[This text is based on my experience from the first ~3 years of Codewise existence. Later things changed as we started to feel the pressure in other areas as well. But that was afterwards. And this is what things looked like in the beginning.]
Imagine a successful startup that managed to come up with “take my money, please!” kind of product. A product which solved problems of our clients perfectly and in a much better way than any competing product so that the clients lined up to pay for it. This is what Codewise achieved at a very early stage of its life. Now, looking from some distance, I noticed an interesting feature of how we grew and what our strengths and weaknesses were.
Writing AdTech software is not a piece of cake. It is about money stream flowing through your systems in a real-time (in form of impressions and clicks) and every mistake leads to loss of revenue (or high losses that grow with every second). And so from the very beginning we focused on speed (number of transactions per second) and quality. Every day we felt this pressure and we worked hard to make our systems more resilient, faster, bulletproof, safer, and ready to take much higher load in the future. And pretty soon we got very good at it (we burned our fingers more than once - but this is how you learn).
So that was our strong side. But there was also another one, less impressive. What do you think happens when people start throwing money at you so they could use your product? I will answer with the question myself: why struggle to build an advertising machine or improve your sales funnel when clients come “just like that”? And so, while our software platform grew and improved every day, the other parts of Codewise remained underdeveloped. Everything just worked and there was no reason to improve for quite a long time.
When I think about it now, it gets clear there was a huge gap between the two sides of Codewise: the one which was under constant pressure and the other one that wasn’t.
I don’t say we were totally blind to our weaknesses or that we haven’t improved at all. But somehow the actions we took - because we often felt this and that should look differently - were often half-hearted and ended with nothing spectacular (comparing to what tech side was achieving at the same time). There wasn’t a clear obstacle to overcome that would allow us to focus our efforts: our actions were incoherent and lacked the dedication.
“Pressure makes diamonds”
they say, and I agree. Under pressure, you give all you’ve got. But if you find yourself a nice, cozy and (seemingly) secure place then it is hard to force yourself to work hard towards getting better. Think Nokia. Think 40 years old still living with his mom. Think a successful startup that earns too much money (yes, you might have “too much money” and troubles come out of it).
The few years I worked at Codewise give me more than one example of how having a fire burning under your chair makes you achieve greatness. And how the lack of it may make it hard to achieve anything valuable at all. I could name teams and products and mention events from my personal experience that would prove this theory. Interestingly, this is the kind of things that gets obvious now - years later. It wasn’t clear to me then and apparently it wasn’t also clear to anyone else at Codewise at the time it mattered.
And so the questions arise. How to organize your work to have just about the right amount of pressure? Exactly this much pressure that forces you to grow but doesn’t kill you. I think the ability to answer this question is what distinguishes the best from the rest. Be it business, sport, or personal development.