Virtuous cycle

Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

Dunbar’s barrier

We know quite a couple of companies which are growing quite fast, and often we end up talking about difficulties in scaling up.

One particular scaling milestone that we discuss is at about 150 employees.

Looking back, many firms at that point made major decisions on what to do next, often selling themselves to larger corporates (eg., which is one way out of scaling problem, since corporation has all the necessary processes already in place.

Number around 150 is often described as a maximum number of social interactions that person can comfortably handle. Above that number employees cease to know others in the organisation and personal relations have to be unfortunately replaced with more formal processes and procedures.

The number is brought up in Gladwell’s “Tipping point”. It was defined (actually it’s an approximation of a range from 100 to 230) by Dunbar in 1992.

Gladwell quotes one firm (Gore Associates) which for this reason splits itself whenever it approaches 150 employees.

Thinking of Goldenberry, which now has around 15 team members and fast approaching 20, we are about 3 years away from the barrier, assuming annual growth rate of about 100%.


Goldenberry in 2010

Officially, we started in February 2010, when our Ltd was finally registered.

Frozen above Crater Lakephoto ? 2007 Powderruns | more info (via: Wylio)

First projects started in May.

We don’t need to do annual reports just yet, but here are some highlights:

  • We started with a team of two, finished the year with a team of 7
  • We worked for 8 different clients during the year
  • We derived 75% of revenues from projects for new clients
  • 70% of revenues was generated in most challenging Financial Services sector
  • We completed our first project abroad

Next year… is going to be exciting!

Nasza klasa and facebook

Nasza Klasa was kind enough to invite me to their management presentation last week. Here are some comments.

Perhaps annoyingly to organizers, question on top of everyone’s mind was – not what is NK current performance – but rather how the site is going to compete with Facebook, which is gaining users and, even to higher extent, interest of the media.

Let’s face it, NK is beyond the stage of being media darling. It might not seem like a lot if every other week there is a story about a teacher fired for “inappropriate” profile picture, some impersonating someone else or some other trivia. But, what matters is that they talk about you, and not what they say.

Now, press is all about facebook and even twitter, recently, as politicians use it to create their teacup storms (funny enough, one of such recent events was apparently due to politician not knowing how to use twitter correctly, ie. the fellow thought he’s sending a private message).

Facebook, an elephant in the room

Not even once word Facebook was mentioned in management’s presentation.

Also, all numbers shown were devoid of any comparison to other sites.

Surely enough, first (heavily loaded) question was about NK falling behind FB.

NK says FB progress is overblown. It’s been “already a year” since it is available in Polish version, and it has gained “only 2 million users” (other sources say something about 3m). NK has ~ 14m active monthly users.

Well, 2m in one year doesn’t look like such a small amount.

For good or for bad, NK is not Facebook


  • High end market (educated, younger people)
  • Global player
  • Everything in one feed
  • Open API, anyone can use the platform

Nasza Klasa:

  • Mass market
  • Local player
  • Functionalities are presented separately
  • API will be restricted, NK blessing will be required

NK is evolving (slowly)

It’s been couple of years already since Nasza klasa moved away from its “classmates” roots to “communication platform”.

In fact, “Nasza klasa” brand will shift to simply “NK”.

In contrast to FB, which proved ready to pull carpet from under its users in terms of exposing them to new functionalities, NK is taking it slowly. It has an evolutionary approach – it waits and sees what works. As it claims, long term planning (and long term for NK is one year) is a poor fit for their business.

Products long available on FB will be rolled out on NK this year. Like Groups. API – but strictly controlled. Games. Targeted ad campaigns based on user’s profile info, like the high school he finished (this one is so obvious it actually seems strange it took so long).

Onet or myspace

Leapfrogging users with products ahead of the time can be disastrous. Netscape’s poor performance with aping digg is one example.

And NK users are not known to be open for change.

