John Walker, Michelle Bolda, Cody Gros – hubley
6160 Perkins Rd., Baton Rouge, LA 70808
Article by Case Duckworth
In my talks with local entrepreneurs, I’ve found that businesses usually start in one of two ways: either they’re a passion that the founder has been able to monetize, or there is a need the founder has been able to identify and address. hubley, founded by Michelle Bolda, Cody Gros, and John Walker, is of the second type. In a series of SharePoint User Groups meetings at the library a few years ago, they discovered that a number of companies used SharePoint, but not to its full depth of capabilities. They realized that they could build a consulting business around providing services utilizing those depths, and replicate similar infrastructure to multiple clients, saving them money. That’s what hubley’s been doing for a number of clients, locally, nationally, and even globally, for the past five years. One of those clients is the East Baton Rouge Parish Library, so when I heard about hubley’s genesis here, I knew I had to get their story. I sat down with John Walker to talk about their growth, struggles, and plans for the future.
Microsoft SharePoint is a popular enterprise software for corporate intranets, which are like the Internet but private to a corporation. While intranets in general, and SharePoint in particular, can be useful for companies, John says, “most businesses don’t understand the value [SharePoint] can bring,” and end up implementing their intranet from scratch which is not always done correctly and can take a lot of time. As John and the other founders of hubley, Michelle and Cody, were meeting at the library, they realized they could save companies money by building a highly configurable intranet solution and selling it. So they built their product, leveraged existing relationships with businesses they knew were using SharePoint, and launched hubley.
That was in 2016. Five years later, they have twenty employees, clients all over the United States and even internationally, and they’re gearing up to expand even more. John told me that with their new language packs, they’re ready to expand to Latin America, Europe, and the Caribbean. Though most of their team is still in Louisiana, hubley has a satellite office in Birmingham, and plans to expand even more this year. Almost all of that growth has come from organic online searches. “All our leads come through our website,” John says. “People don’t know we’re based in Louisiana until we talk to them,” which has caused a unique issue with local hiring. “We want to hire great people locally and participate in local events – we’re a good success story for Louisiana,” he says. “LED [Louisiana Economic Development] has helped tremendously. Their grants for the software development industry have allowed us to stay in Baton Rouge and hire people more quickly than we would have otherwise.”
Helming a fast-growing startup carries other challenges, too. John mentioned the managerial aspects of running a business, like invoicing, support, and payroll, were challenges, but those were mitigated by two factors: a division of labor and an open-door policy for their employees. “hubley’s founders,” he said, “have three different roles. Michelle is our operations lead, Cody is the technology visionary, and I manage business development and strategy.” Dividing the labor across those three areas of concern helped the original team procure new clients and service their existing clients’ needs as they grew. John added that they make sure to tell hires, “We’re all doing this as a team for the first time, so if you guys have any ideas or thoughts on how to improve processes, let’s chat about it.” That open-door policy, as well as a willingness to explore novel ideas, has led to hubley’s growth.
The global pandemic led to more businesses pivoting to an online-first workflow, which helped bolster hubley’s business. “It was scary in the beginning, with corporations tightening budgets,” he said, “but a lot of leadership teams figured out quickly that employees need to work together better from home, and that’s hubley. So we were able to service that need.”
I finished our interview by asking John if he had any advice for an entrepreneur starting out, or himself in the past. He said, “Stay focused on the core items you’re trying to tackle, the core needs in the marketplace. If you feel strongly that there’s a need you’re helping with, be patient. It doesn’t happen overnight.” He added, “Also, be open to team members’ feedback, and those of your clients’. And be sure to create a collaborative, welcoming atmosphere. We love working at hubley. That’s important.”
From an idea on a whiteboard at the East Baton Rouge Parish Library to a fast-growing tech start-up, hubley’s founders have pursued their vision by finding a pain-point and fixing it in their product. They’re constantly looking to improve and deliver software that can improve corporate communication within organizations. I know from experience that hubley has streamlined processes here at the Library, so I’m glad they’re here in Baton Rouge.