2016 Year In Review

2016 went by fast. Like really, really fast.

But in spite of the speed, 2016 was NR’s best year yet by a long shot. We launched more internal products than ever, saw the first acquisition of a Rootstrap alum, and cut the ribbon on an art-filled mansion/new creative headquarters in West Hollywood. We saw more progress this year than I could have dreamed of, and we’ve learned a lot about how to approach taking NR to the next level in 2017.

What Went Well: Brand & Client Work

Rootstrap

Social media influencer @haileebobailee rocking the 2016 Rootstrap winter collection

Rootstrap, we’re happy to say, is as strong as ever. We’re continuing to refine our process to help early-stage startups and apps create sustainable businesses, and we’ve been able to scale the Rootstrap model to accommodate more clients and achieve better results. We’re working on a new website that includes a Content Hub, which will totally revamp our branded content strategy. We’ve also initiated a full-on rebrand of Rootstrap (say goodbye to those cartoons) and have even launched the first Rootstrap online merch store as part of our initiative to build Rootstrap into a lifestyle brand.

99centbrains

We’ve been working with coding wizard/growth hacker/product genius extraordinaire Franky Aguilar for a while now, but this year we made it official by acquiring 99centbrains, his development shop. 99CB has had quite the track record over the years: through apps like Catwang and GIFYogurt, they’ve scored over 10 million cumulative app downloads, 100 million pieces of user-generated content, and more than $1.5 million in in-app revenue. 99centbrains saw some awesome success this year with its releases of Pugly and OKJUX, and we’re thrilled to continue working with this boy wonder.

Inc 30U30

This is one I’m pretty excited about, if you don’t mind my saying. I’m proud to have been voted one of America’s 30 Under 30 Coolest Entrepreneurs by Inc. Magazine — an honor I’m thrilled to receive. Plus, NR won the Inc. 5000 as one of America’s fastest growing companies, and we got a nice feature to boot. Awards aren’t everything, but they’re fun when they happen!

Breakthrough

We oversaw the launch of Breakthrough, Tony Robbins’s first-ever mobile app — a project that started in a 2-week Rootstrap session and evolved into an app that’s changed the lives of thousands and created a huge ROI for the big TR. Working with Robbins was a dream, and we’re excited to partner with him on more projects in the years to come.

QuoTR

In fact, we recently released one of those other Tony Robbins projects — QuoTR. It’s a simple, beautifully-designed quote app that’s designed to inspire anyone who uses it (even me). It lets users view quotes by Tony, create beautiful images from them, and easily share them across their networks. Check it out — we could all use a little more inspiration in our lives.

Mastering Project Roadmaps

We partnered with my friend and freelance guru, Brennan Dunn, to turn the Rootstrap methodology into an online course aimed at freelancers of every discipline. It’s all based on a simple proposition: turn the discovery and estimate work that most freelancers provide for free into a paid roadmapping service. We created hours of video instruction and course materials to teach freelancers how to do this and launched it in partnership with Double Your Freelancing, Brennan’s own training brand. The result? Mastering Project Roadmaps has already helped tens of thousands of freelancers and agencies master the art of project roadmapping, and the student base is only growing. Plus, we’re working on a Version 2.0 launch that’s more structured and fine tuned, applying all the lessons we learned with the first version of Mastering Project Roadmaps.

What Went Well: Internal Products

This is where 2016 really shined for us. We’ve been working to pivot our focus towards internal products for a while now, and 2016 is the year we really started kicking that into high gear. We oversaw 5 internal product launches in 2016, and they all went better than we’d hoped for.

Arbor

What started as an internal tool for Rootstrap has snowballed into a full-fledged feature management engine, and we couldn’t be more thrilled. We launched the beta version of Arbor alongside Mastering Project Roadmaps, and we subsequently released the full version to the world completely free of charge. We’re thrilled to say Arbor took home a #1 spot on Product Hunt’s Developer Tools category. We’ve already got new features in the works for Arbor, and we’re looking forward to expanding its capabilities as a feature management tool.

Sitcomd

Ok, I do have a bit of a confession: the NR team is kind of a sucker for old 90s sitcoms. We wanted to turn that nostalgic love into something fun, so we created Sitcomd, an app that lets users quickly edit photos and videos into 90s sitcom intro-themed video montages. 1.4 million impressions and a featured placement in the Apple App Store later, Sitcomd is going strong helping goofy kids everywhere remix their lives.

Pocket Buddy

Neon Roots is no stranger to the cannabis universe — after all, we helped Snoop Dogg design Snoopify and helped the Merry Jane team through a Rootstrap session. This year, we launched Pocket Buddy, a cannabis-inspired simulation game where users get to grow their own “dank” pocket buddy and harvest the fruits of their labor for prizes. It’s kind of like Tamagotchi for cannabis agriculture. We were thrilled to see it hit #1 on Product Hunt, chart in the top 100 on the App Store, and get a feature on the App Store’s search trends.

