Building Tech organization in a new country

October 4, 2017  – For more than 10 years I was responsible for building technical teams from scratch for several companies. All of those were great successes. Teams has been formulated (from 0 to 25 , 40, and 60 team members). All processes for the software development have been established and implemented (including CI/CD pipelines, quality assurance, cross team cooperation, software architecture standards and coding principles).

So, when I joined Twill as a Chief Technology Officer, in February 2017, one of the main tasks was replacing the team of contractors with permanent Twill-ers (software developers, QA engineers).  It would be the easiest task I could imagine. But it didn’t quite turn out that way.

What the heck happened? What made this particular one so difficult? Why was I not able to build a strong technical organization, able to support our fast-growing venture, even within 4 months???

There were certainly several major reasons. One, which I consider as the most important, was my underestimating of being put into a new environment, outside of my huge professional network in Poland. It became so clear that moving into another country (or even city) is like ripping up roots. You have to invest an incredible amount of effort to build any kind of a new network, became familiar with the working culture, but also local manners, ways of reaching out to people. You have to spend most of the time on searching, talking to people, to head hunters, simply asking everyone if they would want to help you, or simply work with you.

Sometimes, I was losing my sense of reality, trying to talk to every single person who pinged me on LinkedIn, investing my time into searching google for any sources, even those not verified but promising wonders. That was not only exhausting for me, but also put tension and unnecessary pressure on the other team members. This was a dead end.

At some point, I changed my mind and approach. I let the team focus on only selected and proven sources, focus on the prioritized openings. Learning for me is that every place is different. In some places, you use huge network of head hunters, in the other you use only one but, in yet another one you use only personal recommendations.

It was more than fortunate that I joined Twill as my first real abroad work. The management team here is extremely supportive. They are more than committed into making this venture a success, not only inside their areas of responsibilities, but also outside. Thanks to this I was introduced to several different sourcing funnels, met people who could help me and Ramona, our Head of People, to actually get candidates and finally hires.

At the same time, I also tried my known network in Poland, and thanks to this we were able to quite quickly find and attract several strong developers in Gdansk, opening a new Twill office in Poland on September 18th.

As of now, we have a very strong team of experienced professionals, able to deliver business needs, but also to redesign and rebuild the left over from the MVP (minimal viable product) stage. We also have very well thought-through organizational design implemented (I’ll talk more about this in one of the next posts).

Does it mean I’m done? No way. I will work on the next phases of this journey, building bigger tech teams, splitting responsibilities and people into more self-driven and effective teams, growing Twill tech culture, encouraging each and everyone to experiment and innovate. To really disrupt the logistics industry. Keep it simple, keep it strong, keep it Twill.

By Marcin Kulawik, CTO, Twill.

Completely Twilled

September 28, 2017 – Twill is a start-up aiming to make shipping simple for the customer. An important quest as the current customer experience from buying freight is all but impressive. However, how is it running a company that is trying to shake up a Legacy (yes, capital ‘L’) industry? And how is it to do as a start-up owned by a large organisation? For this blog I would like to share some of my personal experiences from starting Twill and the journey we have been on so far.

In July 2016, I was sitting with a colleague (Sarah) in a small room in The Hague starting the first infant thoughts on Twill. We were about to go to Berlin for 6 months to build the foundation for Twill. Now, a bit more than a year later, I can (despite many Twill years in front of us) reflect a bit on the journey. It has been crazy! And Fun! And Exhausting! And Exhilarating! And rather often, all in one day. You have to remember, that not only were we completely in uncharted territory on the business idea, Twill was also the first spin-off company from Damco and hence double uncharted territory. We were challenged with what tech stack to choose (and how does that fit Maersk), what the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) should/should not contain, if we really can adopt fully Agile, how Twill fits in Damco and who we can work with in Damco (to mention a few). Key learning to share on such questions: You learn to make decisions based on very little data and you should be prepared to pivot and re-do. You should be prepared to embrace fast failure and ensure that the learnings are the focus. This thinking made us start a tradition called “Failure of The Week” – a tradition we now hold very dear. Every Thursday 4pm – we clock out for an hour, huddle up our bean-bags in a circle, bring out a cold beer and nominate other people (or yourself) for all the failures we have done this week – and key – what we have learned from it. In the beginning this can be quite scary (to be frank) – you know – to be nominated publicly because you screwed up. However, we got the hang of it and now it is defining for our company culture and Twillers are not afraid to lean out, experiment, innovate – and fail fast in the process.

Starting Twill from just a few people and watch it grow to its current size of 50 people (and we are still just a toddler) has been a fantastic journey. We have had some very long nights making last minute code updates, fixing urgent bugs, preparing Board material or preparing for the customer meeting the next day, however, normally we would also find time for a game of ping-pong during the night (admittedly, sometimes causing an even longer night). These nights might have been long and tough, however it was all worth it, that day we got our first booking on the Twill platform and everybody could celebrate what we had been able to pull off in a very very short time. It was one of those moments I will never forget. I was with the customer, seeing her place the booking on the platform, whilst having the whole Twill team on Skype on a separate laptop. After she pressed “Submit Booking”, we looked to the team on Skype in anxiety – and only a second later – the whole team erupted in pure celebration when they saw the booking appear in the platform – we had our first booking.

Since then many customers have chosen to join Twill and it remains my favorite part of my job to see an intrigued customer making her first booking on the platform and look at you and say: “Was that it?”. Yes, that was it – we aim for simplicity and we will work extremely hard to ensure we keep improving that simplicity (or “Simproving” as we say).

