Categories
Crate Entrepreneurship

Podcast: Distributed databases and product-market fit

I had the opportunity to record an episode of the “Digitale Leute Podcast” with my friend Oliver Thielmann from Giant Swarm and would like to reshare it here as well:

featuring electric skateboards and bitcoins

Why industrial IoT startup Crate.io can easily do distributed databases but still had trouble finding product-market fit

Being at number one at Hacker News or winning the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battle might help create a hype around your startup. But it doesn’t help finding the product-market fit. Jodok Batlogg, CTO at industrial IoT startup Crate.io explains in this episode why they needed six years to finally hit product-market fit.

Digitale Leute Insights is the podcast for passionate product people. We interview product developers from around the world and take a closer look at their tools and tactics.

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When Jodok Batlogg was the CTO at StudiVZ, the largest social network in Germany before Facebook got traction in Europe, the biggest problem they had was data storage. The data of 60 million users were running on about a thousand servers and Docker had not been invented yet. It was clear to Jodok that the amount of data would be growing and the problems with it. 

Four years later, he founded Crate.io with a prototype of CrateDB. The open-source distributed SQL database management system used Elastic Search when that was still “a crazy guy sitting in Israel coding at a new kind of approach on how to deal with distributed computing,” as Jodok puts it in this episode. 

His startup enjoyed two hypes early. The first one was a Hacker News article that resulted in the company going into the “Big Data SQL in real-time” direction. The second boost came after winning the TechCrunch Disrupt Startup Battle, which Jodok completed with a broken fibula. Although it helped to keep the company alive with bringing in investors, they were still to find product-market fit, Jodok admits. “On the product side, it was fine, but from the going-to-market side and on the monetization side, it was totally wrong.” 

How to gain product-market fit

The turnaround came as late as five years after the foundation when the company did a customer survey. The result was a transformation to a more enterprise-focused company concentrating on industrial IoT. They switched the open-source model, which allowed the customers to perceive Crate.io as a product worth buying. It also helped the sales department actually to sell the product.  Before that, even hiring extra sales employees had resulted in zero sales. 

Today Crate.io is a remote-first company, led by Jodok Batlogg as CTO from Dornbirn, a small town in Vorarlberg, Austria. The mountainous country and Jodoks attempt to not use his Audi anymore leads him to try out all the new electric boards, bikes, and gadgets on the market. He shares this passion with our host Oliver Thylmann. This is why they close this episode by discussing electromobility and paying it with bitcoin.

About the Host
Oliver Thylmann is a serial entrepreneur based in Cologne, Germany. He is the co-founder of Giant Swarm, a 35-person SaaS company providing managed microservice infrastructure to big enterprises.

Categories
Crate Culture Entrepreneurship

How to Crate

Hi, welcome to the team. I’m so glad you are here at Crate. You’re now a Cratie!

Crate.io‘s mascots: goats

You’ll need at least one cycle to figure this place out. Maybe even two cycles. That’s totally o.k. – take your time. Uh? a cycle? What’s that? Let’s call it 1-2 quarters (of a year) for now.
When entering a new environment, the first impression is really important. And we’re working hard to make the first experience a good one. But as we’re a bunch of curious, different and complex people solving complex problems this will take some time. Btw. complex is still better than complicated1.
Be curious, meet everyone, look around, ask all the questions, write and talk to whomever you want. I bet there are many new acronyms, habits and rituals to learn. This will time until you’re fully productive. We expect that. In case you feel unsafe or don’t dare to ask someone, you have multiple fallbacks: your onboarding buddy, your lead person or just me.

Company culture is reflecting the people working there. What you do is who you are2. It started based on the belief of the two founders – Christian and me. Over the last 6 years we kept a lot of principles, but also carefully changed others.
The following paragraphs are a user guide to navigate Crate and navigate it. It captures what you can expect out of working as part of the team, our aspirations and the leadership values that influence our culture.

My intent is to accelerate the working relationship between all of us with this document.

Our Average Week

People work from where they want and when they want. It might seem this is less efficient than having all people at one place for fixed hours. But we’ve deliberatly decided to craft a remote-friendly culture that even allows people in different timezones to be included. It makes us resilient and adaptable. It is sustainable. We’ll do as many things asynchronously and in written format as possible. People working in one of the offices have the advantage of meet at the espresso machine – and have random chats. But even if you are remote or in a different office you will be able to see and talk with your team mates at least once per day: During the daily coffee – a video call that the team does once a day. This call is about social interaction, staying connected and getting better known to each other. The teams decide themselves how to organize the rest of the work and agile methodology. One nice weekly ritual worth mentioning for the people sharing a location is the weekly team lunch – we cook something together in Dornbirn and invite you to go for lunch in other locations.

