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February 27, 2013 - No Comments!

What to Do in Lake Geneva: The Table XI Retreat

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This year, for Table XI’s annual company retreat, the frozen shores of Lake Geneva and The Abbey were calling. Though it may not have been as lengthy (or exotic) as 2012’s week-long trek to Costa Rica, we still managed to fit a lot into four days.

Our biggest goal with our retreats is always to give our people the chance to get to know each other better outside the restraints of project teams and a regular workday. This has only become more important as we’ve grown substantially over the past two years, and it’s always enjoyable to see people who don’t cross paths on a normal basis hanging out playing Werewolf or putting together a LEGO Death Star. On Saturday afternoon, I noticed a card game going on involving a couple employees (both old and new), one of our contractors, and some significant others—none of whom had ever had much interaction with each other before. It’s great to see these kinds of connections form over the course of a long weekend. People also bonded over a trip to the Yerkes Observatory, Frozen Turkey Bowling (this is a real thing that’s exactly what it sounds like), meals both company-sponsored and not, and an evening of S’mores around a campfire.

The other point to taking these retreats is to give ourselves a chance to work on the business as opposed to in the business. During the days we broke our team into smaller groups for professional development and company planning sessions. In particular, we made a lot of progress around targeting our marketing and account management efforts and selecting the right tool for our delivery operations. We did a deep dive on our customer profiles, identifying key patterns and practices that will not only help us serve our current clients better, but also let us pinpoint client prospects we think will be a good fit with Table XI.

Finally, we went over the business’ finances with the entire company. This is always a key component for me, since our newer employees are often surprised and appreciative of this level of transparency and candor. I’ve always maintained that giving people the greater financial context for why we make certain decisions is crucial to the health of the company as a whole, since it empowers the individuals working here.

All in all, I’m happy with our Lake Geneva excursion and the progress we made on a macro level. Stay tuned over the next several weeks for some more detailed retreat follow-ups, including a shot of our new commissioned artwork “Eleven Tables,” and some pretty hilarious photo galleries and videos of people doing things like throwing frozen turkeys at bowling pins.

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February 21, 2013 - No Comments!

We’re Off to Lake Geneva!

Our projectors are packed, our laptops are stowed, and we are counting down the hours until the bus arrives to take us to The Abbey in Lake Geneva for the weekend. While not, perhaps, quite as exotic as Costa Rica, this year’s company retreat will still give us the chance to step back from day-to-day work and look at Table XI’s bigger picture. Plus, frozen turkey bowling. You can’t do that at the Equator.

On the docket this year:

  • Discussing strategy and goal setting
  • Standardizing best practices across the development team
  • Learning data visualization techniques and how best to apply them
  • Improving the client experience

We’ve also set aside time for interdisciplinary teams to work on company pet projects that fall by the wayside during the hustle and bustle of everyday work life. Some of these include developing an online game, identifying new products we can take to market, and finding ways to meld our client relationships into company events and culture.

But it won’t be all work, all the time. We’ll be visiting the nearby Yerkes Observatory for some winter stargazing, hitting the lanes for the aforementioned frozen turkey bowling, and partaking in other activities like ice skating, ice fishing, and anything else that involves ice (it is Wisconsin in February, after all). On Saturday night Table XI is taking us all to a dinner in which everyone will be wearing their new Trunk Club duds, so stay tuned for pictures of our devs like you’ve never seen them before. Fancy!

In the meantime, we’ll be updating our Twitter and Facebook pages throughout the weekend, so stop by to see the latest in Lake Geneva entertainment.

February 11, 2013 - No Comments!

This Is Bowling. There Are Rules.

AlmostWinnersThe pride on these guys' faces really says it all. This past weekend, Jason Hanggi, Jason Pearl, Mike Laurence, and Jon Buda competed in Firebelly's "Reason to Bowl," a fundraiser for the design firm's Reason to Give nonprofit. After several hard-fought games, our team came away with not one but TWO bowling pin trophies for being "Almost Winners."

Between this and our "Best Uniforms" triumph at Dodgeball last fall, we think Table XI's physical prowess is pretty well established at this point.

Thanks for having us, Firebelly. We're up for almost beating you anytime.

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February 6, 2013 - No Comments!

How to Hold a Staff Meeting That Doesn’t Suck

TXI Round TableWe recently started what I hope will be a regular event at Table XI—the TXI Round Table.

