Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

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.

Zero-bullshit

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: sebastien.arbogast@takeeateasy.be

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…

Not a Padawan Anymore

I don’t know if you’ve noticed the same thing, but it’s the first year my RSS feeds contain so few yearly retrospectives, as if everybody just wanted to forget about this 2009 when our whole consumerism-based economy fell apart. As far as I’m concerned, I’m so glad this year was so chaotic, as it was a real wake-up call for me. It was the last year of my Padawan training.

I started this decade entering engineering school. I learnt a lot about software, I discovered Montreal, and then I moved in Belgium for the practical part of my training. Because looking back on it, that’s what it was. Those four-and-a-half years were really the best way for me to build up experience, to learn my craft, to meet people, and last but not least to stop trying to learn about my deeper self by looking in the distorting mirror of introspection, and start listening to myself. This last path is still ongoing but all of this work has really awakened me to what’s coming.

This 1st of January, I’m officially and legally starting my new freelance business, Epseelon IT, hence the change of name of this blog and the fact that it now also accessible via epseelon.com. It’s a big step for me, and to be honnest, a little frightening one for now and until I get the first bills rolling. But I’m deeply convinced it is the best move for me, and I’m already baffled by how many opportunities it’s created for me. I’m a Jedi Knight, which doesn’t mean that learning is over, but I am now strong enough to learn by myself.

I hope the decade to come will allow me to turn this freelance business into the company I’ve been dreaming to create for 10 years. I hope it will also allow me to learn more about those parts of myself that I’ve neglected for too long. And I hope I will learn enough about myself to let a family come to life around me. Last but not least, Canada, I’m coming back!

Happy new decade! See you in 2020!

Change is Happening, my Friends!

Archaeopteryx_2I know it sounds like an apocalyptic prediction of some sort, but it’s all the contrary. And I’m not talking about politics, or the big-bang-boom-tada-yeah that’s happening right now in a country north from here. I’m talking about our work environment. I’m talking about how the way we solve our problems is already changing. In his very inspiring presentation, Clay Shirky mentioned a transition, that he saw already happening back in 2005, but a transition anyway. The thing is that it takes a visionary to see such a transition while it’s happening because… well… it’s happening. So you’re supposed to be a part of it. Talk about an out-of-body experience (I don’t know the right expression for that in English, sorry).

And this morning, answering a message from my friend and former boss on LinkedIn, I realized that the signs were right here before my very eyes:

  • Organisational: when I was interviewed by Axen, I was seduced by their organisational model, because it was completely original. Pretty flat hierarchy, no “I can’t make that decision, it’s not in my prerogatives” thing, a lot of flexibility and pragmatism, everything is a project and people gather dynamically to implement such projects, they learn a lot, and then they move to something else. Astounding! And it worked… for some time. And now even though THIS instance is being absorbed in the guts of a greedy giant, I know it can work. Or to be more specific, I know that people can work like that. Not everybody, but some people can.
  • Technical: have you noticed how the Internet is everywhere in what we do? Have you noticed how it expands our natural limits to bond and share with one another. Am I worried that I might lose contact with all the wonderful people at Axen when I leave? No! I have them all in my LinkedIn account, I can follow them, see how they’re doing, where they’re going, what they’re working on. And more importantly I have a permanent way to keep in touch with them. And of course there are all the people that I’ve met, worked with, thanks to the Internet. There’s Claes, the guy I’m working with on ConferenceGuide. There are all the contacts I’ve met at DMF in October… and the ones I’ve lost, because I didn’t get their card and couldn’t add them to my contacts (Damn it!)
  • Methodological: this is more specific to the IT field, but still, it shows that minds are shifting thanks to Agile Methodologies. Get back to what really matters: creating value. Let go of your old beliefs that you’re going to keep everything under control and never change your mind. Our business is moving fast, let’s embrace it. Let’s build trust with our teams, encourage everyone to commit, improve our state-of-the-art. And let’s stop saying things like “people are dumb, and lazy, and short-sighted, so we need this control and methodology”. That sounds too much like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And there are probably other aspects that are already changing drastically. I’m not saying they’re changing for everyone. Like any evolutionary process, some specimens are trying it, it increases their chances of survival, others die. It’s like work environment natural selection at… work. Now I’m not a Darwin expert, but I’m wondering whether at some point, seeing that some “features” obviously work better than others, nature doesn’t have a way to push those forward. And even if nature is not capable of this, maybe we are. Maybe now that we are aware of those changes, now that we know they work better, now that we are in times when cards are dealt again, it’s time for us to give a little help to natural selection.

