Singlebrook is a custom web software consulting services firm here in Ithaca, NY. We do a combination of building out custom web applications and custom websites for clients that are all over the world. We are a certified woman-owned business and B Corp (benefit-corp), which means we’re a for-profit company but we also certify ourselves for a very high standard of social and environmental performance.
We are mainly solving technical problems for our clients. Usually they need to accomplish something over the web, and we help by building out a piece of custom software that achieves an internal goal for them or improves efficiency on some level. In other cases, we create an external-facing website that solves a marketing problem for clients or engages their stakeholders in some way.
There are a couple of ways in which we’re trying to push the boundaries of what’s possible in the tech space. One way is through our social and environmental missions. We try to be good role models for others in the tech industry by organizing a lot of programs that engage community members. That includes everything from doing volunteer programs where we involve other B Corps, to doing a hackathon for social good, or helping with an environmental project locally. We’ve recently volunteered with the Youth Farm Project, Finger Lakes Land Trust, Loaves & Fishes, and Ithaca Children’s Garden. We’ve also volunteered with B Corps throughout the state, but our focus of course is in Ithaca and the Central NY region.
It’s good for everyone if we can increase the level of diversity in the industry.
The other space that we’re really passionate about is women in tech, so we recently started an organization called Women In Tech In Central NY. We’ve had a couple of meetups to get to know women in this space, pull some people out of the woodwork, and begin to organize workshops within this community we’re starting to build. There are many, many studies that show that companies with diverse teams do better financially, and create better products, so it’s good for everyone if we can increase the level of diversity in the industry. So that’s another focus of ours and something we’re actively working on as well.
The types of clients we work with currently are in higher education (Cornell, Yale, University of New England, Pace, online universities), the nonprofit and social enterprises sectors (Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund), and some corporations (a couple Fortune 500 companies), and startups.
There are a couple of different initiatives that I’m engaged with right now. I’m doing customer research for a product that we’re doing on the side called CourseQ, which is a messaging platform for higher education. Then there’s the customer research that we do for Singlebrook on an ongoing basis where we basically poll and survey our customers to see how we’re performing for them. We’ve mainly learned about how to best improve our communication with customers, and that has been invaluable.
Some of the resources include Rev: Ithaca Startup Works and the Rev Passenger to Pilot Women In Entrepreneurship program. We’ve really enjoyed participating in that. The Cornell University Diverse Supplier program and Upstate Venture Connect (UVC) are also great organizations in the region. UVC runs StartFast and UNY50, and focuses a lot in general on developing the entrepreneurial ecosystem across Central NY. More locally, we’re involved in the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce and then TCAD has also been a tremendous organization in terms of helping our business and the community organizing that we do.
The P2P program has been a phenomenal group of mentors and coaches as well as just an amazing group of women to have as peers. We’ve had great success in terms of meeting our goals, and had one of our best years ever financially during the time we were participating in the program. It’s been great in terms of providing an extra layer of accountability for everything we’re doing, and to have a group to discuss ideas with. I’m very self-motivated, but found it valuable to have a group I had to check in with every couple of weeks.
We work to impact the community by not just building our business, but also by building the entire entrepreneurial and technical ecosystem around the area. We’ve started groups like Ithaca Venture Community, which we grew from two of us, myself and Chirag Desai from IVR Technology Group, to over 750 entrepreneurs. This was a big accomplishment in the region because it was really hard to find any entrepreneurs when I first moved here 10 years ago. We then moved that community into Rev: Ithaca Startup Works once it opened. We also created the Ithaca Web People meetup, which several of our members built up over the years, and that’s all focused on programmers. There are great talks and fun events open to the community for anyone to learn about technical topics. The newest organization we’ve formed is Women In Tech Central NY, which we hope to grow significantly over the next couple of months.
The P2P program has been a phenomenal group of mentors and coaches as well as just an amazing group of women to have as peers. We’ve had great success in terms of meeting our goals, and had one of our best years ever financially during the time we were participating in the program.
The biggest area, which is also kind of a strength, is that we focus very deeply on the technical side of things, which means marketing/branding problems are not our particular specialty area. For projects that come to us with more of a marketing/branding component, we like to partner with other great firms in the area. It’s great to have firms that serve both of those different functions.
We measure our success across several metrics: obviously the financial metrics, how our team is doing–how engaged and happy they are and whether they’re thriving, how engaged we are with our community, and what we’re doing to serve our environment. That’s why we have programs operating at all of those different levels. We pay our team to volunteer in the community and make sure we’re achieving those different layers of success as well because that’s part of being a B Corp.
We’ve had really steady, profitable growth through the years, so our numbers are on a good growth trajectory. Things like implementing open-book management, which is a pretty unusual concept but it’s fairly popular in the B Corp community in which we’re a part, have made our numbers even better and helped our team meet our numbers for success. The idea is to achieve a greater level of transparency around finances and a greater level of ownership of finances by the team, not just by the owners. With open-book management, the owners don’t report on company finances–the team members do. The employees have to achieve a higher level of financial literacy, and everyone is then thinking about, owning, and understanding all of the important business metrics and the key performance indicators.
“Hire slowly, fire quickly.” That’s one I wish I had gotten really early on in my entrepreneurial journey. When someone’s really not a good fit for the company, you should part ways with them faster. It’s good to be really careful about hiring decisions so you can have the right team members early on. That’s pretty critical in a custom services company where the team is everything. We’re proud of the team we’ve built through the years, and we’ve come up with really great practices for finding phenomenal tech talent, and that’s not an easy thing to do.
I really like the “just do it,” lean startup, “fail fast” kind of approach. My advice for most entrepreneurs is, if you have an idea, start small, start experimenting, get out there and start doing it right away. So you don’t need to spend a ton of time pondering, thinking about it, or doing long, involved surveys or things like that. It’s more about getting your prototype out there early, making mistakes, experimenting, learning from the data. It’s something we’ve done throughout our organization over the years. We believe in experimenting and learning from those experiments.
Our mantra is, “Code with love.” It reflects our passion for programming and for technical craftsmanship, and also our commitment to doing good work for the community. It’s really important to us that we spread love around to the employees, the community, our clients, and vendors.