Building a startup: remote working (june – august 2012)

Context

The past three months had been quite busy and dedicated to build our MVP. For that we hired a team of interns. They were 9 but let’s consider they were only 6. 3 of them were working on a side project and didn’t work directly with us. About the product, we aim to provide personal cloud to our customer on which they can install apps as easily as on their smartphone, “self-hosting for everyone” if you prefer. To make it possible we had to meet three key milestones :

  • a website on which people suscribed
  • an hosting infrastructure to host instances of our product
  • the product himself: a web application that can manage other web applications

To achieve this goal we hired only interns with a technical background. They had partial knowledge of our techno and some were totally beginners.

Organization

We wanted to let people working remotely if they desired it. They all wanted it. So we customized our organization:

  • Daily meeting each afternoon where everyone tells what he did last day and what he is going to do (Skype).
  • Weekly personal meeting to describe the sprint of the week (Skype)
  • Virtual Kanban always up to date (Trello)
  • Q&A forum to share the answer of common problems (OSQA)
  • Founders acted as coordinators, product owners and developers
  • Specialist organization : one man, one project (they just stayed for 3 months, no need to make them work on different projects)
  • Regularly we did small workshops to resolve issues and make some formations and small demos (Mikogo)
  • IRC channel for non work-related discutions
  • Internal social networks for link exchange (Newebe)
  • Code review through Github
  • One corporate week-end where we climb up a mountain in South of France

 

What was produced

We are really happy of what have been done so far. We were pleasantly surprised that young developers could do so much:

  • All our internals tools are properly setup (we self-host most of our tools)
  • Our website is ready to receive suscriptions and follow a good architecture (full django stack : nginx, gunicorn, mongo, celery, redis…)
  • We can create personal clouds automatically from the admin UI of the website
  • We built the first versions of three apps that are available on our platform: a note manager, a todolist manager and a mail aggregator
  • The application manager of our product is ready
  • We did some R&D on how to make our infrastructure more scalable
  • We have a development process and a continuous integration woking on
  • We studied a lot of technos
  • We still keep doing interviews and making our network grows
  • The administrative necessities to make our company official is on the good trajectory
  • Our product is now up and running

 

Conclusion

We really enjoyed this working experience.  It made our life easier. Of course it requires passionate people and that founders stay close to help others to keep on progressing on their subjects.  Fortunately we hired great players. In addition, the sportive corporate week-end  was a great experience in strengthening our team spirit. Demos were really good too, we regret to not have settled them earlier !

Today we are still working in this mode but with a smaller team. To finish this post, you will find our list of pros and cons of this. If you have advice or similar experience like this one feel free to share it with me via email or in the comments.

Pro

  • It works efficiently, the distance pushes to communicate more and better than if we were in the same place
  • Less constraints for everyone
  • Self organization resulted in less stress
  • No need to track our employees, the shame to say that “I did nothing” at the daily meeting is enough
  • It’s attractive for hiring, specially for developers
  • Demos times are great

Cons

  • We were surprised that our collaborators never used IRC and very few the social network
  • Tools like Skype are good but frustrating when people have bad connection
  • It is not for everyone, one of our interns didn’t enjoy the experience.
  • It’s not the perfect case for people who needs long formation
  • Sometimes it feels a little bit odd to spend so much time at home
  • It was a challenge to make to everyone understand what others were doing

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