At our current size, Table XI is in an interesting place. We're still small enough that everybody can fit in a single room, but large enough that people on different teams don't always know what everyone else is doing.

However, trying to get around this often leads to problems similar to bad agile standups. Everybody is waiting for their turn to speak; nobody is listening to everybody; everybody is bored.

So, the Round Table: An attempt at a company-wide, many-to-many meeting that isn't boring.

The rules are:

  • In order to attend the meeting, you must send the meeting organizer one slide, which can contain anything you want. The general theme is something you are doing or have learned, but generous interpretations are encouraged.
  • We provide an alternative if you're too busy to create a single slide—you can allow the organizer to choose a random image for you. Our first random image turned out to be a monkey in an Ikea parking lot. Our second was Weird Al in all his "Amish Paradise" glory.
  • Slides are placed in random order.
  • Every person gets 2 minutes to speak about their slide. Timed.
  • Everyone who participates gets candy, but I think that's more of a guideline than a rule.

Topics at the Round Tables have varied widely, from frustrating lessons learned over the past week, to celebrating impending releases, to cool podcasts, to how to write great sentences, to modern dance. In the first Round Table, our CEO, Josh, chose the random option, and took his prompt of the Ikea parking lot monkey into a brief discussion of biometrics.

Based on our first Round Tables, this is a great way for a team of about 25-30 people to keep in touch with each other. It doesn't take much preparation from the speakers, but it does give people some public speaking practice. The two-minute time limit seems to be enough to give an overview, but not so long that attentions wander, and anyone who wants to hear more about a given topic can follow up with the speaker one-on-one. As for those topics, they've veered wildly between serious and silly, and the variety has kept things fresh.

Let us know if you try a Round Table of your own.

January 24, 2013 - 1 comment.

Walking While You Work

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Standing desk, schmanding desk. The next wave of non-sitting work stations has arrived at Table XI and it is...the treadmill desk.

This new piece of furniture appeared in Josh's office after the holiday break. The envy of all, the TR 1200 has a 2.25 HP torque motor and a top speed of 4 mph, so you can really amble along while you're writing emails or playing solitaire. What's more, the Bluetooth-enabled console connects wirelessly to your computer, so you can track the distance you've walked, speed, and calories burned, all without leaving the comfort of your moving desk. Technology, folks!

Following the overconsumption of the holidays, shedding pounds is on the minds of several TXIers. Chef Aram is cooking us lunches with lower carbs and fat, and some people are putting their money where their mouths are for a "Biggest Loser" competition: At weekly weigh-ins, players who have stayed the same or gained weight have to fork over cash, and the person who loses the biggest percentage of weight in 12 weeks wins the kitty. Congrats to Andrew, who's currently atop the leaderboard with -2% body weight in just one week.

Other attempts at healthy living have been less enthusiastic. Kate decided to go off the sauce for the month of January, which is, admittedly, good for you, but hardly any fun. And I got myself a ball chair, which proclaims to help strengthen abs and improve posture, among other yoga-like benefits, but I haven't seen much result yet. Maybe that's because it's sitting under my desk, still in the box.

Anyone else trying to get healthier for the new year?

January 22, 2013 - 1 comment.

Chef Aram: Reality STAR!

ChefAramTasteTable XI and Tinseltown are one degree closer. Our own Chef Aram Reed, who cooks us lunch everyday, will be appearing as one of the contestants on The Taste, ABC’s new cooking competition that premiers tonight at 8/7 pm Central. Though Aram can’t divulge too much about the show without risking the wrath of the ABC legal department, he did give us a little scoop about the wonders of reality television.

Give us a taste of The Taste. What’s this show all about?
The Taste is like a food version of The Voice, featuring four celebrity chef judges—Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre, and Brian Malarkey—who pick teams from the contestants based on blind taste tests of their dishes.

How’d you get discovered?
A good friend of mine works in the industry, and she wanted to try out for the show at a Chicago audition, but she didn’t want to do it alone, so she asked me to go with her. So we went, and I got picked and she didn’t, which was hilarious.

So you launched your television career screwing someone over right off the bat. You learn fast!
Yep, right off the bat. That’s how we do it in “The Biz.”

