How Dave Devitt Has Doubled Sales Yearly Despite A Bad Economy

by Tim Jahn on January 7, 2011

Dave Devitt used to work full time as a lead developer at healthcare company.  He started picking up some side projects, and after 8 years, he was working on those side projects just as much as his full time job.

Dave left his full time gig and started SYDCON Web Development.  He’s been doubling sales every year since.  I interviewed Dave to find out how he does it.

Transcript

Tim Jahn: So in 2008, you were working for a healthcare company as their lead web developer and you decided to quit and start your own web development company. And now you’re saying in 2010 is your best year ever. And how good is 2010?

Dave Devitt: Well 2010 has been an incredible year for us here. We’ve in terms of sales, we’ve doubled what we did last year in 2009 and 2009 was our best year ever prior to that. We had more that doubled the previous year before that. So we’ve had no complaints here, we’ve had great success this year and we hope to keep it going into 2011.

Tim Jahn: What would you say is the biggest factor towards you guys doubling, tripling sales? I mean, you guys are only what two years, three years old now.

Dave Devitt: Well, we’re technically three years old in terms of me being fulltime. A lot of the contributing factors are to the fact that we really found our niche market and that has helped us tremendously.

We used to be not only a web development company, web designing company and web development company but we’ve really focused now for the most part on just development and providing programming services to the clients that need programming done.

Tim Jahn: Gotcha. So, your concentration of finding a niche you think is part of the reason that you guys are doing so well?

Dave Devitt: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely.

Tim Jahn: So in 2008, you decided to quit and start doing this fulltime, your own web development company. Why did you leave your fulltime?

Dave Devitt: Well, when I first started web development it was back in ’98 or ’99. And we, the company, the healthcare company that I worked for were, they do a lot of charity work and they basically asked me if I would do a few side jobs for them. They were going to pay me for my time to work outside of my fulltime job to do these projects.

So I took them on and that kind of went from being gas money to being I always say this, to being gas money and to being a vacation, to being where I need to make a decision am I going to stay at the company or am I going to do this. And back in 2008 I had a few guys working for me already and I just decided at that point that something had to give.

Am I going to continue this and take the next step or am I going to stop all together and not do it anymore because when I would get home from my fulltime job, I would eat dinner and then go onto my part time job. And that was a bear for almost two years. So I had to make a decision. Am I going to do this for good, for fulltime or am I not going to do it at all? And knock on wood, it worked out. You know, I jumped and everything has been going real well.

Tim Jahn: So, the thing that had to give was your fulltime job itself.

Dave Devitt: Exactly yes. My fulltime job with benefits and all the perks and all that gave.

Tim Jahn: So how long was it between when the company first started asking you to do side projects until you decided you had to make the jump and leave that job behind?

Dave Devitt: Well, it was a good six or seven years actually. I probably could have done it sooner. I probably could have done it in more like ’06 or ’07 but there was a fear factor in there. You know, I had a comfortable job, I mean, I had security, I had great benefits and I didn’t want to leave.

You know, I really loved what I did at that job and I — it was definitely a difficult decision to make. But, and also my family was a consideration. My wife didn’t want to — she had the security too and you know we didn’t know what was going to happen because it could have went the other way.

Tim Jahn: Absolutely. Especially at the time, around the time you guys were starting. I imagine that had to be scary. I mean, was your wife on board from the beginning or did she take come convincing?

Dave Devitt: It took a little bit of convincing because you know we had a solid foundation, we really did. We — it wasn’t like I opened a hot dog stand up not knowing anything about what I’m doing. So I had the knowledge of what I needed to do and you know, what we needed to do to go forward and not have to be worried about what’s going to happen.

So but there was some convincing on her end. She was scared, I was scared too. You know, we have three kids and they’re the boss basically and we have to, or they’re the stockholders, we have to show them a profit basically. And that’s food on the table. So it was a tough decision but I wanted to do it. I wanted to do it. I’m not a person who — you know I always wanted to do more and I could do more at my job but I wanted to do more for me and my family.

Tim Jahn: I think a lot of people are under the impression that you just jump and you start your own company and all is well. But it took you six or seven years to even get to the point where you realize that was an option. What was that like? I mean, were you coming home and working after dinner for six and seven years straight or did it slowly build you know —

Dave Devitt: Yeah, it slowly built. I mean the first couple years obviously I didn’t have consistent jobs but I did have some recurring things where I did some web work for an event out in the northwestern suburbs here that was an annual event. And that kind of helped things to because I knew ever April I was going to have some consistent side work.

And so — and then I got jobs off of that too. So it was this word of mouth thing. And I started hooking up with some designers who I knew from my job and they had side jobs. And so they needed a programmer. And so it just kind of snowballed into a fulltime thing where back in ’02,’03, ’04 was, it was just a play thing if you want; it was a hobby. And because I really liked doing it I love to program and that point it was a hobby and it still is a hobby because I program at night now even on things.

