Spending the summer at a Startup

Spending the summer at a Startup

This summer, just after finishing my exams for my bridge year, I decided to do something else this summer. After thinking about it for a long time, I thought, why not instead of working at an already established company, work for a startup instead? This is when I started looking out for startups that were in need of a developer to create their Minimum Viable Product (MVP).

Luckily for me, the search process got simplified. Near me there is an initiative called Start it @kbc. This is a program that allows startups to build out their idea, by having access to free work-spaces, events, networking, education in the startup world, 1to1 coaching, … while still having fun. I got in contact with someone from this initiative through a friend of mine, together with this contact I set-up a small ad in the newsletter that they send to startups in the initiative every week.

This ad appeared to be the "golden ticket" towards landing a job at a startup. Shortly after the newsletter was sent to the startups I started receiving tons of emails, with startups in need for a developer to build their MVP. Of course I was curious to every startup on it's own (remember that every idea is unique and tries to solve a specific problem), so I went through all the emails and contacted every startup that seemed interesting to me, stating that I wanted more information to see what their vision was. This (for me personally) was the first round of shifting through all the emails, and selecting the ones that I thought would be a perfect fit for me. I then set-up a meeting (mostly through Skype at this point) to talk with the founders and see what they had already, how they wanted to continue, what they had in mind for me, future plans, business model, …. On average, these meetings took 10 - 30 minutes depending on how interesting it was and how the founders their first impression was.

You would think that having a conversations with so many startups is a boring and long process, but I myself got a different view of this. It was fun meeting new people, hearing new ideas and seeing how passionate the founders were. I also got the chance of getting the perfect impression of the founders and to select the founders that I thought would be the perfect fit for me (if you can't stand the founders, then you will be having a bad time at the job).

In the end I picked a startup called KumulAid to be the "chosen one" where I wanted to spend my summer at. KumulAid wanted (and still wants) to be the donation platform that brings companies, donors and charities together, to help NGO’s to raise more funds at a lower cost.

They had worked out their idea in such a depth that I had never experienced before. Everything was perfectly documented and explained so that their vision was instantly reflected upon me. My main task was to translate their written documentation into a working experience in the form of a website.

From my experiences from other small jobs we decided it would be best to write a backlog (=every task that should be done) containing the Category, As a/an, I want to…, so that…, Notes, Priority, Status and Assignee ( all for me of course ;) ). After tuning this backlog for a proper fit for both parties we got to an agreement that would suit us both. I also created an ERD (counted in my work hours afterwards) showing how their database was going to look and if they agreed with it (ERD = Entity Relation Diagram). Now all that was left to do was to get the papers stating the work agreement, the "company rules" (required in Belgium) and the "NDA" signed. Signing these is something we did in person, since it was the chance for us to meet each other and see again if we would be a great fit to work together.

Then my work started, I started setting up the frameworks to use (On the back-end Hapi.js together with a MySQL database and for the front-end AngularJS). The designs were delivered by a third-party. Because of their perfect documentation and our perfect planning with the backlog and such, work progressed almost flawlessly. I was free to work anywhere and anytime I wanted as long as the work got done within the discussed time frame. So within 2 - 3 weeks I was done with the complete MVP (after doing some crazy hours ;) of course).

This is when the testing phase came, I let the KumulAid founders play around for a while and got them to note down everything that was not to their wishes / things that I might have forgotten. After which I got to work with this feedback and iterate the MVP to get the bugs out of it and get it in shape for a first release. We also did this in person to sit together and see exactly what they mean and how I was going to solve it.

I now launched their MVP onto a staging server (using Amazon AWS for the server and Deploybot for deploying the code to the staging server automatically so that they could see the progress) which marked the end of my work at KumulAid. (Or at least the expected end of my work ;) ).

Looking back I think I have made some excellent choices for handling this kind of job:

Arranging the contract with the use of a Backlog and an ERD made me understand the job perfectly and also helped the founders to see exactly what was going to be done.
Meeting in person for the last bug fixes was a perfect choice, we went over every point and got to an understanding of how it should look like, this also made the bond between me and the company stronger.
Being able to get the courage to look for a job at a startup and applying through the startup initiative, this was something new and I did not regret this choice once.

Now we are more than 1 month further after the work has finished. Seeing at where I came from and where I am now, I have to say the road was crazy. After finishing the work at KumulAid we saw together and discussed what we would do further. We eventually came up with me joining the team as a co-founder to help KumulAid on their endeavor to success. Together we just recently came to pitch for a startup incubator called Telenet Kickstart were we now hope to get accepted to continue building our product.

You may also wonder in how far we are with releasing the first MVP? Well currently our deadline for release is October 2015. We will start in Belgium and The Netherlands but hope to expand one day to conquer the international market and also enable donors and companies  in developing countries to use the KumulAid platform.

This marks the end of my blog post and I would like to take these last few lines to thank everyone that helped me to achieve this awesome summer experience. First my friend Adri for getting me in contact with the Startup Initiative Start it @kbc whom I also would like to thank for all the help. Then the startups who have all sent me an email with a job offer to help them (specifically Salesflare, Rialto, … for having a meeting with me :) ) and last but not least the biggest thanks goes to the founders of KumulAid who believed in me and trusted me to help them build their product.

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