As part of our Meet the Member series, we spoke with Carbon Five, a digital product development consultancy with their NYC offices based in SoHo. We spoke with Brandy Davis-Balsamo, General Manger about the services they offer and their approach to helping businesses tackle their challenges in the digital age.
FACC: Carbon Five is a software consultancy company that helps companies design & build products. What are the advantages of having multiple services under one roof?
BDB: Carbon Five started, nearly two decades ago, as a pure development shop in San Francisco. Back then, our developers were working with outside design firms, like Cooper and Hot Studio, and we began to see the value of having design side-by-side with development. With the help of Stanford d.School, we developed an in-house design practice to align with our agile process. Later on, we were working with outside product managers, and saw those benefits, then developed that practice in house. In hindsight, the evolution of our core practice areas mirrors the tech industry as a whole, evolving to form the core components of the modern software delivery team.
FACC: One of your recent blog posts mentions the importance of having a designer, which for one reason or another some companies bypass on certain projects. What is Carbon Five’s design philosophy?
BDB: Given design’s job includes the visualization of a product some people are under the misconception that design is just about polish. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Product design, in the today’s era, is deeply technical and involves as much data as creativity to craft a competitively differentiated, scalable product. Our design philosophy is a mix between design thinking and agile, which means we value collaboration from all stakeholders to devise the best solution, given a time constraint. And, we use short feedback loops to continually evolve the design language and bring the holistic visual, interactive, and end-to-end experience to life alongside the developers.
FACC: When companies are developing new software, if often involves many stakeholders- from clients, to internal departments, accounting & budgets, marketing, communications & more. What advice would you give to companies to ensure that the end product takes into account the needs & wants of all?
BDB: That is a great question. We often see this with our growth and enterprise clients, but sometimes it occurs with early stage companies too. We advise our clients to take a two track process. Track 1 - Set and Broadcast: Set the vision for the project and conduct internal marketing to get buy-in for the high-level roadmap. This gets everyone to understand what to expect and when and to channel their feedback. Track 2 - Research and Validate: Treat all direct stakeholders, including internal, as users and get into the why behind their requirements. Then, as the product starts to take shape, invite key stakeholders to weekly demos to bring them into the creation process and collect and prioritize feedback early on.
FACC: What does your client onboarding process look like?
BDB: Carbon Five does project-based work requiring a lot of upfront discussion to scope. Throughout our business development process, which is highly consultative, we’ll have several meetings to discuss the business, the project, and its goals, risks, etc, from which we’ll derive a Statement of Work, including scope, budget, and timeline. Once we’ve arrived at this stage, the client knows a good deal about the way we work and expectations for the first couple weeks. Next, we plan a kickoff which runs 2-3 days with the full team, client and Carbon Five, in the same room, diving into the details through presentations and collaborative exercises. Then, we’re off to the races together with weekly iterations in the build, measure, learn cycle.
FACC: One of Carbon Five’s services includes training team members to carry the process forward after your work is done. How do you set them up for success?
BDB: In many projects, we’re filling the space and gaining momentum while our clients are hiring on the in-house team who will take the reins and that’s exactly what we want. Our model is to work ourselves out of a job. Everyone knows it’s really hard to hire good devs, designers and PMs, not to mention getting them to high performance as a team. We set our clients up for success by pairing with their new recruits and ramping down on our side as those folks ramp up. We also help our clients by interviewing potential hires for them so they can get an honest assessment based on the technical needs of the system and the development culture the company is striving toward.
FACC: What is your connection to France or French business?
BDB: Carbon Five doesn’t have a strong connection to France, yet. That’s something I want to fix. I lived in France early in my career and fell in love, with the Country and a Frenchman. When I relocated to the U.S., I joined the team at Invest in France promoting France to American Business. That brought me to San Francisco right when tech was hitting its stride again and I became completely immersed and thoroughly inculcated in Silicon Valley startup culture. Fast forward to today, I’m officially French, lead the growing Carbon Five NYC office, and am excited to be at the hyphen of French and American. Why? Because the French are immensely talented and I’m eager to show the value created when you bring these two cultures together in business and in tech, here in NYC.
If you're interested in learning more about Carbon Five's services, members can connect directly through the FACC member directory or request an introduction through the FACC Staff.