Developing as a Contractor in Belgium

My experience

As a software developer, I have been freelancing since 2010. Before that I was an employee for a consulting firm for 5 years. And one of the things that pushed me over the edge was when I found the invoice my employer had sent to the company I was consulting for at the time in the office printer. It said they “sold” me for 650€ per day, 13000€ or more per month. Given the fact that my net salary was 2500€ per month, and even if you factor in all the taxes and social charges and all the other benefits, that was still quite a huge gap. And in addition to that, I was not free to buy the car I wanted or the laptop I needed. When I needed vacation, I needed to factor in the “loss” for my employer. And when I wanted to attend a conference somewhere, I had to ask for permission. And I’m not even mentioning all the things I had to agree with (company pension plan, eco-cheques, etc.) that had simply no value whatsoever to me, but I was forced to take them because they were fiscally interesting for my employer.

For all those reasons, after talking with other freelancers to carefully evaluate the risks and constraints of having my own management company, it appeared obvious that it was the smart move given my experience. And the thing is I’m not the only one to make the same calculation. I know plenty of senior developers who have quit the rat race, stopped being an employee and taken matters into their own hands. Sure it’s a lot of administrative pain, with the accounting and all. Sure every letter you receive from the SPF Finance (tax services) makes a shiver run down your spine. Sure it’s stressful to have to find your own customers, deal with contracts, plan ahead for your periods of inactivity, negotiate your rate for each contract… but that is nothing compared to the incredible freedom you get. Being able to choose your customers and projects depending on how much you need to work. Being able to choose how you pay yourself, how you train yourself, the tools you work with. All of that is really satisfying.

The ecosystem

That being said, when you are a freelance developer, there are 3 big kinds of customers in Belgium (and I guess in a lot of other areas):

  • The big corporations, banks and public institutions (European Parliament and Commission) usually have framework contracts and Preferred Supplier Lists with big consulting consortiums and firms that force you to go through intermediaries who take a 15 to 30% cut on all your invoices, no matter how long the contract is, and often for very little added value other than access to those customers.
  • The small companies are the most flexible and you can usually work with them directly, but they are the hardest ones to find and you have to negotiate a lot with them.
  • And then there are the startups. When you are in the ecosystem, they are quite easy to find, you can also work without intermediaries, the projects are by far the most interesting ones, and you get to work in really cool teams. But that’s where the funding is often the most fragile (“no I can’t pay my bills with shares in your non-funded startup”)

The fears

Recently though, I noticed a really disturbing trend with startups refusing to work with freelancers, mainly for a few reasons:

  • Most are afraid that a freelance developer will be less “involved” in the success of the company
  • Some even fear that a freelance developer will combine several customers in parallel and thus will devote less energy to them than an employee, as if freelance meant part-time
  • I recently heard companies being afraid that freelancers would have a harder time integrating into their team
  • And I’m sure some really look at the cost and think a freelancer costs more than an employee

The reality

It’s hard to know where these fears come from, but let me bring some counter-arguments to those.

First of all, when you are a freelancer, your very ability to find work and the best work depends solely on your reputation. You can’t hide behind the reputation of a consulting company or the manipulation skills of your business manager. It’s just you and your awesome work. If you leave a customer on wrong terms, if your work is not impeccable, and if your involvement is not up to par with your customer’s expectation, no employment code, no firing cost, no prior notice is there to protect you. If you don’t show dedication, you will get fired, fast, and your reputation will suffer, making it harder for you to find a new mission in the future, especially in the startup world where everybody talks with everybody.

Second of all, most freelance developers I know hate switching between projects at the same time. It’s very inefficient and frustrating, so most of us prefer working for months or even years for one customer at a time.

As for integration time, it is of course completely the opposite: when you have to change project on a regular basis, you have to get comfortable finding your place very quickly in a new team. Practice makes perfect.

Last but not least, about the cost issue, most companies, especially the smallest ones for which economies of scale are really small, only consider the salary cost. They don’t factor in the management cost of dealing with social secretariat, car leasing companies, medical insurance companies, training companies, buying and maintaining your own hardware inventory and so on. In my experience, unless you are a big company and you can make big economies of scale on these management costs because you have a lot of employees, there is little to no difference in terms of cost between an employee and a freelancer. In addition to that, you also have to factor in the cost of firing an employee with a lot of seniority, or keeping him around despite your non-satisfaction with his work because of this cost.

The benefits

But more importantly, I see plenty of companies neglecting the benefits of working with freelance developers.

  1. By definition, they have to manage their own company, find their own customers, negotiate their own contracts, so entrepreneurship is at the heart of everything they do. They understand what it means to manage a business, and they don’t expect to be told what to do: they take initiatives and think creatively.
  2. They come with an all-inclusive package: no need to worry about company cars, vacations, insurances, gear renewal costs or training. All of that is taken care of by the freelancer himself.
  3. If you are not happy with their work, or your budget constraints change, or simply your needs evolve, you can stop the contract very easily. Agreed, it’s the same on the freelancer’s side, so you’d better offer him the best working conditions possible to keep him around, but that shouldn’t be an issue, should it? ;-)
  4. Given the importance of their reputation and the desirability of their profile, most freelancers train on all the latest trends can bring some really cutting-edge tech to your company.
  5. A key asset for any freelancer is his professional network. So he knows a lot of developers, which can be incredibly powerful when you raise a new round of funding and need to grow your team quickly.

