Owner Stories: Warren Wilansky, Founder, Plank, Montreal, Quebec
This story is a really special one for us as Warren Wilansky and I go back over 30 years. We met at summer camp, where Warren lead a unit of 11- and 12-year old boys and staff aged 17 to 19. It was then that I started to appreciate Warren’s leadership abilities and knew that he would one day go on to create something special.
And that something special is Plank, the web design company he founded right here in Montreal over 20 years ago. What’s so amazing about Plank is not just the agency’s longevity, but how they thrive through their culture. It’s something very important to Warren and his partner Steve and they work hard to create an atmosphere that people want to be associated with. In this interview, we jump into the agency’s history and dive into the culture that makes it all work.
Our interview with Warren is below. Let us know your thoughts in the comments. Also, make sure to read our Local Business Owner Spotlight series.
Interview with Warren Wilansky, Founder of Plank
10|20 Marketing: I appreciate you taking the time for us, Warren! How about we start with a little bit of background? How did you get into web development and how was Plank born?
Warren Wilansky: I had been a computer hobbyist since I bought my first Apple IIe in 1984, but it wasn’t until I started taking what was then called Multimedia classes in university that something clicked. I finally saw that my love of computers could translate into a platform for creativity and communication. Once I saw what the internet was developing into, I decided to teach myself HTML so that I could design and build websites. Shortly after, someone started to pay me as a freelancer and then a full-time employee, because of that skill, I was hooked. I was at first shocked that I could make a living at something I would have done for fun.
Over the first 18 months out of university, I worked a few different jobs and found that there wasn’t the same type of interest in the design and user experience of the websites we were building. I had the crazy idea that myself and a couple of friends could pool all of our freelance work together and start our own company building websites. It’s almost 23 years later, and I’m still here.
10|20 Marketing: What would you say some of your biggest challenges were when you started out? How did you get on a path to real growth and how long did that take?
Warren Wilansky: The biggest challenge was that we didn’t plan for or understand the fundamentals of running a company. We learned as we went along and assumed that we were doing the right things. It was only about a decade into running the company that I started to get to know some other peers and confirmed that some of what we were doing made sense and some didn’t!
As far as real growth, I was always quite hesitant about it, and we went out of our way to try and keep the team small (less than 15 people) and limit the number of projects that we took on. It’s only been in the last two years that our hesitancy has gone away, and it’s mainly not because of a need to grow or make much more money. We now have a team and culture that is at its strongest, and we want to share it with more people.
So, real growth took 20 years. 🙂
10|20 Marketing: Let’s delve into Plank’s culture, which I know is a big source of pride for you and the company as a whole. Can you talk a little bit about what’s important to you, your employees and why it all has come together to create such a strong culture and identity for Plank?
Warren Wilansky: One of the biggest lessons we’ve learnt over the past few years is that we need to be extremely clear and honest about who we are and what matters to us. We didn’t articulate our vision or values for a long time because we assumed that everyone knew what they were or would figure them out. Our assumptions would always leave someone who joined the team feeling a bit lost and unsure of themselves.
So we identified five core values — Empathy, Collaboration, Evolution, Accountability and doing Work that Matters — and made it clear that everyone needs to live up to them. We offered a benchmark set of expectations for everyone to focus on.
Another element that the current team has fully embraced is that we need to have complete and total trust in each other to have a healthy culture. We needed to know that everyone could depend on everyone else. Being honest and transparent allowed for a culture of vulnerability and the space for everyone to flourish and grow.
10|20 Marketing: So what’s next for Plank? Where do you see the business headed in the next five to ten years?
Warren Wilansky: My answer to that question is probably more consequential than any other time in the company’s history. In addition to continuing on a steady but accelerated growth path, our goal is to prepare some people to become the next generation of leadership at Plank.
Our goal is to make sure that everything that Plank has become can continue with the same core values moving forward. In addition, we hope that we can develop a team that can also infuse the company with their energy and values. Finally, we want for decades to come to continue to create some of the highest quality digital projects for fantastic clients and partners.
10|20 Marketing: That’s awesome, Warren. Love how you see the future. Last question. What advice would you give people who are looking to break into your industry? What skills should they focus on, assuming they’re looking to build websites? What traits do you look for in a hire?
Warren Wilansky: Given how diverse the roles can be at Plank, there are many different ways to become a part of a team like ours. While one could be a generalist and try and manage all aspects of a website project, we get much better results by letting people specialize in different aspects such as Project Management, Design and Development. Each of those roles can also be broken down into even more defined roles.
As we are trying to hire people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives, we will be open to as many different traits as we can be. But, on the other hand, being organized, helpful and present will mean that you will fit in great with our team.
10|20 Marketing: Thanks for your time, Warren! This has been great. Any last words of wisdom?
Warren Wilansky: I should share with you one of the most important initiatives we recently launched, our Ethical Web Design Framework. So my words of wisdom are, please join us in trying to make the internet a better place.
This interview is part of our Local Business Owner Spotlight series. If you’re interested in having your business highlighted, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re interested in a free online small business marketing consultation, we’re happy to set up a time to discuss your situation as well.