In 2010, freshly graduated from the University of Twente, I knew I wanted to entrepeneur something. In IT. There was simply too much about to be happen for me to ignore. Not sure yet how. I already started on my private project, a saas staff-scheduler, written in C# using Dynamic Data (a scaffolding network of .NET). While browsing tech-news, I stumbled upon a small company Moop having won a price at the google android app developers challenge. I visited Moop’s website, and they stated they were looking for like-minded people to join forces. I liked their friendly style of writing and their non-prententiousness, and decided to drop them a e-mail. They told me they were looking for an Android developer. Me at the time never having written an Android app, said I could probably be that guy and e-mailed them a proof concept. It was an Android app that gives public transit advice. After some more e-mails, I met them in front of Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam, where they held office. At that first face to face meeting, something beautiful happened. I was a bit nervous, but somehow the atmosphere was relaxed and they promised me ‘if we get android projects, you can have them’. It was the beginning of a trust that would come very far.
Naively, but rightly so, I thought I had made a landing in the startup scence of Amsterdam. After a while I got my first assignment, I was to add some features to the Android app of the job-magazine Intermediar. I remember cleary I was very proud to work for a famous brand, already on my first assignment. It can still make me smile. We had a lot of luck being young entrepreneurs at that time. Mobile apps were starting to become ‘very booming’, every company wanted to have an app (irregardless whether they really needed one). And I was in the middle of it, in Amsterdam, working with guys that already were featured in Wired and amongst others also had made the first booking.com iPhone app.
It sounds a bit surrealistic, but we got more projects than we could handle, so we got to pick only the projects that we really liked. We got to work for companies like PayPal, Vodafone, NRC, NS, Rode Kruis (the Dutch Red Cross), the Dutch government, Google and quite some more. Even when booking.com asked us to port their iPhone app to Android, in a very short timeframe, we figured we could have more joy in accepting less high-pressure projects from other customers. We were really in a luxury position, maybe we could appreciated it more, but at the same time we always had several projects on our hands. At some point we attracted some employees, to help us out. But them working for us, we also wanted them to be able to later look back and say that we enriched their lives. I think we did, we were not too strict on vacation days, or on them wanting to experiment with some features ar try out new frameworks, and had almost all arrangements in respectful mutual agreement. Although I didnt liked it when I sometimes had to admit that maybe their ideas were better.
Actually, these years were nothing short of a blessing for us. We got to do what we wanted, had exclusively fun projects to work with (apart from sometimes boring maintenance work) and had a diverse and talented team around us. We also won prices at challenges hosted by companies like google, accenture and iCulture, and our apps got featured in places like the appstore and during the commercial break of the european championship finals and DWDD.
However, partly due to my at the time underdeveloped planning skills and our large amount of projects, I nearly got a burnout. During one of our wintersport trips, I was consistently waking up with heavy pressure on my chest, it scared me, and figured I probably had severe early-stage symptoms of a burnout. We communicated this to our clients, and luckily they all backed off, willing to relieve me off my deadlines until I was getting better. I found it strange that when I mentioned the magical word ‘burnout’, it acted like some kind of spell that immediately removed all pressure from your clients. Maybe they knew better than me what life was about, and I yet had to learn it. From that day on I still took my work still serious, including the deadlines, but also my human needs like getting enough rest and sleep.
A downside with getting work so easy, was that we were getting a bit spoiled. We didnt really need to worry wether our next client would come. Of course we would do customer acquisition, and deliver our projects to our clients, but we also wanted to execute our own startup ideas. And well, yes we did. Although the shame of it was that of all those 5 startup projects we made (iPad cash register, m-commerce solution, haircut preview connected to photoshoppers in china, digital magazine, digitial forms & checklists), we never pushed through. There was always some bigger customer or some more ambitious startup idea around the corner. We had enough resources to have new customers, to implement new start startup ideas, so why not try 3 start up projects at the same time? For me it indicated that we didnt really grasp the idea of commitment that was needed to fully brign a startup idea to life. But hey, there is always a lesson to be learned, and this was one of ours.
Of all those projects we did, I’d like to mention this one; One of our first project was called @ally, a facility management system for Vebego, one of the biggest cleaning companies in Europe. At first when they approached us, we thought it was a bit funny, a cleaning company wanting to ‘to have an app’, including fancy qr-scanners for identiyfing rooms are going te be cleaned. Lol. But well, why not. Surprisingly, it became on our longest running clients (we even had to pass it on to one of our befriended android companies, as we wanted more resources for our own projects). They main purpose of the app was blablabla… oh wait, just watch this movie and you ll get it.
It was the most enterprise-like project we had ever undertaken. Apart form using a qr-scanner, 32 tables needed to be kept in sync with the database on the remote server. For this poject and related projects, I ended up creating a synchronization library, allowing to parse and produce all kinds of nested json structures, that could be configured witha few annotations and adding some url and json schemes. In this way we didnt ever need to write Android synchronization code anymore, so we could focus on more fun things like building user interfaces. For one client I went as far as mailing developers of famous apps like the android 9gag app, to seek for smooth-ui advice. Dont know if I consider this a compliment, but one of our clients ended up saying, ‘it’s to smooth, it even looks like an iPhone app!’. Oh well, it seems he was happy with our work.