Cody Landefeld is the founder and senior web strategist of Phoenix-based Mode Effect, a WordPress development agency. After spending seven years as a technical army-of-one at his day job, Cody embraced an opportunity to start his own web development business in 2009.
Starting a web design business
What’s Mode Effect all about?
At Mode Effect, we work with nonprofits and technical companies to best align ourselves with their goals and challenges. We then provide them with technical solutions to these challenges.
What inspired you to start Mode Effect?
I began teaching myself design and web development in 2001. I wanted to build an online music magazine, so why not do it myself? So I built it out inside Microsoft FrontPage.
I never had a career in it, but I was intrigued by the website design industry, and I was learning the technical skills during my day job. (I was the technical and creative staff, a “one-man army,” at my church.) I finally had the courage to step out and start Mode Effect after that.
Having my own web design business was always a dream of mine. It wasn’t until I was forced into a job-layoff situation when I actually had a clear opportunity to truly strike out on my own.
My day job taught me a lot of creative and technical skills that went toward building better websites, and I learned some administrative skills that help with running a business.
What first steps did you take to start the agency?
I learned the technical skills. Back then it was Flash. I was building Flash websites in ActionScript. Then, I started to market myself by telling family members and friends about my work. I got involved with a local co-working space called Gangplank, and I met many other like-minded people who were helpful and provided more knowledge on running my business.
What obstacles did you face as a startup, and how did you overcome them?
Finding clients was the toughest thing. Not just finding clients, but finding the right clients; technical companies who needed WordPress plugins built, as well as companies building WooCommerce stores.
I quickly chose to narrow down my service offerings, and later defined who my “best” clients were and made efforts to try and find more of them.
Before, I was a website design generalist — and then I became a WordPress developer generalist. Now, our services specify what we do and who we do it for.
Our website home page mentions we work with enterprise companies, technology innovators and nonprofit organizations. We chose this list of companies since we enjoy working with them most.
Goals and philosophy
What’s your goal as a business?
To bring the most value for each and every client we work with. Additionally, we’d like to provide an opportunity for each and every person who works for Mode Effect to do the work they most enjoy and to grow in their position.
What's your guiding business philosophy?
Serve our team members, and together we will serve our clients most effectively. We learned to assign team members to projects where their strengths lied. I also allow them to interact with clients to assume a more lead-type role in what they provide.
What three words epitomize success to you?
Control my calendar. And being debt free. We use Google Calendar and Calendly. Regarding debt — I’m working my way towards being debt-free constantly.
Being debt-free is important to make sure you're not over-leveraged.
You want be free to make decisions that will help sustain your business in slow times.
What strengths do you bring to the table as an entrepreneur?
I’m a leader who takes initiative. Leading a service-based company commands this quality to stay in business. I have empathy for my team and for my clients to best understand the challenges that lie in the way of a successful outcome.
Challenges lie in most client projects.
The most important weapon we have as consultants is our ability to communicate clearly. I always tell my team this. I also think it's important to listen and be brave to tell our clients the truth. I've paid the price for not being honest to a client and trying to tell them the right thing.
Where do you see your business in five years? Ten years?
In five years, I see myself moving to a more visionary role in Mode Effect and hiring a COO to run operations. In 10 years, I see myself possibly looking to teach more business owners and launch additional business ventures.
Tell us more about those ventures. What are you thinking about?
I want to create specific resources for the industries we work for. This would allow us the opportunity to focus on a set of challenges for a particular type of business and build affordable tools that help their business succeed.
I like nonprofit companies and other small businesses that need consistent leads to sustain their companies. I'd also like to create an information type of product down the road for other consultants.
Products and tools
What tools do you use to run your business?
Slack is definitely our biggest ally for communication. Not only with our team, but in some cases, for our clients as well. Slack has allowed us to log communication more effectively than email or other chat services. This has gotten even better with their inclusion of voice calling. We’ve extended our Slack setup with the Github, Zapier and Google Hangouts apps.
When it comes to working with our clients, we recommend they have their online suite of services through GoDaddy’s new Pro platform. GoDaddy Pro has allowed our clients to manage their core services (domains, emails, SSL, etc.).
Finally, we use WordPress to build tremendous online solutions for our clients.
WordPress has been our go-to content management system.
In almost all cases, we use this to allow our clients capable and easy access to create and update their content. We also use the Leadin plugin from HubSpot for lead inquiries, Yoast SEO for search optimization and Jetpack.
How do you unwind?
I currently do cycling twice a week and lift weights once a week. It constantly changes. I need to stay at it! Gaming as well — Telltale’s Batman series, Titanfall, Halo 5 and NBA 2k. And I listen to music. Right now, it’s …
- Street Soundtrack
- Thrice "To be everywhere is to be nowhere”
- David Bazan "Blanco"
- James Blake "The color in anything"
- Drake "Views"
Was there a turning point in your life that led you to where you are today?
I was laid off my day job in 2009. It was then I saw an opportunity to take a step to run Mode Effect full time.
How do you balance the needs of your business with your personal life?
It’s always a struggle, but my family allows me to see the need for balancing. I mainly stick to a regular schedule with a typical work day — in most cases — and hang with the family during off-times. I help get the kids out to school and then go right to work at my home office. Then I’ll hit the gym in the afternoon. Dinner and sleep. Repeat.
What's the most valuable lesson you've learned since starting your business?
Never assume. I once assumed a client meant something by vague requirements on a project. They actually meant something else. Our clients need help, so we need to help them be as specific as possible.
What's your best advice for other entrepreneurs?
Always own your mistakes. Look for any opportunity to provide your customers with more value. We provide training videos for clients after they launch their website and offer them help with managing their website hosting and WordPress updates.