We didn’t want to make a typical founder’s story here today. It’s much more than that. As you read on, you’ll see the power behind this story is undeniable. Often, it’s the only thing that a young businessperson needs for reassurance.
Dmitrii talked with Kirill about his personal path to IT and how rgbcode came to be and what follows is what came of it. Enjoy!
Getting to Know You…
Dmitrii: How did you get into the industry and what did you do before the agency business?
I was a freelancer and did programming.
Right after university? What did you study for?
I don’t have a university degree. From the age of 12, I was engaged in the Internet, so to speak. Then I read a book about PHP 5 and started programming and creating websites in WordPress.
Before we go much farther, let’s clarify — did you emigrate to Israel? And how old are you?
Yes, I did when I was 6 years old. My parents moved to Israel in 1997. I’m 30 years old now.
First Website, First Project: Dragon Ball Z
When did you start creating websites? As far as I understand, you started with WordPress right away?
The first website I made, around 2003 or earlier, I made for myself. I wanted to make a website for Dragon Ball Z. Do you know Dragon Ball Z?
No, what’s that?
It’s an anime, like Pokémon. I have friends who are in their 30s and they still watch Dragon Ball Z. I was so interested in it, so I made a website all about it and didn’t even plan to make money from it.
Then, I found the forum – System Globe, which is an Israeli forum where teenagers shared and learn technologies including PHP and design. This was our internal marketplace, as well, where we bought plugins from each other and learned from each other at the same time.
Starting with simple projects, I worked with Drupal and Joomla, but ended up settling on WordPress, probably because it was the most talked about CMS at the time.
After that initial Dragon Ball Z website, my life and career really began. Here’s a quick timeline of what came next.
2004 – started selling my first websites for ridiculous prices. I was 14-15 years old. I began web hosting as well.
2009 – joined the Israeli army.
2011 – took a programming course after the army and studied for 1.5 years. Honestly, I didn’t learn much, because I knew a lot already.
2012 – opened Codja agency
2017 – spanned a new agency: rgbcode.
Codja: A First Attempt at an Agency Business
What was the first company you created?
Codja programming. Even before that, I was engaged in web-hosting, which was successful, but it was not my thing and I wanted to return to programming.
How many clients did you have in web hosting?
Somewhere between 500-600 clients. We worked for the Israeli market
Is it a large portfolio for Israel with 500-600 clients?
Yep, that was a pretty good salary after the army. Then I met a partner. During the best months, the income was around $15,000 per month.
So, did you realize that it is more interesting to be engaged in an agency business setting?
I had a partner in a hosting company, who began to take on 50% of the work, especially on the technical aspects. And at that moment, I decided to focus on my freelance projects.
I started with small sites that took about 30-40 hours. Again, I sold them for $1000 per project or even less than that.
Opened the Codja company in 2012 with a friend and partner Avi. We worked together until 2017. Then we parted and each went his own way. Then I opened rgbcode in 2017.
Launching rgbcode and Growing a Team
How did the rgbcode team grow in general? How did you transition from working alone to working with 17 people?
There are actually 20 of us now.
When I opened rgbcode in 2017, I had a small team, just me and three other developers. There were a couple of projects that came from the old company and gradually we started to grow and get new clients.
Because I was no longer working with a partner, I had to follow my own path that I believed was right. Many of the decisions I make are because I think they are correct and I truly believe in that.
It’s quite interesting that you’ve decided to build production in the CIS, and live in Israel and speak both English and Hebrew.
Yes, but at first we had developers in Israel. Honestly, as soon as I started working with programmers from the CIS, I noticed that the quality was much better and we continued to work with them. The first programmer we brought on from the CIS was Zhenya.
It wasn’t about saving money or working only with developers from CIS, it’s just when we saw the drastic difference in quality, we decided to continue working in that direction. Our team isn’t only located in the CIS, however. Mikhail and Anna are based here in Israel. And everyone who deals directly with clients resides in Israel.
What is the reason behind the difference in that quality level?
I’d say that those we worked with from the CIS have a huge sense of responsibility for what they’re doing. And even if they don’t know something 100%, they won’t abandon or avoid it, and instead will look how to do it quickly and correctly.
Tell us what you do daily and weekly in the company? Do you run SCRUM sprints?
Yes, we have one client to whom we gave four developers and QA specialists full-time, and there is this complete SCRUM structure that I need to perform on our side. This includes Scrum daily planning, pre-planning, grooming of tasks, and a retrospective every two weeks when the sprint ends.
It takes a lot of time. Plus, I provide help with other tasks. If a developer wants to add and discuss something, I’ll help with that. Especially if we are talking about a digital agency, the head of the company rarely works as a developer himself. I can look at things from above and help. And of course, I have meetings with clients, make negotiations, and search for new clients.
I asked Evgeny: “Can the company grow up to 200 people and maintain the quality and the vibe?” The first thing he said to me was: “I’m not sure if we can find that many good developers.”
