10 Years And Up
This February, 10up celebrates its 10th anniversary. That’s ten years since I sat down alone in a small home office in Rhode Island, and decided I was ready to start this business.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 30% of businesses reach the 10-year mark. It’s a milestone that has us looking back at our journey from a company of one to a team of more than 230 talented specialists, and looking ahead to the next 10 years.
To kick start some of this reflection, we asked the team if anyone wanted to share what 10up means to them today. Here are just a few clips from those who volunteered to record their thoughts.
A Ten Year Arc
As with many ventures, 10up’s story has a lot to do with timing. Circa 2010, WordPress was rapidly ascending from a basic CMS oriented towards publishing posts and user experience to a flexible CMS with the makings of an excellent general site platform: content types, rich metadata, robust developer capabilities, and so on. A growing grassroots community and developer ecosystem (byproducts of its open nature), nurtured and underwritten by its co-founder’s commercial business, along with impressive adoption, were reminiscent of the success of open-source web pioneers like Drupal and even Linux.
The Drupal and Linux markets were partly defined by early entrants in the white glove service business model — companies like Lullabot and Red Hat — who established themselves as de facto providers of record for larger customers. While their technologies were differentiators, each served a bigger purpose for customers. I hypothesized that there was space for such a business invested in WordPress, and positioned 10up to take on that role. We did not pioneer the commercial services + open-source technologies business model, but we did build on it successfully with select partnerships, thought leadership, enterprise-caliber customer service, and active contribution to the open-source software (OSS) our business was building itself on.
Our success was also characterized by a dogmatic approach to growth planning, inspired by mentors accumulated during my more than 10 years in service businesses before starting 10up. We never treated opportunity like a zero-sum game. From early on, we were always hiring and planting seeds for future projects. When our CEO, John Eckman, joined 10up in 2014, he described our tirelessness by quoting Mario Andretti: “If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.” Ten years in, reflecting on our journey, and the journey of the ecosystem around us, it’s hard to not be humbled.
- In early 2011, the notion of WordPress as an enterprise website platform, especially outside of the newsroom, was at best a niche curiosity. Today WordPress powers 40% of websites and 30% of the Fortune 100. With rich digital content creation more important than ever, WordPress is now reimagining page composition with a new generation of tools that make complex layouts approachable.
- In our early years, we often used the White House website as an aspirational project speaking to the idea that we always had a plan to say yes to our idealized opportunities. This past fall, on the precipice of our 10 year anniversary, we were a development partner for a new WhiteHouse.gov.
- Early on, I was proud of our smattering of WordPress contributions and plugins by myself and early 10uppers like our first hire: an engineer named Helen Hou-Sandi. Today, 10up is one of the largest contributors to WordPress, and Helen is our Director of Open Source Initiatives. This past year, she helped lead the release of WordPress 5.6 — the third release she’s led.
- My first plugin integrated a now-discontinued Google service with WordPress (R.I.P. Google Reader) — a service by a brand I admired then and now. Today, 10up is working hand-in-hand with Google on their official WordPress integration for their most popular services for website managers.
10up was also among the early pioneers of remote work. For years, building a remote company at scale was somewhat of a novelty (especially as more than an affiliation of freelancers); today companies around the globe are embracing the model.
We now have team members scattered across 6 continents and 27 countries. It has been incredibly rewarding to watch 10uppers that have been with us since our first and second year grow. And while it can sometimes be bittersweet, we’ve also been proud to see some go on to have outsized impacts elsewhere, often after industry-defying tenures here. And it has been gratifying to welcome so many back after career detours. It has also been inspiring to see so many I once viewed as competitors become some of our best collaborators, friends, and, sometimes, members of our team.
Just year 10
As with years past, 10up was privileged to experience another healthy year, especially given the unexpected headwinds presented by 2020.
Revenue and Team Growth. While the pandemic did cause some unavoidable client churn and other disruptions, 10up maintained profitability and grew revenue by 10%+ over 2019. We added dozens of new clients and expanded our largest engagements, bringing five clients into annual seven-figure partnerships. We maintained intentional revenue diversification, with our largest client accounting for only 8.5% of company revenue, and expanded and diversified our team’s geographic footprint with new 10uppers in Mexico, Spain, and the UK, among other locations.
Our European (or EMEA) division increased revenue 35% year-over-year, adding six new clients, expanding the team by nearly 30%, and growing its footprint in the Middle East. Clients spanned nine different countries across financial services, education, publishing, and startups. We launched more than 14 redesigns — including politico.eu and theweek.co.uk — expanded native app development projects and capabilities, and once again proudly supported the Nobel Prize announcements.