Speaking of which, did you go into filming with your reality TV persona all planned out? “Brooding chef with an edge,” perhaps?
I was going for the asshole, of course. No, really I’m just honest, I don’t blow smoke, and that sometimes makes me the asshole. Really, I have no idea how I’ll be portrayed. I could be the asshole, the sweetheart... how about the heartthrob? I could go for that one, too.

Will we get a soundbite of you voicing that reality show classic: “I’m here to cook, not to make friends”?
You know, I think I heard someone say that at the airport when we first got there.

What was it like getting your food judged by these renowned chefs?
[For one of the challenges] everyone did seafood, except for me. I did a very Chicago dish with pork, because that’s what we eat here, and I wanted to showcase who I was and who I cook for. Bourdain and Ludo both understood my dish, which was very gratifying. They were the two I most wanted to impress. Ludo was very complimentary on my sauce—he recognized that it was French technique and said he really enjoyed it. And then Bourdain knew it was pork with bourbon and that it was Midwestern—he was just calling it. And remember, this is blind tasting, so he didn’t know me or where I’m from. First they discuss the dish, then they open the door and see the person who made it. So Bourdain was really cool and got my dish and that it was from Chicago.

What about the other contestants?
There were some really amazing professional chefs from across the country, and a lot of chefs from Chicago. Ina Pinkney from Ina’s, she’s been the “Breakfast Queen of Chicago” for over 30 years. She was there with me. Chef Brian Jupiter, Executive Chef at Frontier, he was also there. One of the sous chefs from Nellcôte. Then there were nonprofessionals, food bloggers and home chefs. For me it was like a fantasy camp for chefs, an all-expense paid trip to LA, to go hang out with a bunch of industry people, so that was really cool for me.

Can you take us behind the reality TV curtain?
It was really interesting walking onto a TV set. When we watch shows at home, there’s music, there are all these lights, there are graphics. When you go onto a TV set, none of this exists. It’s all CGI’d after the fact. Our set was in a giant airplane hangar, five football fields long. It’s where they built the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes’ plane. So in the middle of this gigantic hangar, which just goes on and on and on, there’s this little set with black curtains. And you walk in, and there are all these crappy robotics, and the kitchens weren’t developed properly because it’s the middle of the desert. People’s ovens would turn off randomly, equipment wasn’t set up properly. You could hear hammers banging in the background.

So, not too glamorous, then?
Ha, no, not glamorous at all. It wasn’t set up through the mind of a chef, it was set up through the mind of a TV producer. That to me was the most eye-opening, seeing how things were done, so I’m excited to see the finished product on television, once the magic has happened. And because it’s season 1, they were kind of working out the kinks, so I’m really interested to see what season 2 is going to look like down the road.

How are you going to capitalize on what will surely be household name status once this show airs? Celebrity fragrance? Your own reality show? Product placement in the TXI kitchen?
That’s all in the 5-year plan, definitely. My goal is to be on the CTA, and see someone reading the Red Eye with my picture on the back, you know, in the gossip section. And they’ll look at it, then at me, and recognize me. That’s how I’ll know I’ve made it.

That’s the big time, for sure. But until then, what’s next?
By the end of this year, I’m going to be opening a local grocery in Logan Square called The Tortoise and the Hare. It’s in the vein of Olivia’s or Goddess and the Grocer. We don’t have a place like this in Logan Square. We’ll offer prepared foods, maybe do some cooking demonstrations. And there’s Roam, which is a roaming underground dinner party that my friend Leslie Friebert and I put together. Every month we put on a dinner at a different location around Chicago. It’s for 30 people with five or six courses—the idea is to create an underground society of cool dining. We feature special guest chefs, craft cocktails, bands—it’s been a fun project. If people want to find out about the next Roam or get tickets, they should email roamsecretsociety@gmail.com.

Well, congrats on the show, Aram, and good luck with everything else. We can’t wait to see you in HD.

Thanks. The coolest thing has been hearing from people I haven’t talked to in years, who’ve seen The Taste trailer. Everyone's been very supportive.

December 18, 2012 - 1 comment.

A Star Wars Nerducation: Galaxies Collide

A long time ago (May, 2012), in a meeting far, far away (the conference room at the end of the hall), two Table XI employees were whispering...

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“So we were in a meeting one day and we found out Kate has never seen Star Wars.”

“No way. I don’t believe it.”

“I swear! Until a couple of months ago she thought Chewbacca was a Wrigley product.”

