All Posts in Table XI blog

March 30, 2012 - No Comments!

10 Years at TXI

Table XI was founded because our first employees were frustrated working in organizations where technology was the source of more problems than solutions. So ten years ago this month, we took matters into our own hands and started a company that could deliver cutting edge technology solutions to the real people who work at and run Chicagoland's small and mid-size businesses.

Today, our very first client is still with us, and our staff comprises several people who have been here since the start (or near to it). It’s these kind of lasting relationships that we’re most proud of, along with the cool and innovative work we’ve gotten to do along the way.

Part of the founding ethos of Table XI was that creating an inviting company culture would bring us the best developers. Over the years we’ve introduced daily perks like flexible hours and lunches (catered in-house), plus bigger benefits like retreats to Costa Rica, where we can simultaneously have fun, get to know each other better, and work on interesting company projects. It’s an investment that has brought us incredibly talented people and allowed us to expand our client base and business—the proverbial win-win.

So what’s next for us? Our time in Costa Rica gave some smart people time to work on smart ideas and get experience with new platforms. We’ll foster more of that, while continuing to figure out how to recruit and retain the best talent and apply their skills to the newest technologies. With the industry focusing on social apps and mobile optimized products, we’ll be doing a lot more work in those areas.

We’re incredibly proud of our achievements, and that we were able to make it through the last decade’s tough times without having to cut back on people or benefits. We’d like to thank our clients and employees for helping us get here, and we can’t wait to see what the next ten years will bring.

March 28, 2012 - No Comments!

10 Things We Learned in Costa Rica

We swam, we surfed, we SQL queried. Between the beach and the tiki hut office, there was lots to glean from our time in Costa Rica:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, developers are not allergic to sunlight.
  2. Hammocks make good desks.
  3. A day iterating on Facebook's API is a day well spent.
  4. When you want a good photo, ask a Schwartz.
  5. Jason Pearl builds cloud-based games and Imperial pyramids with equal levels of dedication and ingenuity.
  6. Chef Aram has ninja knife skills. And now we all know how to chop an onion properly.
  7. Just say no to traveling on the day two major airlines merge.
  8. Just say yes when someone asks you if you have a phone in your pocket before they throw you in the water.
  9. Meetings are more fun when they happen in pools.
  10. The two rarest things to see in the wild: sloths and a John Gore smile.

 

Check out some other highlights from our trip:

[portfolio_slideshow]

March 19, 2012 - No Comments!

A Tech Consultant in the Land of Startups

For all of the great software we build, you might call Table XI a shy company. Though we've grown a truly excellent team of developers over the past 10 years, we've mostly had our heads down, quietly innovating for our clients and relishing in their success. This approach has served us well. That said, thanks to a tremendous infusion of talent lately we're learning what it takes to scale our dev culture as teams grow. A couple of weeks ago we retreated to sunny Costa Rica for a few days of internally-focused technical presentations, panel discussions, and skunkworks (R&D) projects. Hot on the heels of our trip I was fortunate enough to attend SXSW Interactive with an eye toward deepening our involvement in the external developer community, and seeing what TXI can learn from other thought leaders and innovators in the ever-percolating world of tech.

For those less familiar, in many ways SXSWi is the ultimate nerd fantasy (though simultaneously a nerd nightmare when you consider the line for cheese sticks at a conference with 30,000 attendees). Every corner of Austin is flush with developers hailing from interesting startups and dev shops, staying up all night to play werewolf, discuss languages and frameworks, and pass out t-shirts from life-changing websites. I had the good fortune of bumping into a host of awesome people thanks to my guide, Table XI’s own Jordan Ho. Read more

March 7, 2012 - No Comments!

Costa Rica Is Pura Vida

Before our trip, I found myself in conversations with clients and friends, trying to articulate why we were bringing all our employees, their significant others, and their children to Costa Rica for a weeklong corporate retreat. Most were congratulatory at being able to provide such an experience; many requested jobs; a handful, I suspect, if even for a moment, thought this might be a junket.

