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Tandem at 10 Years

JC Grubbs Founder & Chief Executive Officer

The 10 years since founding Tandem have flown by.

In 2011 when I founded DevMynd — the company that we’d later rename ‘Tandem’ — my initial desire was to create the kind of company I wanted to work for. I felt a little disheartened by how cold and commodity-based traditional consulting companies could be. In my previous jobs, I often felt like I was just filling a hole in somebody else’s business, as opposed to actually delivering value. So when the company I was working for got acquired, I took the opportunity to pull together a team who could achieve a new vision for what consulting could look like.

At the most basic level, the old model of software consulting was to write some code and then throw the resulting software at the person doing the job. We wanted to move in the opposite direction and actually ask that person: what is the job you’re doing? Let’s look at it, and then build software to make your life better. The end user shouldn’t have to conform their day to the software; the software should exist to support the user’s actual needs, processes, and goals.

Ultimately, consulting should be a partnership between consultants and clients, where we’re trusted to look at your business and systems and co-create a better way that’s fortified by software. It’s immensely fulfilling to look back and see that as a team, we’ve been able to achieve that vision with so many clients over our 10 years in business. Throughout 2021, I’m looking forward to sharing some of our team’s observations and memories from our company history — as well as some predictions for the future — here on our blog.

When we started, the Robey building in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood wasn’t a hotel: it was a decrepit 1929 office building full of ambulance-chasing lawyers, insurance agents, and empty rooms. It was also home to the cheapest three-room office we could find on Craigslist.

I remember driving out to the Schaumburg Ikea to get chairs and desks for that first office. While standing in line to check out, I noticed an endcap display of 99-cent jade plants. On a whim I pulled one off the endcap and put it in the cart. I didn’t really know what our new office might need.

In those early days we were all crammed in together shoulder-to-shoulder. It was me and three or four other guys sitting around just trying to ‘play company.’ And while I have a little nostalgia for the simplicity of that, I wouldn’t trade that for where we are right now in a million years. In 2011, I was trying to start the company that I wanted to work at. But at the time, I didn’t truly know what that meant.

The biggest thing I’ve learned over the last 10 years is how much diversity is required to make great products and a great company. As an engineer by background, I was accustomed to just throwing code at a problem. But after launching DevMynd, I quickly learned that that’s not enough to solve actual real-world problems. You need teammates approaching the problem from many different mindsets — designers, engineers, testers — you need thinkers. You need real consulting skills: stakeholder management, communication, project management. Problems cannot be solved with good code alone. When all is said and done, the code is often a relatively small part of the solution.

Tandem truly began to hit its stride once we learned that lesson: to hire smart, diverse people and let them do their thing. It’s cliche, but as a business owner, my job is to get smart people together and point them at a problem — then get out of their way so they can do their best work. That’s it!

Today, our six core values are pretty much the same as they were when the company was founded (with a few minor edits because we started with 12 — and that’s way too many!). Our ability to live up to those values, though, is a billion years away from where it was in the beginning.

I’m most proud of Tandem for moving from what I thought was a good company, to what actually is a great company. Together, we’ve created an engine where people come into our community — whether as clients, as team members, as collaborators — and while here, they learn and grow and improve the business and world around them.

Another pride point for me is how many apprentices have been a part of our program. At this point, more than a dozen people have completed a Tandem design or engineering apprenticeship. The majority are folks who did not have a traditional education in design or computer science; many were making a career change from another field entirely. The apprenticeship created an opportunity for them to advance themselves significantly. When I’m 95, that’s something I will look back on and feel happy about.

When Tandem became a remote-first company last year, we held an adoption event for our office’s plants. Over 10 years, our collection has grown from that one little 99-cent jade plant to a garden’s-worth of monsteras, succulents, birds of paradise and more.

The original jade plant from Ikea? It’s still going strong. For years I have begged folks with greener thumbs than mine to help me keep it alive, and it has successfully continued to live and even spawn a few children. The rest of our plants are now dispersed to the loving homes of Tandemites all over the place, but I keep that jade plant on my own office desk as a reminder of where we came from, how we’ve grown, and our infinite potential to keep thriving.

Let’s do something great together

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