Twill is not done (note: It will never be), however I know we have a strong product that is relevant in the market. I know because our customers tell us. We also get plenty of feedback on things we could also build and bugs we should fix, don’t get me wrong – but mostly, we get really good feedback on what we have built. And this is what keeps me going everyday – it makes me proud and keeps me motivated to build an even stronger product and reach even more customers. In that way we get one step closer to our vision every day: Making Shipping simple.

By Troels Stovring, CEO, Twill.

Customer Care in a Startup

By Barbara Peric, Head of Operations, Twill.

After 10 years of working in a corporate environment, I decided to take the plunge and join a start-up. To be honest, joining Twill Logistics is not as brave as joining other start-ups, as we have a strong partnership with our corporate sponsor: Damco. But, the appeal of growing a company from scratch was enough to get me pumped and walk my stilettos over to the Twill Logistics office and give it a go!

After 3 months of working with our killer Twill-ers, I thought I’d reflect on how customer care life is in this start-up. I’m not going to tell you there are pros and cons…boring…
But what I will say is that creating something with our customers is better than just creating something for our customers.

What our customers want
Simplicity and to feel important. Frankly, it’s like any other relationship: Make me feel like you care about me and don’t complicate my life! It’s not different in a start-up, but how we can achieve this is pretty cool! Here’s just one example of what I mean:

During an update meeting with the customer care team (CC team), we discussed that there was congestion at one of the Chinese ports. We wanted to notify our customers about this (only if it impacts them) but didn’t want to bombard them with emails…they have enough of those! So, I reach out to our integration genius to see if there is a smarter way to keep our customers informed. A mere 2 hours later, he has a solution that can reach customers and can be implemented that same day!

It’s only a test, and maybe it doesn’t work, but from idea to implementation we’re able to move lightning fast!

Quote from customer:

“I’ve just done our first container booking on Twill :-). It was really easy and Twill team support is really fast, Alex has been very helpful. Overall fab experience :-). Thanks for showing it to us.”

-Sapphire

What our customer care teams want
Simplicity and to feel important. No, it’s not a typo. It’s the same. To be able to deliver simplicity to customers, it has to be simple for the customer care team…and we need to make sure their voices are heard. Yes, louder than my voice, and louder than even our CEO’s voice. We create our tools and processes with the actual CC team who are using them. And when the CC team suggests something new that would make their life even easier…we build that. I’m not saying we’re there yet, but in our start-up, we’re removing the red tape, the lengthy processes, and simply spending our time and energy on just making it simple. Have I said “simple” too many times? Again, not a typo.

Quote from customer care team member:

“The difference is that we give the customer more of a voice in the development of Twill. By doing so, and asking for feedback on a regular basis, we are incorporating our customer’s ideas with our own to create a platform that works for everyone, rather than just relying on our own ideas.”

-Alex Archer, Customer Care in UK

From the people who talk to our customers every day to the people who create the tech solutions, we have a direct link that ensures no bureaucracy stands in the way of a good (or bad) idea. For me, this is the fun I can have here. Trying out solutions, testing out new ideas. Some are brilliant and we celebrate. Some are downright failures and we laugh at our mistakes and work late to fix them. But all ideas get heard, and most importantly, all our customers get heard.

Every day is today

October 26, 2017 – It’s been roughly a year since my first day here at Twill. I like to look at it as a journey of 365 individual days; opportunities to make today, and every day, more valuable than yesterday.

At the beginning of this journey back in November 2016, my mind and my heart were fully occupied by one big question: how do you develop a culture? Is that even possible? How do you twill that unique binding fabric that shapes how we talk and walk as Twillers?

Culture lives and shifts and changes in response to the actions we take and the decisions we make each day. Well, by now I have the answer to those questions, but you’ll have to wait until my next blog post to find out!

In her book Daring Greatly, Dr. Brené Brown says: “If we want to reignite innovation and passion, we have to rehumanize work. When shame becomes management style, engagement dies. When failure is not an option we can forget about learning, creativity and innovation.”

I would add that an essential component to ‘rehumanize’ work is trust. Trust is the foundation for an organization to grow, where an organization is understood as a network of people rather than a conglomerate of layers and operational models. We build trust by showing vulnerability, Dr. Brown says. By sharing and being open about our wants and desires, as well as our inevitable stumbles and failures, and by getting into the practice of doing this regularly, we can build trust over time.

At Twill, we understand that feedback is a mechanism of trust building. We make a point to share feedback consistently, and follow a model to enable us to do this effectively. We also make sure we celebrate what we’ve learnt when we l review the week during our Thursday ‘Nomination’ sessions.

Failing fast is another way of building trust. Quite the dichotomy, I know, but the key word here is ‘fast’. There is safety in risk-taking when it’s done in incremental steps and fast loops. This should happen with the right structures in place – firstly to ensure we learn from our failures, and secondly to ensure that we limit the possibility of any such failure having an impact on our customers. This creates a psychologically safe space where learning, rather than blame, is the focus.

And finally, in my view, the ultimate proof of trust is having the courage to enter the ‘arena’ every day, focused on your purpose. In my case, that is to lead from the heart and create the organization I want to work for. And while I’m aware that, in Dr. Brown’s words “there really is no effort without error and shortcoming”, I feel fortunate to live my dream and learn every day.

So, accept the challenge to make every day matter. With every new day you are granted a chance to do better, to take new risks, and to learn from failure. After all, this is how we at Twill make shipping simple, every single day.

– Ramona Sandu, Head of People.