Futurist Labs is a web and mobile development agency that works with both startups and leading brands such as L’oreal, consulting them on all things digital.
Mark, the owner, is originally an American from San Francisco, who moved from Silicon Valley to Bulgaria. He believes he had found the Silicon Valley of Europe in Bulgaria and doesn’t regret his decision to leave the sunny and rich California.
While living in Bulgaria, Mark became a big fan of Preslava, turbo-folk singer and superstar. He even managed to get to her and pitched her an idea for a project. They ended up creating a custom sticker pack for Preslava and got a lot of attention for it.
However, almost 80% of Futurist Labs clients are based in the US. The team has managed to overcome the time zone difference challenge in the best way possible:
We generally start our days earlier or end them a little later so we have a couple hours to overlap. Secondly, we try to actually make the time difference an advantage. We deliver things at the end of our day, and the beginning of the day for clients. That way, the client has time to go through everything, give feedback, and then we go back to work.
It can often be a more productive work cycle than local teams in the same time zone.
Looking at the numbers above, it is clear that Futurist Labs work mostly as a remote contractor team. Companies often have a prejudice about remote teams, but Futurist Labs have managed to overcome those too.
When clients hear that we’re a remote team in Bulgaria, they may think we’re a bunch of devs in an ex-soviet compound who don’t understand English. Which is why we try to get on a call as soon as possible and show we are quite like them. Also having a native in-house bridges the culture gap and takes away the fear of sending money to ‘Ivan’ in Sofia.
Technology also helps to maintain a good relationship with clients even if they are halfway across the world.
We schedule regular calls to sync with stakeholders while minor issues are discussed in Slack. We also give clients daily or weekly status updates so they know what we’ve been working on. Remote work has never been so easy with today’s collaboration tools. We use them all depending on the client’s needs and setup (Trello, Jira, Productive, Slack, Skype, etc.) We are just another member of the team inside these tools; there is no difference.
Mark believes one of the biggest mistakes agencies make is a lack of empathy towards clients. They tend to make assumptions about them, without trying to understand the client’s situation or their market conditions first. Criticising from afar is a trap everyone falls into easily. What you should focus on is seeing how things work in the big picture so dedicate time to that as well, not just to making things work technically.
Another make it or break it element for agencies is resource management. Mark strongly believes a lot of agencies with good ideas fail early in the beginning because they don’t manage their resources properly. Before implementing Productive, Futurist Labs also struggled with profitability tracking. The profit was not easily visible across projects and it took them a lot of time to calculate it in the first place.
Assessing whether a project is profitable or not is now an easy job for them. They don’t spend hours putting the numbers together, Productive does it for them.
On top of that, they have integrated sales, scheduling, invoicing and project management into a single tool. The development teams love it, now they don’t have to use switch between screens all the time. Their user experience is very simple as well since advanced features such as financial tracking are used by management only.
Mark says he couldn’t imagine running the agency without Productive anymore- it’s vital for all aspects of the business and it has become the dashboard of the company, indicating which parts of the system are healthy and on where they need to keep an eye out.
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