The Next Generation of Lullabot

Lullabot's vision is to become an employee-owned company of companies, but being Lullabot's CEO isn't the path to support that. I will now serve as CEO for Tugboat while Seth Brown leads Lullabot.

Lullabot's broader vision is to become an employee-owned company of companies, providing a more comprehensive range of products and services to our clients. It's a mission we've carried with us since 2012, and in pursuit of that long-term vision, there are some updates we'd like to share, including the announcement of our new CEO of Lullabot, Seth Brown

In the early days of the company (2008-ish), I could barely make payroll. And the solution we needed was more complicated than seeking temporary relief with our credit line or hoping that cashflows would accelerate and make the problem go away. We didn't know this at the time, but our solution would forever change our organization's DNA.

During those sleepless nights, I watched a lot of Oprah Winfrey. One particular episode had people admitting their secrets to their families and friends as a step towards asking them for help. One couple had accumulated massive amounts of debt, and their lives had become unmanageable. Another had been a smoker for years and wanted to stop smoking. The idea was simple: the first step to making something better was admitting to yourself and others that a problem exists and that you want to change it.

I was also reading books. I had picked up Small Giants sometime earlier. I was struck by companies choosing the quality of service as their highest calling rather than buying into the myth of grow or die. But it wasn't until I read Jack Stack's autobiography, A Stake in the Outcome, that it all clicked. Jack is the godfather of Open Books Management and a leading advocate for employee ownership. I met Jack at a Great Game of Business conference a few years back, and by meeting him, I mean, he was kind enough to accept a hug from a total stranger thanking him for his contributions.

With our trust in the Oprah process and faith in our team, we went onsite for our annual company retreat. This retreat was all about the financials. We ran accounting classes, learned how to read a balance sheet, an income statement, and a profit and loss statement. Some of us would go on to enroll in finance courses and create a study program together. It was jaw-dropping how quickly everyone rolled up their sleeves and began to understand and then tackle the problem. I realized that I wanted a company where the company's goals and the goals of the team harmoniously align. And we needed a reset. This idea became one of the two foundational principles we'd end up forming in our 15 years as an organization:

The first foundational principle:

The goals of the company and the goals of the team harmoniously align.

The second foundational principle:

You will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.

During that retreat, we set an intention to build a company cash reserve. We established one of our many mantras: "Profit provides possibilities and protection." And over the next twelve months, we took our new understanding of the numbers and hit our cash reserve goal. That's how Lullabot became an open books company and the genesis of our broader vision.

Despite having a high-risk tolerance, entrepreneurs often carry the load of ownership themselves. Many believe it's an obligation to do so. And while the responsibility will ultimately fall on their shoulders, withholding information becomes a double-edged sword. It deprives the team of critical information and creates unnecessary work. When it is possible to worry about the same things together and circumvent mountains of misunderstanding, it is easier for the team to be invested in the vision.

In terms of leadership, it's time to begin work in earnest on the broader vision of Lullabot. As part of that vision, I had planned to step down as the CEO in 2026. Sometimes though, there is an incredible surge of momentum, opportunity, and luck, which made it abundantly clear that I could either wait for six years or start now to take advantage of this fortunate timing. I am deeply grateful to have a team ready, willing, and able to continue Lullabot's legacy. I can't possibly put into words the fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy this gives me.

I am thrilled to have Seth Brown as our new CEO of Lullabot. Seth takes the helm with the right mix of anxiety, enthusiasm, and sincere admiration for our clients and our team. Seth believes, as I do, that leadership is in service to others, and that the role of the CEO is to empower and create a safe workplace, to remove barriers, and to own failures. To Be Human in our leadership and be responsible for the team's culture and performance. I first met Seth at a Lullabot workshop back in April of 2007, as the nerdy-and-most-excited student in the class who had a million questions about Drupal. In 2010, Seth applied for Lullabot's first Project Manager position. Having already led a digital agency for seven years, Seth brought much-needed sanity to the team and my own life. Seth knows this company and the business, and he loves the Drupal community.

As one era winds down, so too another begins. I will be serving our team as the CEO of Tugboat, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lullabot. Tugboat creates automated review environments so teams can see the work as if it were already in production. And we're supported by $1 million in seed funding from our parent company. Let's connect if you're interested in learning more about standardizing on deployment preview based workflows. 

Finally, I want to circle back to the broader vision of Lullabot, which is to become an employee-owned company of companies. That project begins with me stepping away from Lullabot and stepping into Tugboat. Stepping away from Lullabot facilitates employee ownership, something we're actively working on. Stepping into Tugboat supports Lullabot's first wholly-owned subsidiary. Both of these efforts are critical to manifesting that dream. The biggest realization/concern I had was this: who is actively working on this specific vision? Because if no one is leading the charge, it's not going to happen. Being Lullabot's CEO isn't the path to support this broader vision. The momentum is here despite the timeline being early, so we will lean into it just like we did to start Lullabot, and I will set my intention on pulling this future toward us a little bit closer every day. And that next part of the journey, for the foreseeable future, begins by boat.

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