Hard Rest

Harled is undertaking a Hard Reset. I'll briefly discuss why and what the future holds.
Chris Young
Chris Young
February 02, 2024

Effective Feb 1, 2024, Harled Inc. is going to look and function very differently. The as-is operations of the company are going to wind down and we're going to set free 13 incredible individuals to go make their mark with different companies and different initiatives. And yes, this was all planned very well in advance. We've made a concerted effort to ensure that all of our employees received the support they needed to be just as successful in their next role as they were with Harled.

Growth Trajectory

Harled's existing business has a clear, upward growth trajectory. We have deep expertise in working with the Government of Canada and Defence in particular (and there is no shortage of opportunity to do amazing work). The recipe is straight forward: continue to hit it out of the park, grow a team dedicated to improving Canada and compete on open bids. In another couple of years I'm sure we could double in size, double revenue and continue to drive a meaningful impact to Canada.

In addition to our core business of defence, we also have been fortunate to work with some really amazing partners in the not-for-profit space. Surely we would continue this. Historically we haven't charged for any of this work, however, going forward the model would be simple to recover some of the labour expense we incur. Again, something we could scale and use as a supplement to do good and sustain a larger and larger organization.

Ironic how once you understand the model (and it wasn't without a whole lot of head banging), and the path to "success" is more straightforward than ever, it is the easiest to see that it might not be the right path.

Bench Management

Why didn't we want this model? I believe that passion is one of, or maybe the most, important ingredient in a workplace. And yes, the team really did have a passion for each of our partner projects, however, it takes substantially more work to sustain that passion when the project is owned by somebody else.

No matter how great our partners are, at the end of the day we're a contractor / contract. If the next cycle comes around and we don't win the bid, or a different partner is selected for other reasons, then we're out the door. Knowing this is perpetually gnawing away the upside of the amazing things we do.

And yes, there are always limits, but working on somebody else's idea or problem is just that, somebody else's. The accolades will flow through their organization, the value to their business and the overt celebrations in their press releases.

The sad version of this trajectory is what much of the competition does in the industry (big and small) which I'll negatively call "bench management". That is managing FTE utilization ratios, labour margin optimization and spreading them across different tiers of projects. Like a baseball team with no set roster and different players show on the field each inning. No, this isn't every company, however, it is clearly the dominant business model in the space as it aligns with making (more) money and not having your heart broken by clients.

It is valid, and client's aren't dumb, they know what they are buying but I personally dislike it. Particularly in the Government and Defence space. There are many practices that are disapointing to learn about as a citizen of the country. So much opportunity, but there is a reason we didn't solve these problems decades ago ...

The Path Forward

Our path forward is not bench management. It is not scaling outsourced software development or team augmentation. It is not to be hired guns to prop up other organizations and then disappear.

The focus going forward is to create a unique product that Harled owns, the good and the bad. It is an initiative that is shaped entirely in the image of Harled, not limited by the realities or opinions of partners. Sure, at the end of the day the market will judge the value, but there is something very liberating about going to bat and knowing you missed the ball with your best swing.

But first, my path forward involves mushed blueberries, scraped knees and a lot of catch-up time with my three children. The youngest of which, I've finally figured out, really won't stay young forever. Running a business, and a business that works in a challenging industry and operates against the grain of competition, took 100% of my mental and physical energy for the better part of 6 years. The result and the incredible team I got to work with, absolutely worth it. However, I have some technical debt in life that I'm very excited to pay off.

As Harled makes this big and difficult shift, I want to thank all of the former team members, clients and advisors for helping me to build a company that accomplished many amazing things in a very short amount of time. I'm very proud of Harled's first chapter and look forward to inventing its second.

About the author

Chris Young

Chris is dedicated to driving meaningful change in the world through software. He has taken dozens of projects from napkin to production in fast yet measured way. Chris has experience delivering solutions to clients spanning fortune 100, not-for-profit and Government.