Not-So-Angry Birds Need to Flock Together
I was in Valencia, Spain attending a Campus Party. One of the things I like about Campus Party is the ability to meet and talk with very intelligent people that are either in the Free Software arena, or should be in the Free Software arena but have not quite gotten there yet. This led me to a dinner with Julien Fourgeaud, who bills himself as the “Bad Piggy Bank Manager & Magician” of Product and Business Development for Angry Birds. Julien and I went out with a couple of the Campus Party Free Software volunteer coordinators who had a very small FOSS consulting and development company.
We had a very nice dinner at a sea-side restaurant, as Valencia is one of those cities lucky enough to have a nice city beach.While we were out at dinner, the conversation drifted toward the FOSS company and how these two great guys were making the company profitable, but were working themselves to death doing it. Now as a consultant I often wear two hats, the technical side and the business side.
As we sat there I became aware of my business hat being put on, but the fascinating part was when I turned to Julien, his hat was already on, and pointing in the same direction as mine. I love it when that happens.... “You guys have to fix that problem”, he said. “You have to make the time to grow the company to bring in more people so you can focus more on running it and less on just 'keeping it alive'”. All I had to do was just nod my head. “We do not have the time to build our company,” they said. This is a bad statement. First of all, it shows that the company is owning them instead of them owning the company. Secondly, from my experience there are a number of companies that will not do business with one or two person “shops”. They are afraid that the small one-or-two person consulting company may not have the resources to meet their needs, may go out of business if one or both of the partners decides to retire or leave the business, or any number of other reasons why the “small shop” may close.
It is best to show that your company is growing and has a plan and the ability to reach out to handle larger contracts. I suggested that they hire a Human Resources firm to help them find the people they need (assuming that they could not find these people themselves), but that the first course of action was for them to determine what resources they needed, and how and when they would bring them on board.
I suggested that they start with sales. A sales person might work on commission, or a small salary with commission. This would free up time for the partners to do more actual consulting and also bring in more potential business to allow them to hire more technical help. Julian and I also suggested they join an incubator (sometimes called a “hot-house”) for small companies that are looking to grow. The services offered by the incubator can often free up time otherwise spent by the partners, as well as give them contacts and advice for growing the company. Another tactic is to form a cooperative of employees with different talents that would work off both salary and commission, but allow these employees to share the “fixed resources” (sales, administration) among more people.
Another tactic is to bring in more junior people, give them tasks to do and allow the more senior partners to concentrate on higher level tasks. I suggested that they look to the local Linux User Group mailing lists for people that might be willing to join their company as “junior associates”. In any case, both Julien and I agreed that the current situation is destined for failure if carried out in the long term. Short term “working hard” sprints are sometimes necessary, but “working to death” in the longer term is a horrible way to die. They need to attract more "birds of a feather" to their company and grow it. The other thing that happened that night is that I fell in love with Julien's “Angry Birds” T-shirt, so I went to their web site and ordered some T-shirts, “Angry Birds” flip-flops (the red ones) and an “Angry Bird” stuffed bird (also red), which gets along well with all my “Friendly Tuxes”.