10 years ago, right before the recession hit, I left my full-time job to start my own Software Testing company. With $10k in savings, my basement as my office space and one potential client, I grew an idea into what is today a 50+ person team with 3 locations in the US and some of the best companies in the world on our client list.
In early March 2008 I went to talk to my boss Trevor, Founder and Partner at Nemo Design, to announce that I was leaving my job there to start my own company. His first reaction was to offer me help by providing me a computer, a free space and most importantly an opportunity to do freelance work with Nemo and start a new collaboration. I had not officially left my job yet and I was already talking to my first client.
The idea of starting my own company came from a couple different ideas. The first one was my goal to work for myself by the age of 30. Secondly, after working in QA testing for the past 4 years I wanted to change how QA testing was handled by companies. I wanted to bring my experience as a software tester to the creative and digital industries and make testing part of the process to build better applications.
So on April 1, 2008 I officially started PLUS QA. I purchased a couple PC machines (on craigslist) and three iMacs so I could triple check the bugs I found on different machines. At that point I was not trying to build a multi-million dollar company. I just wanted to work with companies whose work I admired and enjoyed working with. To this day, it’s something I try to pass on to my team and this is also why we have worked with some of the same clients for more than 7 years now. During the first couple of years I began working with some of the best creative agencies in Portland including Nemo, Instrument and Swift Collective. I am grateful to these companies and their founders for giving me a chance and continuing to work with us today.
The transition from testing Web to Mobile apps
In 2010, I hired a couple part-time testers to help me (one of them still works with us today). Once we started testing our first iOS app the workload began to slowly increase and a couple years later we were a team of 8.
At that time the company phone number listed on the website was my personal cell number so all calls would go straight to me. In addition to testing, project managing, printing and tracking invoices, being a network admin, and a small company owner, I was also the receptionist. With zero experience in sales I had to figure out how to handle everything from on-boarding clients to sending them the final invoice.
In 2012, I decided to purchase some Android devices and we got ourselves familiar with all aspects of Android app testing. Back then the majority of our clients were building iOS apps but we took a bet on Android and it turned to be a good choice. Within a couple of years half of the apps we were testing were for Android users and we expanded our device coverage from two Android devices to more than 30. Today our extensive device library includes over 300 desktop and mobile devices.
Building a strong and diverse team
In 2011 we started testing a significant number of projects on both Mobile and Web for high visibility brands such as Toyota and Nike. So I decided to hire our first Project Lead to manage testing on a couple projects. He was a former colleague from Intel and he left his job to come work with me. The following year I hired a second Project Manager from Intel (who was my Project Lead when I worked there in 2005). Both of these guys are still part of the team and over the years they have trained and shared their experience with our new team leads who originally started as part-time testers. Today half of our management team is composed of people who started with us as part-time testers, then became full-time testers and now manage projects and teams of testers that range from 5 to 20 people on a daily basis.
We have a lot of young talent on our team but just like any successful soccer team we have more experienced players as well who play an integral part. These players share their experience and guide their teammates which is something we encourage people to do in our company.
In addition to hiring people at different stages of their careers I have always been focused on building a diverse company. More than half of our management team are women and our team includes individuals from 14 different nationalities. While looking for new hires we make an effort to reach out to different circles of people and to make our company a place where everyone can have a place to grow professionally and personally.
Mixing people from various backgrounds and different points of their careers has created a positive atmosphere. Although some of our team members have been here for several years now, we are still challenged every week with new projects that include new technology and really push us to think and test outside the box.
During the first few years I worked long hours. I did not take more than a couple of weeks of vacation per year (for a European that is not much) and I sacrificed evenings and weekends to get my company up and running. In 2010, our first child Maya was born, I spent the first couple nights sleeping on a hospital chair and on the third day I was back testing with a baby by my desk.
As we hired new employees I knew I could not expect the same lifestyle and sacrifice from them. Something I learned from building a team of talented individuals is the importance of respecting people’s personal time and keeping a balance between their time at work and outside the office. So early on I decided to turn down after-hours testing and weekend work. Some companies do not like to hear that, especially in the advertising world where QA comes late in the process of building a product. That said, the majority of our clients understand and respect this decision and internally it’s something our employees appreciate and respect about PLUS QA.
Running a debt-free company
Since day one I wanted to build a profitable and debt-free company. Over the years there have been times when this was a challenging choice but we have had an organic growth and that has allowed me to take time to build a solid business, assemble a great team and work with a great list of clients.
In 2016, my wife Audrey and I decided to purchase an office building to remodel so we could design and customize a space for PLUS QA and the type of work we do. It took 6 months of evenings, late nights and weekends to accomplish it but we are happy with the results. In March 2016 we moved our team into the new space. You can read about the remodel on our blog.
I do not think we would have the same freedom we do now to make our own business decisions if we were working with outside investors. We are in an industry where investors are everywhere however I am happy of how far we have come on our own.
Last year we opened a small office outpost in Philadelphia where a couple of our team members work. And this month we are excited to do the same in San Francisco. The next step for us is to continue in the same direction – to provide growth for the individuals at PLUS QA and deliver high quality testing services for our clients. These are the principles that have brought us to where we are today.
Founder of PLUS QA