BackstageWorks: Quo Vadis?

What BackstageWorks is, Now, Next, and Later.

Everybody! BackstageWorks’s back, alright! (I’m seriously tempted to link that song 🤣)

The company was originally established in 2019, a little bit hastily, which is probably why it had a rocky life until now. I won’t go into details for sake of my mental health, let’s just say the original plan didn’t pan out due to external factors and we focus on the here and now — and take a brief glimpse at the future. I’m partially writing this to hold myself accountable.

Backstage… What?

Ok, let’s start with the name. Back in 2019, I needed a name for the company. I didn’t need a name to carry a specific product, so many of the branding advices you can read about didn’t matter much. Also, as mentioned, I was in a bit of a hurry, so I couldn’t afford the time it usually takes to check names against some unwanted connotation in some language.

Since the company was meant to operate mostly in the background of the ventures I’d be involved in, there was a theme to be explored. Back in school, we did some kind of bonding exercise by placing each other in a theatre based on our characters. A classmate put me backstage and characterised me as someone you barely see and hear, but who is crucial so you definitely knew when I was not around holding things together in the background. Let’s just say, I liked this characterisation and it stuck with me. So that’s the first part.

Unfortunately there are already quite a few Backstage-somethings. So it needed a second part. I settled for Works, because it has a nice ring to it, especially if you think of skunkworks, those secretive, innovative and slightly rebellious projects outside of organisational bureaucracy.

And henceforth it was known as BackstageWorks.

BackstageWorks Now

The company is currently undergoing a few changes to serve as a better commercial vehicle. When I restarted my life last year, I already had in mind to use it as the legal entity to publish products. This is pretty much where it is right now.

The changes will be structurally and cosmetically. The new brand identity is on its way and will be put to use even before it’s launched. What can I say, I like dark launches just as much as branding (re-)work 😂.

The internal structure will be changed by bringing my brother on board to help with operations, which will help with stability. He will also bring in his 3D printing skills. It also allows me to refer to BackstageWorks as ’we’.

The Now is mainly concerned with getting the administrative ducks into a row, helping out the first partner, and setting the stage for the next steps.

Externally, the company will be far more than just a publishing arm.

BackstageWorks Next

We’re currently playing with the phrase ’Tinkerers, Makers & Creators’, which embodies a core of the company that it can be true to at any size. I guess the closest match to compare to would be a venture studio: a place where you make ideas happen, with the only restrictions being skills and resources. As long as we can do it and it might make commercial sense, we will follow through.

It hopefully also shows that it’s not just about software. We like to tinker. Whether it’s home automation, smart displays or 3D printing, we have made useful things for us personally, but never commercialised them. This is about to change. It will be a laboratory of madness.

The other side and what I eluded to earlier this week, will be the consulting arm, mainly done by myself (for starters). Turns out some people really value my input to the point they’re willing to give me money for it. So I stopped resisting and will make it a proper business.

As soon as the new website is live, you will see more details, but let me give you a preview into the offerings. Since I won’t be able to be in multiple ongoing long-term assignments, I had to create something that gives the most value to partners in a limited and finite amount of time:

All of them will be offered in sprints, which are multi-day workshops (up to 2 weeks), with clear goals and defined follow-ups to see whether the actions have the intended impact. Each will also have an option for some ongoing work for a limited amount of time (up to 3 or 6 months), if I’m available.

These are rough ideas that will go through continuous refinement over the next weeks to find a sweet spot for everybody involved. At the same time I already committed to the first ongoing project for the next few months, so there is no rush.

BackstageWorks Later

Now we get into vision territory where things are subject to change (mostly to reality). You never know what your company evolves into and I’m ready to take it wherever it may lead me. So I can’t tell you right now whether it will become a business consultancy, a product innovation studio, a venture studio, a software company, a think-tank or all of the above. I have a few companies I take inspiration from, either in their current or an earlier guise. If BackstageWorks becomes remix of what frog design and IDEO used to be, with a dash of DesignWorks, I’d be very happy.

Those who have met me will know that I take organisational design, company culture, especially leadership culture very seriously. It has informed and will inform my actions in any role I take, to the point that HR doesn’t know whether they should be happy about my commitment or see me as a thread who wants to take away their job (I’ve seen both). To that end I will take inspiration from another group of companies who have been transparent about some of their inner workings.

Which brings me to the point of growth. Will BackstageWorks grow and hire people? Short answer: hopefully yes!

I want this to be a place for creative[1] tinkerers, makers and creators, to work on meaningful things, so their talents will not be wasted on questionable ventures fuelled by inflated fever dreams.

At first this will mean to collaborate more like a cooperative of freelancers. I will only ever hire someone if I know I can afford what they are worth, even when times are rough. So the internal bar to growth is pretty high.

I like the phrase “most companies don’t just grow, but they grow apart” as a warning against unchecked company growth. You mostly see this happening when departments are created more as a token of importance of the roles within the department rather than a functional element of the organisation. That’s when you get in-fights between the departments about who is more important to the company’s success. I don’t want to get there with BackstageWorks, so hiring has to happen in very conscientious manner.

Luckily my pool of trustworthy individual contributors is vast, so there should not be an issue.

So that’s BackstageWorks in a nutshell. Hope you will stay along for the ride!

  1. creative in the widest sense of the word. ↩︎