It’s up to you and your lead to agree on a schedule to set expectations, about cadence and structure/tools of 1:1s and related topics.

We have a bi-weekly all-hands meeting (attendance optional) where the leadership will present a summary about what’s going on in the different areas of the business and is also open to questions. The meeting is also recorded in case you can’t attend.

You can contact the founders 24hours a day. Don’t worry. We’re used to that and have tuned the notifications of our phones and other tools in a way that is in harmony with our private life. If we don’t want to be disturbed we’ll manage to not be disturbed.

If one of us is traveling, out of office, ill or on vacation, we update our status beforehand in Pingboard3. All our meetings still occur albeit with time zone considerations.

Some of us work now and then on weekends, evenings or early mornings. Some start later, some leave earlier. This is their choice. We do not expect that you are going to work on the weekend, evenings or early mornings. We might be sending mails and Slack messages, but unless the thing says URGENT, it can always wait until work begins for you on Monday.
It’s up to you to find your work/life balance, be an integrated part of a team that delivers results. We’ll help you to do so.

We all take vacations. You should, too. Disconnected from work is when we do some of the best work.

North Star Principles

Simply Sustainable takes a major concern and common claim – simplicity – and qualifies with the ultimate payoff: sustainability, an application and a business that can scale and maintain itself ad infinitum.
It’s forward looking – in a world of data overload, this is how we do more than survive: it’s how we thrive.
Sustainability demands balance, playing well with others, moving forward with peace of mind. And who doesn’t want it to be simple??

Crate is a team of passionate, experienced people who’ve crafted a bold and clever database for the fast, data-intensive world, making speed, scalability super simple, open, and accessible – a solution that’s built to be sustainable for all.

Crate.io Brand Story

Clever. We’re passionate people with a love of technology and a lot of experience. But technologic breakthroughs don’t just come from knowing your stuff. They come from looking at things from different angles and flipping the situation around: they come from being clever.

Bold. We believe in being bold, in the power of having a vision and the gumption to realize it, however radical. Being bold means seeing the big picture and believing you can impact it, shape it, make it better.

Open. The best solutions come from people listening to each other as they share information, insight, and experience. Which is why we are fanatically open and honest — listening to our customers, being good citizens of the open source community, building with others to make solutions better.

Simple. It takes a deep understanding of the craft, coupled with human empathy, to render the complex simple. To make it accessible for all. In everything we do, from how we configure data and integration with existing systems to user dashboards, documentation, and support, we aim to keep it all super simple. Because data should work for everyone.

Sustainable. We believe the best solutions are sustainable, supporting communities and businesses as they grow. Which is why we believe in working together, building on each other’s advances, all in order to create open and accessible solutions that are sustainable for all.

Crate.io Brand Pillars

Our System Of Values

Our Values are the guiding principles that lead to what we do on a daily basis. They are the parameters that tune our decision process that results in how we behave if no one watches. This is what we call culture.
You can rely on those values, and you can demand them at any time.

Meaningfulness. At any time we offer to explain the meaningfulness and relationale of tasks, goals and measures.

Success. We strive towards and celebrate joint success.

Colleguality. We offer a work environment based on collaboration and cooperation. At the same time we respect everyone’s individuality.

Esteem. We appreciate and respect each and everyone and their opinions and provide open and honest feedback.

Challenge. It is our aspiration to provide everyone with the opportunity to grow by taking on new and challenging tasks.

Self-determination. There is as much room for self-determination as possible.

Joy. By Living Our Values above we gain happiness and satisfaction.

Expectations and Feedback Protocol

We firmly believe that the process of setting, expressing and matching expectations is at the core of building trust and respect in a team. This requires the continuous process of giving and receiving feedback.

At Crate.io, there is a formal feedback cycle which occurs twice a year. We have outlined the structure of an appraisal interview in a separate document.

Meeting Protocol

Meetings take time, we take care about our mutual time. Therfor we have a couple of principles for our meetings. First of all we deliberately run our calendars publicly visible. If you have a question about any meeting on any calendar, just ask. If a meeting is private or confidential, you’ll most likely just see a placeholder. The vast majority of meetings are neither private nor confidential.