Experience Design (XD) Practice. 10up is a UX first agency, and our XD growth reflects that. The UX Design team grew by 40%, the Visual Design team expanded with more women in design and leadership roles, and a new Content Design team formalized our content strategy and production services. Highlights include publication on the Adobe XD blog and Smashing Magazine, and the launch of the redesigned California DMV website and brand language, which won government design awards.
Managed Services, which provides productized services, SaaS offerings, and cloud infrastructure expertise, partnered with WP Engine to make ElasticPress.io their official Elasticsearch integration provider and doubled the number of customers for SiteWatch, our proactive website maintenance and support product. ElasticPress — the free plugin behind our search service — saw major feature upgrades, including search term highlighting and a synonym dashboard. Building on our partnership with AWS, this team successfully helped Los Angeles County — overwhelmed by COVID-19 online needs — establish and migrate to scalable, durable infrastructure overnight.
Our Audience & Revenue (A&R) Practice, which helps clients use digital to grow their bottom line, saw ~90% of our enterprise clients leverage capabilities including conversion strategy, SEO, SEM, and analytics. After becoming a Google Ad Manager 360 Partner, we launched AcceleRev, which helps small and mid-sized publishers maximize online ad revenue. In its first year, AcceleRev generated ~$1.6M in revenue for its clients, with 13% average month-over-month growth. Our Google News Initiative partnership expanded to include two new revenue labs, including the GNI Ad Transformation Lab that directly supports Black- and Latino-owned news publishers serving underrepresented communities in the U.S. and Canada.
Our Open Source Practice increased its donation by ~30%, investing 6,500+ hours across 50+ releases and 30+ projects. Fifteen 10uppers contributed to WordPress 5.4, 5.5, and 5.6, and our Director of Open Source Initiatives led an all-women and non-binary release squad as Core Tech Lead for 5.6. ClassifAI, now a WordPress VIP technology partner, added image capabilities like smart cropping and OCR. Distributor, downloaded thousands of times, added enhancements including a setup wizard and Site Health integration. Hobby projects, like Block for Apple Maps, pushed the envelope on block experiences — and became one of the first plugins added to the Block Directory. We also rolled out a site for the Eight Day Week web-to-print plugin and released Ad Refresh Control.
Stepping Into The Next 10 Years
Innovation and creativity are two of our core values at 10up, and I expect they will be at the heart of our next 10 years.
Creativity manifests every day in our ambition to solve foundational client challenges using digital expertise. As we think about the landscape over the next 10 years, I expect this “creative / idea economy” function to be even more central at 10up — a more consultative, experience design focused 10up. For a digital services business to grow for, say, 20 years, the expertise to navigate a changing and vast landscape — bringing together the vast array of services we’ve internalized and capabilities we can’t yet imagine — will only become more essential. What will a website look like in 10 years? Will websites even be a dominant medium for consuming content?
Great execution — code, design assets, data dashboards — will also remain endemic, especially as customers’ digital expectations rise, emerging technologies like Machine Learning challenge engineers, data privacy and accessibility become both moral causes and more litigious, and front end technologies become more complex in pursuit of performance and interactivity. Even as we lean harder into strategy and consulting, we will be vigilant about the execution that makes those strategies more than a pipedream. Along those lines, I expect 10up to continue its organic expansion into complementary and adjacent services and capabilities, both internally and through our partnerships.
Innovation won’t just be about expanding the scope of our day-to-day client work, or adopting and experimenting with new platforms and technologies. It also asks that we rethink and even reinvent some traits that made 10up different.
Where remote work was a novel differentiator 10 years ago, it’s now increasingly a norm, especially within professional services. We’ve begun experimenting with ways of thinking about remote work that can enrich the experience for some of our team, without sacrificing our commitment to customer service. We’re already piloting a program offering new, standard schedule alternatives, including 4-day work week configurations. While we’re just beginning this journey, we expect that new kinds of work weeks and work/life balance choices will play a big role in the next decade of work, and we want to be at the forefront — again.
For most of our first decade, giving back mostly meant making time to contribute to major open source projects like WordPress. While we’ll continue to invest in contributing to the projects we count on, the years ahead will also see us continue to invest in building open solutions that 10up is uniquely positioned to add to our communities. We are energized to cultivate a set of tools, services, and solutions that we advance through R&D — extensions to our favorite OSS solutions that solve problems specific to the clients we want to thrive on these platforms. Solutions similar in spirit to ElasticPress, which integrates Elastic technology with WordPress, ClassifAI, which brings AI and machine learning to WordPress, and Distributor, which solves for cross-site content reuse.
Here’s to the next 10.