So it was — it did ramp up into things and then it — back in ’05 or ’06 I don’t really remember, I had to start adding people to help me because I didn’t have enough time. And at that point was when I started thinking, you know, hey this might be an option eventually to do this fulltime.

Tim Jahn: What would you say has been the most difficult moment in the past six or seven years in terms of building the business?

Dave Devitt: The most difficult moment for me is the business end of it. The stuff that goes along with collections and trying to get people to pay you and all the stuff that I never signed up for that I never thought was going to happen. And that’s probably the most, that the thing that bothers me the most about the business. The business functions of it.

Tim Jahn: It’s funny that you mentioned that because that happened to me too. You’re so passionate about something and then you decide to turn it into a legal business and all of a sudden there’s all these tasks that didn’t exist yesterday —

Dave Devitt: Right exactly.

Tim Jahn: — that like you said your passion’s programming so you don’t want to be doing accounting, you don’t want to be doing sales. How do you deal with that? I mean, when that happened, and you realize that you have all this stuff to do now, what was the next step?

Dave Devitt: Well, I mean, the next step was actually to get my wife more involved because, seriously because at first it was basically just me and I had my programming functions and it was pretty small scale at the time and I could manage that. And then it got to the point where I can’t.

So, you know, we, she’s basically fulltime sales and, sales and marketing and she gets us the jobs and we work well together in regards to her setting it up and then us coming in and actually doing the work, or specing out the project, scoping it out. So we had to get to that progression where everything was not on my plate. Because nothing would get done then. If I’m invoicing all the time or if I’m making sales calls, all that’s stuff, we would never get anything done.

Tim Jahn: Yeah, it’s so important I think to delegate and kind of concentrate on what you are good at.

Dave Devitt: And my role has been — like I said, I love programming. But my role has in programming has become less and less and less actually. And not that I like it. I mean, I like to program but it’s more of the account management stuff at this point. You know where I am delegating the programming off to one of our programmers and I’m just the point person for the, between the client and the programmer.

Tim Jahn: What was that like when you decided that you had enough work going around that you needed to hire other people to supplement the work you’re already doing?

I mean, you’re a programmer, you’ve been programming for a long time. You probably have a quality, a standard of work that you like associated with your name. What was it like all of a sudden having to hire other people to do work that essentially your name is attached to? I mean, how did you even go about doing that?

Dave Devitt: Well, I interviewed a lot of people. And I did have, I wanted to see sample code from anybody that we hired that was a programmer. You know, I had to see sample code and they had to, you know make it because you can — a programmer can make something in a spaghetti bowl and you, somebody has to be able to hand that over to another programmer and be able to read it efficiently and know what’s going on. So there was a lot of going back and forth when we decided to hire these guys, how did they work? They had to fit what we needed.

Tim Jahn: Did it take a long time?

Dave Devitt: Yes, it did. It took a decent amount of time, it took a decent amount — there were some people that I liked that it, they wanted more of a project management role versus you know, a programmers role and stuff like that.

So they were guys that I would have hired but they weren’t looking for the same thing that we needed. You know, we — when we hire somebody typically we need a programmer. And you can count on programming from eight to five.

Tim Jahn: You mentioned about finding your niche in terms of that you guys realized that you were more of a programming shop and that that’s where your strengths are and that’s where the business can come from. What was the process like in terms of finding that niche or in terms of focusing in on that? Or did it just happen accidently and you realized one day that’s where you should be?

Dave Devitt: It kind of happened accidently because you know, going into this, I thought that we were going to be the areas web design company. And meaning we’re going to start a website from scratch and deliver it to the web. And the full finished product. But I found out here where we live that not many businesses focus too much on that. They didn’t place a lot of importance on their website.

If they had one, they were happy with. It could of looked like it came from 1995, and they were okay with it as long as they had one. So I kind of knew that this wasn’t going to work out this way then. And a long those lines when I was still at the healthcare job, like I mentioned previously there were designers there and I ended up doing some work for them because they had outside jobs.

So it’s started clicking in our head you know, hey why don’t we focus on design companies or designers and they can do what they love to do, we can do what we love to do and we can create something really good. So back in ’04 or ’05 is when we really knew we had to focus on shops that don’t have programmers.

Tim Jahn: Gotcha. What’s one piece of advice you’d have for someone who was in your shoes, they would come home from nine to five everyday and working after dinner for four years, five years and they realized there might be something here. What’s your one piece of advice for them?

Dave Devitt: I would say, you know go for it. I mean, just because of the fact that I made it work and I don’t consider my self Bill Gates or anything like that, so if I could do it, anybody could do it. And if they really love it, they’ll make it work.

And the advice I guess the bottom line, my advice is to actually go for it. Because I’m proof that in a bad economy you can make something work and happen and be successful at it.

Check out all our interviews with entrepreneurs!

Join our newsletter and get everything Unpluggd!