The BitMethod crew poses for a photo with Analog at the inaugural Thinc Iowa in Des Moines in 2011.
A lot can change in five years.
But that hasn’t been the case for Shipton and his team at BitMethod. What began in 2009 as a way to experiment and create projects for clients like SmartyPig and 80/35 music festival, is now the full-time team behind iOS point-of-sale app Change.io.
While the team announced in October 2011 they would transition to work on Change full-time, the spirit and drive of BitMethod has lived on.
Learning to experiment with BitMethod
When Shipton and Neil Roberts founded BitMethod in 2009, Shipton says the team focused on seeking out interesting projects and surrounding themselves with smart people.
“All along the way we’ve just been experimenting and seeing what works. That’s been kind of the blessing for BitMethod,” Shipton (far right) said. “We’ve set ourselves up to have a good, stable base with Grand Consulting as a sister company. We can share resources, then we can do some crazier things and experiment and fail.
“We’ve just set ourselves up so we can work on things that are interesting to us.”
“Everything has been completely centered around this experimental mentality of coming to work and trying some new things every day,” said Amanda Morrow, designer of Change.
Through various projects the team not only learned how to work together effectively but also found the development company’s true strengths.
“Over time, we found what we were really good at and what people looked to us for was top-notch design paired with mission critical development,” Shipton said.
However, as time went on, developing apps for clients and working on projects started to feel less fulfilling.
Time for a Change
Looking back, both Shipton and Morrow agree that as a team what they consider to be one of BitMethod’s biggest successes never saw the light of day.
After spending 12 weeks building a product, the team’s client ultimately decided not to use their work.
“That was a bit of a failure but it was actually a blessing in disguise because we learned a lot, and we all finally clicked in together as a team,” Morrow said. “So when we went through that, technically, failure in the eyes of everyone else and took that momentum into Change.”
In fact, that was the last contracted project BitMethod worked on before they began developing Change.
“If anything, it gave us a ringing endorsement and validation to start choosing our own destiny,” Shipton said. “We realized we can have this project where all the team comes together and we kill it on a tight deadline, and the client just doesn’t do anything with it.”
To celebrate Change’s launch, founder Dan Shipton shaved his launch beard.
Though the team’s focus shifted to a different product, its core principles remained the same.
“From the early days of BitMethod there are things that still hold true to Change now,” Morrow said. “We’ve been working around this whole idea of ‘make it happen.’ If we have a customer who requests something, we just have to find a way to make it happen.”
Now Change has processed more than 250,000 transactions, is able to process credit card payments and serves clients from around the world. And locally, the app has begun attracting restaurants like Cafe di Scala and The Continental.
“We’re getting customers that we have a lot of respect for and like they’re kind of the movers and shakers in town,” Morrow said. “Even though we don’t have everyone in Des Moines, the quality has been really good.”
“Give people the freedom to surprise you”
As the BitMethod team worked with clients and now as they’ve worked to build Change, a number of core principles—first published as its “Field Guide to Modern Business“—have helped guide their work, including the idea to simply create something, no matter the outcome.
“It’s this whole idea of giving people the freedom to surprise you and try these different things,” Morrow said. “Otherwise you’re just limited to the one person at the top or the one person in charge, and Dan realizes that we’re all better if he lets us all branch off of him and not necessarily tell us all what to do.”
One way the team has incorporated its company culture into its work is through a unique string of community events. So far the Change team has hosted two eating competitions—”The Change Challenge”—to commemorate milestones and celebrate businesses using its product. The first was held last summer at Hotshots Craft Hotdoggery and the most recent, at East Village’s Tacopocalypse.
The Challenges help connect Change to their customers in a tangible way, something that can occassionally be difficult for tech companies.
“That’s just the nature of the beast, because we don’t live in a world where things are material,” Morrow said. “We don’t make furniture—sometimes the things that you’re working on are hard to grasp on to.”
“If we believe we’re worth coming to, people will come to us.”
After five years in the Des Moines startup community, Shipton has seen a lot of companies form and a good number of them fail.
“There’s more activity and more people getting further down the playing field before they hit some giant roadblock that causes them to explode or causes them to stop,” Shipton said. “There was only a handful of us at the beginning and some of them have gone off and started new things.”
However, over time Shipton says he’s seen the community begin to come together in more meaningful ways, whether its through weekly coffee at 1 Million Cups or community-planned events like the I/OWA conference.
“If anything I’ve seen that getting together and talking about stuff seems to be happening a lot more and it didn’t used to,” Shipton said. “We were really siloed at the beginning. Everyone was doing their own thing and we weren’t passing around a lot of advice or sharing ideas.”
Along the same vein, Shipton says he’s also begun seeing more collaboration within individual companies and in the formation of teams.
“One of the other things I think is promising is some more teams are starting to form,” he said. “Before at the very beginning it seemed like there were a lot of single founders outsourcing work and now it’s become more of, ‘How do I build a team? How do I get something off the ground?'”
As the community’s energy continues to build, Shipton says its companies and founders need to own their Iowa roots and believe in building their company in Des Moines. He mentions the ability corporations like Wellmark and Principal Financial Group have to draw prospective employees to them. The Des Moines startup community, he thinks, should be able to do the same.
“If we believe we’re worth coming to, people will come to us. Period. End of story.”
BitMethod’s five-year celebration
Join the BitMethod team in celebrating the five-year anniversary of the company, the two-year mark for Change and life in a brand new office space.
Where: BitMethod’s new office, 2411 Grand Avenue in Des Moines
When: 5:30–8:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 20
RSVP via Facebook
Credits: Photos courtesy of BitMethod.