4 Boys, $2 Million: A Reflection on 5 Years of Paperform

/ 4 min read
Diony McPherson

This week marks five years of Paperform. I could ramble on about how we’ve driven the company to success through processes and product development and hundreds of new features, but while technically true, it’s not what’s really on my mind. Plus, it’s not genuine, which is a trait that Dean and I have always prided ourselves on being.

Over the last five years we’ve grown Paperform into a multimillion dollar business, while welcoming four—read it, _four—_amazing kids into the world. I’d hope we have something more helpful to share from the experience than a self-congratulatory post about our achievements.

It’s funny. Despite all that’s happened, some things don’t change. I’m sitting down to write this from the same dining table we started Paperform from all those years ago. I like working from this table. Something about its steadfast solidity keeps me grounded; reminds me that the hype surrounding startups is utter rubbish—rubbish that is actively harmful to the way we think about our work and our lives.

Two pictures of Dean and Diony sitting at their dining table five years apartLeft: Dean and I launching Paperform in Christmas of 2016. Right: Dean and I working from that same dining table today, five years, four kids and $2 million ARR on.

The term "work-life balance" has always bothered me. I think it’s because it conjures this mental image of weights suspended in perfect symmetry. As if, should you try hard enough, you’ll crack the code and find this mythical balance between home and work. This is a fable. Reality is rarely (see: never) so neat.

Dean and I have four boys under four, including newborn twins. On any given day our lives teeter somewhere between Malcolm in the Middle and Entrepreneur Magazine. Dirty nappies! Meetings! Cuddles! Interviews! Burping! Accounting! All these things coexist in a pot of brilliant chaos; work and home crashing together like one of the boys playing with two pieces of LEGO that don’t quite match.

Believe me, this isn’t exactly what we envisioned when we started Paperform. It was supposed to be a lifestyle business. A way to help us start a family and get away from the rat race_._ But it quickly grew beyond our wildest expectations, and rather than abandon that challenge, over the last five years we’ve worked hard to embrace our growth, while holding tight to the vision we’ve always had for our life and family.

picture of a pregnant woman standing at her desk looking at computer screensThe twins and I checking in on Paperform's dashboard. I never thought a standing desk would come in handy for fitting my baby bump, but hey, credit where it's due.

Now, I know there’s nothing the tech industry loves more than a “self-made” story, but the truth is Dean and I haven’t done it alone (“self-made” is yet another term that belongs in a bin next to “work-life balance”). We’ve had help around the house—thanks Jackie—alongside an incredible team that supports us, the business, and most importantly, each other.

The team does a brilliant job at work, but their performance is just a fraction of what makes them so special. They’re the type of people that offer to help us move house, or babysit, or just check in at the end of a long week. When I think about what I’m most proud of over the last five years, it’s not our MRR, expanded functionality, growing market share, or any other metric for that matter.

It’s our team.

In a world, and industry, that increasingly values profit over people, we’ve bucked the trend and built a company that values life and work; money and the happiness of our people. Don’t get me wrong. We work hard, and are fortunate to have many talented individuals who are great in their respective roles. But, equally important, is knowing our employees feel comfortable when their kids wander into a video call, or when they need to delay a project because they just need some time away from the laptop.

screenshot of a zoom meeting with people talking on webcamsAs a remote-first workplace, our team can't always meet in person (some of us have still never met!) but we still make time for regular catchups for work and fun—our monthly team games are always a highlight.

This kind of mindset shouldn’t be a privilege reserved for founders or CEOs. Work isn’t life. It’s a part of it, just like doctor’s appointments and coffee dates and the occasional siesta. Sure, there are times to knuckle down and focus on professional endeavours, but we’ve found when you stop trying to pit work and life against each other, the positive effects speak for themselves.

I know we’re lucky. Not every profession allows for the work-life integration I’m describing. But with stats saying 67% of Australians, and 42% of Americans have transitioned to remote work, I’m sure many of you can relate. Even if you’ve never worked from home, at some point we’ve all grappled with trying to work while being a good friend, sibling, dog-mum or dungeon master.

This is something we’ve thought about a lot as we’ve developed Paperform as a product. As we look toward the next five years and beyond, our “North Star” will be continuing to build a tool that empowers you to work less and enjoy life in all its messy glory, just like we do. (Expect to learn more about what this looks like very soon.)

Thanks for supporting us over the last five years. We wouldn’t be able to do this without you, our customers, who push us everyday and constantly inspire us to grow as a product, as a company and as people. Merry Christmas from me, Dean and the entire Paperform team—whether you’re building snowmen or sandcastles, wearing board shorts or wooly sweaters, may you enjoy the wonderful messiness of life and family over this festive season.

About the author
Diony McPherson
Diony is Co-founder of Paperform, a no-code form builder launched in 2016. Currently living in Sydney, Australia, with her Co-founder and husband Dean, she's a proud-as-punch mum of five boys.

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