Other Thoughts

As we wrapped up the month of May at Mangrove, I felt that it wouldn’t be right to pass by our 10 year Mangrove anniversary without taking a moment to celebrate it. My mom might be the only one who reads this entire post, but this exercise in its own right is an important one. It’s always good to make time to celebrate the wins, look ahead, and recommit to where we’re going. Over the last decade, I have been lucky to work with an amazing team, and with many clients that continue to fulfill my original vision of creating websites for good people doing great work. Here’s a peek into the history that made us who we are today.

—Maiya

What were you doing before starting Mangrove?

After graduating from UCLA with a degree in International Development, I went to work for a San Francisco-based nonprofit that organized volunteer trips to Thailand and Tanzania for HIV/AIDs education and sustainable agriculture training. During my time with that organization, I had a chance to work on their website, one of a variety of jobs I was totally under-qualified to perform. The good news is, I really enjoyed working on the website, and after many late nights Googling and self-teaching, my career in web development officially began.

My next job was at a new web development company in Berkeley, CA. For two years, I worked alongside a small team, continuing to grow my skill-set and solidify my knowledge of web development. At that time, WordPress was just emerging as a CMS, rather than simply a blogging platform, and we were enthralled with understanding how to utilize it in this way. We learned everything we could about front end development and WordPress customization during those years, and I came out of it with a solid understanding of coding that I’m forever grateful for. Those skills were only the beginning, but set a strong foundation for me to keep learning as the industry evolved.

What inspired you to start your own company?

My parents are both very entrepreneurial, so in a way I think I’ve always been headed in this direction. During a trip to Panama in 2009 (to visit some childhood friends who owned a hostel there) this became more of a reality. I had built a website in exchange for the trip, and then while in Panama, I had the exciting realization and validation that I could potentially work from anywhere. Soon after, I parted ways with my Berkeley team and headed back to Panama, where I freelanced for four months. I worked from the hostel, from my apartment and from a coworking space on the edge of a lagoon, which is a 20-minute boat ride from the tiny island of Bocas Del Toro. I promise, I really did manage to get some work done from that beautiful dock surrounded by Mangrove trees.  (And yes, I had a PC back then…)

Fun fact: our logo is actually based on a photo I took of a small Mangrove tree at this exact spot.  And, coincidentally, Panama is also where I met my now husband, Shaun.  After Panama, we moved to Australia for 2 ½ years, making it Mangrove’s second official “international hub”.

Can you share a bit about the first project you took on and how the company grew from there?

My first official freelance project was for a friend’s consulting firm in SF—I really had no idea what I was doing and got in over my head, but it forced me to figure things out quickly.  I also created a website for a small nonprofit that gathered and shipped surplus medical supplies to developing countries. At the time, the work was a perfect combination of my International Development degree and new-found coding skills, so I was pretty excited about it.

Another significant project in my early days was with Two Degrees—I worked with them for two years. They had a 1-for-1 model of donating meals to children in need for every snack bar they sold. I worked alongside a great team, and loved that I could use my technical and creative skills to do purpose-driven work.

What has been your favorite accomplishment since starting Mangrove?

Some recent projects I am especially proud of are the Mighty Networks Niche Name Generator and the 2017 Wikimedia Annual Report.

The Niche Name Generator for Mighty Networks involved an adventure into the intersection of the English language and engineering. We built a phrase generator off the Oxford Dictionary API to serve as a brainstorming tool to help entrepreneurs discover and define their niche community. During the build, the generator’s output—including phrases like “Indestructible Matriarchs” and “Seniors who Powerlift”—created an entertaining and ongoing team commentary. In the end, the quality of work that the Mangrove team delivered was truly impressive, and seeing what we could produce with a broader range of team involvement was exciting.

The Wikimedia Annual Impact report involved highly customized animations that brought a series of statistics and stories to life, with the goal of thanking their donors and community. Working with a well-known and values-aligned nonprofit made the project all the more fulfilling.

Another huge highlight in the Mangrove story was becoming a Certified B Corp in 2016 and a legal Benefit Corporation in 2017. The third-party B Corp certification further solidified our commitment to purpose-driven work, reflecting “the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance.” Today, our team proudly prioritizes collaborating with like-minded clients and woman- or minority-owned businesses.

All of that said, my very favorite accomplishment to date is the incredible international team we have built at Mangrove. Our team is the heart of the company.

Speaking of this wonderful crew; has it always been important to you to build a diverse, international team and how have you been able to make it happen?

From day one, building an international team felt natural and became a core part of what makes Mangrove so special. I had already spent 2 ½ years working from Australia for mostly US-based clients, so I knew the remote model could work. After about five years of freelancing, I started building a team, beginning with Megan, Taylor and Jonathan. Taylor and I had coded together on another project, and when I brought her on to support Mangrove, I was so excited to have another female developer by my side. Jonathan and I met via the Berkeley firm I used to work for, and when he moved to Germany with his now wife, he became an integral part of our dev team. Megan was a friend of a friend from Two Degrees, and as our Operations and Project Manager, has been an essential part of our growth.

In the year leading up to the birth of my son, Terner, I knew that I needed more support if I wanted to create my own maternity leave and family time. That’s when the team grew substantially, essentially doubling in the course of 18 months.

Over the years, I have always kept an eye out for talented designers, developers and project managers who are also great at listening and communicating with clients. The problems we are solving require consideration of a human experience before we can create a technological solution. Our team members are really well-rounded in this regard, and they also bring diverse technical skills to the table. We push each other to continue improving to come up with creative solutions. One person’s super power may be another’s weakness, and we have figured out how to leverage everyone’s strengths to make them (and our clients) as happy as possible.

The depth of experience in each team member’s daily life and skill set creates an incredibly collaborative and fun environment. Every Tuesday we have a team-wide video call. The camaraderie and genuine enjoyment on those calls is often the best part of my work week. We always spend at least 30 minutes chatting about non-work topics, which is essential to maintaining connectivity and empathy. Seeing the way the team enjoys working together makes me feel that I’ve done something great. I am proud of how we have developed a crew that not only gets sh*t done, but also enjoys it. Maintaining a happy and motivated team is essential to long-term success.

(check it out, here we are on a real team call)

Cheers to the future!

June (oh hey, that’s now!) welcomes us into our 11th year at Mangrove, and I couldn’t be more excited about what the coming months, years and decades may hold for our team. Thank you to my crew, and to each and every mentor, client and partner that has helped us reach this exciting milestone.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

—Maiya