Bumpy Riders

Our second mobile game release, Bumpy Riders, just launched on the Google Play store, and we couldn’t be more proud of it. One big thing we learned this year is to launch on Android first. Why? You can publish updates in just 2 hours instead of the 4–5 days it takes on the App Store, which means you can rapidly iterate early releases in real time with real users. Plus, user acquisition is about 59% cheaper on Android — so it’s the perfect environment for tuning up the first release. That was a big lesson this year, and we’re proud to implement this process on our new releases.

Feedback Emoji

I’m pretty excited about this one. We created a simple (and I mean criminally simple) way for website owners to gather real user feedback on their content through the universal language of emojis. Feedback Emoji is a fully customizable, provides analytics in real-time, and takes only one line of code to install.

What Went Well: New Offices

Wave House

2016 also saw us cut the ribbon on Wave House, which is something that’s been a dream of mine for a long time now. What is Wave House exactly? It’s a living space, a headquarters, and a creative studio all in one. Located in West Hollywood, covering more than 4,500 square feet, wrapped in a gorgeous mural from Walls 360, and filled with art from infamous LA artists like Alec Monopoly, Mr. Brainwash, & David Choi, Wave House is the new home for Neon Roots. I can’t tell you how good it feels to walk into and work in this place knowing full well how impossible this would have sounded to me just 5 years ago.

New York Office

In addition to Wave House, we opened up our first New York office. This is a dream come true — I never expected we’d open a New York office this soon, and especially not one in the heart of Chelsea! But, thanks to the hard work of our team, we’ve finally got a real space for our NY team members to come in and work. Plus, we can now run Rootstraps for NY clients without needing them to make the trek out to SoCal.

What We Need to Improve On

A lot went well this year, and I’m extremely happy about that. But, just like any organization, there’s plenty to improve on. Here are the things NR could do better in 2017.

Internal Product Lifecycles

We released 5 (5!) internal products this year, and that’s on top of the client and internal branding work we’re already doing. I can not tell you how proud I am of that. Huge props to everyone on the NR team for their hard work in pulling that off.

Still, there’s more we can do to shore up our internal product dev lifecycles. Our target is to be able to ship a product in 12–15 weeks, starting from scratch. That means we have to be very careful to avoid feature creeping ourselves. We’re pretty good at this, but it’s definitely something we’re aiming to improve on in 2017.

Narrowing Our Focus

2016 was a year of growth and diversification for Neon Roots. We expanded the Rootstrap brand, launched Neon Waves as an internal product studio, and created some major projects with big clients. This year, though, we need to be careful about where we expend our energies. At the end of the day, NR is still a business, and a business can only be great at a few things. This year we’ll be working to narrow our focus on only the things that are performing the best and stop investing energy into business lines we can only be ok at.

Build Better Products & Product Owners in Rootstrap

During Rootstrap sessions, we focus a lot on great design, and don’t get me wrong, that’s important — but we also need to focus heavily on business goals and tech specs in the early stages to help set our product owners up for success. By the same token, we need to make sure the owners of the entrepreneurs behind these projects are really ready to be Product Owners. That means preparing them for every aspect of owning a business: marketing, monetization, launch strategy, and everything in between. Moving into 2017, we’re incorporating Franky Aguilar into the RS process to get a strong tech presence early on, and we’re working on creating more robust education materials for Rootstrappers to get them ready for the challenges to come.

Test & Validate

What makes Rootstrap so effective is its reliance on testing an idea before building an idea, and in 2017, we want to bring that framework to every aspect of our business. It’s easy to get in the habit of accepting all ideas at face value — but until it’s been validated, an idea is just an assumption. Moving forward, we need to incorporate testing and validation into every phase and aspect of our process — from the very beginning to the very end, and across all elements from UI architecture to marketing copy (like, say, this post!).

Cross-Functionality

Neon Roots diversified this year and created a number of new silos, which is exciting — but it also brings new challenges. Having a larger, more stratified team makes it more difficult to achieve cross-functional collaboration, which is the lifeblood of a business like ours. In 2017, we’ll be working to make sure that the wizards and experts from every corner of our team are spreading the love, working on projects from other parts of NR, and keeping connected with our overall strategy and goals. We can achieve a whole lot more together than we can apart.

What’s Next

2016 was our biggest year yet, and we’re looking forward to continuing that trend. We’re gearing up for a big year in 2017: we’ve got a Rootstrap book deal in the works; we have our internal processes honed to the best they’ve ever been; and we’ve got whole new host of internal products in queue.

The past 5 years have been the best of my life. I wake up ecstatic every day at all that this company and these people have accomplished. I’m beyond thankful for all of you and all of this. 2016 was incredible, and 2017 is going to be even better — I can feel it.

I hope you’ll join us for the ride.

Sincerely,

Ben Lee

CEO

Neon Roots, LLC