I started at The Able Few in a dual role, managing accounts and client service, and acting as marketing manager specializing in B2B connections and new business. Able was going through a transition. They started the company with most of their projects coming from marketing agencies, being brought in as a contractor when the agency’s digital team needed some extra know-how. In 2012, they started to take on their own clients, and moved more towards the path of becoming an independent application developer and startup incubator. They needed a change of strategy as their online message was still stuck in this “assistance” mode when it needed to be switched to a “innovator” message. We did this by sharing our knowledge and using tactics that brought us up as equals in the St. Louis agency scene.
We became the source of knowledge for Ruby-On-Rails development in St. Louis by showing our expertise through multiple channels, and supported the development community in St. Louis. We took charge of various developmental groups in St. Louis, including Ruby Group, Java Script Group, and Code Till Dawn. We held bi-weekly meetings at our office, usually with a featured speaker, and got headhunters to provide the food and drinks. We would record the speaker presentations when we could, edit and share them on our own site and through the groups own social networks. To show our experience outside of St. Louis, we partnered with the creators of the tools that we used. A lot of the applications we used to develop and test our builds came from companies started in similar circumstances. Knowing they were looking for content to share on their networks, we collaborated with these companies. For example, we needed a way to automatically test in multiple browsers, and found a solution in Sauce Labs. We did a quick write up on how we solved this problem using their tool, and shared it on our blog, their blog, and to all of their followers, cross promoting through all channels.
For the some time now, we have been developing an application over at The Able Few, a St. Louis & Indianapolis based product and software development company, called Click With Me Now. CWMN, is a no-download, co-browsing solution that allows users to share a browsing session with others in a single click. In the early stages of development, we built a series of prototypes to serve as a proof-of-concept for the application when demoed in a controlled environment. We focused most of our initial efforts around Chrome/Webkit, obviously, which allowed us to cover an impressive amount of ground in a short amount of time. When it came time to start the full build of the application, however, we had to start backfilling support for other older browsers and make sure that this didn’t impair our existing codebase or slow us to a complete halt with testing. After weeks devoted to dealing with countless browser compatibility issues, mostly in IE, and many profanity laced insults hurled at the computer gods, we had a working prototype that functioned in at least the latest version of every browser. Of course that wasn’t good enough and going forward we were going to need to be able to test the app in every other browser known to man. We started writing out some Selenium and Capybara tests. This allowed us to do things like disable Websockets and Flash, in order to make sure that the application didn’t crash and burn, which we could test in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari without a hitch — but not IE! Also, what about mobile? Oh, and what would happen if the Host was using an old version of Firefox and the Guest was using a Webkit nightly? As these questions began to pile up, our aspirations of adequately testing our application began to sour. We played around with VirtualBox VMs, but it quickly became apparent that the number of OS and browser variants we needed would become a nightmare to manage, not to mention the licensing costs. We also needed to think about mobile devices, older versions of OSX, Linux, and myriad other combinations that we had yet to consider. It was a lot to deal with and we certainly felt the pressure of needing to accomplish this in a timely manner. Then by a stroke of luck we came across Sauce Labs…
Image is also important in the St. Louis area, and we wanted to plant ourselves as an independent entity, as opposed to a contractor to agencies in St. Louis. Part of this was accomplished with a move to our own space in Midtown, and we took full advantage of the buzz from this move. We followed the standard strategies, including updates on remodeling and throwing events, but we also had a little fun with it too. We moved into an old photo studio, with a giant blue screen. We, being developers, had no use for the screen, but its something we wanted to keep around. We started a Tumblr called “The Blue Screen Wall of Shame”, where visitors to the office would “be strongly persuaded” take a picture in front of the screen, and we’d post the easily-editable photo online. People would submit the edited photos to the tumblr, and do their best to one-up each other. It took off, especially when we had agency owners and creative teams come in, as their personal teams were waiting for the chance to embarrass them. During our open house, we even did “Live-Shaming”, showing posts on our projector to the crowd.