Planning for equity. Or how I stumbled into owning part of an IT company …
There are things in life you can’t quite predict. Me co-founding a software testing company is one of them.
Sometime last summer, I got a message from one of my colleagues at the ASEA Uninet summer university in Hanoi in 2008. We shared a room there for a month and got along brilliantly. He had gone to Texas for his high school year, he had moved from somewhere in the East of Germany to Vienna to study business. He had ran IT projects with higher budgets than I had ever got close to for the biggest student dorm/campus in Vienna, he was more of a geek than I was, which was always nice for a change at the business university. I just really liked him. And as things go, back in Vienna, things went into different directions again. Among other things, because I went off off to Vancouver.
However, after some back and forth, we managed to meet for drinks and stories about the old times when told me about how he’s thinking about founding an IT testing company with his colleague. How could I help a company that tests websites, apps and immensely complex software systems in the e.g. insurance industry? Yes, I know basics of computer science, but software testing? I played soundboard over a beer, told them what I thought about their idea, but mostly asked why they wanted to found it, what the purpose and motivation of that whole endeavor would be and so on and so on.
A few weeks later, they invited me for a workshop with them and I again promised to spend a few hours with them on their business for food and drinks. Or so I thought. Because they asked me that they’d want me to continue to help and advice them around strategy and marketing and that I could effectively chose the degree of my involvement. There was even an agenda point that listed me as one of the possible founding partners. In the end, they asked me if I could imagine joining them as some sort of an internal planner – no pay of course, but I’d own a part of the company. Actually, as much as I wanted. Of course, I was flattered. Who doesn’t want to be given the feeling of being listened to? At the same time, I was working full time as planner at LHBS. It’s not like you have that many hours to spare working in that type of industry. I still agreed to be a co-founder, with limited liability. Planning for equity. And I was terrible and could spend even less time on it than I had planned. Everything took longer than I expected – lot of cancelled early morning jour fixes and some weekend work followed.
Still, I am proud. We found out what sort of business we wanted to be. What we want to offer. Who we want to offer it to (I am, among other companies, looking at you, digital agencies that spend too much money letting their priced developers test stuff themselves). We figured out a name (TestPlus). Heck, we even have business cards. And a website, thanks to a great friend of mine who wants to be anonymous because he can’t quite bear the still imperfect state of it.
And we figured out why anybody should give a fuck.
Turns out, most software testing companies are old, slow and overly expensive. Most software testing companies are based on the way other consultancies work: proprietary processes, big and complicated websites, ties, suits and faith. At the same time, demand for testing is rising with increased digitalization (‘internet of things’, etc.). SMEs, entrepreneurs and digital agencies don’t need the bloat as they have to be fast (‘agile’, etc.) and work babble-free. My gut feeling told me that with rising demand for digital services and products, there’d be always rising demand for nimble and creative testing and testers. We arrived at some sort of mission of simplicity and convenience as the core of the offer (e.g. curating other automated testing services). We want to create a lean,
So what will my role in this end up being? I don’t know. Marcus and Christoph are terrific and whoever is lucky enough to have them work on their software systems is going to be very lucky. And a lot of work – development and, well, sales – are lying ahead. We worked on the foundation. We are about to start talks with possibly interested clients, we are still thankful for every lead – as you are, as a young service company (I avoid the term startup). Still, Stephanie and I decided to leave Austria (continue to get to know culture and get better at that planning thing), which means that my involvement in operative work will decline to zero relatively soon. Until then, we’ll continue to shape our offering and want to talk to as many people as possible. If you have any ideas, questions, recommendations or hints or are simply interested in what exactly it is we’re doing, drop me a line.
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