8 Years In, Knowing What We Want



Sei-Wook and I incorporated Barrel on June 1, 2006. Today marks 8 years since that day.

I was 23 and Sei-Wook was 21 when we started. We had no relevant work experience except we had made websites for school clubs and very small nonprofits. We tinkered with some startup ideas of our own but ultimately failed to gain any traction. We didn’t know what we wanted, but we liked making stuff for the web and having our own company. We had no real idea of how to run a business. We paid ourselves enough to get by and found ways to make rent on our small office. We were stressed out a lot and worked long hours, but we were also having fun. We kept at it.

Eight years later, there are many reasons to be happy and proud. We have a talented 30-person team of professionals who care deeply about their work. We have opportunities to work on cool and interesting projects for a diverse set of clients. We have an office environment and a culture that promotes collaboration, open communication, and sharing. I’m very grateful for all these things, and a part of me is glad that we were so naive to start a company in the first place and dogged enough to keep going even when times were tough.

Looking back, the questions we asked ourselves for much of company’s existence have been How questions. How do we run a business? How do we make a nice website? How do we find good people? How do we manage people? These questions allowed us to tackle important challenges and build up our business. However, How questions are about taking action and striving for concrete results. They avoid dealing with less concrete topics like purpose and motivation. Sei-Wook and I wanted to know where we were headed as a company. We had to sit down and ask ourselves the questions that made us uncomfortable and seemed less actionable. Some of these included:

  • What’s the purpose of our organization? Why do we exist?
  • What do we care about?
  • Who do we serve and why?
  • Where do we see ourselves going?
  • What gets us excited?
  • What pisses us off?
  • What makes us unique?

Thinking through questions like these and having conversations both among ourselves and with our team members helped us to answer a very big question: “What do we want?”

Today, Sei-Wook and I have a clearer idea of what we want. This is a welcome development. We know where we want to go and why we want to go there. We’ll continue to make things for the web and have fun like we did 8 years ago, but we’ll also understand how the things we do day-to-day contribute to the building of a company and culture that we know we really want. We’re working to refine the details of our vision, but we have a good idea of the things that matter to us. Some of the themes include:

  • Continuing to improve and build a workplace where people are fully engaged, learning new skills, and fulfilled by the work they do.
  • Career advancement opportunities for our employees through new roles within the organization and long-term leadership training.
  • Strengthening our communications architecture that promote a culture of openness and candid feedback both top-down and bottom-up.
  • Providing world-class client services through inspired design and cutting-edge technology.
  • Robust finances, strong cash position, and smart growth.
  • Expanding the business beyond client services in a way that fits our mission.

We’re excited by the challenges that await us as we work to make our vision a reality. We understand that our vision may evolve over time, and that’s okay. The important thing is that we continue to ask ourselves what it is that we truly want and why it matters to us.

We know the ride’s not always going to be smooth. We’ll have moments of self-doubt and uneasiness. But we’re driven by the opportunity to serve our clients and our employees, and we’ll keep at it.

A big thank you to our team, our clients, our family, and our friends. Here’s to another year.

  • ejordanill

    Nice. What a victory!

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