This past weekend Bill Moller of WGN Radio interviewed our fearless leader (and fast talker) Josh Golden about entrepreneurship and what makes Table XI a different kind of tech company. Give it a listen:
We've transcribed some of the highlights below:
Bill Moller: See if you think these numbers indicate somebody’s got a good idea: In 2009 the annual revenues for this particular business were $1.25M. Now, three years later, nearly $3.5M, and the number of full-time employees more than doubled in that same time. Table XI [is] a digital service provider. What does that mean? Technology, software, hardware—it’s a headache for a company, and Table XI is hired to run it. Is that about right, Josh Golden, founder and CEO?
Josh Golden: That’s very much right, we are a provider of digital solutions for mid-market companies. We focus on the strategic context, so what is the business trying to achieve...and how can we help them use the new tools—Internet, mobile, etc.—to achieve those goals.
BM: To me, that’s almost boilerplate, for companies like you. We all are hearing "companies that do digital solutions for mid-market companies." So what’s different about you?
JG: Well, what’s different about us is that we really focus on partnering with the customers in long-term relationships. We’re still working with our oldest customer that we started serving eleven years ago, and as they’ve grown and developed their digital presence, so have we. We’ve helped them now start building digital products, marketing those products more effectively, and we’re really in it for the long haul. It’s not just come in, do a project, then hand it back to your team. It’s come in and partner with you and stay with you through the thick and the thin of this crazy digital revolution we’re in the middle of.
BM: So you have a pretty high retention rate then?
JG: A very high retention rate...The first two customers we started working with, both Chicago-area customers—Dickson, monitoring solutions in Addison, IL, still with us; and The Spice House, in Old Town, Evanston, Milwaukee, and Geneva. They sell gourmet spices and they’re still with us, too. We’re pretty happy with the long-term relationships we’ve built with those people.
BM: Other clients include a bunch of charter schools, YMCAs in Chicago and in New York, Northwestern, U of I, and Roger Ebert?!
JG: We’ve been working with [Roger Ebert] since we helped to reboot the show when they brought it back to WTTW, and since then we’ve been helping with some other digital strategy issues that you may hear about in the coming weeks. But we’ve been working closely with them and are really excited about that partnership. He’s a digital innovator.
[ . . . ]
BM: You’ve clearly found a need in the marketplace, you’re exploiting it, you’re very successful in doing it, but it took...about half a decade to really reach critical mass. What was going on during the first few years? There were these nice loyal customers that you had, but was there doubt and turmoil and upheaval and change?
JG: I’ll be perfectly candid with you. For a number of the years we spent looking out the window—it’s difficult to drive a car when you’re looking out the right or out the left, and we were always seeing these product opportunities—what are the things we could do? How could we pivot into something besides a digital services provider? And then, about halfway through the timespan we’ve been around, we said, you know what? Digital solutions are a huge opportunity in and of themselves. Let’s focus on what we know how to do and continue to improve and build on what we have and really make it something special in our core competency, instead of looking to pivot into something different.
[ . . . ]
BM: [It’s] one of the defining characteristics of being an entrepreneur...you’re always looking for new ideas out there...But let me ask you, you’ve got a couple employees here in the room with you—they want to think that you’re going to be around for a long time.
JG: Right, and at the core of what we’re doing, we are going to be around for a long time...I’m not going anywhere. My heart is with this thing. This thing is very much built, and the value set that we’ve helped to develop over the years, focusing around our people, building long-term relationships not only with our clients but also with our people. We have almost no turnover, we’re super good friends, people go to each other’s weddings—it’s a really tight-knit group of people.
BM: So you’re not going to look back and say, ‘Table XI did that, it’s going on its own, it’s a huge success, now what can I look at’?
JG: For me, it’s a launchpad for other things.
BM: So you build on the existing platform?
JG: Exactly. The platform is growing, it’s successful, and we have people who are potentially interested in joining an entrepreneurial venture...It provides upward mobility for our staff as well, and it gives them new opportunities. So it’s sort of like an entrepreneurial nexus of sorts that we’ve tried to create, and we’re doing our best to make it special.
BM: What is PechaKucha?
JG: In Japan 10 years ago, some smart architects tried to figure out a way to teach digital creatives or architects more effective ways to present concisely—they tended to talk too much. So it’s 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide—400-second-long presentations. It’s become a global phenomenon...There’s 620 cities that hold PechaKucha Nights where people gather—in Chicago they’re usually up at Martyr’s...We worked with the global leadership team out of Tokyo who organizes the whole thing, and built a new web-based platform to be the home of where all the presentations that are recorded and archived are held. So you can go to PechaKucha.org and browse presentations about incredible numbers of topics. Our office chef, who’s a bit of a celebrity in his own right—
BM: You have an office chef?!
JG: We have an office chef. I always have a little bit of trouble talking to people in the media business about this, but yeah, there are some pretty nice perks about being in tech.