Will Jessup hatched the idea for Theorem in a living room filled with whiteboards and IKEA furniture. Today, he manages a global team of more than 170 of the world’s most innovative strategists, developers, and engineers. How did he make the leap from fledgling founder to dynamic tech leader?
Let’s rewind a bit.
Will is an entrepreneur at heart. His zeal for creating companies started way back in 2005, when Will — a physics major at Cal Poly Pomona — founded a video game review website. Though Will was an avid gamer himself, he was less interested in writing the reviews and more focused on the management side of things. Recruiting a team of around 15 freelance writers, he leveraged contacts with game publishers and oversaw the website and advertising.
After graduating in 2006, Will landed a gig as the technology director for a design consultancy in downtown Los Angeles. He jumped right into managing six-figure projects, hiring a team, and traveling to places like Shanghai and Peru for consulting work. His next business venture — a website with user-generated content about celebrities — landed him right in the middle of the web 2.0 boom and introduced him to Ruby on Rails.
“Everything is based on your brand and your reputation. If you don’t have one, you’re not going to get business. You’ve got to keep hitting it out of the park to get the next job and the next job after that,” said Will.
Like many startups, it was a great adventure. They raised money; they ran out of money. And everybody was always looking for the next best thing. Seizing on the Ruby on Rails phenomenon that was sweeping the tech world at the time, Will took the team he had assembled over the years and launched Citrusbyte, which would later become Theorem.
Building It Up by the Bootstraps
As a sole founder, Will had his work cut out for him. Recruiting more talent from Los Angeles to China and other far reaches of the globe, he quickly built out a technology team and tackled large-scale software engineering projects.
“I was out there networking like crazy and hiring people,” said Will. “We had to be really scrappy, to get people together and put our first work out there. As a young entrepreneur, I didn’t have any backing from my family. Everything was about what I was able to manifest, create, and the connections I made.”
What did this scrappy founder do when he needed a place to house his new team? Enter the “hacker house.” What started out as renting one room turned into three different houses across Southern California. Picture a group of programmers in their mid-20s, drawing up ideas on a whiteboard and eating pizza; those were the early days of Theorem.
Technology is a fluid, fast-paced industry, and the tools change at lightspeed. Though the company began with a focus on Ruby on Rails, it quickly evolved to use dozens of technology and software platforms — whatever was best for the project at hand. That type of versatility was what helped Will and his team gain new clients and connections over time.
In the process of networking, Will met Brady Brim-DeForest, a fellow start-up founder who would become a partner in Theorem and later CEO. The two reconnected in 2010, spending a week at the hacker house brainstorming wacky ideas on multiple whiteboards and putting their vision for Theorem together.
Getting it Done, 100% of the Time
The company has grown in many different ways from the days of the hacker house. While Will’s focus remains rooted firmly in the startup mentality, a more intricate and supportive structure has emerged over the years.
“It’s all about results,” he said. “Every single person has to pull their weight. You can’t have any dead weight, or else you go out of business.”
This purpose is what drives Theorem to get it done 100% of the time. To do this, leadership has to start from the top. For Will, it’s vital to stay curious and challenge ideas — and have his challenged in return.
“You’ve got to have leadership that really listens, is curious, and is willing to be challenged all the time. If we’re not, nothing else is going to work. When people see, ‘Wow, I can challenge things around here. I have a voice that matters.’ All of a sudden, they’re invested.”
Of every achievement Theorem has attained in the past 13 years, Will is most proud of this culture of empowerment. He loves seeing the business continue to grow and evolve — developing strong leaders, acquiring the top talent, and delivering fresh, novel software solutions to clients. His team agrees: In 2020, they named Theorem one of the best small-to-mid-size companies to work for.
Will may have laid the seeds for Theorem’s culture, but today’s it’s being nurtured by everyone on the team. Will operates alongside Brady and a team of other leaders, motivating their team of engineers and strategists to find innovative solutions to the thorniest problems. They also make it a point to ensure that everyone is treating each other kindly, listening, and maintaining empathy.
As the company continues to scale, Will keeps these essentials in place:
- Happy people and customers
- Hiring service-oriented staff
- Building quality products
These key ingredients helped Theorem succeed as it transitioned to a fully distributed workplace. The company has been operating in this way for more than a decade now, with employees located all across the globe. The decision to move fully remote came naturally to Will, thanks to another one of Theorem’s core philosophies: just because someone else does it, doesn’t mean it’s a good reason.
What Comes Next
Today, Theorem is a trusted partner for many of the world’s most admired companies. Through it all, Will remains focused on the essence of the work, continuing to level-up his abilities and inspire the same in his team.
“There’s always something to learn. Even if you’ve done the work 100 times, you can challenge yourself to do something completely different and step up your performance. If you don’t believe that, then you’ve come to a conclusion that you know everything.”
Will’s advice for other tech founders looking to break into the business? Find good mentors.
“Finding good mentors is one of the hardest things, but it’s so essential. Great mentors will help you avoid mistakes — because you’re going to make mistakes. That’s okay! There are certain lessons you can only learn that way. But there are other really stupid expensive mistakes that someone can help you avoid.”
So, what does the future hold for Theorem? The possibilities are endless. The company continues to evolve as it grows. Will is particularly excited about tackling the challenges of acquiring a larger diversity of customers, making systems more efficient, and growing next-level talent.