At digital design agency Interactive Mechanics, the weekly team meeting of Monday, Oct. 22, packed some bad news.
Founder Mike Tedeschi, who started the Old City firm in 2012, told the company’s seven staffers that Interactive Mechanics would be winding down its operations at the end of the month. They had the choice of leaving now or staying another week. But, regardless, they’d be laid off. With severance pay.
“Honestly, the response wasn’t what I’d expected,” Tedeschi told Technical.ly. “I think people understood the decision, and later we went to National Mechanics and got some drinks.”
The company, known for its diversity efforts and its interactive work for museums and other nonprofits, had been having a difficult financial run for some time.
“We really had trouble growing for the past two years,” Tedeschi said. “I bootstrapped everything and I wasn’t interested in taking on any financing or debt. We just had trouble getting to that next stage and started having thoughts about what growth meant for us and do we want to continue going after that?”
The space Interactive Mechanics tackled is a highly competitive one, the founder said. Recently, it had been putting more resources and time into bidding for jobs but ultimately doing less work, with larger agencies going harder and harder after already limited sources of funding from museums and nonprofits.
But there was also a personal component to the closure.
“My background is in design and building projects,”said Tedeschi, an Azavea alum. “The last two years I haven’t really had a role in that. Now I wanna go back to building stuff, and not have to focus on things like payroll and HR.”
A lesson from the closure? The founder said companies in a similar situation would do well in seeing, and understanding, the warning signs on the road.
“We’d have revenue goals and wouldn’t hit them,” he said. “And it’s about asking when is it time to consider whether a business is really viable. It took me five years to reach that point and understand what that means for us.”
Amelia Longo, who left the firm in June after four years as director of strategic initiatives, is still processing what exactly the company’s shutdown means.
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“I’m thinking about how possible is it to create and build a company with a healthy, sustainable work culture that stills compete with some of the bigger folks who maybe aren’t doing those things,” Longo said. “There’s a bitterness in there that I’m not through with yet.” (The technologist has long been a proponent of inclusive workplace culture.)
Longo, who led the company’s diversity-oriented fellowship, knows the concept of failure as a positive experience is somewhat cheesy, but she doesn’t view the company’s shut down as a failure per se.
“I know that’s a trendy startup thing to say, but we existed in the way we did for four years, we had fellowship for two years and we did some great things,” said Longo, who takes pride in how fellowship grads became ingrained into the tech world.
Two examples: Program grad Ebonie Butler is now a developer at Yikes, Inc. Former Technical.ly Delaware reporter Rana Fayez used her time in the fellowship to build a website for her arts festival, YallaPunk, which celebrates Middle Eastern and North African artists and musicians.
“I’m sad to learn about the company shutting down, but I’m happy to have experienced the program while it was still in operation,” Fayez said via text message on Monday. “It forced me to make time to work on web development projects. I gained a lot of clarity in terms of what I was looking for in my career while working with my mentor, Christina Deemer, who helped me realize my abilities.”
Longo hopes the concept of diversity-geared internships or fellowships catches on among larger operations.
“If we could do this with a small budget and team, this can be done sustainably in other, bigger places,” Longo said. “I hope other folks are inspired by it and want to bring that kind of program where there’s development of future tech workers as well as an internal development of company culture.”-30-