JournalJan 2015

The State of Hanno: January 2015

Two men using laptop

It has been a bit of a crazy year here at Hanno. Looking back to last January, we were five strong–myself, Matt, Sergei, Arnas, Zsolt, and living in London, Russia, Norway and Budapest. Now, things have changed a little. So, we thought we’d recap a little on the best and worst of 2014 on the team.


In January, 4 of us landed in Kuala Lumpur for our biggest team retreat so far, and the first since we went to Valencia in 2013.

Looking out over KL

We completed the first draft of our Culture deck, which we’ll be iterating on as we grow and evolve–it’s a document which has given us a far better sense of what we stand for, and what we want to become. Almost 1 year later, we’re definitely a lot clearer about what’s important to us, so we’ll be revisiting this very soon.

We also completely redesigned and relaunched our own website in just 5 days–our very first official ‘sprint’ as a team together, including daily standups and a focused timeline to ship a working site.

The finished site

After a brilliant 3 weeks in KL, we took off again, taking a short flight further north in Malaysia to Penang, where we hit a goal we’ve been trying to reach for the past 4 years. That goal was to build Hanno so that we could take a break as a team and go totally offline without causing major problems. As I said at the time:

"The biggest win was… Succeeding in scheduling projects so that the majority of the team could be rewarded with a very well-deserved 4-day break, where we were offline virtually the whole time, with no detriment to projects, was a huge personal goal ticked off my list."

We think that this was a real tipping point in terms of the maturity of the business, and one of those hurdles that we had to overcome in order to grow up a little and become more stable. Now that we’ve hit it, we’re in a far better position as a team, and indeed, we’re planning to repeat it again. Next month, we’ll be heading to Buenos Aires for our team retreat (just 10 days, this time!), and then a few of us are taking another ‘off grid’ break to go hiking in Patagonia. It’s hard for me to emphasise just how big a deal this is for us, to have created the ability to do this without having any negative impact on the work we’re doing for our clients.

Another long-term goal we hit in January was raising team pay. We managed to boost this by about 20% for everyone except myself. A definite milestone on the path to building a company that we think can stick around for the long haul.


For the second stage of the team trip, we flew over to Hong Kong, where the team spent the final 2 weeks of the trip working out of the Hive. It was another incredible experience from a personal perspective, and while we were there, we stepped up a level with the projects we were doing, getting stuck into more and more UX prototyping and consulting for web apps, as well as tackling some tricky development projects.

It was an intense and challenging month being based out of a small (but beautiful) co-working space and dealing with the extra burden of hectic city life and a very cramped living space together.

Our apartment was appropriately described as ‘cosy’ by our AirBnb hosts.


In March, we made a little bit of a change to the type of work we took on. We began working on more frontend-specific projects, and with more startups, and took a shift away from doing as much backend work as we had done in the past. We made the call to focus more explicitly on frontend and UX design work, because we felt that suited our strength as a team, as well as what our clients were starting to tell us they needed.

That meant that we decided to part ways with a couple of clients, and also started working with some long-term collaborators a little bit less. We also decided to break away from a very long-term client of ours who had been responsible for about 40% of our revenue for the last 2-3 years, going right back to when myself and Sergei freelanced together.

It was a tough decision to make, and we were aware of the risk we were taking. But we reasoned that in order to take the step up to where we needed to be in the long term, we needed to shift to working with a different type of client, one who was more open to working in the collaborative way we’d been trialling. As hard as it was to leave behind some great people on the client’s end, we all felt that it was the right decision to make. And thankfully that choice has been vindicated throughout the rest of the year.


Two men using laptop
A little design pairing

A little before he officially joined the team, we began working with Marcel a few days a week. We helped out Uber a little more, and also focused heavily on improving the way we structured the team internally, documenting and tweaking our process to be stronger and better suited to the new clients we were looking to take on.


In May, we launched a major push towards being more open and transparent about what we do. We combined this with a marketing masterplan that we built as a team, to get our brand and team more visible. We wrote more case studies, reworked content on our website, and started amping up the way we were using social media, to experiment more and find out what would work for us.

