Software lubricates the gears of the modern corporation. But as a business grows its software must grow, too. Sometimes applications need additional tools or a new look. And the proliferation of smartphones and tablets means CIOs need software to work just as well in the field as it does at headquarters.
Nick Jordan saw the business need and the opportunity to fill it. His company, Smashing Boxes, turns businesses ideas into software. Making enterprise software work on mobile devices is just part of the business. The company also develops applications for companies, such as recruiting apps and informational games.
“Initially, I thought it would be a small niche thing,”Jordan said. “One or two projects, go to the next one.”
But nearly three years after starting Smashing Boxes, the Durham company now counts Cisco Systems, Quintiles and both UNC and Duke University as customers. Smashing Boxes’ headcount and sales doubled last year; the company finished 2012 with 23 employees and nearly $1 million in revenue. It’s a lot more than Jordan, Smashing Boxes’ managing director, and company co-founder Brian Fischer imagined when the two started working together doing contract software work.
In 2008, Jordan and Fischer worked together as freelance consultants. The work was similar to what Smashing Boxes does now: translating the ideas of a company into strategy or software. But it was on a smaller scale. Most of the pair’s clients were startups. That meant the work often depended on whether the client secured angel financing or some other funding.
The work grew organically, mostly by word of mouth. In 2010, Jordan and Fischer incorporated Smashing Boxes. The client base is now roughly evenly split between startups and larger clients. And the startup clients are further along than those Jordan and Fischer took on as freelancers.
These days, Smashing Boxes’ startup clients typically already have a management team and funding in place. Instead of working from an idea that a founder scrawled on a napkin, Jordan and Fischer’s team now helps startups develop products already in beta testing. Smashing Boxes has also worked with non-profit groups. For example, a project with Malaria No More led to development of an iPad app, a memory game that helps promote malaria awareness.
For large enterprise clients, Smashing Boxes usually works with a corporation’s internal IT team. Smashing Boxes can take existing enterprise software and build out new features. This work has helped Smashing Boxes grow because the recurring relationship means a single client leads to multiple projects.
“You don’t do better the more customers you get,” Jordan said. “You do better doing better work for the customers you have.”
Smashing Boxes isn’t the only Triangle company developing software for businesses. Relevance, also based in Durham, offers similar services. But Jordan notes that Relevance is larger and more established. The two companies rarely compete head to head for contracts. On the corporate side, Jordan considers his biggest competition a company’s internal team.
Jordan said that the company name came from a brainstorming session. “Thinking outside of the box” is something of a business cliché. The name “Smashing Boxes” suggested breaking that paradigm.
The company, completely bootstrapped, is profitable and it’s hiring. Jordan projects headcount could grow to 30 to 35 employees this year. Smashing Boxes is still focused on software development; 80 percent of its workers are developers and Jordan expects new hires will probably be in software development.
Looks like this company needs a bigger box.