That’s right. There are a lot of developers. But good developers are hard to find. The skills can be taught, but the main thing is their attitude towards the work, how they approach the task, what they do when they are stuck. So, it’s not only about the skills, but also about a person’s character.
Finding the right person — especially remotely — is a process. It might take not two weeks, but rather, three months or more. But it’s worth it. All the good reviews the company has received, especially about the programming team, tells you everything you need to know.
Do developers work for the company for a long time on average?
For at least 1-2 years and sometimes 3 years. Even if you look at big companies like Google, Uber, Facebook, and Dropbox – the most optimistic work span is 3 years. If we like someone, then the person stays with us for a very long time. And there have been no cases where somebody we really like would stop working with us.
On Deciding to Use WordPress
Do I understand correctly that you worked only with WordPress? That is, you were never engaged in design or promotion? Because in the agency business, there is always a temptation toward a full-service offering, considering random competencies are absent on the customer’s side, right?
We don’t deal only with WordPress. Back when working as Codja, we were doing everything that could be done: PHP, Node, new technologies when they appeared, Angular, and so forth.
We offered everything you could do – design as well. We had a freelance designer who worked with us.
After that time though we’ve found our path and saw that our developers are good with and understand WordPressthe most. We gained a lot of knowledge about WordPress, mostly because we worked with it for so long. We made thousands of plugins and hundreds of themes.
It was interesting for us. Working with WordPress is satisfying and you can make high-quality websites with it. And once we started to do so many projects, I knew that we were one of the best companies working with WordPress in Israel that can handle huge projects that millions of users visit per day.
Why was the emergence of WordPress Rest API so important?
Until that point, if you wanted to build a business like this, you had to create every aspect of every website and application yourself and it was quite difficult and time-consuming.
Then the WordPress Rest API appeared and changed the whole WordPress world. And since that time, WordPress was no longer just a CRM, it could be used as a backend for various projects that were written in a different language on the frontend but then be supported by a backend in WordPress and PHP.
When JSON and REST API appeared, it gave a lot of options to developers. And it made it so in principle, it was possible to use WordPress as a real back-end for front-end applications.
Could you tell me about WooCommerce?
WooCommerce is an e-commerce platform built for WordPress and it is a strong part of what we do. We love it and understand it well.
If we are talking about the frontend, then this is often done in React and Next. But we also have projects done on the View. It just depends.
That is, we are looking for a suitable technology for each specific case and adapt when necessary.
2021 and Beyond: How rgbcode Fairs Today
Are there any types of clients or industries you work with? Are you working closely on white labeling for other agencies?
Yes, there is one area we work with that might sound sketchy: gambling. We work directly with brands and affiliate sites.
The second industry is design agencies that transfer clients to us because they are confident we will do the work at 100% and they won’t have to micromanage because we’ll take on the work ourselves.
Also from these industries, as I understand we also work with e-commerce, right?
In general, projects vary a lot because four different design agencies work with us. Some do involve e-commerce, while others have news websites. Still others offer plugins.
We manage to work with everyone and we enjoy the work we do through agencies because we don’t need to persuade the client and the agency does all of the “pre-project” work.
Foreign Markets and Big Clients
rgbcode is building a substantial portfolio. Although some websites are under NDA, I pinged them on SimilarWeb – the largest has 300 million per month on average. Have you worked with English-speaking clients from the very beginning?
Everyone we work with is an English-speaking client, but this is basically because all the companies in Israel that are engaged in technology are English-speaking by default. All of them communicate in English. International clients began to arrive only in 2019.
Now we will be looking for clients more actively in the UK, right?
Yes, but that’s not all. One of the big advantages of working in Israel is that the pricing of making websites is pretty similar in both Israel and America.
Therefore, we did not need to immediately run and look for clients from the USA and UK, because in Israel website development is very well paid. But now we do want to grow more and work with clients from the USA and UK.
As I understand it, you are talking about machine learning now, beginning with a client project where we made recommendations using machine learning. Could you tell me about that?
Yes. The project is very interesting. This is an important client, so he has a huge order history and this helps us train the system on what correct recommendations to show to customers.
Can you give a reference point about how many clients they have?
They have a lot of ask&use, about 600. And if you are talking about the main product types – 140. More than 100,000 orders amounting to 100-200 large orders every day. And this covers a wide variety of products.
Have we already implemented this? Or are we still in the process?
We are currently in the process of implementing the training system and this project will be ready in the next couple of weeks.
Other Projects Worth Mentioning
What other interesting client projects can you remember?
WhileFly is an entertainment system on airplanes that works without the Internet
Is it interesting that the industry is so specific? Or that it works without the Internet?
The industry is very interesting and quite specific and because we work with WordPress, it’s not often we’d be asked to make an entertainment system for aircraft.
There are many different technologies involved there that we hadn’t used before. For example, we used Electron to use on the frontend on the tablet, through which flyers can control the system.