And Marcel and Matt continued to build our public presence a little, with a talk on ‘Working Without Boundaries’ at Valencia Startups. Public speaking and attending events is something we’re going to be doing a lot more of in 2015.

The nature of the work I was doing at Hanno also changed pretty dramatically at this point. Up till now, I’d always been deeply involved in client projects, but here, with Marcel around to help take the load on technical tasks and scale up his workload, I shifted totally, to work on internal team-building, and also doing a lot of writing. This led to a major spike in the number of articles on this blog, and kick-started a much bigger focus on writing and sharing by the whole team. That really paid off during the rest of the year, and our public output was much more visible.


Arnas in Bali

A few weeks earlier, Arnas relocated to Bali, joining Jon on Asian timezones, and our team got a little more distributed again:

"Where in the world is Hanno today? We’re in the UK, Spain, Russia, Hungary, Malaysia and, somewhat glamorously, Bali, Indonesia." @wearehanno

And right after that, the whole team started to shift locations with a lot more frequency as we went into the summer, with several of us deciding to take advantage of being able to travel and work more freely without being tied to a single location.

We also built our first internal product–an internal app called “Porthole” built with Ruby on Rails, to automate a lot of our internal tracking and reporting, and to massively help simplify the process of managing projects and keeping our work on budget. Ironically, we ended up phasing this out a few months later because the clarity we got from building it and the problems it highlighted, helped us to understand exactly how we needed to change the way the business operated.


A year after we first met in Valencia, Marcel officially became a shipmate. It was fantastic to be able to finally welcome him on board as a more regular team member. Needless to say, the experience of working with him has been brilliant, and he has made the team far stronger with his technical skills and experience.

We introduced OKRs. This isn’t actually something we’ve written about publicly a great deal, but it has been huge for the team, and we’ll be talking about it more in the next few months. The introduction of proper goal tracking was something many of us really needed. It has kept us focused on both work goals, and also personal improvements and since introducing them, we’ve all improved very dramatically.

I took a trip to San Francisco to meet both friends and clients, and finally had the opportunity to meet the ZIRX team, who would later become great clients of ours.


In August, we started working with ZIRX properly. Off the back of a blog I wrote about Asana, we managed to find a great team who have been fantastic to work with. That little moment of serendipity led onto a few months of really successful sprints. On the project itself, we delivered a massive amount: a new website, brand identity, billboard designs, apparel and marketing, even co-ordinating a video shoot.

The ZIRX project was also the point at which we made a huge change to the way we billed and structured projects, and we parted ways with several more older clients. This was a really positive step for us: saying no, and finding better homes for these clients, gave us the time and space to do a better job.

We’re now working with many more funded startups, which is a better fit for the skills that our team has, and allows us to do our best work. It’s better all-round.

Making this shift has also dramatically reduced our work hours. Personally speaking, I’d been working at least 10-12 hours a day for the past few years, taking very few holidays. When we made this shift, the whole team dropped down to 8 hours of work per day, which made a huge difference to the quality of life for the team.


As we moved into the last few months of the year, fresh off the back of a few great summer months on several projects, we increased salaries for the team once again, by an average of +25%.

We also started working with Mirror. Having first spoken to them several months earlier, we finally kicked off a major project with them this month.

To help out with the Mirror project and improve the quality of our work, Hiong also joined the team as a collaborator, helping us to bring Design Thinking into the way we work on projects, and also getting involved with running much deeper user research than we’d done previously.

Sergei relocated to Asia for a couple of months, meeting up with both Jon and Arnas. We relaunched the Hanno website once again with a fresh batch of case studies and a new UI iteration to tighten up our brand.

Zsolt embarked on his ‘accidental world tour’, repeating the path of our original team trip and flying out to Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong and Singapore, before spending a few weeks in Bali. That was followed up by a short-notice trip to visit the Mirror team, and a stopover in New York before he headed back. Another win for remote working!