In addition to all those reasons, considering the fact that most experienced developers have already made the switch, if you don’t want to work with freelancers, you cut yourself from an important crowd of some of the best developers around. And don’t expect to bring freelancers back into an employee status: given how much it costs to kill a company in Belgium, and all the freedoms he would have to give up, I know very few freelancers who would come back to being an employee. It’s simply not worth it.

The future

As a futurologist, I also feel the need to mention the fact that in my opinion, the employee status as a norm and default situation is fading away. More and more people are realizing that they need to adapt to a changing work environment at an ever accelerating rate. You need to train for new skills, acquire new knowledge. The very notion of career is being questioned and revisited more and more regularly. And in some industries, software development included, it’s not uncommon to work for companies anywhere in the world, from anywhere in the world. This trend is pushing more and more people to be independent workers, and even though governments and administrations are once again incredibly late in adapting to it, it doesn’t prevent us (even though it makes it incredibly painful sometimes) from doing it. It’ simply the sense of history, and it’s always frustrating to see so many awesome companies resist it, especially when they are supposed to be at the forefront of innovation.

Let’s talk about it

Given all that, I would love to hear more about the reasons why employers, and especially startup founders and managers don’t want to work with freelancers. I’m sure there are plenty of myths to be busted in there, and I’d be really happy to help. Also, if you are a freelance developer, and would like to share some interesting experience to share, let’s get the debate started in the comments of this post.

The Last Kingdom

After binge-watching the first season of the TV show “The Last Kingdom” yesterday on Netflix, I was really annoyed and upset by all these constant references to God and Christianity, and as an anti-theist myself (atheist is not strong enough), I couldn’t help but feel close to Ragnar Ragnarson in his fight for justice. But what struck me even more is how much Christianity back then has in common with something today: Finance.

The Profit God

Finance has become the new Chrsitianity of the land. Currency has become the new Prayer. Economy is the new Faith. In Christianity, you have to suffer in life to be happy ever after in Heaven. In Finance, you have to work like a slave all your life to live happily ever after in retirement. Christianity had its priests and clergy, Finance has its traders and bankers and quotation agencies. In Christianity, you could either be a good Christian believer, or a godless barbarian. In Finance, either you are a docile taxpayer, or a jobless slacker. And if you push boundaries a bit further, when you dare to point out the flaws and the corruption of Finance, you are called a Conspiration Theorist, pretty much with the same status as blaspheming heretics back then. Dare to try something different, propose an alternative currency, universal income or negative interest rates and you are pretty much a witch, in direct contact with the Devil. Talking about the Devil, the closest thing to Finance’s equivalent of Hell would probably be… Socialism? Or Misery? Or Bankruptcy? Or homelessness? The concept of Salvation has been replaced by the concept of Growth, this thing that every politicial would like to influence, but nobody really knows how. Sometimes they sacrifice some jobs or human rights to the Markets, those angels of the Profit god, hoping it will please the Markets and bring some Growth. But everybody is drinking every word from the quotation agencies, those direct conduits to God. And then of course, nobody dares to discuss the fact that the clergy has to take its toll on all that: what used to be called tithes are now called interests, and everybody finds it perfectly normal to pay those interests when they borrow money that doesn’t even exist in the first place, they would almost be afraid not to pay them. Same for the taxes people pay to their Nation-State, that are used in turn and in good part to pay back interests to the banks as well. The Church itself didn’t have to pay taxes by the way, pretty much like the Markets and their actors. The main problem is that our governments, our Nation-States are way too entangled with the Clergy of the Finance Church, they are not independent anymore, and it will take years and tremendous courage to separate both, to separate the Finance from Government in the same way as we separated the Church from the State. Maybe we can take some inspiration, remember how this separation was done, and continue the metaphor to do the same for Finance.

A Vision

The way I see it, Finance has corrupted and rotten the very foundations of our societies. And I’m afraid that every attempt to separate the parasite, will also bring the whole house down. Unless we do something to build other foundations in parallel and when they are ready, we destroy the old ones. I would start with currency: with crypto-currencies, we don’t need the bank anymore, either to create currency or to monitor it. We can get rid of the middle man and let the network handle the security and rule-enforcement. Bitcoin is just one example of such a currency, not necessarily the best one because of the rules it was designed to enforce: deflation, parity with fiat currency, etc. But it opened the discussion and a whole new horizon of possibilities. Without middle-men in our currency exchanges, no more need to “pray for something to happen”.

