Technical.ly Philly

Mar. 20, 2012 12:30 pm

Wildbit: web dev firm focusing on products and location, opens first office in Old City

When the web product development firm Wildbit killed its oldest product, Newsberry, a few months ago, enough people wondered what the company was up to that Natalie Nagele, who leads product development, wrote two blog posts explaining the decision. The reason, to summarize, was focus, Wildbit founder Chris Nagele told Technically Philly. The two are […]

The Wildbit office on 3rd St. in Old City.

When the web product development firm Wildbit killed its oldest product, Newsberry, a few months ago, enough people wondered what the company was up to that Natalie Nagele, who leads product development, wrote two blog posts explaining the decision.

The reason, to summarize, was focus, Wildbit founder Chris Nagele told Technically Philly. The two are married and run the company together.

The two learned the focus lesson when they made the decision to stop offering consulting services and focus on solely products, Chris says.

Now, in their estimation, the company needs to spend more time focusing on its other two products, Beanstalk and Postmark, both web products geared toward their primary customers: other developers.

“What I realized is that it’s all about focus,” said Chris. “Its about focus on not just your product but on the features in your product and making sure you’re keeping things to a minimum. And what most people tend to do is keep creating new features and new features, but you neglect your core. To make something really special and amazing you need to focus on it.”

And while the commitment to focus might have meant bad things for the Newsberry loving community, it may translate into something positive for Philadelphia. In the fall, Wildbit ended it’s 11-year stint as a virtual company, by signing a lease and moving into its first office space in Old City, just a few floors above coworking haunt Indy Hall.

“It’s actually something that’s really new to me,” said Chris. “I never really worked in an office before. We’re trying to make it like a family.”

For years, Wildbit operated as a virtual company with employees in locations as far flung as Siberia. During much of that time, Chris and Natalie, who run the company together, worked out of their apartment or out of the original Indy Hall, Chris says. When the duo realized they need to hire a support person for Wildbit products, they decided to hire locally.

“When it comes to support, it’s challenging because a person has to learn everything about the product, technically and from business standpoint,” said Chris. “We decided it was important to hire a support person in Philly this way we could be close to the person and really teach them as we go.”

Bringing on a third person, led to another realization for Chris and Natalie — working out of their apartment or Indy Hall wasn’t going to cut it anymore, Chris says. Part of the company’s commitment to focus, finally meant settling on some bona fide office space.

Since moving their three-person team into the seventh floor space — which looks more like a cafe than an office — Wildbit has brought on four more Philadelphia-based team members. Aside from Indy Hall co-founder Alex Hillman, who floats between the Wildbit office and the coworking space downstairs, Wildbit has seven people, including a chef, working out of the space.

“We spent a lot of our years on a minimal approach with no office space and a small number of employees for some pretty sizable products,” said Chris. “We got to the point where we said ‘let’s build a team and a culture here where we can really put more effort into the products.’ It was just a timing thing, really.”

Ilya Sabanin is one of those people you’ll find at Wildbit headquarters, but he hasn’t always lived in Philly. Sabanin’s story tracks Wildbit’s evolution almost perfectly.

Sabanin,  a Beanstalk team manager in training, is from Krasnoyarsk, Russia, a Siberian city. Until recently, he was one of Wildbit’s virtual employees. Sabanin found out about Wildbit from his brother Dima, who also works for the company. Sabanin says he and his brother were two of the first Ruby on Rails developers in Russia.

“I’ve been working virtually my entire life I started doing some small gigs and freelancing when I was still at school in 2004. When I was studying in a university, I was already making more money than my teachers, making Web 2.0 apps for a company in Australia.

But in December 2011, Sabanin came to work for Wildbit in Old City. He says working with real people has been the biggest advantage of working from Wildbit headquarters, especially since there were fewer opportunities for him to meet other developers in Siberia.

“I guess I spent too many years working alone in my apartment in Siberia, enough for the rest of my life,” said Sabanin. “Having co-workers to share your lunch with, laugh, fly an RC helicopter or order a pizza during evening coding session is priceless.”

Sabanin says he likes the city, too. He’s probably appreciated the warmer-than-usual even more than most.

“The best part is that Philadelphia is freaking beautiful. I get a lot of joy simply by taking long walks and making pictures of interesting city finds,” says Sabanin. “There’s something fascinating in Philly on every corner. Especially when it comes to architecture.”

Nagele says Wildbit still plans to hire virtual employees since they have customers all over the world requiring support at all hours of the day, not just Eastern Standard Time. But, he says, the group also hopes to get more involved with the Philadelphia tech community.

“I would love to offer our space to more people, to not only give them space to work, but also help us get involved with stuff focused on our what our team is enthusiastic about,” said Chris.

While some customers may be sad to see Newsberry go, Philadelphia should be glad that a successful web development shop appears to be here, at least partially, to stay.

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Yael Borofsky was the lead reporter for Technically Philly from from December 2011 to June 2012 before leaving to pursue an urban studies graduate degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Previously she was an editor with the Breakthrough Journal in San Francisco. She loves hockey and coffee.

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