One of Baltic Creative’s first tenants, Citrus Suite – an award-winning App Design Mobile and Web Design Company, are taking one of the largest new spaces at Norfolk Street. Here, co-founder Steve Donovan tells us how leaving their beloved shop front is necessary to start growing again, using their try-before-you-buy recruitment model, and how some of their biggest clients have walked in off the street.
How did the founding Citrus Suite team meet?
We’d all met years before in the games industry where we’d gone from company to company. We came from Jester Interactive – a company that started with 11 of us and went to 50, 60 people really, really quickly. Then the company went down the toilet because it wasn’t taking on the right staff and it didn’t stick with what it knew.
We learned from all these startups, we saw the mistakes they were making and thought, ‘Well, we’re not going to do that ourselves.’ And we haven’t.
So how did things get going on your own terms?
We started in an office off London Road in 2008. Chris, our CEO, was in Urban Outfitters looking at some clothes and he saw these girls laughing at a book – ‘How to be an Explorer of the World’ by Keri Smith. He contacted her and said this would make a really good app and she wrote back a two, three-page email to him saying, ‘The universe has sent me to you, I want you to develop this app for me. My publisher has put me with this other app development company and they don’t get me.’ The publisher was Penguin Books in the States. More clients came and the rest is kind of history.
Soon after that we had to find somewhere else to live and we found Baltic Creative. When we moved into the shop-front Jamaica Street in 2009 we were one of the first tenants to join the scheme!
So you’ve begun to expand and need more room?
Yeah. We kind of grow organically, with full-time positions. If there’s a need for a member of staff, we’ll hire somebody if they are a good fit with our culture. Citrus bought into the whole ethos of the Baltic Triangle, we knew it was going to be a great place to be. We knew a few other companies who were headed over here as well.
When we outgrew our office at London Road and we were offered a shop front on Jamaica Street, it was just fantastic. It was light, and as a studio there was a really good vibe to it. It was really friendly, really cool.
We had the space to give students desks, give them some experience of working in a creative and commercial environment. If we saw potential in them we’d get them back one or two days a week and pay them, so they weren’t working for nothing. And once you’re in Citrus Suite you never go. People like the working atmosphere and the kind of work that we do. There’s twelve of us now.
We’re also very visible. Believe it or not, the past few jobs we’ve had that are £100,000 plus are people who’ve walked through the door and gone, ‘Can you guys do apps?’ And we’re like, ‘It kind of says that in the window.’ And the more you speak to them it turns out they want big back end systems.
So, you’re ready for a bigger space.
Yeah, people laugh when they come in! We are bursting at the seams. I did buy everyone smaller desks, but the new place will be great.
But we love it round here, so we were begrudgingly looking round for somewhere, not wanting to leave because it’s ideal for us – we know everyone round here, it’s a big community. When Mark from Baltic Creative said this new building was coming up we were like, ‘Ooh, great!’ We’ve just been waiting round for it really.
How do you see that transition going? What kind of space will you have?
We have the top floor in the corner building, the second biggest office in the space. It gives us capacity to support placements and offer work experience again. The best hires we’ve had have been people who come from this starting point. The new space means we’ll have more opportunity to do this in the future.
How influential is the space in terms of your recruitment model?
It is the place to be, isn’t it? People know the Baltic Triangle, it’s one of the top areas in the UK now for tech. We’re really happy with the students who approach us from the local universities, there is a lot of great talent in the city.
What do the next three years look like for you?
With Brexit coming up there’s a lot of uncertainty, so we’re creating new products and new income streams. We are keen to share our expertise with other businesses to address some of the biggest issues ahead. We’ll carry on winning projects from outside the city, and helping other Liverpool City Region (LCR) organisations to maximise the opportunities of new technology.
What are you most excited about in Norfolk Street?
The space! To get myself a proper desk. We’ll push the boat out and have a break-out space so we can have a cup of tea and sit down!
The whole thing is going to boost the area up again really. It’s part of the Baltic journey; creating more space, bringing more people in.