It’s true. Though technically a child of the ‘70s and currently the Director of Marketing at a tech company, I managed to make it three decades without seeing a single Star Wars movie. How is this possible? To be honest, I’m not sure myself. I do know that once I’d made it to college without having stepped foot in the Empire, it became a proud point of distinction, my guaranteed “gotcha” in a game of Two Truths and a Lie—I’d win every time.

Summer of 2012 changed all that.

As a marketer among engineers I’m already an outlier: my emails are more than three sentences, I express ideas through PowerPoint, and, unlike some of my quieter colleagues, I’m a full-blown extrovert. But once my coworkers at Table XI discovered this chasm in my nerd knowledge, it only deepened the divide between us. I could see it in their raised eyebrows and the slow shaking of their heads. Forget Storm Troopers, I was a cultural space invader.

So, in an effort of good faith and acculturation, over the summer I began what my colleagues dubbed my “Nerducation.” (For those who know me, the irony of this is not lost on me: I spent much of my childhood recreating Julie Andrews musicals in my basement, and my Netflix queue is full of movies with subtitles. I’m a nerd in my own right, just one of a different species.)

IMG_3194The whole office was invited to take part in my extracurricular assignment. We hosted movie nights on the roof of our building, complete with a 14-foot inflatable screen, Lou Malnati’s pizza, and Darth Vader helmets. And, like an immigrant studying for U.S. citizenship, I learned all there was to know about The Empire, the Death Star, and the Galaxy Far, Far Away, all under the observant tutelage of my Table XI colleagues.

Since I’m not much into sci-fi, I was skeptical about Star Wars at first. So imagine my surprise when I found myself eagerly awaiting these nights. After watching each film, a little bit of my own universe was illuminated: the significance of the Lego Imperial Shuttle that sits in our office kitchen, the meaning behind John Gore’s t-shirts, the magnitude of calling someone a scruffy-looking nerf herder. Not only was I gaining proficiency—suddenly, I was becoming fluent in a cultural conversation I never knew was taking place. Star Wars was my very own Rosetta Stone.

By August I had made my way through Star Wars 4, 5, and 6, and to be honest, the series wasn’t anything like I had expected. Spoiler Alert: Star Wars is not just a space/alien/explosion series I had censored from my youth. It’s a coming of age story about a young boy in search of his father’s approval, who at a time before therapy, relies on a little green man to help him navigate the complexities of the universe and discover his True Potential. Most importantly, and perhaps most surprisingly, Star Wars is a love story.

2012-06-19 20.31.20This realization was perhaps the most unexpected outcome of my Nerducation. Turns out these tough, quiet developers who surround me in headphones, the ones who often point out errors and inaccuracies to each other with the subtlety of a good blaster, are actually a bunch of softies. You can’t be this obsessed with this story without having a sensitive side. Maybe my programming pals and I aren’t from different planets after all.

I’m looking forward to 2013 and the next round of movies. Our office Nerducation board is already filled with more films to add to my resume, wherein I will learn important things like the differences between “Hackers” and “Sneakers,” and how Star Trek, despite its title, is apparently Skywalker-free. But I’ve reminded my colleagues that Nerducation is a two-way street, and next year, I plan to introduce a few classics of my own. First up: Amélie. It’s a coming-of-age love story full of mystery and intrigue. I think they’ll dig that.

December 18, 2012 - 1 comment.

Culture by Design

Josh Golden at Technori Startup Series: Culture By Design

I recently had the pleasure of speaking on the “Culture by Design” panel at the Technori Starter Series: Beyond the Ping Pong Table, along with fellow entrepreneurs Ethan Austin of GiveForward and Jake Nickell of Threadless. We all run very different organizations, but we share the conviction that creating a strong and vibrant company culture is essential to running a successful business.

Fostering a good company culture has been one of our tenets at Table XI ever since we founded the company a decade ago, but it hasn’t always been easy to explain why we think this is important. For years, outside consultants would beat me up for not articulating our company’s mission in a market-driven way. I’d get criticized for deflecting the heart of the matter, referencing instead modern work/life models that probably sounded touchy-feely and unprofitable to the traditional business school way of thinking.

In the last few years I started saying that our mission at Table XI is to “build a better boat”—I’m trying to prove that there’s a way to collaborate with your employees, your customers, your community, and your environment in a way that’s different than pure profit-maximization. Instead, it’s about creating a structure that’s a good place to be, that makes the lives of the people around you better, and, as a result, leads to a thriving company.

