Open Social will scale up with the help of TQ in Amsterdam

Our vision on open adoption software.

And why agencies can't create products, but we can - an opinion piece by co-founder Mieszko Czyzyk.
Read time: 9 minutes.

Open Social by GoalGorilla moving to TQ in Amsterdam

TQ is a curated tech hub in the center of Amsterdam. A venture by The Next Web and Google, TQ positions itself not as a co-working space, but as a label that provides tech companies the right talent, tools and training to reach the next level. 

I'm very happy and proud to announce that Open Social by GoalGorilla will be part of an exclusive list of startups joining TQ. As of the 29th of August TQ will house eight of the eleven Open Social product team members.

Inside TQ Amsterdam Sneak Peek

Robert Gaal, entrepreneur and former Google product manager, is the hub’s managing director; “TQ is made for companies that are growing exponentially, who operate on an international level, with a diverse team. Open Social is that kind of startup, and we're fortunate to have them join our community." 

With their focus on growth TQ is the perfect match to help us monetize the core value proposition of our software. Before I get into some details about how we structure Open Social's core team, I will give a short introduction to our vision on building an open-source company.

Open Social is open adoption software 

We consider Open Social to be open adoption software, which means that it is free to adopt and open to change. This also means that GoalGorilla will not be the only organization providing resources to the core team. Already, we’ve experienced participation from other agencies like our partner Lemberg from Ukraine and the wider Drupal community. Co-founder and product owner at Open Social, Taco Potze, will talk about this in more detail at DrupalCon Dublin. His session description will give you a very informative introduction to the three phases for building companies with open-source software.
Open Adoption Software Infographic, from Jake Flomenberg article on Medium.com

Source the Acquirer, taken from an article by Jake Flomenberg, Partner at Accel. Read his article on medium: The Rise of OPEN Innovation: The 3P’s for Building a Durable Open Software Company.

Recent discussion regarding open software companies outlines a three-part approach of building a project first (i.e. creating a community), product second and profit last. This aligns perfectly with what we are about to do at Open Social, after engaging our Drupal software community and deploying the product.

We are moving to TQ to create scale and a highly profitable business. I strongly feel this is the only way to create an open software company with the power to innovate at a rate that will be able to compete with proprietary solutions.

Why most agencies can't do products 

One might wonder why GoalGorilla, a digital creative agency, is building a product in the first place. Leading publications like Digiday have written on multiple occasions about agencies launching products. The results of these efforts have been mixed, at best. Ad agencies have been setting up 'research labs' to make their own products for a while now. Other approaches use Google-like famous '20% time'-policies to encourage product development. One lesson learned from these strategies stands out every single time: you can't bring products to market as a side effort. When we look closely at failed R&D labs and other in-house product efforts by agencies, we see that this approach comes down to sharing resources between product and client teams. 
The CEO of Rockfish digital agency, Kenny Tomlin, put it best when he said: “You can’t sort of do anything and be successful." 
So if pretending to be a product company when you are actually a service company is a bad idea, is there an alternative? 

Why some agencies do succeed at doing products

Remarkably, some agencies can do products! Even very successful products. For example, one digital product that inspired many to get into a lean mindset way before 'lean startup' and 'minimal-viable-product' were common terms is Basecamp. What is less well known is that Basecamp was born and bootstrapped from a web design agency called 37Signals. Along the way, they created a programming language called 'Ruby on Rails' that powers an estimated 1.2 million websites these days, including Airbnb and Github. It wasn’t until 2014 that they decided to change the name of their company to Basecamp, as this was the most prominent product they offered.

So is Basecamp's story an exceptional one, a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing? Perhaps...
But one of the lessons their story illustrates seems universal to product creation: you need to really understand a pain to be able to solve it.* And in this, agencies have an unique advantage compared to startups: they have solved problems before, either for clients or themselves, preferably while building business cases along with them.
*The Basecamp team writes in great detail about this in their book 'Getting Real'.

How Open Social is built for success

First, building and expanding on the lessons learned by having solved problems before is the exact vision we have at Open Social. As an agency, we have built multiple social intranet products and communities for NGOs and semi-government. Most have been very successful from an end user and organizational standpoint, a few less so.
The most valuable experiences gained from this are not technical in nature. Instead, we’ve learned about running a productive team, gathering user feedback, iterating and deploying new versions, handling legal and financial matters. Running a business, essentially. 

Second, we use dedicated, fixed teams. There is no resource sharing for clients, and sprints have been running almost continuously since December 2015. So although Open Social is funded by GoalGorilla and its investors, it is structured as a spin-off. This is good for the product and good for our agency clients. Both get the attention they deserve, without us having to compromise on resources. Interestingly, this doesn't mean innovation is limited to just the team creating it. The open nature of our code allows innovations to be shared between product and client teams.

Summary and discussion

We believe Open Social by GoalGorilla will not suffer from the common fallacies of agencies 'doing' a product. 

  • Our team has successfully solved similar problems before with similar products; both end-users and organizations love it.
  • We have dedicated, fixed teams. Open Social is structured like a spin-off. Both the product and clients profit from this.
  • We are an open adoption software company. We built the project first, followed by a product, and are now creating profit. TQ will help us scale up and grow.

For a more general view on this, I and Evelien Schut are giving a talk about structuring an agency with fixed teams at DrupalCon Dublin. I'm very interested in discussion building an open-source company, but understand most of you can't join our team in Dublin :) Don't hesitate to meet me and the rest of the team at TQ, drop me an email at mieszko@goalgorilla.com or leave a comment below.

Director Marketing
Mieszko Czyzyk

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