Suburbia Studios is a nationally recognized marketing and communications firm in British Columbia, Canada, with expertise in retail, shopping centers, financial services, and health and wellness. Here, its co-founder and CEO, Mary-Lynn Bellamy-Willms, tells the story of how a point of pain in their business opened the door to a whole new world of opportunity.
Twenty years ago, when Suburbia Studios moved into a new, purpose-built office space, they knew they had to up their game to make sure their business continued to flourish. One of the biggest pain points they needed to address, was how to manage time and projects more effectively.
"At the time, we were tracking our hours on paper time sheets," says Bellamy-Willms, "No-one liked them, so they were often late or incomplete, and our management team had to scramble to gather the information they needed to manage projects and complete monthly billing. We knew things had to change."
The project management landscape was much different than it is today. Creative industry time tracking and project management systems were designed primarily for large agencies. Software had to be purchased and installed on each computer, the systems were cumbersome and complex to use — and it was all outrageously expensive. "We couldn’t find anything that met our needs," says Bellamy-Willms, "So we decided to do it ourselves. Our web development team built us a very simple online timesheet — without any bells or whistles."
As soon as Suburbia began to use the new system, they recognized its potential. "It made a tremendous difference almost right away," says Bellamy-Willms, "There were fewer mistakes in assigning time, fewer late time sheets. Our estimates were more accurate, and our billable hours went up, too. We could also see exactly which clients were profitable for us." Before long, with input from everyone on the team, Suburbia’s online time sheet had become a really useful business tool. They began to think that other companies might want it too. When they did their research, they found that smaller creative companies across North America were extremely interested. That’s when they decided to create a new company and take their product to market.
Hiring some key people to move the project on was next on the agenda. They needed management, tech, and customer service experts, and they found some remarkable people, who are still with the company. It was the beginning of a tremendously exhilarating time at Suburbia. "We did everything ourselves," says Bellamy-Willms. The product — called FunctionFox — was conceived, researched, designed and developed in house." The fledgling company withstood start-up pains, growing pains, and ever increasing competitive pressures. Today, it is the leading time tracking and project management software for creative teams in over 100 countries.
Taking a leap of faith to start a new business, like Suburbia did with FunctionFox, is not for everyone, but if the time is right, and an opportunity presents itself, it can be the beginning of something both invigorating and rewarding. Mary-Lynn Bellamy-Willms is still involved in Suburbia and in FunctionFox, but she is not resting on her laurels. Suburbia launched Zooper Dooper ABC, an edutainment App for kids that’s won the honour of being in the top 20 Apps for kids under 5 two years running. And Suburbia is also excited about launching their newest venture, CreativeApproved, in the fall of 2017. "I love the excitement of starting something new," she says, "And it’s even more rewarding to watch these new companies grow and thrive over time."