Economic crisis is still the dominant topic in Slovenia, with worrying news and indicators popping up daily. At the same time, Zemanta has never been better, and is actually growing fast. Of course, because we are active on global market, rather than dependent on local economy. Except in one aspect – hiring.
We are looking for several new exceptional colleagues in our Ljubljana office. brilliant, smart, ambitious software developers. It’s not surprising that a lot of people are applying for the position, and I’m very happy to see that many of them actually fit the profile we are looking for.
I’m starting to call it ‘startup engineer‘, to differentiate it from other software development jobs, like traditional IT, systems integrations or website development. many students coming from the universities here are not aware of the difference, and I think we, the startups, have to be very loud about how differently we work. here is a short list of the type of differences, would love to compile a longer one with your help:
- problem-solving: we are a product company, building a product of our own. there is no external client inventing and changing the specs all the time. there is no map of where we are going. we are learning with every step what the next step will be. thus there are not many repetitive tasks. every day actually brings new challenges. some people don’t handle such uncertainties well. startup engineers thrive in the challenge.
- freedom and flexibility: to a large extend we don’t care when and how you work. we expect you to do what it takes to understand the challenge well enough, to tell the other how you will solve it. hours, days, languages, locations are up to your judgment. some people cant handle this freedom. startup engineers love the freedom and grow with the responsibility.
- curiosity: the world is changing with incredible and accelerating speed, and we need to stay a step ahead of it. we need to understand the emerging technologies before they become standards. it takes extra time and energy, that doesn’t necessarily pay off always. startup engineers experiment and learn, because they cannot not to. sometimes that’s called being brave.
- global view: even when working on local problems, startup engineers have to understand the world at large, keep in touch with global trends, and think how the flap of the butterfly in silicon valley will affect us here and now.
there are several practical challenges that we are facing when trying to communicate why working in a startup should be attractive option:
- I wish in the future, people looking to work as developers, would be aware of this difference well in advance. ideally even before high school, so that they can optimize their learning for the style of work that suits them best. we see a lot of very compelling candidates, that unfortunately end up working for banks and IT companies, simply because they don’t know that being a developer can mean very different things.
- there is a prejudice that startup jobs are not stable enough, so specially young candidates are discouraged from applying for them. I find this mentality particularly cynical and obsolete. not only have I met a lot of very stable and healthy startups over the years, also the ‘stable’ companies are laying off incredible amounts of people these days, and government jobs are less and less secure as well.
- some candidates, if they happen to know about startups, are convinced that they are not good enough to qualify. they don’t realize that what we need is first and foremost smarts and curiosity, and not PhD quality of theoretical puzzle-solving. at Zemanta, cultural fit is much more important than skills and experience. don’t negotiate with yourself.
I wish we could make this, ‘startup engineer’ a formal post-graduate university program. there are practical skills they could learn, to accelerate their growth, but these will change from year to year. more importantly, by having it as an option within formal educational system, we would be raising the awareness and actually giving some of the students a fair chance to realize their potential. creating it in collaboration with the actual companies would make sure the students end up with a bit more practically useful knowledge built on top of computer science fundamentals, and give them direct access to a pool of employers, that have been doubling every year.
I gave several book interviews since starting Zemanta and moving to NYC, most of them in the last 18 months. Lots of authors are exploring the technology revolution that we were fortunate to participate in.
Books are coming this year, discussing it from various angles – comparatively with .com boom, the rise of entrepreneurship Europe, new entrepreneurship as a lifestyle, … It is no surprise to me, that the first book to actually publish is the one specifically celebrating NY tech community and agility and resilience.
Tech and the City became available on Kindle two days ago, and hardcopies are coming in April. I received the notification from the authors this morning, and already I’m half way trough it. It’s that good.
It starts with an amazingly inspiring foreword by Fred Wilson, which alone is worth the $2.99, as it perfectly outlines the mental model of the greatest city on the planet. After that, the book only gets better, weaving the story trough fragments of conversations with participants in the ecosystem, rather than lazily throwing together yet another series of interviews. This enables the book to read like a travel diary, rather than a self-hype-help business manual.
For the finish, the authors have collected a very comprehensive list of the NY tech ecosystem institutions – vc’s, events, co-working spaces and competitions. They have also published them on the official blog of the book.
It’s cheap and it’s short, and it’s awesome. Go read it and learn how you should be thinking about helping entrepreneurs in your cities / countries.