NK hints that it focuses on what really matters, the mass market, regardless of FB hype in the media. Just like onet, which is boring, but ubiquitous, and pumps money at a steady rate.

In fact, monetizing its wide audience seems to be main focus for NK at the moment.

An unpleasant alternative to onet would be myspace case, which was left in the dust by FB and is trying make a living in its music niche.

NK is being wise by learning on mistakes of newcomers before migrating novelties, gradually, to its conservative, but profitable user base. Or, it is educating its users in social media basics, who then, impatient, will leave it for better alternatives.

Other posts after the meeting:

Presentation from the meeting:

Savants and hierarchical memory

Savants are capable of amazing performance in a number of specialized tasks (e.g. rapid counting). In the same time they have difficulties with tasks requiring higher level of abstraction, and display poor general intelligence.

Is integer arithmetic fundamental to mental processing? the mind’s secret arithmetic, A. W. Snyder, D. J. Mitchell:

In contrast to the popular views discussed above, the unique aspect of our perspective is that the mechanism and information drawn on for savant mathematics resides equally in us all but it cannot be recruited by us for mathematics. In other words, we believe that mathematical savants, like all autistic savants, arise from their privileged access to lower levels of raw information.

Why is it that savants have privileged access to lower levels of information ? Perhaps it is promoted by a loss of those centres that control executive or integrative mechanisms (…)

An intriguing question remains. Although we do not normally have access to lower levels of information as do savants, is there nonetheless some artificial means to promote this access, say via induced altered states of consciousness?

A reference to the theory of hierarchical memory (Jeff Hawkins, On intelligence, see earlier post).

From the point of view of this theory savants would be somehow unable to develop higher level memory patterns.

On the flip side, a normal person cannot recognize lower level memory patterns anymore, and therefore doesn’t have access to savant-like abilities, which are based on this raw access.

Blogging is found to be totally uncool, just when I have a right mood for it

Quoting Nick Carr’s post:

Did you see that new Pew study that came out yesterday? It put a big fat exclamation point on what a lot of us have come to realize recently: blogging is now the uncoolest thing you can do on the Internet. It’s even uncooler than editing Wikipedia articles or having a Second Life avatar.

Oh man, I guess the future is reading stupid facebook updates all day.

88 constellations

Do you need some inspiring associations?

Yes you do

Check out 88 constellations:

Sharing something is much faster on facebook, but I still don’t like facebook that much.

Paul Rand’s identity works

Paul Rand is perhaps America’s most famous identity designer, who developed logos such as IBM’s or NEXT’s.

Therefore it might be a shame to admit that it was only recently that I became aware of his works, nevertheless, I wanted to share appreciation of his identity document for Steve Jobs’ NEXT:

On the webpage, you need to scroll down to “identity presentations” section. Reading from photos is not comfortable but doable, especially if you are on a mac and can zoom easily.

One might find his approach to design problems rather intellectual if not pedantic, with all the detailed discussion of why this font and not another, why in italics and why in this color, but I find it quite fascinating, personally.

In fact, I found my way to this document passing from Steve Job’s record of his relationship with Rand:

Note the fragment when Jobs describes Rand’s way of working with his clients:

I asked him if he would come up with a few options. And he said, “No, I will solve your problem for you, and you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution – if you want options, go talk to other people. But I’ll solve your problem for you the best way I know how, and you use it or not, that’s up to you – you’re the client – but you pay me.”

This reminds me, by the way, of a common dilemma in consulting of whether we solve problems for the client or with the client.

But to finish the episode with Steve Jobs and Rand, here is the account of how the cooperation started:

Jobs had always had an eye for good design. He was especially taken with the logos of ABC, IBM, UPS, and Westinghouse, all of which were created by Yale professor Paul Rand. Rand offered to create NeXT’s logo for $100,000, but only if IBM consented.

