Punch above your weight: 6 Chicago tech companies share their secrets to success

by Michael Hines
November 20, 2018

Great technologies are built to scale, which makes it possible for lean teams to make an outsized impact. Chicago is home to many tech companies that are punching far above their weight and disrupting everything from the trading industry to the world of video game livestreaming. We recently spoke with employees at six Chicago tech companies to learn more about what they’re working on, along with their secrets for punching above their weight.

 

TopstepTrader Chicago fintech company

TopstepTrader takes a crowdsourced approach to trading, with the firm’s simulated, real-time trading environment used to evaluate potential traders. Those who pass the evaluation phase are given an account funded by the company and keep a portion of their profits. COO Melissa Footlick said the team’s ability to punch above its weight played a big role in the launch of its newest product.

 

Can you share a big project your team is working on and the impact it will have on your industry?

This year we launched TopstepFX, which brings our funding opportunity to foreign exchange traders worldwide. From securing international brokerage and technology partners to crafting and testing marketing messages with a whole new audience, there was an opportunity and real need for everyone on the team to participate. Forex trading is a challenging industry, and those with passion can easily be swayed by promises of high leverage and quick profits. It’s possible to lose thousands of dollars learning to trade.

The TopstepFX Trading Combine affords a unique opportunity to break that cycle. Traders can learn to trade, build consistency and, if they pass an objective evaluation, earn our live capital. Our program enables traders to find their own strategies, while holding them accountable to important risk management principles that enable success. TopstepFX is invested in its traders and provides unparalleled resources to them, including one-to-one performance coaching.

The real secret to our success is that we are serious about living our values, even as a young, bootstrapped company.”

 

What’s your company’s secret for punching above its weight?

The real secret to our success is that we are serious about living our values, even as a young, bootstrapped company. Yes, they’re printed on our large chalkboard wall, but they don’t just sit there. The entire team understands their importance, and the executive team allocates resources to ensure they’re woven into our culture, from strategy through to day-to-day conversations.

We believe innovation never sleeps. So each month, we have a half-day innovation lab where the entire company gets together and works on our company’s next big innovation. We also have an annual “Step Up Day” where the entire company works together to help our community. And finally, we offer professional development budgets and opportunities, work-from-home flexibility, monthly team functions and a bonus to take a five-day vacation.

 

Lightstream Chicago tech company

Lightstream’s technology makes it easier for gamers on both consoles and computers to set up and customize livestreams. CEO Stu Grubbs said the company’s key to doing big things with a lean team comes down to its culture.

 

Can you share a big project your team is working on and the impact it will have on your industry?

Since 2014, we’ve been building a cloud-based livestreaming studio with the goal of removing technical hurdles and putting advanced production capabilities in the hands of beginners. This spring, we partnered with Microsoft to offer Lightstream Studio to Xbox and Windows streamers as part of the native operating system experience. This is especially game-changing for Xbox players. For the first time, they’ll be able to customize their streams with branded overlays, text and interactive elements without needing a high-end PC, capture card and technical knowledge.

We have strong ideas about what’s needed in the gaming industry and some unique thoughts around how to bring them to life.”

 

What’s your company’s secret for punching above its weight?

It’s easy to attribute achievements like this to technical excellence or deep connections to our industry, but the reality is that this is directly attributable to our culture. From day one, we’ve focused on building a culture that includes values like good vibes, continual learning, strong opinions loosely held, and being relentless. We encourage a spirit of embracing a constant pursuit of learning, enthusiasm for what you do and diving in to tackle difficult problems. We have strong ideas about what’s needed in the gaming industry and some unique thoughts around how to bring them to life.

 

Veritas Health Chicago tech company

Vertias Health’s network of patient education sites feature physician-authored and peer-reviewed content on pain management, treatment, prevention, and more. Director of Creative Media Jeana Clark said her team’s “secret” to success is loving what they do and working hard.

 

Can you share a big project your team is working on and the impact it will have on your industry?

My team is working on mixed media video projects. We’re taking complex medical content and presenting it to our readers in easy-to-understand ways without dumbing it down. By combining video footage and animation, we’re empowering our audience to really understand their health conditions. We’re producing content that is peer-reviewed by other doctors in the field, and in turn their own peers are showing our content to their patients during their appointments.