I’m late to the game, probably everyone knows already, but for the record:
Life just got a little easier for bloggers who use TypePad. The hosted blogging platform announced that it is integrating Zemanta’s content recommendation tools into its service, which suggests links to related stories from across the Web. Zemanta also generates in-text links to related information.
… when we started 5 years ago, we had a list of most relevant blogging platforms of all times. now all of them are our partners it feels empowering and inspiring to make dreams happen, but you have to remind yourself of that achievement, because when you reach them, you have other dream already.
Ernest is entirely right – PR companies just don’t get the fact, that we don’t care what they think should interest us – that’s what it means being ‘independent’:
How PR fails at Blogger OutreachMarch 29, 2012
At some point in the last year or so, someone pegged me as an influential blogger… and then it started. A constant and never-ceasing stream of daily e-mails from various PR companies mindlessly clogging up my inbox.
- Do-It-Yourself PR Kits Expand to Help Real Estate Pros Reap the Benefits of Successful PR Campaigns (prweb.com)
- Measuring ROI for PR? Ketchum and The Modellers Set to Prove the Value of PR (pamil-visions.net)
- 4 must-have attributes for PR professionals (prdaily.com)
- 10 Things PRs Wished Journalists Knew (epiphanysolutions.co.uk)
- PR Boards & PR Agencies on Pinterest (umpf.co.uk)
I love projects that make large datasets usable. This one took way to long to be done, but finally – now we can stop wasting clicks and get an executive summary of our city’s startups.
Also, I will take this opportunity to invite you all for a sneak peek at East Start Map – please let me know what we’re missing.
I have a love/hate relationship with CrunchBase. On the one hand it has great information about startup tech companies. On the other hand, it relies on a wiki-like structure which means it is sometime not updated as frequently or as accurately as old-style databases which used to employ people go over the data regularly.
this is incredibly important – how to keep two parts of remote organization connected:
Some companies are almost entirely virtual, like blog host Automattic. Others grow through acquisitions, like what Groupon is doing in the Bay Area – piecing together a tech team thousands of miles from its Chicago headquarters. Another strategy is to build strategic outposts, like Facebook’s new engineering office in New York.
we are doing many things in a similar way over at Zemanta.
Since our Ljubljana office is much larger than NY one, we only have a big screen in Ljubljana, but as soon as we set that up, everybody started using it for cross-ocean meeting. I’m actually thinking we will need a second one soon. we’ve learned that sound quality is much more important than anything though.
ever since our NY office was just one person, I insisted on making weekly check-in meetings with everyone. it has grown to be a well-self-moderated debrief from both sides. it turned out that on every meeting several people are dialing in, because they are traveling, sick, or just work remotely. point being: don’t make it an excuse for not having a meeting, embrace the remoteness.
and travel – we realized that US and EU cultures are so much different, that it’s essential for everyone to get to know the other. so we do 1 or 2 all-company weeks per year, where everyone from US comes to work from Ljubljana (and more than just work of course). at the same time, there is almost always someone of the developers working from NY office, just for the kicks of it.
and despite all these efforts, quite often a mediation is required, because people assume the other person is thinking about something else.
you might recall the Sunscreen verse: “Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography andÂ lifestyle” – well, it’s true for the people you work with, not just friends.
I rarely write about my company here, but i’m exceptionally proud of this one:
Federated Media Publishing and Zemanta have announced a strategic partnership that will use technology to make it easier for bloggers and companies to connect, increasing opportunities to create targeted content marketing campaigns.
Federated Media and John Battelle have been role models for all of us for years, and it’s a privilege to work with them.
this is by far best summary of reasons I have seen so far. all true, all tried:
I often argue that professionals should share their knowledge online via blogging.Â The catch is that virtually anything worthwhile in life takes time and effort, and blogging is not an exception to this statement. So before committing your energy to such an endeavor, you may rightfully stop and wonder whatâ€™s in it for you. Is blogging really worth it?
… in reality, every bloggers cares about one or two of these points. for me they are (1) improve communication skills, and (3) personal repository. they were the reason I started blogging myself. and then, after a while, all other benefits creep into your life and y
ou get used to them. and people start calling you blogger. then,Â you should always keep in mind the ones that get you going in the first place, in order to stay true to yourself. the readers can detect when you start deceiving them and they will go away.
Staffing is one of the most important aspects of company growth, and arguably most crucial factor in transformation of a startup into a stable company. The entrepreneur has to always know more than just who’s performing and who isn’t. The entrepreneur has to know who in the company is in the right place, who will be capable of managing teams as they grow, who has the capacity to see beyond the current state and will be pushing the company to the next level.