I think those changes are still too shy, they look like an archaeopteryx to me (you know this missing link in evolution, sort of half-dinosaur, half-bird). In other words, all those changes are still happening in what seems more and more like an archaic and unfit environment for solving problems: the company. And here I am, envisioning a work environment full of adhocratic-agile-connected people without the need for a constraining and limiting structure full of overhead and politics. I have a dream! But it’s not over yet…

Conference Guide Available

Conference Guide Icon

Woohooo! Exciting times! It’s confirmed, I will be at Devoxx the whole week, and my Conference Guide iPhone application has just been approved. For your information, it only covers Devoxx 2009 for now, but it’s meant to be generic and I will add more information for other conferences soon: TEDxBrussels, JFokus, etc. The application is free for a limited period of time, so go ahead and install it!

More features for the iPhone application are coming, maybe not for Devoxx (the Apple review process makes things really slow), as well as other mobile clients. An Android client is already in the pipe, and if you are a Palm Pre or Symbian developer, feel free to contact me. I can give you access to the same public API I’m using for the iPhone version.

Finally, if you are a conference organizer and you want your event information to be available on mobile platforms without having to develop your own applications, feel free to contact me as well.

And by the way, if you are a company, and you are thinking about developing your own iPhone application, whether it is for marketing purposes, to sell content or to improve the productivity of your salesforce, I’m your guy. And I can do much more than just iPhone development ;o)

Digital Marketing First… Oh my!

I was at Digital Marketing First today. I was invited by Alexandre Colleau from Belgium-iPhone to participate in a panel discussion about iPhone application development. But the presentation was only at 2PM so I decided to walk around the booths before. And I was very disappointed. After hearing someone from eMakina claiming that you can take your blood pressure just by touching the screen of your iPhone, and seen many email marketing vendors claim that email marketing is the future… well, I was disappointed. And then there was the panel.

The discussion itself was pretty interesting in itself. 9 iPhone developers, from hobbyists to professional, from App Store applications to pure B2B stuff, from highly-successful to eternally rejected VOIP apps… very interesting. But what was really astounding for me was after the presentation: people from the audience litterally jumped on us, asking for business cards, asking questions, talking to us about their projects. Luckily for me, I had prepared a bunch of cards, because I secretly hoped that this participation would lead me to a few project opportunities. But I sincerely didn’t expect the demand for iPhone developers to be so high.

So yes guys: I do iPhone development too! In fact I love it, even better than anything else. It’s fun, innovative, and solves real problems. And even better than that, since I do java development too, I can help you design your whole infrastructure. Ain’t that awesome? And even more: if you need a desktop client that is cross-platform and allows you to reproduce some of the functionalities of your iPhone application, I can do that too.

Anyways. I had the opportunity to talk with very interesting people about very interesting projects and it should lead to a few very interesting freelance missions. What a productive day! And a big thank you to Alexandre Colleau!

Enough Big Talk, Let’s Get Pragmatic

First off, by january 2010, I’ll be a freelance software architect and developer. After 4 years at Axen, gathering experience, building up my network, figuring out who I am and what I want, this is just the best way to go for me right now. The best way for me to solve real problems in this world. I won’t let anyone down, I’ll do things properly and it won’t happen overnight, but I’m moving on.

Which leads me to my second point: I’m actively looking for new challenges, new projects, new problems to solve. Productivity, user experience, mobility, modularity those are the problematics I’d love to help companies with. All things Java, Grails, Flex, iPhone SDK, OSGi, this is my toolbox. High level of intervention, coaching and technical leading, architecture, start-up CTO, those are the roles I’d be happier with. So if you have something along these lines, or simply questions you would like to discuss with a software passionate, my resume is here in English and French, and you can contact me here.

And since one of my motivations for going freelance include being able to meet more people and share more, I’m already going to participate in a few upcoming events:

  • Wednesday, October 21st, I’ll be at Betagroup to hear about Belgian startups
  • Thursday, October 22nd, I’ll be at Digital Marketing First, and I’ll be one of the 9 iPhone professionals answering questions in a panel session
  • From November 16th to 20th, I’ll be at Devoxx in Antwerp
  • On November 23rd, I’ll be at TEDxBrussels in European Parliament

So let’s meet, share and… solve problems!