Raizlabs Turns 10: Lessons in Mobile, Bootstrapping, and Hiring

11/20/13Follow @gthuang

Greg Raiz is all about the slow burn.

When he started Raizlabs back in 2003, his father (a software guy) asked whether the startup would be bootstrapped or venture-backed. The former he called “slow burn”—steady growth that could last a while and eventually grow into a big flame. As opposed to “fast burn”—pour gas on the fire, spend other people’s money, and go all-out for a few years.

Raiz, a former Microsoftie, chose the bootstrapped route. “I want to build a sustainable company,” he says. “Something meaningful that has longevity.”

Fast forward to Raizlabs’ 10th year, and he seems to be well on his way. The Boston mobile company (it used to be in Brookline, MA) has grown to more than 25 employees and is on a 60 percent annual growth trajectory in terms of revenue, says Raiz, the firm’s CEO. Raizlabs is also building out an office in San Francisco, led by ex-Apple developer Justin Kaufman.

Over the years, the company has produced its own mobile apps and developer tools, but its core business is working with companies to develop their mobile products. Its customer list has included FitnessKeeper, Care.com, Macy’s, Rue La La, EMC, and HubSpot. (Definitely a Boston-area influence there.) And other companies such as TripAdvisor, eBay, and Audi have used Raizlabs’ app-distribution product, called AppBlade.

“We want to shape the world through great software,” Raiz says. “There’s a renaissance going on. Software used to do some things, but not other things. The next generation is [about] companies looking to do things well, not just do them.”

Raiz bristles a bit at the notion that his company is a lifestyle business or dev shop. “We think of ourselves as product people, not developers and designers,” he says. “We don’t want to fix your sink, we want to design your house. We want to really shape your business.” He adds that “the value we bring to some of our customers can be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

As such, Raiz has a front-row seat to some of the biggest trends happening in mobile. He singles out wearable devices—and the associated apps and software—as something to keep an eye on. In part that’s because it’s never been easier to connect low-energy devices like wristbands to iPhones for purposes of health or behavior tracking. “There are going to be a lot of players and just a few winners,” he says.

After 10 years, Raiz has quite the perspective on building a startup from scratch. “Bootstrapping a company is always about change and reinvention. To some degree you’re flying without a net,” he says.

But just like a venture-backed company, Raizlabs has always had a runway, based on its revenues. “The rate I can grow my company depends on the runway. It’s how fast can I grow my company versus how risky do I want to be?” he says. “Growth for the sake of growth is not interesting for us. We want to be profitable, be a great business, and take on projects that have meaning, that we believe in.”

Of course, hiring the right people remains crucial to Raizlabs’ long-term outlook. Raiz gives a few tips he’s learned over the years about recruiting. First, he says, “don’t settle.” Second, “look for passion,” he says. “If your ideal job doesn’t look like Raizlabs, you’re probably in the wrong interview.” And third, he says, “the behaviors they have should be the ones you want. Don’t think you can change them.”

Raiz is currently in the midst of working out a new framework for leadership within the company—figuring out how best to mesh people’s skills across the technology and thought leadership sides of the business. That will become more important as the company continues to grow.

But at heart the man (like his father) is still a software geek, and he wants his company to make the best software out there. As Raiz puts it, apps are “driving our interactions with everyday things. It’s no longer about the functionality, it’s about the excellence.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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