I would continue with democracy. Once we have a suitable crypto-currency, based on a proper blockchain (a transparent, verified and universal ledger of all transactions), we can also dis-intermediate every single contract our democracy is based upon, including the most fundamental one: the voting contract. And I’m not talking about corruptible electronic voting machines here. I’m talking about the ability for every citizen of the City to take part in the public debate and give their vote on issues that matter to them on a daily basis, along with the capability to inform them accordingly of course. I’m talking about switching from Representative to Participative democracy. And I know some people will call me a utopist on this one (yet another word to discard heretics), but just make an effort to wonder how many of your beliefs that led you to this conclusion were actually taught to you by the Finance clergy. “People are not educated enough, if people had been asked about the death penaly in France, they would have voted to maintain it”. Etc.

Another important pillar for me is the very notion of work. Work in Finance is like Penance in Christianity. Society’s Growth is the direct product of your individual work, like mankind’s Salvation was the result of everybody’s penance. It seems obvious and non-questionable because we are being taught that from our very early age (and because it echoes some of the same theories from the Church as well). But with the massive movements towards workforce automation these days (Uberization and the likes), the absurdity of this logic becomes apparent. We are even creating some artificial penance, forcing people to work silly jobs that could easily be automated, for the sake of maintaining that illusion. Work, like Penance back then, is becoming a goal in and of itself. We are forgetting the real goal behind Growth: self-fullfillment, happiness, freedom. For decades we have been told that the only way towards that goal went through Work, Taxes and Financial Growth. But what if there’s another way, a faster way, a cleaner way? Do you think the traders who are paid more in a year than what you are paid in a lifetime will wait until retirement to find their Salvation? I think we need to change our vision about work, from something we must do to make a living, to an activity we enjoy doing because it brings us plenty of different rewards directly, including happiness, self-fullfillment and freedom. Because it brings value to the society as a whole today, not because it will bring Salvation later. Of course some of this value will be paid back to us in currency, and of course, the more value we create for society, the more benefits we should get (currency or otherwise). But work should not be a life-or-death necessity anymore. That’s why I’m convinced Basic Income is THE solution. And when you hear the Clergy of Finance say things about basic income like Socialism, and conspiration theory, and utopia, remember about Hell, heretics and witchcraft.

Probably the last pillar, the hardest one to change, and the longest change to show its effects, is education. Our entire school system was designed for another time, a time of centralization, of pyramid structures. A time when school needed to train good employees, docile citizens, not independent entrepreneurs who have to figure out their mission in this world, and have the power to decide what they want to achieve. I strongly believe that this is the world that is emerging before our eyes. And it is time that we take it into account and rebuild our education system from the ground up accordingly. Our kids need skills more than knowledge. They need initiative more than authority, they need creativity more than learning by heart. Not just because of the internet and all that it gives them access to. But because of the way it is changing our societies, because of all the new paradigms it’s going to create in the future, whereas we are still preparing them for yesterday’s only paradigm. Our children need to be able to use their full potential, not just the normal one, to be able to see patterns and explore all the opportunities and dangers of what’s to come, because there will be both. And nothing in our current education system prepares them for that, neither in content, nor in form. I think we need to explore ideas like flipped classrooms and Montessori. Those are just two possible evolutions I’ve heard of and I’m clearly no education expert, but I think it’s time for us to reinvent our system, and maybe get out of the dogma of one single school system. Because kids are diverse, they are individuals, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and they all live in different contexts, with different realities and concerns, and of course we need to spend as much energy understanding those contexts and adapting our schools to those contexts, as actually coaching our kids in those schools.

With the right currency, democracy, workforce and a generation prepared to take full advantage of all this, I don’t see how we couldn’t take things to the next level.


Once we have those four pillars, we can actually start to build a new house on top, a global house. Because in the same way that the Church understood that it had to transcend borders back in the day, Finance is already transnational, unlike our democracies. And for me, that’s one of the reasons why we are powerless and divided. I don’t believe in borders, I don’t recognize the right of national governments to tell me where I’m allowed to live or not, depending on where I was born. I don’t see why I should suffer from the consequences of decisions of other countries simply because I have no say in choices that their governments make, although they have an impact on all of us. And more importantly, I believe I’m not alone to believe that. I think the new generations see themselves more and more as citizens of the world. I’m not French, I’m not Belgian, I’m not even European, I’m an Earthian. Yes, we have different languages, different cultures, different lives and different day-to-day concerns, but we all share the same planet, the same resources, the same science. So we should have a global platform for governance. Note that I didn’t use the expression “global government”, because it sounds too much like what we have today, only bigger, thus with even more corruption and control. What I think is that the transition I described earlier will happen locally, in various countries, playing by the rules of the old system, and then those transitioning countries will work together, create alliances, merge their platforms into one until it covers the whole planet. Will there still be a place for Finance in this world? Sure. Like there is still a place for Christianity in some places in today’s world. Some people will keep having faith in Profit, they will live by its rules, act on its precepts, but it won’t affect all of us. Because it should not.