The evolution of a startup from staffing perspective is a repeating cycle of: (1) hiring people who see beyond the current state, (2) working hard and discovering the right way to incorporate their knowledge into your specific case, to streamline and optimize operations.
It’s really just these two focuses. And the CEO’s job is to always know where in the cycle the team is, what is the next milestone and what kind of talent will see over it.
In my company, Zemanta, I use a method to track our capacities, that shows me just that. It is implemented as a table (not spreadsheet), that maps persons (employees) into roles, according to their experiences.
I believe there is a rather fixed set of roles every company will eventually have to fill. It is probably even possible to formalize it to the point where you could predict the staff requirements based on desired yearly revenue.
Let’s take a look at an example evolution.
Startup company at inception
A typical tech startup might begin with a simple structure: business and tech co-founders. Their capacity matrix will be simple, but overwhelming:
|sales||founder 1 & 2|
|leadership||founder 1 (CEO)
founder 2 (CTO)
|QA & support||founder 1 & 2|
It shows us two founders performing all business tasks with no external help. Note that capacity is not the same as performance. Performance will be based on many external factors, but dependent on time the particular employee has. In the presented case, both founders are severely over-stretched, and can perform reasonably well in just one or two roles, while the rest will be on back-burner.
Most important in this stage is that the founders have senior capacity in leadership. Everything else will be in flux, but without this they will never be able to attract and direct additional team members.
If the company has this kind of capacity matrix, it will inevitably be a technology and product company with good public recognition but poor business performance. Main challenge and milestone in this stage will be attracting early clients or investors, that will enable growing the team to really start working on the services/products.
And the competence matrix tells us that the only way to do this transition successfully will be to find some help for the founders to do things rightâ€¦
Seed stage – proving the product
Where it will go from there really depends on specifics of the business. For instance, one of the first actions might be outsourcing:
|leadership||founder 1 (CEO)
founder 2 (CTO)
|QA & Support||founder 1 & 2|
|legal||founder 1||law firm|
Company in this stage can afford some to spend some money on making the core team more efficient, but the flexibility of working with outside help is much appreciated, since you are still proving that the work has long-term sense. Depending on the type of product you might invest in limited number of developers.
Company’s main focus is still on product and partly marketing and business development. Key milestone to reach will be implementing key metrics that will demonstrate commercial value of the service/product and inventing the specifics of the revenue model.
The competence matrix suggests that the only way to reach next stage will be acquiring knowledge/experience/people in business side – at the end of seed stage, the company is severely over-resourced on product and technology side.
Growth – stability and focus on sales
Next might be professionalizing the development part, by hiring full time staff and possibly even engineering lead, and finding seasoned sales person to kickstart the pipeline:
|sales||founder 1||VP sales|
|leadership||founder 1 (CEO)
founder 2 (CTO)
|engineering||dev team||VP engineering
|QA & Support||dev team|
|legal||founder 1||law firm|
Now, a year in, we have a decently operational company, that is starting to generate revenue, the founders can focus on monitoring the changes in the competitive landscape and the CEO’s job for the next few months (years) will be making sure the roles are performed optimally.
Company becomes sales-oriented and is all about implementing the revenue model, where VP Sales is the key person that will have to overlook, improve, do all the hard work and earn his own staff.
The Sustainable Company
The ultimate state every company should strive for, the state where company works as a stand-alone system is something like:
|engineering||dev team||VP Engineering|
|QA & Support||staff||CPO|
|design||staff||CMO & CPO|
|business||staff||VP Business Dev|
|legal||staff||Lead Council||law firm|
At this time, every role has a senior manager, reporting to seasoned CEO. Everyone has well defined job descriptions and knows their role in the mechanism.
Most companies never get to this stage – they either stop growing at earlier stages, fail or get acquired. My thesis is that those that fail do so because they fail to find the people that could take them to the next level when timing is right.
We’ve followed a path of a fictional company on the path from idea to professional organization, which was really a process of converting inspiration into experiences. As the company’s focus moves from proving the idea, building the product, implementing the revenue model to stabilizing all aspects of operation, the right staffing will be the key driver of those transitions.
Quite possibly I’ve missed some other important roles. But I hope I managed to convey the main points:
- CEO’s job is figuring out the details of the path between initial state (first table) and final goal (last table)
- the areas you need top performance should have dedicated personnel, ideally seasoned
- this same method can also be used to evaluate staffing in any sub-department