Stack Five - Reflections on 2022

Geoff Chan

Geoff Chan ยท

ยท 9 min read

2022 hasn't been without its challenges. We are still an evolving young digital agency. But we've found our legs this year. If 2021 was our blast off then 2022 was our first orbit. Experience played a large part in weathering the storms that came our way. But also, a little bit of luck.


At its heart, Stack Five is a people-first company. We just happen to be coders and technology nerds. When Jordan and I first dreamed up the idea for Stack Five, it was only ever about creating a place where we would love to work. We wanted to have a team of great people that enjoyed working with each other and shared a love of building things with code. The fact that others have joined us on this journey is amazing to me. Their trust in us to lead this team is still something that I don't take lightly.

This year we've had some turnover. That always sucks. But everyone that has left has moved on to bigger roles with more responsibility. This makes me happy! Developers that have worked with us grow rapidly because they get more ownership and autonomy. It's one of the biggest draws of working with us since you don't often get to make technology and architecture choices on bigger teams. Unfortunately, this also means that they outgrow their role quicker than we anticipate. And it's tough for us to compete on some of the absurd salaries in the tech space since we're just a small agency. So we understand and are always grateful for the time that we get with our team members.

Seeing people develop both professionally and personally is one of the most rewarding things about running a team. It's amazing to see the difference that confidence makes in an already competent developer.


We've been fortunate enough to find like-minded people both inside and outside of our company. Partners have been the story of our sustained and shared success this year. It has been a great way to support other businesses and bring value to our clients. We were also accepted into the Vercel Partnership Program this year. This was a huge milestone for us because we've been big proponents of Next.js and Vercel.


This is the fun part! We did 19 projects as a team in 2022. They ranged from 1-day tiny open-source libraries to 8-month greenfield product launches to 12-month enterprise contracts. Last year I made a spreadsheet to visualize our projects throughout 2021. This year I decided to do something a little more visual. #dataviz ๐Ÿ˜‚

A wordcloud of the technologies that we used in all of our projects this year.

Unsurprisingly, Next.js is the largest word in our wordcloud. Vercel is right up there as well. We really focused on Next.js + Vercel this year, and almost half of our projects were built with this pairing. That's why becoming a Vercel partner was such a huge deal for us as a team! Node.js was our second most used technology. This makes a lot of sense as Node.js allows us to fill a customization gap where platforms are lacking. Sanity became our headless CMS of choice this year. And building custom Discord bots was a surprising, but welcome, new area where we were able to help clients.

A pie chart illustrating the percentage of days spent on our projects in 2022.

Last year, 3 of our projects represented about 70% of our total work days. This year has been very different. We're a smaller team and our engagements have been shorter. Call me an optimist, but there have been some interesting silver linings from working on smaller engagements.

1) Our team has had more time to gel.

It's already hard to build a culture as a remote team. Being on a full-time engagement tends to further pull you away from the team. You're essentially embedded on the client's team. Having more greenfield projects has allowed us to be more collaborative. We're able to be more involved in each other's day-to-day work.

2) More flexibility with our time.

Longer-term contracts usually require our full-time hours with a client. Having shorter engagements has allowed us to be more flexible with vacations, personal projects, and team events.

3) Refined processes and increased learning.

Shorter engagements haven't meant less work. It's just meant that we've put in more reps under our belt. We've created boilerplates, templates, and processes that have sped up our delivery times. And we've been able to take learning opportunities with new technologies, like Discord bots, and turn them into paid work with clients.


At the beginning of this year, Jordan and I made 4 goals for Stack Five. We ended up making 2 of those goals. The other 2 goals were great lessons in running a small business during a changing market landscape and an economic recession.

Our first goal was to grow our revenue. By the end of this year, we'll make about 60% of the revenue that we did in 2021. We saw roughly the same amount of leads as last year though. But I noticed that there was a reluctance to spend or pull the trigger on projects. Many of our high-quality leads from referrals or existing clients were pushed into 2023. Some clients decided to try and take on their projects internally or prioritize other projects first. I don't always get the full picture when talking to clients. But my gut tells me that people are being more conservative. This makes sense considering the mass tech layoffs, interest rates, and inflation.

Our second goal was to grow our team. Obviously, this doesn't work if you don't have the revenue to support it. At the beginning of the year, we started with a team of 5 full-time developers. By mid-year, we had 2 members leave. We decided to only backfill one position, which ended up being a good decision. If we had overextended ourselves then we may have been forced to lay off. Instead, we've got runway well into 2023 and can keep everyone employed and busy.

Our third goal was to improve our team's experience. It's exceedingly hard to build a culture as a remote company. When I worked in an office, I used to go around at lunch and gather people to try out a new restaurant. At my startup, we played video games every lunch. We've tried a few things with our team at Stack Five. Some have worked and some haven't. What's been the most important is that we've tried. Now, we have a few things that have stuck and our team looks forward to those things. And none of them include awkward forced social interaction ๐Ÿ˜‚

Our last goal was to strengthen our brand. Relaunching our website was a huge part of that. This redesign has taken our brand to a new level. We have our good friend Paul Crimi to thank for that. We also came to the realization that (for us) our brand is our people. We are a people-first company. For myself, that has meant being more consistent on LinkedIn. For Jordan, he's focused on Twitter and more recently Mastodon. It's not about posting content for the sake of marketing. It's about writing and sharing honestly about our experience.

Final Thoughts

This year I learned a lot more about my own motivations and why I continue to walk this path. Understanding your own motivations is vital when you're running a business. Even though we made less money and didn't meet all of our goals, we pivoted and made good decisions. In hindsight, more money and more people aren't very good goals anyways. They don't line up with our values. And they depend on a lot of factors outside of our control.

I feel grateful to have made it this far as a company. So many things could have gone a different way. I am grateful for a partner like Jordan. Our personalities and skill sets fit together like puzzle pieces. We've been creating magic since the first time we worked together years ago. And I'm lucky to call him my best friend. I am grateful for our team. We are a small but mighty bunch. Each one of us could be the rockstar on any dev team in any top-tier company. And somehow we've managed to find each other.

This year has been much less stressful than previous years from a business standpoint. That's been critical for me because my personal life has been much more stressful. We have more processes in place, so a lot of things feel more effortless. We've also narrowed our focus with our technology niche and our partnerships. In our previous years, the only goal was survival. In 2022, it's been more about defining the future. And our roadmap is clearer than ever to me.

Copyright ยฉ 2024 Geoffrey Chan. All rights reserved.