Original Photo by keeva999 (with a cross instead of the dollar sign) –

You Have the Right to Buy some Shares… Soon!

calculatorIn my latest article, I mentioned stock options as one of the interesting perks in working for a startup. But the truth is that it is not really easy to understand as an investment instrument, and you can easily find a lot of resources how stock options work from the employer standpoint, and not that much from the beneficiary’s point of view. In addition, there are different mechanisms in different countries, with different tax systems, and it’s very difficult to understand. So let me try to explain stock options in Belgium. First of all, let’s talk about shares. When you create a company, it must have a starting capital, a certain sum of money in the bank to let you invest to start your activity. Typically, this starting capital is the only value in the company, so it also corresponds to its valuation. In Belgium, the legal amount to start a limited liability company (SPRL) is 18600€. This so-called social capital is represented by a certain number of shares, that are attributed to the founders, usually proportionally to their contribution to the initial capital. So let’s say John and Marc create the SuperCorp company with an initial social capital of 20000 euros, represented by 100000 shares. Each of them, brings 10000 euros to the table, so each of them gets 50000 shares. The value of each share is set to 20000/100000=0,2€. As the company grows, works and develops its business, its valuation increases. There is value created in knowledge, intellectual property, various assets that it may develop or acquire, and more importantly all the perspectives that it offers for the future thanks to the work that John, Marc and their employees do for SuperCorp. This created value is not financial yet. But if John or Marc decides to sell some of their shares to someone else, they will take into account the estimated current valuation of their company. Let’s say John and Marc estimate that all the work they put in is worth 80000 euros after a year, so that means the company’s estimated valuation is 20000+80000=100000 euros. So each share is now valued at 1 euro. It is all virtual until someone is willing to buy some shares for that price. Let’s say Simon comes in and proposes to buy 20% of the company at the current estimated value. One way to do this transaction is to transfer some of the shares of the founders to the new buyer. So for example, Marc and John could sell 20% of their shares to Simon, and we would end up with the following capitalization table:

  • John: 40000 shares, 40% of the company, worth 40000 euros
  • Marc: 40000 shares, 40% of the company, worth 40000 euros
  • Simon: 20000 shares, 20% of the company, worth 20000 euros

Here, the total number of shares doesn’t change, John and Marc each have less shares in the company, but each share is now valued at 5 times its initial value. The problem with that mechanism is that the company doesn’t get any money in that operation. John and Marc personally sold 10000 shares each and they received 10000€ each in the process. So basically Simon just bought a right to ownership of a part of SuperCorp, but won’t participate in its investment. Let’s say Simon is an investor, and his goal is to buy some shares of the company in exchange for some financial capital for the company, in the hopes that SuperCorp will use this new financial capital to increase its valuation even further and allow Simon to sell his shares with a premium sometime down the road. One way to do this is to create new shares of the company instead of selling existing ones. If John and Marc create 25000 new shares and sell those to Simon, he will own 20% of the social capital, which is estimated at a value of 20000 euros. So we will end up with the following capital table:

  • John: 50000 shares, 40% of the company, worth 40000 euros
  • Marc: 50000 shares, 40% of the company, worth 40000 euros
  • Simon: 25000 shares, 20% of the company, worth 20000 euros

The results of this operation are the following:

  • the company has 20000 euros more on the bank account to invest.
  • the value of the company before the investment was 100000€ (pre-money valuation)
  • the value of the company after the capital increase is now 125000€ (post-money valuation)
  • each of the 125000 shares is worth 125000/125000=1€.
  • each original founder now owns 50/125=40% of the company. This process is also called dilution.

Note that all of these figures are entirely fictional and chosen merely to ease calculations. Now that we understand these systems of shares, let’s talk about stock options, or more specifically warrants (we’ll use them interchangeably here even though they are slightly different). Warrants are a financial instrument used to incentivize employees to stay with the company as long as possible and do their job to their best. Simply put, a warrant is the right to buy a share of the company later at the price it has today, which is called exercising the warrant. And since the value of the shares is supposed to go up, the goal is to make it possible for the employee to make a profit when he buys the shares associated with his warrants, and then resells the shares at the value they are worth then. That is for the motivation to participate in the success of the company. The motivation to stay is created by what is called a vesting schedule. Basically, the vesting schedule says that the employee who subscribes to warrants has the right to vest (or exercise) these warrants only in a certain timeframe. Typically, 25% of the warrants can be exercised at the end of the first year in the company (that is called the cliff), and then 1/36th of the warrants can be exercised at the end of every month for the following 36 months (3 years). So if an employee is given 2500 warrants, that means he will be able to exercise 625 warrants (and get 625 shares) in one year, and then about 52 more warrants every month. If he leaves the company during the first year, he will lose all of his warrants. If he leaves during his 13th month of the company, he will be able to buy 625 shares of the company at the price they were at when he got the warrant, whatever the increase in their value. He is not forced to exercise the warrants: if he doesn’t have enough cash to buy the shares or if their value has gone down, he can simply give up on his warrants. So in our example, let’s say that when Simon comes in as an investor, John and Marc also hire Steve as a developer and they want to incentivize him to go the extra mile and stay longer. So they agree with Simon on the following:

  • John keeps 50000 shares, 40% of the company, worth 40000 euros
  • Marc keeps 50000 shares, 40% of the company, worth 40000 euros
  • Simon gets 22500 shares, 18% of the company, worth 18000 euros
  • 2500 shares are set aside in the warrant plan for Steve, representing 2% of the company, worth 2000 euros