Each meeting has to include an agenda and/or intended purpose, the appropriate amount of productive attendees, and the expected contribution of the parties invited. If Craties are attending a meeting, they prefer starting on time. If Craties are running a meeting, they will start that meeting on time. If it’s not clear to a Cratie why they are in a meeting, they will ask for clarification on their attendance.

If you send a presentation deck a reasonable amount of time before a meeting, we will read it before the meeting and will have our questions ready. If we haven’t read the deck, we will tell you.

If a meeting completes its intended purpose before it’s scheduled to end, let’s give the time back to everyone. If it’s clear the intended goal won’t be achieved in the allotted time, let’s stop the meeting before time is up and determine how to finish the meeting later.

Nuances (and Errata)

Being a diverse team is a priceless advantage. Because tolerance creates creativity. And creativity is the most precious ingredient of the future. It’s essential to have different personalities in a team. We embrace this fact – but also move out of comfort zone when needed.

One possible model: The Myers-Briggs Personality Types, by Jake Beach, via Wikpedia

We don’t put people into boxes. But to concern oneself with different scientific models helps us to work better together.

We always assume positive intent for all involved. Whenever a person takes a decision, it’s the best decision that he/she can take in that moment.

If someone of us is on the phone during a meeting for more than 30 seconds, say something. It’s easy to get distracted nowadays.

This document is a first braindump of myself – speaking as one of the founders and CTO. This is not my creation, but I was privileged to work as part of a system of people that shaped our culture and my thinking.
When I came across Rands in repose article „How To Rands“, I decided to take this as template, rework it and use as basis for a wider discussion within the Crate.io Team, but also the public.

I would like to update it with you, make it a shared thing all of us can underwrite, and therefor would appreciate your feedback. I‘ll turn this into a Github document in case we need to improve tooling to collaboratively work on that document.

[1] The Zen of Python

[2] What you do is who you are, by Ben Horowitz

[3] Pingboard


Full disclosure: This post was heavily inspired by Rands in repose article “How To Rands”.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Motivation

Liebe ist

(especially after being a long time outside in the cold)

Liebe ist, January 16th 2010, Berlin

What is love?

It’s easy to say: I love my wife, I love my job, I love Pizza or I love this music. How valid are the ancient, greek definitions family love (storge), platonic/friends love (philía), self love (philautia), romantic love (éros), guest love (xenia) and divine love (agápe) nowadays?

I recently came across the study of Tim Lomas “The flavours of love: A cross-cultural lexical analysis“. He was analyzing words for love in many different languages and based on this analysis describing different flavours (that can be combined). E.g. Koinonia – the feeling if you’re being taken away by the emotions in a group for a short time. Wikipedia has all the theory about love.

Business love

I’m not sure what category to use when I talk about what I love in business life. But sometimes it feels like taking a foam bath after an afternoon in the cold!

  • The feeling when puzzle pieces fall into place. You’ve started something hard, complex, distributed and you and the team have been working hard for a long time – and at some point things suddenly and quickly fit neatly together. I love that feeling.
  • The moment you’re exiting the “valley of tears”. You had a series of bad events/messages/pity. Like it won’t ever stop and everything is going to be over. And then something game-changing is on the horizon. You realize the streak of bad luck is over. BUT you stay just a bit longer in that bad state to extend the joy of getting out of this.
  • Giving trust ahead and empower people. Against all odds you decide to trust into the person – and then you’re rewarded for that decision later. Investing that social capital and earning it back later.
  • Having impact on people. The moments I get wet eyes in the office are rather rare. But thinking back it were the moments where people (or their spouse) said thank you for the changes/personal development I enabled or I nudged them into. I’m still touched.
  • Let other shine. Of course I love the moment I’m the winner and stand in the limelight in front of thousands of people. But the more longlasting and even better feeling is if other shine – not only, but also because you coached, enabled and empowered them.
  • Waking up early, full of energy and starting something new. Priceless!

Heureka!

I’ve got it! The happenings, situations, feelings in business live I really, really love are connected to my definition of entrepreneurship:

Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled

Prof. Howard Stevenson, Harvard Business School

I love all the moments of it: Seeing an opportunity, pursuing it and seeing it working out – that’s where my inner Jodok is tipping his toes into the foambath after a long walk in the cold.