What projects are you working on for the company itself? Because we don’t just do client’s projects, right?
The first project is a QA tool to help QA specialists and clients to report problems on websites and projects. This way, the whole process is easily arranged. Just take a screenshot and add all of the info that the programmer needs so he can get this information and use it to know how to quickly come to a solution to the problem.
This makes it so there’s no need to ask questions to specialists or programmers for clarifications. All info to fix the task will be in the system.
Second, we create new ideas for plugins. Well, there’s machine learning that displays product recommendations in the cart, then product recommendations on the page, and then a recommendation on the category page, too. It also displays recommendations specific to the user based on previous purchases and items currently in their cart.
What about the check-out plugin? Do we want to create a Check-out plugin like Shopify but for WooCommerce?
Yes, Irina is more involved in this project both with the client and with the developers. In addition, there are a couple of small plugins for QR codes that you can create in WordPress and manage them in the backend.
Soon, we will work on a tool that will help in generating ‘cef’ fields in a convenient form. Now we have frontend and backend documents. The backend document describes what fields should be used for each post-type, template, and each option available including what fields and how they appear.
If option A was selected in the previous selection, a different set of fields should be shown now in the admin panel. In principle, it’s a tool for generating these standard post-types, page templates, and all the fields that can be accessed via a cef.
Are we sharing plugins on WordPress.org open-source? Is there any kind of commercialization?
Yes, we share them. Regarding commercialization – we don’t have it at the moment. We just want to share the plugins. We currently have Plugin security, which is a very standard thing we install on any client website that helps close spots vulnerable to hackers on WordPress.
What Keeps Clients Coming Back?
Is there anything else that would be interesting to talk about? About the agency business in general?
I often think about how we got here and continue to grow. There are two reasons:
- Quality. Some projects were sort of a failure in terms of time and maybe even money, but the main thing is that the result was high-quality and clients loved it.
- The service we provide to our clients. There is even a quote, I don’t remember from whom: “Success is a meaning going over a client’s expectation.” When a client communicates with you and says that you did something extraordinary — that’s rewarding. Just doing a good job is the minimum for us. We do everything to the maximum for the client, so that again, exceeding a client’s expectations and taking into account all their wishes is our priority.
How long have our clients been working with us?
There’s one client who has been working with us for seven years and still is with us. This is the most significant one. Several others happen to make an update every six months and so.
There was only one client back from the previous company who decided not to work with us further. Everyone else who had continued needs stayed on with us.
One of the biggest clients so far has been with us for almost three years. We worked as full-time programmers for the first month, then 100 hours, then 40, and then they arranged an in-house development team.
It was a large project for three years, which saw us switching a website from Drupal to WordPress. They were delighted with the work we had been doing up to this point and only ceased working with us because they formed their internal team.
How do you find new clients?
Based on recommendation mostly: A client was delighted with our work and attitude and recommended us. I communicate with them, close deals, and so on.
What’s next for rgbcode?
Going back to the question I asked, Evgeny: do you think we will be able to grow to 200 people and keep the quality?
If we wanted to, I’m sure we could. My plan is not to grow this company to 200 people, however. Rather, around 25-30% of that.
Like 70 people?
50-60 employees sounds fantastic. Now that’s speaking in terms of rgbcode and our relatively small projects. If there are larger projects, plans may change.
What do you think about the future of the agency? What metrics do you focus on? What are your plans for the next year, 3 years, and 10 years?
Ten years is too far away to really think about. Still, we’re not gonna stop at the technologies that exist. We want to get into machine learning and offer new options and new tools to our clients that are built on top of WordPress, but have connections to different algorithms, data-learning, and machine learning.
Tell me more about WordPress VIP. I know we work with them and want to become their partners.
Yes. That’s semi-automatic hosting. In the beginning, they had direct hosting on WordPress.com, so that’s not self-hosting. There is a platform where you can create premium websites with your domain, and so forth.
Then they moved on and became a full-fledged company for hosting huge sites on WordPress. They have a lot of technology-based and news sites — large projects that need serious structure if they are running on WordPress.
They have their own coding standards, which start from WordPress standards and end with specific standards. They have such a good team that helps with any questions. The server structure itself, although reminiscent of WordPress, is unique to this particular web host.
If I understand correctly that this is just web hosting and they are not engaged in development themselves. Rather, there are “select” companies there that help people with development. How many such companies are there now?
Yes, this is only hosting. The number of companies is changing, as companies are constantly being added. They have two levels for partners: gold and silver. If I’m not confused, there are 70 companies at both levels.
What does our work with them look like? And what separates us from being their partners?
There are no specific points that need to be completed to get there, but they want teams that promote WordPress, come up with new features, and fix bugs. Everything related to promoting WordPress in the technological world, i.e. improving the system and in the physical world, i.e. bringing in new customers and also promoting WordPress in their communities.
Are we on this path?
Yes. We not only want to improve in this process, I hope we will do more open-source things and invest not only in clients but also in ourselves.