So at the end of the 4-year vesting period, Steve will be able to buy 2500 shares of the company for 2000 euros. Normally, within four years the value of the shares will have greatly increased but Steve will still get a preference price thanks to the warrant, and he will be able to sell those shares for a much higher price. Note that those 2500 shares will not represent 2% of the company anymore by then, because other investors will have joined, more shares will have been created, thus diluting the existing shares. But a slightly smaller percentage of a much larger cake is still very interesting. Let’s talk about taxes now. In Belgium there is a very special tax system for these warrants. The general principle is that you have to pay your taxes right when you receive the warrants. So the warrants are basically free, and they don’t have any value yet, but you still have to pay some taxes on them as if you had received a revenue. Typically, these taxes represent 18% of the face value of the warrants. So in our case, the year Steve gets his 2000 euros worth of warrants, he will have to pay taxes on a taxable basis of 2000*18/100=360€. What if Steve decides not to exercise his shares in the end, or can only exercise a portion of them because he leaves the company? Well that will be too late then: the taxes are paid, and there is no refund. But there is an upside: in exchange for this advanced payment, Steve won’t have to pay any additional taxes when he exercises his warrants and sells the corresponding shares with a bonus. So let’s say Steve’s shares are worth 20000 euros when he can exercise the warrants to buy them, he will still pay 2000 euros and sell them for 20000 euros, receiving a 18000 euros bonus in the process, on which he won’t have to pay any additional taxes. That’s a nice deal, isn’t it? Woohoo! There we are… well… almost. Because there is yet another small trick with those taxes. Basically, if Steve exercises his warrants as soon as he can to buy the associated shares, it’s more paperwork and it’s only interesting if Steve intends to keep those shares for a long time instead of reselling them right away. So to incentivize Steve to hold onto his warrants and only exercise them to sell the shares directly, there is a 50% tax discount if he commits to exercise his warrant no sooner than the beginning of the fourth year after he got them. If he takes this commitment, he just has to pay taxes on 9% of the value of the warrants in taxes, which represents a taxable basis 2000*9/100=180 euros. And what happens if he leaves the company before this commitment ends, you might ask? Well in that case he can exercise the warrants he is entitled to according to the vesting schedule, and then pay the tax difference. Last element that really makes these warrants particularly interesting: in case SuperCorp is acquired or goes public (enters the stock market), all of Steve’s warrants are automatically exercised, and the vesting schedule is simply ignored. So if SuperCorp is acquired for 10 euros per share after two years, Steve will still be able to exercise his 2500 shares and make a 22500-euro profit, even though he should be entitled to only half of his shares after those two years. There are still a couple of subtleties I didn’t mention here, but this is the general way warrants work and are taxed in Belgium. And this explanation has been double-checked for correctness by an expert accountant. So I hope it was clear enough. If you still have questions about warrants, or remarks to improve this explanation, please feel free to leave a comment down below. And in any case, don’t forget that we are hiring developers, that we have warrant plans, and that we even offer premiums for referrals. Just sayin…

Top 7 Reasons Why You Should Work for a Startup (clickbait intended)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted something here but as they say, desperate times… So as you might not know a lot has happened in my professional life since I wrote here. Last time I was getting ready to start a new job for Instaply, a startup based in the US but with an awesome team spread around the world. I worked one year with them, and then I was invited to be a coach for NEST’up Spring 2015. Then last month, I started a new job for another startup, based out of Brussels this time, called Take Eat Easy.

Just to get it out of the way, since the topic of this blog post is going to be about the advantages to join a startup, let me come back to the reasons why I left Instaply after just one year. It has nothing to do with the startup environment itself, and everything to do with the reason why I chose to go freelance in the first place: I love to choose the projects I work for and the people I work with. When one or the other becomes something I have to accomodate instead of something I fully enjoy, AND once I have tried everything in my power to make things go back to where they were at the beginning without success, I start listening for interesting new opportunities. That is exactly what happened here. I would have loved to keep working with those great developers. I didn’t believe enough in the project anymore to fully enjoy working on it. I tried everything I could to steer it back to where I would have believed 100% in it. I was not the only person to decide of course. I was offered a coaching position for a renowned startup accelerator I co-created, I moved on. The funny thing is that the first season of this same accelerator, 3 years ago, saw the birth of another startup: Take Eat Easy, yes, the same where I work now. Small world, right?

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to the present time now. When I joined Take Eat Easy, I made it clear that I didn’t just want to code, I wanted to have a greater impact on shaping the future of a business I really believed in: helping people eat better from the comfort of their home. So I joined as a VP of Engineering. If you want to know the difference with the role of CTO, you should read this article. So now I have the opportunity to keep building some software, but also to build a team with the best possible methodology and structure for the years to come. As a team builder, one of my main responsibilities is to grow the team, to recruit great developers. And that’s what brings me back to my blog.

