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Chris Swenor: How to build a good product

Matea Bešlić

Matea Bešlić


Chris Swenor, CEO and co-founder of the East Coast Product (ECP), talked to us about the beginnings of the company, employment, their clients and differences in lifestyle between Split and Boston.

In 2000, he started developing professionally, and went through many years of developing and working in large companies, before moving into startups.

„In the last company I was working at, Vsnap, I met my co-founder of the East Coast Product, Ivan Blažević. It was time to start something of our own, but we didn’t quite yet know what that was. However, what we did know is how to build a good product, how to make good decisions and how to build a good team so I said to Ivan we should make a company out of that“, said Swenor.

„You have a dev shop or a design shop, and they don’t talk to each other that much, nor do they talk to the client that well, as they wouldn’t deliver what the client wanted“, he continued as he explained that he saw a big problem in the industry with communication issues. That’s why they decided to create a full stack product design firm to do everything from strategy to discovery, design and development.

„They can come to us and say: „We need help“, and what we ask is: „OK, what are your goals? What are your strengths?“ so we find out whether their goals are truly the right goals through a method we developed. Furthermore, through that process we discover what their next features are and we implement different resources where they are weak, if they need more designers, more strategists, more developers or whatever. We will actually build a team from all of the resources and get to the goal much faster“, he added.

The company was formed 2 years ago. It is named ECP because, in Swenor’s words, they’ve always believed you have to name something that describes what it is. „We are a product shop on the east coast“, the co-founder clarified.

Starting a company is hard work and people usually give up. How were the beginnings of ECP? Chris answered: „I’ve made many mistakes, but it’s the matter of correcting things as you go, asking for help from everybody. Don’t have tons of pride about you thinking you do everything right, because you’re not. Also, don’t be afraid of making decisions, because if you’re afraid of going wrong, you’ll never go anywhere. So, it’s all in making decisions, course correcting when you’re wrong and always pushing it forward. I’ve never thought of giving up. That’s just not in me. It’s a matter of making every failure a success and, if you have that mindset, things get hard, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel, there is always a reason why you do things.“

The company currently has two offices, one in Split and one in Boston, and 17 employees, 10 of which are in Split. „I started to work with Ivan Blažević seven years ago and it was just convenient. I knew that I wanted to start a company with him and he lived in Split so why not start here“, Swenor shared the reason he started here and continued, „I’m satisfied with my team very much so. We’re very particular about who we hire. What I like to say is that we hire the smartest people in the world and get out of their way. We believe in hiring self-motivated people that are independent thinkers that can make decisions without being micromanaged and let them do the best thing that they possibly can. And, as long as they do the best, we’ll do the best.“

Who are their clients? Have they ever turned down a client? According to him, being in Boston helped him to develop a solid network so most of their clients come from Boston.

„The types of clients range from the small startups, medium size startups to large non-profit organizations. The types of clients that we look for are not assholes. I don’t want to work for a client that is an asshole. I want one that actually has trust and has an interesting project. We want challenging projects and the clients that have trust in us. I have no problem saying no. If I find out that the client is not a right fit, I will not take the project. One of our values in company is don’t let money drive“, said the founder.

Clients can be really hard to work with and that’s why you need to have good employees you can count on. Chris and Ivan have an interesting three pillar system for employing people.

„There are three qualities that I look for and they’re actually ranked in this order: number one that I look for is culture, external and internal culture. Internal culture for me means are they self motivated, are they the ones that are passionate about development, HR or sales. Is that a job they want to do, not because it makes them money but because it puts smile on their face? Do they want to be the best? Then, there is external culture; that’s how you make other people around you feel. The second thing I look for is raw intelligence; how smart are you, how fast can you pick up new things. And, the third thing that we look for is skill. Skills are the least important cause if you don’t have the first two, I don’t care if you are the best developer in the world, we will not hire you. We are not looking for those individuals that just don’t fit well“, said Swenor.

The fact that the first money that they spent was for trips to bring developers from Split to Boston and bring the employees from the United States here shows how important the culture is. They believe that culture is a very important thing and the best way to have a strong culture across the Ocean is to make sure that everybody knows each other and is close. Chris said:

„Most of the money that we make is going to growing the company properly, both as far as size and as far as knowledge, because we want to make sure that we are always focused on quality and doing the best possible we can.“

This was his fifth time in Croatia. He’s traveled all over Europe, South America and has been to Japan also.

Well, my favorite place in the entire world is Split. My second favorite is Tokyo. It’s an amazing place to visit. The reason why I love Tokyo so much is because people are alowed to be themselves there. I’ve been in a lot different places and there is no other place in the world where I felt like an alien. They are so much different than the others and I love that“, he said „Lifestyle in Split and Boston is different. Networking is much more important in Boston then it is in Split. The ability to approach people you don’t know and start a conversation is not as prominent as it is in Boston. As you walk down the street people smile at strangers and say hi everywhere you go. As you go further this way, it is more as who are your friends and those are the people that you talk to.

What is he most proud of?

I’m most proud of the workers at East Coast Product, both Croatia and Boston. We’ve grown to 17 people in a year, we have a 100 % client pipeline the entire time and it’s purely because we’ve hired the most amazing people in the world that help each other and are just great over all people. That is what i’m the most proud of“, he concluded.


About author:

Matea Bešlić

Studentica računarstva na FESB-u, voli upoznavati nove ljude i stjecati nova iskustva. Svoje slobodno vrijeme nastoji kvalitetno provoditi, između ostalog prenoseći zanimljive priče, iskustva i savjete uspješnih poduzetnika za startup.hr.

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