Jason Farrell | Crain's Los Angeles

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jason Farrell

Background:  

Jason Farrell is the co-founder and chief technology officer at Los Angeles-based design and technology studio, Use All Five, which launched in 2006. Use All Five aims to use design and technology to positively change human behavior, such as launching the interactive #RegisterMeFirst site for the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other projects for clients including Google, University of California, Los Angeles and Headspace. 

The Mistake: 

Five years ago we were working on a project for Google, and the project was a nightmare internally. 

We had seven people working on this project and it became a huge mess. It was a pretty simple project, in hindsight.

As this was going on, we were trying to grow as a company. We were trying to scale, but I don’t think we were ready to take that leap. We created a bunch of processes and I took a bunch of classes on management and looked at what other startups were doing.

We threw all these people on the project team and we were trying to apply all these project management principles to it. We were working late nights and ended up missing deadlines. We burned up a lot of cash because there were too many people and not enough experience.

People were also trying to learn this new-ish technology, but it wasn't the right technology. 

It was my decision to use this technology, but really there were all these other, newer technologies out there that we knew about, but we decided to do things the old way.

We should have just taken the time up front to learn this new technology and way of doing things. Instead, we stuck with what we knew before and it became difficult to do this particular project that way on top of having way too many people working on it and colliding.

It’s in our company culture now to be researching all the popular technologies that come out and to question our current workflow.

The Lesson: 

I learned that we were doing it completely wrong.

We needed to put the right people on the project, using the right technology. Now we have really small development teams working on a project where you’ll have maybe two people max.

It’s in our company culture now to be researching all the popular technologies that come out and to question our current workflow. We look at what other people are doing and think, “If this is becoming the standard, applicants who want to work here are probably going to know those newer standards, so we should be evolving into what everyone’s using or what the majority of people are using."

We could have achieved everything on that project with maybe four people instead of the 20 [we had]. We were trying to create the company based off of what we’d read and seen or what we thought a company should be. What we really needed to do was step back and think about how to create great work for our clients. We just scaled and thought that’s what we needed to do and that’s how you make a creative agency.

We were thinking too internally and not thinking about what it took to actually deliver great work.

If I was starting out again I would try to be very flexible and play things by ear a little bit. Don’t be locked into what you know. Specializing in something is important but so is being able to take your knowledge and problem-solving abilities and be open to using them in new ways, especially in this industry where things change really quickly.

Use All Five is on Twitter at @useallfive.

Photo courtesy of Use All Five

Do you have a good story you'd like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email kmattson@crain.com

And be sure to sign up for our newsletter from Crain's.