The reality, however, is that the trip is an extension of who we are as a company. It’s a progression of our flexible hours, catered lunches, and ability to work abroad—perks that allow us to compete for talent in our industry and find employees who are more than just employees. We endeavor to provide an environment that elevates an individual from trusted colleague to friend.

Our recent growth—including 11 employees last year—as well as the departure of two long-time staffers necessitated a renewed focus on our team and where we're headed as an organization. In much the same way we encourage clients to meet at our office and step outside the day-to-day of their existence, we wanted to do the same.

[portfolio_slideshow]

We used this time to review development best practices and testing strategies. We intermingled teams exploring the depths of the Facebook API, cut our teeth on mobile platforms, exposed developers to new languages, and leveraged unfamiliar tools like mailgun and Refinery CMS, which will have immediate utility for our clients.

Read more

February 28, 2012 - No Comments!

The Pacific Beckons

The time: 6am, Saturday morning. The place: O'Hare. The destination: Costa Rica.

50 of us, including TXI staffers, significant others, kids, and a few friends all arrived in Playa Grande, Costa Rica this past Saturday. Following a company welcome dinner that night and boat ride on Sunday, we've buckled down for the past two days working on new techniques, new projects, and new tans.

But this trip isn't just about fun in the sun. It’s easy for big picture items to get lost in day-to-day minutia, so we leverage this chance to take time, take a step back, and take stock of where we can make improvements company-wide.

Primarily, we’ll be looking at ways to run and deliver projects with greater efficiency and transparency. We’ll be talking about engineering best practices like automated testing and continuous integration, as well as the latest project management tools that will give our clients more insight and control around their projects and budgets. These advances will have a huge impact on our clients, allowing us to work more efficiently and cycle talent onto projects faster. They will also give clients more flexibility to change or add features along the way, without fear of upset apple carts or blooming budgets.

We'll also be examining how we communicate what we do to the marketplace. We've done good work for a lot of people, but thus far have remained mostly under the radar. Our marketing team has some great ideas about how to elevate the profile of our organization, and we're looking forward to putting that plan into action.

There will be a lot more to report once we return in early March. We’re so grateful that we as a company have the ability to take retreats like this, and ultimately we think our clients will be, too.

We’ll be uploading photos to Facebook throughout the week, so check in for some vicarious sunshine.

February 6, 2012 - No Comments!

Foxycart Checks Out

Sometimes when a client comes to us with a new project or problem, we have to build software from scratch, but other times there’s a ready-made solution already in the marketplace. Part of our job is figuring out when to build and when to buy: Developing software to support a third party application to fit a client’s needs can save a heap of time and money.

For our recent renovations of Old Town Oil’s and Strange Cargo’s online stores, we found an innovative platform in Foxycart, a hosted shopping cart application. The headaches of many e-commerce solutions include storing and processing all the shopping cart data, like sensitive order, password, and credit card information, as well as staying current with regulated compliance processes. Foxycart handles all of this backend work, but is still compatible with highly customized user interfaces on the front end, like Old Town Oil's oil and vinegar pages, which contain detailed tasting notes and suggested pairings.

For services that Foxycart does not provide, such as certain order fulfillment processes like creating shipping labels and emailing customers about shipments, we developed our own software called Foxcage to work in conjunction with Foxycart. This combined solution of using both third party and custom developed software gives our clients exactly what they need.

Want to talk more about your e-commerce site? Drop us a line.

January 5, 2012 - No Comments!

Tech Trend: E-Commerce

Leading up to this last holiday season, shoppers spent $18.7 billion in e-stores, up 15% from last year. Cyber Monday sales were up 33% over 2010, with a growing number of consumers making purchases from their smart phones and tablets. The message is clear: E-commerce isn't just an afterthought or a "nice to have" anymore—it's the mainstream.

Managing a successful online store requires a different set of skills than running a brick-and-mortar operation, however. Long after a site launches, retailers face challenges like finding new customers in a crowded web space and tweaking their sites based on customer and market feedback.