Another big month for us, in which we took the transparency we’d been building over the last few months to the next step, and released our Playbook. The announcement got some major attention for us, and it was tweeted and written about by lot of people in the industry, sending plenty of traffic our way. But it wasn’t just about the publicity–putting this together was also a major accomplishment for us. The Playbook is for the team as much as anyone else, and it was great to finally document a lot of what was previously unwritten, to allow us to improve it more and more from here.

We also secured access to a line of funding in case we needed it, and turned down another one from a crowdfunding platform. We’ve still not actually drawn that down, but it was a positive step towards our long-term stability and will allow us to take a few more calculated risks in 2015.


Marcel leading his workshop at UX Malaysia

Marcel had a very busy month, speaking first at Codemotion in Madrid, and then immediately jetting off to Kuala Lumpur to join Jon and Sergei at UX Malaysia, successfully hitting his personal goal of speaking at 3 conferences in 2014.

Our shipmate @marcelkalveram will be speaking about @hoodiehq at @codemotion_es today. Say hello if you’re there! @wearehanno

Building our brand internationally had been a long-term goal, to make us a little stronger and to help avoid being focused on the US and Europe for our client work. And UX Malaysia was a great conference which we were proud to sponsor. Equally important, Marcel tried durian for the first time:


We rounded up the year with a couple more final sprints on ongoing projects, getting everything into shape for 2015.

Internally, we spent a lot of time building upon our open salary formula that we’d first introduced a few months beforehand. A new version of that is in the works, with better metrics and even more of an emphasis on the financial culture we want to create as a team, and the new salaries we defined in here will kick in in a couple of months.

And to bookend the year with another achievement, we decided that after something of an intense year, it would be healthy for the whole team to get a bit of downtime to plan their goals for the next year, work on personal projects, and get some rest and recovery time in. We all took a 2 week break to close out the year and make sure that we were in a strong position to kick off 2015. Another goal achieved which, sadly enough, would have been hard to even imagine a couple of years ago. Progress, for sure.

So, where are we at now?

A year later, there are now seven of us, and we’re in London, Valencia, Kuala Lumpur, Gran Canaria, Russia and Bali. Several of the team also spent many months living and working away from their homes at the start of the year, or even to move countries entirely to live on the other side of the world.

It has been a hard year, and a challenging one too, in terms of the work we’ve put into making the team stronger. But it’s undeniable that the progress we’ve made as a team this year and the things we’ve figured out along the way about how to live and work better together, have made us much better at what we do. While there is definitely a lot that we want to improve, I think this last year has been the biggest step forward that we’ve taken since we started up, both in terms of the success and stability of Hanno, and also with how much we’ve learnt and improved as individuals.

There were worries and uncertainties at times, for sure. Making the decision to part ways with long-term clients is always going to be a little bit of a gamble. But even in the process of trying to write a year in review that’s in the same spirit of transparency that we’ve tried to make our trademark this year, it’s hard to pinpoint very many events which were truly negative.

The good has vastly outweighed the bad, and the figures back that up. Revenue is up by about 95% on 2013’s totals. Profit increased by about 100%.

We’re particularly excited about the revenue figure here, because our key goal isn’t to make as much profit as possible for our shareholders or investors (since we don’t have any of those). This means that while profit is still a useful measure of how stable we are as a business, and is obviously critical in the long-term, revenue is in some ways more important. That’s because the vast majority of our operating costs (over about 85-90%) go towards making sure our team and the people we work with are paid well.

We started the year with the goal of raising team pay. Without this, we would have no chance of surviving as a business in the long-term. For me to be able to end the year and say that we have managed to do so by at least +75% for everyone on the team apart from myself, is something I’m really proud that we’ve achieved. It’s even more pleasing when you know that those earning the least last year, actually got a +200% increase in pay.

Aside from anything financial, the quality of our work (which is a more subjective criteria, but an important one nevertheless) is much higher. That’s the feedback we’ve been getting from clients and their users on a regular basis.

So we’d like to thank all of clients, friends and everyone we’ve been lucky enough to meet, talk to and work with this year, for helping to make it such a great year. Let’s hope that 2015 can be an even better one!

Posted by
Jon Lay

Jon is a Partner at Hanno. He wears many hats, but his primary focus is on leading our engineering and technical operations.