Peecho - community

This is the fourth part of a series about the start-up Peecho. The chapters are:

  1. Starting up
  2. Business model
  3. Execution
  4. Community
  5. Investor game (part I)

Super heroes

After the initial set-up of the company, gathering team members was next on our list. If you want to build great stuff, you need great builders. In our case, we needed Java programmers - preferably with experience in the print world, cloud computing and internet application development. On top of that, our programmers should have amazing skills, should be generalists, have loads of passion and be really good looking. That’s a huge amount of different traits for just one human, even after I dropped the aesthetics requirement. Super heroes are hard to find, if they even exist at all. So, why bother?

First of all, we didn’t want average programmers. We needed the best. In a small team, you can’t afford to have sub-par members. They drag down the others. Besides that, although I have a tendency to be slightly despotic, I really don’t want to tell people what to do. I prefer them to be an awful lot better than me, so they will tell me how they are going to do their job, instead of the other way around. I am afraid that only the best developers would limit my natural reflex to be annoyingly bossy to a bearable minimum. It took me about four seconds to convince my partner Martijn of that.

In fact, our developers should be so good, that they could fix their own problems - in any part of the system. They can’t be specialists. Specialists are lethal in small teams. If you are the only one who knows everything about one thing, the system can’t be managed without you. That’s bad, because then you are the person who will be called in the middle of the night if something goes wrong. You will be a single point of failure. So, we prefer people that know a bit about everything. Every developer should be an analyst, architect, web developer, database engineer and even a graphic designer, too. Uh… let me rephrase that. Forget about “graphic designer” - can I still replace it with “team player”? Thanks.

Sharing the pie

We knew what kind of people we wanted, but we somehow doubted that we could immediately convince them that working at Peecho would be their Most Awesome Life Experience Ever. You see, contrary to the belief, working in a start-up team does not make you rich. There are no leased cars, expensive trips or large bonuses. To compensate for that, we needed people with enough passion to take this abuse. You can’t buy passion. It’s simply not for sale. This is not so bad, since we didn’t have any money anyway. The only way to get passionate people to do stuff is to take the plunge and share your ownership. Apparently, people work harder for their own babies than they do for money. Or so I have heard from people who know people who have both.

Thinking of our giant wish list, we looked at the open source community and decided on a similar approach. The idea of the Peecho developer community emerged: a self-managed group that would operate as an independent, loosely tied group of individuals. This community should own part of the company and be entitled to part of the profits, too. In return for that, each member would be required to invest at least a minimum amount of monthly hours. Most importantly, the community should be able to decide on who takes part in the community. We figured that only the best developers could identify the best of the rest. Normal people don’t even know what these folks look like, you know. It takes one to know one.

A plan coming together

According to our theory, the only thing we had to do was to find the initial members. Then, quite magically, those members would find us other members. So, it all depended on the brilliance of the first generation. We made a list of potential candidates and started shopping around. A couple of phone calls later, an amazing thing happened: our two top picks agreed to our proposal. Just like that. These guys started working on what would become our print platform in the cloud. However, the initial team members soon realized that there was more work to do than they could handle on their own. So, they asked two other great developers to join in. The plan worked!

Now, the Peecho developer community consisted of four people and really started to kick ass. Within a mere five months, we released the first version of our cloud print platform on a large congress and started winning prizes. But I’ll tell you about that some other time. In the meantime, you can be sure that we have a great team - and they know it, too. After reading a draft of this episode of the Peecho story, one of our community members commented that we should consider ourselves lucky that, even without actually enforcing it, the aesthetics requirement has been met so well. Uhm… I guess that’s a matter of personal opinion. I decided not to comment.

Published 4 Jul 2010