Ryan Parlee targets web development using lessons from the past
Editor's Note: This is a follow up to an article we published last week, "Ryan Parlee of Flying Hippo: A ‘parallel entrepreneur.'"
Ryan Parlee has a knack for managing several enterprises concurrently, and has a diverse resume of interests that he attends to, but he says the two keys to working that way are creating strong partnerships with trusted associates, and "knowing when to say no." He notes that his daily priority is on Flying Hippo Web Technologies, described as a "web strategies company."
"One of the lessons I've learned along the way is that of focus," said Parlee. "Realizing that with what we're doing with Flying Hippo at one point was too big, and having to chop some of that off, I've learned the value of being focused."
That realization came in 2009. Flying Hippo's largest client and main source of revenue heavily utilized the specialized skills of Parlee's team in some core Microsoft web technologies. With so much of the company's balance sheet tied to one client, they were top heavy.
"We got hurt pretty badly [then], because we had one of our clients asking for more and more," said Parlee. "They were buying our services, but at one point they slowed down. Still wanting us to work – and we did work for quite some time – but it was a 'check's in the mail' kind of thing."
Parlee, with hindsight, admits that the company should have cut the relationship with the client sooner; another lesson for the barely-30-year-old businessman. When that client eventually folded, Flying Hippo was left with a pile of debt in a down economy, and was forced to make tough choices. But he said confronting the problem head on was the best thing he could have done in that situation.
"'Guys, we've got to make a change here,'" Parlee recalled telling his staff. In reassessing where the company stood, he decided that the proprietary web tools and technologies that had been the core of their business did not give them the agility of other, more familiar, open platforms (e.g. Wordpress), but which Flying Hippo can utilize to their competitive advantage. He told his colleagues that in order to grow – and even survive – they had to make a pivot.
"Knowing what you're not good at is just as important as knowing what you're good at," said Parlee. "We had to take our ego away." Part of Flying Hippo's self-examination process was reviewing where the company was most valuable to their clients, and Parlee made that the team's focus.
"[Today] we are stronger than we have ever been, and we're looking forward to the next three years, completing that plan. I view that strategy as, at least, a three- to four-year strategy. For [that time], I have a pretty good idea what Flying Hippo is. I have a really good idea of what we can do. I know the types of clients we're gonna take, types of business that we're gonna undergo. Beyond that? I can't tell you."