Right now, we are looking for 3 key persons:

  • one or two Java backend developers to keep building our core system and make it stronger as we release our platform in multiple countries
  • one or two web frontend developers, familiar with Java (JSP, Spring MVC, etc.) but also very strong with HTML5, CSS and Javascript, to make our customer website and our internal tools completely ergonomic
  • one or two Android developers to bootstrap the development of our brand new mobile app, and help us with the development of our apps for restaurant managers and bike couriers, among other things

And I’m not gonna lie: I was expecting to get more applications. The fact is that we are looking for senior developers because we don’t have time to train newbies for now (sorry guys), and we need strong developers with enough autonomy and creativity to take matters into their own hands and really build the backbone of a great team. But still, I can’t help but wonder why we don’t get more applications.

First hypothesis: people just don’t know we’re hiring. Well at least now, you know (and your best developer friends will soon know, right?). I also published a few messages on targeted LinkedIn groups, there was a lot of press surrounding our recent funding round, and we do have our recruitment website where you can see our awesome industrial office space. But maybe it’s not enough.

Second hypothesis: the technologies we are working with are so commonplace in big corporations and institutions like the European Commission, that offer good paychecks and a comfortable 9-to-5 job, that developers are just too comfortable there to get interested in anything else. But I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and I know that working for those big institutions can look like a golden jail and eat your soul from the inside out.

Third hypothesis: startups are so rare in Belgium, that few developers actually know what it’s like to work for one, they don’t see all the benefits, and it sometimes looks too good to be true. So let me set the record straight and give you my top reasons why developing for a startup is so awesome (and of course, even more so for Take Eat Easy :oP )

Have an impact

More often than not, when I’ve worked for big companies, I never met the end users of the apps I worked on. Sometimes, the software I wrote never got to a real end user because the project was just dropped before the end (which tends to happen when a full waterfall development cycle takes a few years to complete before you realize your software is already out-of-phase with your market).

In a startup, not only can you see your final users, but you can meet them, touch them, feel their pain, and more importantly feel the joy and happiness that your software brings to their lives. When was the last time you could say that from the invoice checking ERP/SOA system your worked on (real world example)?

Learn some startup skills

I know so many developers who stay in their 9-to-5 job in a big company and save money for the big day when they will finally take the plunge and turn one of their million-dollar side project idea into a real business. I used to be one of those.

What if you actually learned some useful things while saving for your big coming out? What if you actually witnessed first hand what it takes to be in a startup rollercoaster before you build your own? What if you used this experience to see if you are actually CEO material, and in the process, put your full power to good use by helping a business you actually believe in? There actually is a middle ground between a boring dull job for a pharma company and creating your own startup: it’s called an exciting job for an existing and thriving startup.

Bonus: where are you more likely to meet your potential future cofounders, team mates and investors, at the European Commission or at the heart of the startup ecosystem?

NB: if you are already further down the line and you are planning to launch your own startup within a year, this doesn’t apply. Working for a startup is a long-term commitment and you will only benefit fully from it (and let’s face it, the startup will only benefit from your expertise) if you stay long enough.


9-to-5 jobs are called that for a reason: so long as you clock in at 9 and clock out at 5, you’re good, no matter what you have really done in-between. If you do less than that, you can already feel the warm breath of your manager in your neck (and probably smell his bad armpits with this weather). And those companies are so much about appearance, that you have to disguise as a serious person, with suits and everything. And you have to attend meetings, watch boring Powerpoint presentations, play political games, and the list goes on forever.

Nothing like that in a startup, really. It’s pretty much like McDonald’s. Come as you are. Geeky t-shirts, flip flops, 3-day beard, whatever. So long as you do your job, you get results and produce awesome software, we don’t care how you look or when you come to the office. As a matter of fact, we know you are going to stay late, because you will love your job and your team mates so much that we will have to send you home! And no bullshit meetings or layers and layers of management. We are not here to justify our paycheck, we are here to get some shit done, and make the world a better place, one distributed database at a time (Silicon Valley pun intended). Anyway, you get my point.

It’s an investment

Whatever you do for a big company, where is the incentive to do your job better today than yesterday? But who am I kidding, if you are reading this your are probably such a perfectionist professional that you don’t need any incentive. But what about your colleagues?

In a funded startup, not only is the paycheck completely comparable to your current corporate one and probably even better, but you get one thing the big guys will never be able to offer you: stock options baby! I know, this is not a salary, and I am the first one to say it should not be bargained as one. It is merely a bonus. Some would even say it’s a gamble, and in some sense it is. But what do you call a bet in which you can influence the odds of successful outcome with your hard work, sweat and creative ideas? I call that a pretty good bet, one that won’t make you rich for sure, but might go a long way in setting you up for your own startup some day… or anything else for that matter. How about that?

Awesome colleagues

How many times have you complained about all those guys around you, who are not all bad, but have become so infatuated by such comfortable working conditions, that they have completely stopped questioning the status quo and the misery of their conditions. But you are stronger than that, right? You are still too young for that shit, huh?

Then how about working for a company that doesn’t settle for the average Joe Does-the-Job, but strives to only work with the most creative, no-bullshit software builders it can find? How about being part of a great team, and even participating in building it with all the great developers you have met throughout the years, and thus influence your stock options value even more?