When you define success as creating a better workplace, it totally changes the game. Company culture isn’t just a “nice to have”—it’s an essential cog in the wheel of good business:

Culture of Success: the ROI of company culture at Table XI

Of course, as the title of this Technori series suggests, creating a good company culture isn’t as easy as putting a ping pong table in your office. (Ironically, early on we had a ping pong table at TXI, but the plock...plock... noise of the balls in our open office was so distracting we had to get rid of it.) Bolted-on culture won’t ever stick, and what works for Table XI might not work for other companies. Everything about our culture—from our daily, chef-catered lunches to our Costa Rica retreats to our open office floor plan—has developed from our own experiences and the people who have made their marks over the years.

And this culture keeps evolving, as it should. Heading into 2013 we’re continuing to hire more diverse people, strengthening our mentorship program, and participating more in Chicago’s tech scene. We’re celebrating the ideas in our community through our new monthly series, “Table Talks,” and encouraging our employees to pursue their own professional development.

I’m surprised sometimes by people’s incredulity at the things we do (like taking the whole company to a third-world country). So many executives focus on why they can’t do these things, but I assure you that you can. After all, what’s the point of being an entrepreneur if you can’t do things a little differently for yourself?

December 17, 2012 - 1 comment.

A Year in Review: Cheers to 2012

It's been a defining year at Table XI, and not just because we celebrated our tenth birthday. Our mission at Table XI is to "build a better boat" that supports all of us—employees, clients, and partners alike. 2012 was about aligning our infrastructure and culture to support that vision: We hired a bunch of awesome people, focused on strategic planning over an amazing week in Costa Rica, redesigned our website, spoke at events and conferences all around town, grew our mobile practice, started a new series called "Table Talks," and continued enjoying incredible relationships with our clients, both old and new.

We'll ride this momentum into the new year as we keep growing and getting our name out there. In the meantime, we put together this highlight reel of key moments from 2012. Many, many thanks to everyone who's helped us get here. Happy New Year, all!


December 3, 2012 - No Comments!

A Hairy End to Movember

Movember is always a special time of year for me at the office, since I get to watch my colleagues grow. Facial hair, that is.

For those unfamiliar with Movember, it's the month (formerly known as November) dedicated to raising funds and promoting awareness of men's health issues, specifically prostate cancer and testicular cancer. It's a time when men all over the globe agree to grow a mustache for the entire month as a physical display of support.

I decided to start a Movember team at TXI this year for a few reasons: 1) it's always awesome bringing people together to support a good cause; 2) watching a month-long, in-office competition for best/creepiest/worst 'stache is fun; and 3) I love hearing our leadership team explain to clients why they're donning creepy mustaches.

Our Table XI team, called Table XI Mo's, was a group of eleven: 7 gents, 2 gingers, and 2 ladies. Ladies, you say? Yes! Although I can't grow a mustache myself, I got a kick out of the horrified reactions I got from the guys who were afraid I could actually grow a full 'stache. (For example, Jon Fernandez said to me: "You're growing a mustache? Really? You should not. Not at all. Why? Why would you do that? Do you just give up when you're married? Is that what happens?" Hahaha—awesome.)

I also liked hearing the stories and plans for facial hair growth. You can learn a lot about a person from their mustache! One of our team members hadn't shaved off his full beard and mustache for several years—not even his wife had seen him without. He decided to join our team, and shaved his face clean on day 1, shocking us all. Many laughs also came out of the types of mustaches each guy decided to grow, from the Selleck to the Winnfield.

With Movember wrapping up last week, we held our first annual Movember Awards Ceremony. Here were the big winners:

  • "Best Mo" — Matt Lineen (a grand prize awarded for sheer dominance in the sport of 'stache)
  • "Most Artistic" — Jason Hanggi (recognizing creativity of facial hair design)
  • "Creepiest Mo" — John Gore (also known as the "Hide Your Children" award)
  • "Best-Worst-Try" — Andrew Horner (a valiant but not entirely visible effort)

We also raised nearly $2,000, including a matching donation pledge from Table XI. Woo woo! And while Movember may technically be over, there's still time to donate! And for more photos, check out our Facebook page.

Huge thanks to all my TXI colleagues who participated last month—with and without a Mo! Prostates all over the world thank you.

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