Here’s the problem with reporting on Ann Arbor tech. Like a lot of folks, the people of Blue Newt are up to so many amazing new projects, they can’t tell you about most of them until next year. Isn’t that always the way it goes? But that’s a good thing, except for the interviewing on the record part. We caught up with the very busy Bob Kuehne of Blue Newt over coffee at Roo’s Roast, and were blown away by just how many parallel projects the company has going on with such an efficient staff. Blue Newt designs software and even business models for companies looking for custom integrated software solutions. Blue Newt has a track record of “revitalizing big industrial software applications.” The secret? The team, which Bob says he hires not so much on technical skills as on an attitude for learning, willingness to make mistakes and to try new things.
The Blue Newt team, like many based in Ann Arbor, is distributed across the U.S. and the world. Most team members are virtual, from Brazil to Mexico to Arizona, California, and New York. More than anything, what Kuehne is looking for when he hires these diverse staff members is whether they are “brave.” “We hire good people where they are for culture fit, not for where they are,” Kuehne tells me.
“We’re not inventing robotic unicorns,” he adds. “Lots of our clients have been traditional industries, such as automotive, manufacturing, and aviation.” That means they have the unique problem of shifting not only technology but also development culture from a traditional mindset to something more agile. “We don’t try to invent,” Kuehne says, “we try to solve.”
This means Blue Newt is constantly digging deep into existing company cultures and processes to understand what their clients already do well, and then advising them on how they could use software to do it better in ways they might not have considered. “We deliver a lot of value by listening,” Kuehne says, “from a position of ignorance [about the client’s industry in which they are the experts] and beginner mind.”
“We know how to create beautiful user interfaces,” he says, “[so we ask clients to] educate us on your business.”
The result is scalable intuitive architecture for all kinds of applications, most of which we can’t tell you about for a while. (Entire interview redacted.) One thing that struck me about Blue Newt’s work was the diversity in applications and business models they were working with. I asked Kuehne how the smaller team managed to make their software replicable, or keep up with the demands of this kind of large-scale work.
“We are a SEAL team for code,” he explains. “We tactically dive in… business case first, technology last.” But, he admits, “we have these moments where we need people yesterday.” Currently the Blue Newt team is at about 28 people, and always hiring.