Cool perks

Do you remember the last time you yelled at your computer because you still don’t understand why you get to build complex user interfaces and innovative backend systems on the same gear as Julie from accounting? And that chair, boy that annoying old chair that was probably already used by card punchers if you know what I mean, and has likely squeaked though Y2K bug times. And don’t get me started on those unbearable cubicles and that awful stuff they call food at the Sodexo joint downstairs (confess to me: when people ask you how it is, you still answer “it’s fine!” with an awkward smile). I’m barely exaggerating, admit it.

Of course, a startup is so much better on all those fronts. I needed a big 27-inch screen to do my iOS storyboarding wizardry properly, I got the green light for one in a couple of days, and now it’s proudly sitting on my desk. Inspiring creative work environment? CHECK! Awesome food delivered straight from the most trendy restaurants in Brussels? What else? (ok, the Take Eat Easy factor might help there). All those little thing that make you smile your way to work, along with Magic Assembly breaks, no-nonsense days-off policies, do you really need me to go on?

The (real) Agile way

I’m not talking about post-it fakery here. No “of course we do Agile! RUP is agile, right?”. Ever heard of ScrumFall? Remember those post-it notes that you ordered to migrate your project to Kanban, and that ended up arming your post-it war with your cellmates across the road, out of despair?

In a startup, Agile is not something you do to shake up your manager’s certainty, or to make your life as a developer less miserable in an Excel-driven management world. It’s a necessity. It’s the norm. It is what you do because it’s just the most efficient way to get shit done and to ship actual software out the freaking door and into the hands of your feedback-blowing users. Real Kanban with regular retrospectives with which you can customize the process to fit your team’s way of working in full collaboration (not against) a business that actually craves for your every line of juicy code.


That’s what a startup really looks like. And of course that’s what OUR startup really looks like, and will do even more so if you loved every advantage listed above and want to make them even more real by joining us.

Of course, I can already hear some of you in the back whisper: “oh, but that’s not all rosy, you will probably do crazy hours, and you will have a lot of responsibilities, and it might not work out in the end, it’s not safe out there, it’s a cutthroat jungle, and investors will make a lot more money than you, and your kids will see your sorry face a lot less, and yes, you will learn, but you will fail a lot to get there, and…”

I won’t deny. That’s all I have to say: I won’t deny any of that. I’ll just let you read it back out loud and leave you with that and my direct email address: [email protected]

What a year!

Usually, this time of year, it’s time for looking back on the past months and reflect on what has been accomplished. Last year I didn’t even bother because I was simply too depressed. I spent a couple of weeks isolated in a chalet in Canada, I needed to regroup, I needed to flip a switch. And boy I did!

One year later, so many things have changed in my life it is scary to think about it… though energizing.

One of the biggest decisions I made during my cold retreat was to finally tackle the pain I’ve been struggling with ever since I was a child. I had started my first diet when I was 3 and struggled with my weight ever since. For the past three years, I have been working on the roots of this disease, of this malicious relationship I had with food. But it was time to face it head on and do something concrete about it. In January, I had my first appointment with a nutritionist at the Brussels Weight Loss Center, and it was the beginning of a long but inspiring journey. I was too far off to just go on another diet, the only durable solution for me was surgery, so I did what had to be done… and told the story of it (in French). The surgery happened in early July, and I’m very pleased to report that I have already lost 55 kilograms over the past 6 months… and counting. The goal is to go back to 100 and get out of medical obesity, so things are on track.

When I took the decision to have the surgery, I knew I needed some financial and professional stability, both to prepare myself and to recover properly. I couldn’t afford to live the stressful entrepreneur life anymore. So I accepted a new consultancy mission for a big bank. Sure it wasn’t fully aligned with my values and goals in life, but it paid the bills nicely and allowed me to focus some attention on my health. I started working there in early April this year and I learned a lot. Then a few months ago, a Belgian friend of mine who had moved to San Francisco and joined a promising startup there told me they might soon need some help on their technical team. It was not an immediate need, but I started dreaming of settling in this city that I love. Then a couple weeks ago he got back to me. That was it, they needed someone now! My relocation plans had changed a little (I’ll tell you how) but I really wanted to join them. I talked to him, I talked to the CEO, I met the backend developer… and the deal was sealed in enthusiasm. So starting in January, I’m back in the startup world, but not with my own company. I’m a developer for Instaply and I’m thrilled about it.

Last (not really), but not least, I told you my relocation plans have changed in the past few weeks. Here’s why. When I took the decision to have gastric bypass surgery, it was thanks to a lot of online resources and especially testimonials from other patients who told their story in videos from a few months before to a few years after the procedure. It really helped me ease my concerns about the surgery, its consequences, its challenges and the overall journey that was ahead of me. Lucky for me I understand English without too much trouble. But then it struck me that very few French-speaking patients dared to talk about it, which allowed a lot of false ideas to spread, and the surgery to be somewhat shameful in the French-speaking world. So I took it upon myself to create my own Youtube channel, my own community, my own blog, with a triple goal in mind:

  • Inspire patients
  • Educate their family and friends
  • Inform the general public

