Once upon a time…Year 2014
In 2014, Julien wanted to go back to science and thus decided to create a spin-off from his previous company. After discussing with a few local people involved into the “innovation economy”, he joined a French incubator to bootstrap this project. His main idea was to build a collaborative platform to ease scientific data sharing and improve openness in Science at large.
Those few months spent in the incubator were a real source of knowledge for Julien who had no experience in the “Industry” (he left Academia to create a tiny company, and he has never been employed by or had interactions with big companies). Once he knew that a business developer never produced a single line of code, he was prepared to learn how to write business plans as well as how to look shiny to appeal investors.
First discussion with WilliamJune 2015
Fast forward to June 2015. Julien was looking for co-founders to create the company behind his project. He approached several people. Among them, he talked to William (now co-founder), PhD student at that time and a friend of him thanks to Clermont’ech, a local developer organization in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
After a brief audit of the project, William was seduced by the challenges tackled by the project and he decided to join the task forces after his PhD defense. This was a huge victory for Julien: convincing someone as brilliant as William gave credit to the project, and, furthermore, working with a self-minded friend was a relief for our startup everyday life.
Finding the right partners is difficult. Once you have them though, it is a game-changer. If you can tell your partners everything without discomfort, you likely found the right ones!
Public announcement of Artich.ioJuly 2015
TailorDev is born!October 2015
Julien and William created the company while Camille, Stéphane and Yannick left the project for new adventures. The company has been funded by us (the founders) and several people who believe in us ( money) — no grants, no credit, no VCs. We did not (and still do not) want to owe anyone money. We believe in independence and freedom.
William was still a student and did not join the company right away. Julien started to spread the word about artich.io, giving talks and workshops.
The company was created with different goals in mind: contributing to the common goods, supporting the Open (Data) Science movement and helping scientists to open their research. Of course, releasing artich.io was the means.
We likely have created the company too early but we did this for personal reasons. It would probably make sense to create the company once you have your first customer.
Nonetheless, it was more and more clear that artich.io was a product nobody wanted to pay for. In parallel, the Open Science Framework and a few other projects built by non-for-profit organizations were started.
The problem was not to find users but to have customers (i.e. people paying for a service). At that point, there were two options: pivoting or giving up.
We had enough money in bank (~14 months) to rethink the way we wanted to achieve our goals. “Never give up” was already a sort of mantra at TailorDev.
Our main mistake was to build a product without having validated it with potential customers. Artich.io did solve problems but it was nearly impossible to sell it to researchers (money is an issue in Academia right now) and landing a contract with a (French) research entity takes ages… Better determining our target would have been helpful too.
Cooking the Artich.ioJanuary 2016
The core of artich.io was a platform along with different applications built around it, hence the name artichio, which almost sounds like artichaut (artichoke ).
We then decided to split the whole project into smaller ones we could develop for a wider audience. Because we did not want to waste our time, we followed a scientific method called The Lean Startup.
William was working part-time and was on unemployment benefit. As for Julien, he was paid by the company since October. We have been lucky to have salaries at the beginning, even though it was below the French minimum wage, but everyone has a family and/or bills to pay each month.
First leaf: Crick.ioFebruary 2016
The Open Source project Watson gained more and more users. This standalone command-line time tracker started as a client application for Artich.io’s time tracking feature.
During his degree, Maxime drafted an alternative backend for Watson: Crick, in reference to Francis Crick and James D. Watson. Meanwhile, we started our first Lean experiment, which has been very valuable, even though it failed.
Most people think the Lean Startup methodology only states the obvious. Yet, people (like us at that time) keep being tricked by focusing on the solution, and not problems to solve. This was one of the most useful things we learned.
Le lab & MonodMarch 2016
While we were carefully managing our expenses and we had still a lot of cash (all things considered), we were struggling with the commercial part of the company and this started to affect us, personally.
Julien came with a new idea to change our mind, and we introduced “Le Lab”, hack weeks dedicated to learning new technologies and build MVPs with them. Monod, the Markdown editor, was our very first hack project. It is the successor of the Artich.io ELN editor, which we redesigned to fit our own needs.
In parallel, we started to write blog posts more often and we defined our company’s culture, including how we wanted to work.
It was clear that being a company willing to help Academia was tough, and we felt a bit lost. We started a new project with a French research team as part of a technology transfer between Academia and Industry. Getting the legal agreement signed by all the people involved took several months (an official announcement will follow in a few months).
The first day of the rest of our lifeMay 2016
As of May 2016, William joined the company as a full-time employee (having successfully defended his PhD thesis ). We launched the Modern Science Weekly newsletter.
To us, everything actually started at that time, and we cannot really believe it has been a year already.
It was essential to be very motivated and focused on our goals. Sure the situation was pretty bad but we knew it, and that was key to avoid jumping into a world of fantasy and self-delusion.
The Open Science Company ManifestoJune 2016
As of mid-2016, we knew that we could not come up with a new product, and life is too short to build something nobody wants. That is why we changed our strategy. Instead of promoting Open Science and encouraging sharing and best practices via a product, we could achieve our goal by helping research teams directly.
Since the beginning, our mission and wishes were evident in our minds. Yet, we spent a lot of time to clearly state it. Having written this manifesto before creating the company could have saved a few weeks of reflection.
Still convinced by the benefits of our “Le lab sessions”, we designed Franklin, a DNA sequence annotation tool. This tool was one of the potential applications that artich.io could have provided.
Hallo Germany!September 2016
William moved to Freiburg in Germany for both personal and professional reasons. The German academic system is far different from France, and there are a lot of opportunities to promote Open Science!
At that time, William started to being paid by TailorDev, which slightly impacted our expenses. New contracts were about to start, which balanced the situation.
This first year was full of highs and lows: on one hand highly motivated by our brand new company project, and, on the other hand, full of disillusionment when it comes to market something to people. Yet, this year helped us to put things into perspective. It helped us to question ourselves a lot to find who we really are. What defines us? What do we really want to achieve with this company? What is our mission?
As already mentioned, the answer has never changed since the beginning, but the means did evolved: instead of providing a platform to ease scientific work and promote Open-(Science|Data|Source) in research entities, we collaborate with them.
We have pretty valuable scientific and technical skills that can help research teams to build applications the right way™. We want to open gates between the Academia and the Industry worlds. We want to spread the word about the goodness and benefits of the Open culture. We want to train people to be more productive and efficient with the right tools and practices. We want to be actors of this evolution!
Now, what will our next year look like? Our plan is to keep developing cool and useful tools in collaboration with researchers as well as organize training sessions about best practices and (development) tools. We will continue to hack on open source projects during our “Le lab sessions”, and, spread the word about Openness.
Our wish would be to extend our team as of mid-2017. Will you help us to do so? Let’s start by inviting us to discuss about Open Science in your lab. Deal?
One More Thing
To summarize, this article was a retrospective of running a company for a year, where almost everything did not happen the way we wished. Sure, we certainly did not take the right decisions all the time but we learned a lot in every way. We will likely make new mistakes, but we will not repeat the previous ones. In the future, we will publish more details about what we learned and we will continue to share our experience.
I never lose. I either win or learn.
— Nelson Mandela
This company is one of the best things that happened to us so far. We are looking forward to making a decent living, and we cannot wait to share all of this with new tailors!
We would like to thank everyone we know, from close family to friends at large, as well as the people who support us. Thanks to everybody we met/talked to and a special shout-out to our awesome GitHub contributors!