall, learning to communicate effectively (and foster an inclusive company culture) whilst still delivering value at a first-class pace has been the biggest challenge, but one that I’m happy to say we’ve conquered (after a few bumps in the road).
What specific tools, software, and management skills are helping you navigate the crisis?
Samuel Jones: Slack has been the most helpful in navigating the changes to our company during the crisis. It was already in place, but it wasn’t being used full-time due to us all previously being in the same office. We followed Lean and Agile methodologies and were using Jira and BitBucket effectively prior to going remote, which enabled us to seamlessly switch most of our processes.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Samuel Jones: The list of indirect competitors is constantly evolving, as lots of national agencies advertise in Birmingham to capture a piece of the pie. I’d like to think that I subscribe to the abundance mindset — there’s plenty of work going around at the moment, as now is a great time to invest in developing your own digital product or service.
Our work and testimonials speak for themselves, so staying in the game generally means staying on top of capturing client reviews and keeping our website up-to-date with the latest case studies and articles.
Your final thoughts?
Samuel Jones: While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everybody, I think it has also been a time of learning, clarity, and community. Many of us have (re)discovered what matters most. We’ve also seen extraordinary global collaboration and innovation in many industries. It has shown us that we can work together to overcome the challenges we face on both a local and global scale.