But there was one side effect I didn’t anticipate: those videos allowed me to find my special someone. I thought that after I would get back my self esteem as the result of getting back in my own driver seat, I would have a crazy “catch up” period, having fun, meeting a lot of people, getting out and not taking things seriously. But as often in life, surprises are even better. She had the same surgery I did, she watched my videos, she called me to ask questions and share her experience with me, and we quickly noticed we shared much more than an obesity journey. I used to find this concept very overrated, but now I can tell you with full certainty that I found my soulmate. She is everything I had never hoped for, she makes me feel more alive than ever, she makes me enjoy every moment of life, here and now, like I never could, and believe me when I tell you that’s quite a feat. Things went incredibly fast between us, but it was just obvious, and being far away from her became so painful, that I took the decision to move back to France, near where she lives, and be happy there. Now of course this relationship and decision to move come with greater responsibility too, because she has two kids who are going to be part of my life too. But even though I’m fully aware of the challenges ahead of me, I’m not scared. It’s fair! And this move is fully compatible with me working remotely from home for Instaply, so everything is just perfect.

So… new body… new job… new girl… and kids. What did I forget? Oh yeah! Back in October we went to TechCrunch Disrupt in Berlin with the PeerTrust team. PeerTrust is this side project we had been working on for 18 months, trying to find a solution to this trust problem that made Kodesk (my first startup) fail. And PeerTrust failed to raise the enthusiasm that was necessary to keep us on track. So we decided to stop working on it. But on the other hand, it was obvious that we enjoyed working together very much, and none of us wanted to be a consultant for big companies our entire lives. That’s when it struck us: why not create our own agency, work for customers we chose, with our own tools and more importantly with our preferred team. Hence was born ZeTeam! I won’t go too much in detail about it yet, because things are still in their infancy, but suffice it to say that if you or someone you know is looking for innovative and pragmatic software solutions for their business, feel free to contact us or keep in touch. I’ll definitely keep you updated here in the coming weeks.

So there we go. 2013 is soon coming to an end. I’m on my way to enjoy the best holidays of my life, then 2 months between 2 jobs, finishing my mission for the bank and ramping up on my Instaply work, and then moving back to France with my sweetheart in March. Things are very exciting. So have a merry christmas, a happy new year, and don’t forget your destiny lies in your own hands. Be happy, and you will be even happier.


And you’re wondering why Europe sucks for innovative startups?

I’m experimenting with a new collaborative consumption business idea at the moment and I’m trying to set up a payment processing infrastructure. I contacted Paymill, the European clone of Stripe but they seem to be stalling on activating my merchant account. So I got in touch with Braintree Payments, since they opened their services for merchants in Europe last year and they are the payment provider of AirBnB, THE pioneer of collaborative consumption. But this morning, I got the following email:

We would love to have you as a business partner, but unfortunately we cannot move forward with your application. Your payment model is something called Third Party Payment Aggregation.  This means you are accepting payment on behalf of someone else, and then passing on payment to them at a later time. TPPA is the highest risk business model there is in payment processing. Unfortunately we do not have a European sponsoring bank willing to underwrite applications for companies with this payment model at the present time.

And they add a link to a post on their blog, explaining what TPPA is and why it is risky.

Now I understand the risk but then it got me thinking. Isn’t it a bank’s job to manage the risk and be paid for it? And what does it mean for the future of collaborative consumption in Europe? Given that collaborative consumption is on its way to replace ad-supported free services as the leading business model family, and that the go-to option for collaborative consumption revenue stream is commission on transactions, how can we do that without a bank supporting this model?

So the next step is to see how existing collaborative consumption businesses in Europe are doing. Let’s try first for 9flats, the European clone of AirBnB (they’re based in Germany). Unfortunately, their terms and conditions do indicate that they process the transactions themselves (“9flats undertakes to pay to the host as the purchase price for the receivable the amount of the accommodation price minus a commission (receivable price)”) but they don’t mention what payment processing service they’re using. Now let’s look at BlaBlaCar, one of the leading ride-sharing services in Europe. Here is what they say in article 2.3 of their Terms and Conditions: “it is the Driver’s responsibility to collect payment from the Passenger at the time of the Trip”. Woops! There seems to be a pattern of avoidance here. I posted a message on OuiShare‘s Facebook group and I got the reference of Leetchi. Going to their website, they say they are using Payline to process payments, which I had never heard about and will investigate (it seems they have the French subsidiary of BlaBlaCar as a customer too). But the smaller the operator, the less likely it is they will support modern API’s enabling mobile payments for example (which both Braintree and Paymill do).

This is going to be harder than I thought. But I guess the point of this post is this: if you are thinking of establishing a business in Europe whose business model relies on taking commissions on transactions, be prepared to fight… or flight! The US of A are so appealing to me right now…

Top 5 reasons why you should consider Groovy and Grails for your enterprise software architecture right now

I’m so amazed when I see how so few companies are using Groovy and Grails right now, and are still using old stuff like Spring and Hibernate, that I thought I would jump in and do my share of educating. And why not give in to the fashion of top lists while I’m at it? So here it goes: if you are an enterprise software architect and you have a lot of Java in your world, you might want to read carefully what follows.

Continue reading Top 5 reasons why you should consider Groovy and Grails for your enterprise software architecture right now