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Chariot Solutions is 20, thanks to a ‘strategy of discipline and connection’

Here's why CEO and founder Michael Rappaport thinks the Fort Washington tech company has found success by being "picky" about projects and prioritizing professional development.

At Chariot Solutions' 20th anniversary party. (Courtesy photo)
This is a guest post by Michael Rappaport, the founder, CEO and director of Chariot Solutions.
The first time I encountered a computer, you wouldn’t really call it a computer.

Standing about three feet off the ground, the setup was nothing more than a printer (with an internal CPU) and keyboard with a phone coupler. The sound that modem made when it connected was music to my ears: beeps, hisses, and finally smooth silence. I would type commands and the result rolled out on perforated paper.

Those early experiences, and a lifelong interest in the combination of business and technology, ultimately led to cofounding Chariot Solutions in 2002. Its mission: to apply the most advanced technologies and expertise to solve complex business challenges starting with Java and open source. Technology had advanced quite a bit by then, but it was nothing like the accelerated pace of computing that’s occurred since.

Chariot was launched on the heels of a Y2K scare and the far more frightening attack that took place on Sept. 11, 2001. The world was in chaos, and we were an unknown startup with no reputation and not much in the bank. What we did have was a group of world-class software architects with deep expertise in creating custom software.

We needed an extraordinary business plan, with a solid competitive advantage that would allow us to become leaders, to thrive in good times and weather the storm when things got tough. It took the input of the entire team to determine that Chariot would be about quality over quantity, brand over growth, and happiness over wealth. If we lowered the importance of maximizing profit, we could create something unique and lasting.

To maintain our advantage, we rely on a three-point formula for staying ahead of the competition: hiring discipline, project discipline and a considerable investment in professional development for our team. It is a formula that has allowed us to deliver an excellent project success record, and create a strong brand for our company through substantial wins for our clients.

Hire the best people you can find

Our current employee count stands at 65, and we are incredibly careful about who we hire, not only in terms of technical skills, but in terms of personality and culture fit as well. There is a lot of competition for this kind of employee, as they are in short supply relative to the needs of the world today. While we knew it would limit Chariot’s growth, we committed to hiring exclusively top-tier technologists.

Over the past few years, many companies have experienced The Great Resignation. Not Chariot. Our connection to one another, and to our clients, has withstood the test of lockdowns and remote work.

Project discipline is essential

We’ve always been picky about which projects we take on. If we accepted work that was not a great fit, we wouldn’t achieve our desired track record. This strategy was sometimes difficult when we had a bench, especially in the early days, but it remains an important and necessary part of our objective.

Make lifelong learning a priority

Our plan requires longer tenure for employees than is customary in tech. Consistency is one of the keys to succeeding as a team on projects. So we created a company and an environment in which our employees could thrive in the long run; a workplace that they would enjoy so much they would stay.

By investing in the professional development of our team, we allow our employees to satisfy a need to learn constantly. This investment typically involves consultants taking time away from their projects to learn more about something they are passionate about. Happier employees stay with the company longer.

But what about profit?

We realized that our formula for success at Chariot, including hiring and project discipline, and the professional development investment we make in our employees, could make profitability challenging. Although maximizing profit is not what we were after, it is still important to make a profit in order for the company to remain healthy. Even accounting for time spent on employee projects, Chariot’s consultants deliver beyond expectation. We believe, and this idea has been proven over two decades, that what really matters to our clients is value.

Chariot is team that feels like a family

Since our master plan and all of the great ideas were the product of an all-hands effort, Chariot Solutions has always been about the team, not the individual. From the outset, Chariot has felt like a family. We maintain a flat organizational structure, with a strong culture and commitment to mutual respect and caring. Making money is important, but what’s more essential is openness, honesty and generosity. Everyone has a voice, and all opinions are respected.

That attitude extends beyond the walls of our office. We treat customers, vendors and contractors as partners. We forge relationships based on trust and common goals, always looking for mutual wins, negotiating transparently — like we’re on the same side of the table.

Do the right thing

People work at Chariot because they enjoy being put in positions where they can constantly learn while really moving the needle for our clients. They enjoy being part of a business that prioritizes doing the right thing instead of the most lucrative thing. Their work is important and impactful, while also having balance in their lives. No one is expected to work 50- or 60-hour weeks.

Our employees and contractors appreciate it, and our customers know that they are in the hands of dedicated experts. It’s a link forged in the steel of discipline. When your customers feel that link, there’s no denying its power. Connection is essential: to the internet, between employees, and with customers.

The work that works

Our core practices have remained the same as technology has become a dominant force that drives just about every business you can think of.

Twenty years into this experiment, I am proud to say that our strategy of discipline and connection is a success. We’ve grown from just a handful of founding employees (most of whom are still onboard today) to over 60 people. There have been a few bumps over the years, yet we have remained true to our mission and profitable throughout cycles of economic challenges and rewards. I am incredibly proud of our run at Chariot for the past 20 years, and I look forward to the adventures of the next 20.

Companies: Chariot Solutions

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