According to The Wall Street Journal, retailers like Target, Kohl's, and Coach are tackling these problems by hiring Chief E-Commerce Officers (CECOs) "who can build and manage websites, handle increasingly complex inventory management, and unsnarl the logistical problems that come with developing a new sales channel." Unfortunately, CECOs don't come cheap. "E-commerce heads—who a decade ago made $50,000 to $100,000 a year and lurked in the back offices of retailers' catalog businesses or in tech support—have joined the C-suite. Their salaries now range between $300,000 and $500,000, on a par with heads of merchandise or marketing."

At Table XI, we often play this role for mid-market companies desiring the expertise of, but lacking the budget for, a full-time CECO. If you ever want to talk with someone who knows as much about doing business online as you do about running your business offline, drop us a line. We'd love to chat about your needs.

December 29, 2011 - No Comments!

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

We're jazzed about the new year, but it comes with a spot of the blues. After tomorrow we’ll be saying a bittersweet goodbye to Greg Baugues and his wife, Rachel. The Baugueses have planned a three-month move to Europe where they’ll work on organic farms in Spain, France, and Germany. Greg has been an integral presence at Table XI for the last four years, and while we’re sad to see him go, we’re so excited for the incredible experience awaiting him.

You can keep up with the Baugues’ adventures by visiting their blog.

Good luck, Greg, and know that you’ll always have a seat at our table!

December 28, 2011 - 1 comment.

Working Hard, Playing Hard

Our company thrives because we’re a group of dynamic individuals with passions and hobbies that extend far beyond the workplace. Lest you think we’re just a bunch of coders chained to our monitors, this year Table XI staffers:

  • Participated in band gigs, choir concerts, improv shows, 5k races, half marathons, and triathlons;
  • Got married;
  • Welcomed nieces and nephews into our families;
  • Spoke at tech conferences and meet-ups in Chicago and Indiana;
  • Recorded an album;
  • Travelled to Canada, Mexico, Belize, Argentina, Uruguay, Switzerland, Turkey, and the Philippines;
  • Won an award from the Illinois Women’s Press Association;
  • Took classes in classical music history, persuasive communication, improv comedy, rock climbing, surfing, and Portuguese;
  • Worked from all over the US and Canada, including Chicago, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Denver, Austin, Minneapolis, and Toronto;
  • Cooked Thanksgiving dinner in the kitchen of famed Chicago restaurant Next;
  • Spent hundreds of hours volunteering for local organizations, including cooking for homeless shelters, tutoring students at the Metro Center for Girls, helping create mobile apps and strategies for the nonprofit Kids in Danger, and launching a community family movie night.

We can’t wait to see where people's interests take them in 2012!

December 12, 2011 - No Comments!

Strange Cargo: Better, Stronger, Faster

In early November we rolled out a slew of new websites. Last on the docket: the relaunch of Strange Cargo.

Strange Cargo is your one-stop shop for Chicago-themed, sports, or funny and irreverent t-shirts and accessories. The t-shirt retailer has had a storefront home in Chicago's Wrigleyville neighborhood since 1993, and they came to Table XI looking to update some features on their website. However, after a thorough analysis of the then-current site and what owner Jay Schwartz was looking for, we realized that the easier, more cost-effective solution was to rebuild everything from the ground up.

We embarked on a creative overhaul of the site, seeking a look and feel that mirrored Strange Cargo's playful, colorful personality. "T-shirts aren't formal, so their website shouldn't be either," says TXI's Daniel Strabley, who led creative direction. "They're a fun, funky brand, and we wanted to translate that laid-back vibe of the store to the site."

To involve the store's avid community fanbase, we integrated Facebook and Twitter conversations on the contact page. Fans who "like" Strange Cargo can get "friends only" notifications of contests, coupons, news, and new merchandise.

New product pages better showcase Strange Cargo's extensive custom t-shirt offerings, and a restructured design process makes it faster and simpler for customers to create the shirts they want online. We also added sections for custom-lettered shirts, children's shirts, and accessories like hats and mugs. On the back end, a streamlined work flow helps Strange Cargo's staff manage the site's content more easily.

Jay was very happy with the results and that the site saw sales on the first day of the launch: "I love the way Table XI worked organically. The new site met the vision--it's user-friendly, bigger, brighter, and better."

Thanks for the good words, Jay!