Monday 12 January 2015

Working in a Startup is like...

From time to time I read some post stating that working in a startup is like riding a rollercoaster, but you know what... from my point of view, this is not quite true.

For me, working in peerTransfer, our startup company, is like being a sailor of the SS Westfalen, a German merchant ship who sailed the seas a century ago.

Let me tell you her story.

Imagine how the world was like in 1933. Germany was having hard times because of the Treaty of Versailles, and during years, many Germans went to live to foreign countries, many of them to South America.

In those days, postal service was the only possible communication, so if a letter had to be sent from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro, it had to make its way by ship, and it could be a matter of months before it arrived to his destination.

The German Postal Service came with an idea... What if we deliver the mail using seaplanes, like the Dornier Do J "Wal" (Whale). But the main problem was the range this plane had was not enough to make it from the western coast of Africa to the eastern coast of South America.

So they came with another idea, why don't we sail a ship to the middle of the Atlantic ocean, with a radio beam to guide the plane to the ship, a crane to lift the plane, refuel it, sail it through the night and then use a catapult to launch the plane to the sky with the first light of dawn, so it could fly a second stage of his journey and get to the Brazilian coast.

Here comes SS Westfalen into our story. She was built as a freighter in 1906, spent World War I anchored in Valparaiso (Chile), went back to service after the war, and since she was quite outdated, sold to Lufthansa in 1933. She went to workshops in Bremen to get the crane and the rest of the equipment she would need to perform her duty, and went to the Atlantic Ocean.

Here is a nice drawing from Popular Mechanics explaining the route:

This service worked from February 1934 until April 1935, performing more than 300 services, with just one single accident due to adverse weather conditions. They were able to deliver mail service in 4 days instead of months. At the end, as the range of the seaplanes increased, the ships were no longer needed, but they managed to prove that it could be done.

Iker Marcaide discovered when he went to study to the MIT that his payment had been lost, because the banks were using a slow and unreliable process to send his money from Valencia to Boston. He got an idea, he founded a startup company to solve this problem, to process international tuition payments in a fast and convenient way.

The developers team is like the engine room crew that is making this good old ship sail, every time we deploy to production, we are maintaining, fixing or updating the ships engine, crane, catapult, radio or kitchen, whatever we need to make her perform its duty.

Every payment we process is a letter from somebody who matters to somebody else who cares about, every payment batch we deliver to our schools is a seaplane we managed to guide to the ship in the middle of the ocean, lift it, refuel the plane, provide a hot dinner and a dry bed to the pilot & navigator and at dawn, launch them so they get to their destination.

Of course we are not the only ones running the company. We have a amazing operations team, who are the pilots, flying a open cabin seaplane full of mailbags, with the help of compass, clock and map, they manage to get to their destination every single time, solving whatever wind, storm, rain, thunder or snow that might get in their way.

We have a fabulous Compliance team,  who takes care that the letters that go to the mailbags have the proper destination, and the required stamp.

We have a awesome Customer Support team, who is like the postman that delivers the letter to the final destination, always with a smile and taking worries away.

We have a incredible Sales team, who is managing to get as many mailboxes we can, so people can find us easily and give us the letters they have written, hoping that they will get delivered in no time.

We have a great Marketing team, who takes care about the stamps being nice and collectable, about making all of us look good, printing books and posters so people know what services we provide.

The Finance and Admin team, who takes care that there will always be a hot cup of coffee available, no matter how late it is, or the storm and the rain and the fact that we are in the middle of the ocean, and that getting coffee abroad requires a lot of planning.

And there is a Product team, who operates the rudder and the engine telegraph, who masters the sextant and the maps, so we know were we have been and which route we should follow next.

And last but not least, there is a Captain, who takes care of all of us.

I been working in this company for three years now, and even that we had good and hard times together, I know, that with this crew, we will prove that it can be done. That payments to schools can become a simple task for our users, with a low cost and a few days of process. We are going to prove that mail can be delivered by plane in 4 days from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro for the price of a stamp.

Working in this startup is nothing like riding a rollercoaster, this feeling of going up and down we experience from time to time... is just because of the endless immensity of the sea.

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