CEO Conversations

The Road Map from Start-Up to Purposeful Profit

Tyrannosaurus Tech’s whimsical brand displays their earnest intention to be a bridge into the mysterious world of technology development. When Richard Simms and Carlos Gonzalez founded Tyrannosaurus Tech they were laser-focused on survival, yet they quickly realized that they wanted to build a company that fulfilled a larger purpose.

In our conversation with co-founder and CEO, Richard Simms, we learned about the simple brilliance of a clear set of core values that guided this fledgling start-up towards a profitable and impactful legacy.

How did you make the transition from a start-up, survival-culture to a more deliberate culture? What did that look like for you and your team?

For better or worse, when we started this company, it was hard to have much of a conscious focus on culture. I think that’s natural for an early business. My partner, Carlos, and I had an entrepreneurial track record and a network in town, but there was a lot of uncertainty. We were just trying to get our feet under us, find clients and win business. We were not super choosy.

Once we were a little further along, we felt like we could pick our heads up a little and think about where we were going. As soon as we had a sustainable business, then we had the earned luxury to think about what more we wanted out of the business and what role that might play in the growth of the team and the business. Like anyone else, we really want to identify with the work we’re doing and feel proud of it, and feel that there’s deeper meaning — what is this business really about?

We all want a good paycheck and a good career path, but they also want to sincerely be excited about the work we’re doing, and feel like what we do on a daily basis is having a positive impact.

As young founders, married and starting families, we asked ourselves big questions about the importance of work. We see in our team and in the today’s larger workforce that there’s a shift, an attempt to anchor some of your personal identity in the real impact of the work you’re doing. I find that certainly amongst my peers. We all want a good paycheck and a good career path, but they also want to sincerely be excited about the work we’re doing, and feel like what we do on a daily basis is having a positive impact.

So, we decided we needed to put a flag in the ground that says who we are.

Learn, Communicate, and Do Good. How did those become your company values and how do they manifest in your daily operations?

So we essentially defined three core cultural tenants which have not changed. I think they are evergreen.

LEARN: Tech is a super dynamic, ever evolving space. To succeed you have to embrace a lifelong learning mentality, so that’s important in our culture. We’re very big on mentorship and supporting others on the team. For instance, we have an apprenticeship program that’s a big part of our culture and our talent pipeline. We bring in very junior level developers for a paid six month apprenticeship that if it goes well, will result in a full time offer. We have a number of people who have been with us a long time that came in through our apprenticeship program. Having LEARN as a value helps foster this expectation for more junior level people to actively seek to level up their skills, and in turn, for more experienced people on the team it defines a clear expectation that they will offer that mentorship, and make themselves available.

Of course, as a company we try to help team members level up. If there’s particular courses or conferences they want to attend to level up on a skill set, we expect them to be proactive about that and we’ll pay for it. It’s all about having an innovation mindset so that we can all learn and be more than just a team of executors.

COMMUNICATE: This one has a couple of facets to it. So much of what we do can be an intimidating black box, especially on the software engineering side. If we’re not making it approachable, really giving customers visibility and involving them in the process, then I think we’re falling short. So externally with customers, having an approachable, accessible, responsible communication style is a big part of our culture.

I think it also translates internally in this more remote era. We’ve always been fairly flexible and maintaining communication has been a lot less painful for us because we were already using web-based collaboration tools so it really doesn’t matter where someone is. I think that the tradeoff is you miss some of the brainstorming in the moment, those interactions when someone right next to you asks to look at this thing on your computer. We’ve tried, really consciously to continue to foster rapport amongst the team using technology and push really hard for our teams to be good communicators, be responsive, and when you hit a road-block ask questions.

For the more junior-level employees or apprentices, we have to make extra sure they feel comfortable raising their hand if they have a question. Do not suffer in silence, because that’s the only sure-fire way to not succeed.

We want to feel fulfilled in our work. When we go home each night and acknowledge that the day may have been stressful but what we are creating will have a positive impact.

DO GOOD: This last one really aligns us. We want to give back and support our community. We want to feel fulfilled in our work. When we go home each night and acknowledge that the day may have been stressful but what we are creating will have a positive impact.

We facilitate regular volunteering for the team. Once a month we try to get the team out for like a half day volunteer event. Last month we were at the Atlanta Community Food Bank, a couple weeks before that we did a Trees Atlanta outing. I think it’s a good change of pace, because we’re so zoned in on our computer screens all day every day.

We are also just very invested in the Atlanta Tech scene. We feel very proud of how dynamic and innovative the scene is here and take our role in it seriously. Historically, we hosted tech meet up events, like my partner Carlos’s ‘Latinos in Tech’ event, to help build community. We recognize that being a software engineer is such a rewarding career path but it’s very hard to get over that initial hurdle and get your first real job in the space. We see a big gap, especially if you’re coming from a less conventional background. Our apprenticeship program has been a real point of pride for us to invest in people with tons of potential and aptitude who simply need help getting through the initial hurdles.

As we’ve become more established, the clients we chose are more of a reflection of our DO GOOD. We have found ourselves getting a lot of work in healthcare, public health and education and realized that not only have we accrued expertise we have a really tangible impact in these areas.

How has this culture impacted retention? Have you experienced the Great Resignation?

It goes back to our core cultural tenants. We’re trying to build a sustainable, growing, healthy business that’s a great place to build your careers and support your family. We love our team. So, I think that in a lot of ways our main focus is taking care of that team, and as it grows, creating a place where they can be happy and fulfilled and well compensated. And then together, we want to use our skill sets to have a tangible, positive impact by partnering our expertise with clients that inspire us.

We’ve been insanely fortunate with retention and turnover, especially over the last several years when things have been so rocky. I think a lot of that is a result of the things that we’re discussing today. Our employees are a lot more aligned with the values and I think that they are on board. That’s evident in our retention, and their excitement in the projects. They have a lot of confidence in us, and they trust our intentions, because we’ve been delivering on those values.

It also has something to do with the way we view compensation. Frankly, a lot of the raises we give are unprompted. It’s just proactive recognition that they are doing great and that we understand their market worth. Or for instance, inflation is super high right now so we gave small but reasonable rises so that living expenses were more sustainable. Year by year we’re going to do a little more and I think they rightfully perceive that we’re invested in them

How do you think the culture decisions impacted customer relationships?

We certainly want to stand for exceptional quality in our work but more than that, I think we want to stand for being good stewards in the technology space. Again this goes back to our core culture tenants.  When we meet with a prospective client we are upfront and honest about the process and try to translate what we see are the steps for success. We turn away as much business as we entertain. We might let a client know that from our experience their idea really needs more customer discovery and investing in the technology at this point is premature. Most of our engagements are very large and sales process is long, and it’s very relationship oriented. I think that most of our business ultimately has come from how we communicate, from the way we conduct ourselves and just establishing trust.

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Richard Simms
CEO, Tyrannosaurus Tech
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