Meet Joseph (Yossi) Hoffman. Founder and CEO of Forwardslash, a Ptex sister company and experts in all things web, Yossi is a one-of-a-kind leader and digital maven. Known for constantly pushing his team to explore, innovate, and push the boundaries of what’s possible in the digital sphere, Yossi has a deep understanding of what makes both people and businesses tick. He’s often seen feeding his large collection of tropical fish or strumming on his guitar—and rarely seen without a smile on his face. I interviewed Yossi about what drives him, how he overcomes challenges, and the secret sauce to the success of Forwardslash.
Maybe you could start off by telling me a bit about Forwardslash—what you do and what makes you different from other digital agencies?
We often say that we’re not web developers; we’re business developers. We always begin a project by trying to see the world through our clients’ eyes, and asking how digital can help our clients reach their goals and dreams. Our websites aren’t meant to sit pretty as a brand mascot. We see a website as a full-time employee that sweats as hard as our clients do. So we always need to figure out, what does the company need to get to that next level? What does their target audience want? How do we use the website as a bridge to connect our client’s business to their audience? And then, bringing together all of the talents and knowledge of the Forwardslash team and the clients’ team, we put our heads together to create solutions.
What would you say is the driving force of your business—something special about it that few other agencies can claim?
I think it’s the personal relationships we develop with our clients. Which I believe is a result of our transparency, honesty and openness. We see our clients as partners, and they feel that. Many of those client partnerships have developed into true friendships. On a practical level, our openness means we’re extremely communicative, constantly updating and making sure everyone is on the same page. It means we’re humble and accountable and not afraid to be challenged. It means we’re accessible whenever clients have a question or an issue. It means we never sell our clients anything they don’t need—and even advise our clients against costly components that won’t get them to their goals. But it even goes beyond that. I would say I develop strong personal relationships with 98% of our clients—these are relationships outside of work that continue long after the project is completed.
That is impressive and amazing. But I would imagine many people are scared to befriend clients in that way, because it might hold them back or they might get taken advantage of.
I think that’s because they see business as something separate from their “real lives.” But I’ve never separated the two. I’ve never bought into this idea that “business is business” and you have to be ruthless and aggressive to succeed. My personal philosophy is also my business philosophy, which is that I love helping people. I love connecting with people. That’s what I believe life is about. That’s what makes me happy and fulfilled. So for me, business is just another way of connecting with people and making their lives better. I have never taken that opportunity for granted, and it’s something I always go back to when I’m faced with hard times. Of course, you have to make sure to set clear boundaries when necessary. But one thing is for sure: the positive effect of having a people-first approach to business has far outweighed any negative. I would never change it for anything.
Take me back to when you first began Forwardslash—which was then WebExpo. Why did you start the company? What was your big vision back then, if you had one?
When I started out 13 years ago, I was just a very techy guy. I loved putting computers together. I loved playing around with “Flash,” which was the cool new thing in digital at the time. My brother, Meny, had created Printex (what is now Ptex), and he hired me to create a few Flash banners for clients, which turned into creating websites. Eventually this led me to start WebExpo, which we rebranded in the past couple of years to Forwardslash. My vision was more of a realization—I realized that in order to stand out in the digital world, everything you do must revolve around the user experience. That’s what eventually led me to hire our UX strategist, Sholom Rubin, around 5 years ago. It’s the mindset that has really powered our growth and set us apart. Now, thank G-d, we have a team of about 15 people, including UX strategists, UI experts, developers, designers, copywriters, etc. I couldn’t be more grateful.
What has been your biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge has been making sure that every member of our team shares this client-first attitude—taking ownership of the projects, waking up and going to sleep thinking about our clients’ happiness and success. As a business owner, the best way to do this is to lead by example and embody the values you preach, and of course hire great people who share those core values.
What are you most proud of?
I’ve worked really hard on developing solid work processes for our business to keep things moving smoothly and quickly and ensure that everyone is on the same page at all times. I have a big flow chart on the office of my wall showing our process and where each project is along the way. These processes have created tremendous value for our clients, because they know what to expect at every stage, and they know that we are holding ourselves accountable every step of the way. I’ve been blessed to be able to teach other business owners how to create effective processes for their own businesses, and that’s been very rewarding as well.
What’s your best advice for someone starting a business?
When you experience a challenge, you might be tempted to think that nothing is going well, everything is terrible, every client is out to get you, etc. You might make these sweeping, all-or-nothing generalizations. It’s so important to learn how to compartmentalize. Just because one part of your business isn’t working doesn’t mean the entire business is a failure. Maybe your cash flow is suffering. But there’s so much else about your business that’s going right! When you encounter a challenge, focus on being grateful for everything that is good. It will change your perspective.
Do you have a favorite book?
The siddur [Jewish prayer book]
Do you have a personal motto?
“B2B” is a fallacy. People don’t do business with businesses. They do business with people. Be human, be kind, be generous. And you’ll go far.
Follow Joseph’s work at @ForwardslashNY and connect with him on LinkedIn here.