Tapping the best talent means we don’t need a lot of redundancy.”

 

What’s your company’s secret for punching above its weight?

I always say to my team, “It’s a great day at work if we feel like we’ve played all day.” Our team members are highly motivated and highly skilled. Tapping the best talent means we don’t need a lot of redundancy. We will have duplicate roles as we grow, but each employee is empowered to think big, take risks and bring new ideas back to the team. The mixed media video was an example of that collaboration. Our video producer and medical illustrator and animator worked on this video together and then gained input from our visual designer as well.

 

PrintWithMe Chicago tech company

PrintWithMe makes it easier to print documents on the go with its network of printers and kiosks in coffee shops, hotels, apartment buildings, and more. CEO Jonathan Treble said his team’s secret to making an outsized impact on its industry comes down to its intense customer focus and Spartan-esque mentality.

 

Can you share a big project your team is working on and the impact it will have on your industry?

Earlier this year we unveiled BrowserPrint, which allows customers to print directly from Chrome and saves them a few steps in the email confirmation process. Soon, we’ll introduce the ability to print from our iPhone app, as well as the ability to print from our website. Our goal has always been to make printing painless and more convenient. By giving consumers the options they’re most comfortable with, we’re furthering that goal in a big way.

People step up, support each other and keep the big picture in mind.”

 

What’s your company’s secret for punching above its weight?

The first is our laser focus on our customers and making an inherently frustrating task — who doesn’t hate printing — pain free and seamless. The second is our team’s methodical work nature. On his first day of joining the company, our director of marketing remarked at how calm and focused the team remains throughout the day. People step up, support each other and keep the big picture in mind. The Greeks once noted “one Spartan was worth several men of any other state,” and I think our small, committed team embodies that Spartan mentality.

 

Chowly Chicago tech company

Chowly’s technology makes it easier for restaurants to manage orders placed on third-party platforms by integrating directly into point-of-sale systems. The online food ordering industry is incredibly competitive, and CTO Dan Duling said his team’s secret to standing out and making an impact comes down to three core aspects of what the company looks for in teammates.

 

Can you share a big project your team is working on and the impact it will have on your industry?

Aperitif is a tool that gives restaurants the ability to track where their online orders are coming from and organizes them into a dashboard. It allows restaurants to view orders by platform, date, order time of day, revenue, new versus returning customers and individual orders. This gives restaurants insight into how third-parties are performing and shows their expected revenue in real time. Prior to Aperitif, restaurants had to wait for weekly or biweekly third-party payments to know how much they made from each platform.

For example, one of our clients considered canceling a third-party platform because they thought the order volume was too low. After analyzing Aperitif, they realized the third party was actually responsible for the majority of their Sunday business.

Since our team is smaller, each person makes a large impact.”

 

What’s your company’s secret for punching above its weight?

First and foremost, it starts with our people. I like to focus on three core aspects: The first is quality over quantity. We are selective when hiring, and carefully hand-pick each member of our team. It’s important to have a mix of personalities and skill sets that work well together, which is why we look for developers who are diverse in these areas. The next core aspect is communication. Constant communication is key and one of our greatest strengths. Each team member has a say in creating new ideas and finding solutions to problems. Finally, we focus on teamwork. Since our team is smaller, each person makes a large impact. They have more responsibility and are not just another wheel in the machine.

 

Eved Chicago tech company

Eved’s software and services are used by companies to track and manage their event spending. The company is currently in the process of expanding to a major overseas market, and Director of Implementation Alex Milling said this project has inspired the entire team.

 

Can you share a big project your team is working on and the impact it will have on your industry?

We’re expanding to China, with the goal of having our first customer live in early 2019. The project has involved setting up an operational entity in China, enhancing our product to support Chinese payment processing regulations and coordinating work with our Chinese partners. We hope that this project will help provide a global solution to companies who are looking for a way to streamline processes and improve visibility on spending in the meetings and events category.

the success of this project can lead to substantial growth of our business, which has motivated everyone.

 

What’s your company’s secret for punching above its weight?

Clearly defining goals, laying out a plan and then working together as a team. This project requires many different areas of our business to come together: development, client services, finance, etc. Everyone understands that the success of this project can lead to substantial growth of our business, which has motivated everyone to “punch above their weight.”

 

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