This was an outrageous price, many times more than what Rand had charged IBM for its now-iconic logo. Two months later, Rand sent Jobs a copy of the logo and a brochure explaining every detail. For the sake of a more interesting design, Rand even renamed the company NeXT, saying the ‘e’ stood for education. The new logo (and the name behind it) lent prestige and clout to a company without customers or a product.

Random thoughts about winter and the coming year

We spend winter holidays in Warsaw, looking after all details for setup of our brand new consulting vehicle.

Details include registering company (in fact two companies), selecting accounting firm, developing company’s brand and identity.

We are trying to be quite innovative and perfectionist in each of these, except for maybe the accounting.

Everyone left for skiing and all, but we are managing these details and it’s actually kind of fun.

Ogito, on the other hand, is closed for the time when I have time for another experiment.

I guess I should be more concerned about investing lots of time and then switching to something else without obvious return, but I’m really not. I guess I like experiments.

Jokes about global warming are probably tired already, but the fact is, I can hardly recall a winter like that. I mean the situation when you lost track of how long the snow has been around – it’s been so long.

I have a feeling that a proper winter spells a very good year. I don’t have anything tangible to back up this expectation, except perhaps how the frost is killing all the wormies etc.

In any case, this year for us is about pumping all the startuping experience into consulting, which is something we know best, and we have lots of ideas how to make it even better, therefore we are quite excited about it.

This post is due to the fact that I feel like writing rather than reading on this lazy Saturday.

EU subsidies

I never liked subsidies, just from perspective of avoiding rent-seeking, but this message from PARP (agency managing subsidies at least for innovative projects) gives some rationale to this stand at last.

PARP warns companies who were granted subsidies not to change their ownership structure, because it might be interpreted as breach of subsidy contract.

On Intelligence: recommended reading

I’m fascinated by the topic of artificial intelligence, but the fact is, despite all the hype in the last half a century, this faculty hasn’t come up with anything even remotely close to capabilities of a human brain, and many pundits started to lose hope that it ever will.

Development focused on custom solutions designed to tackle specific, narrowly defined problems. The books I read so far tended to be technical reviews of various types of neural networks, which are of course inspired by the brain’s circuitry, but share little with it in terms of flexibility and adaptability.

Hawkins’ book is a rare attempt to come up with general view on how brain really works. In the process, it uses concepts from both biological and technological sides. Its general idea is not obscured by technical jargon, which makes it easy to follow.

In summary, the book offers a glimmer of hope, that some kind of breakthrough in the field might be around the corner.

Visualization – Microsoft Pivot

Microsoft previewed one of its new technologies from the labs, the Pivot.

(on a separate note, while watching the video I realized that till now I didn’t know how to spell pivot correctly)

From the video, it seems that new Pivot does the same thing as it’s desktop older brother in Excel, namely allows to slice a collection of data along available dimensions.

What new Pivot seems to offer on top of that is a more immersive way of exploring data sets, especially those whose items can be visualized somehow. So it’s like a very visual drill-down capability.

New war of platforms?

Interesting article by Tom O’Reilly.

Perhaps days of fragmented but free-for-all web are coming to an end, as the gravitational pull of proprietary platforms – Facebook, iPhone, Google services – steadily increases.

On the other hand, many of these platforms in fact broke open spaces that were previously off limits to anyone but owners of the closed ecosystems and the few who bought their way in.

iPhone allowed everyone to write and distribute apps without mobile carrier’s blessing, and Facebook granted access to its social graph, allowing third party apps to take advantage of it.

Automating MS Office for Mac: editing and pasting

I’m getting used to doing serious work on MS Office for Mac, and while it’s still not close to Windows experience, I believe the work is reasonably productive.

But there were few things which I was really missing:

  • F2 shortcut to edit cell / text field in Excel and Powerpoint
  • Keyboard shortcut to paste as unformatted text in Excel and Powerpoint

Solutions that I used don’t seem very elegant (basically making Applescript emulate clicks and key strokes), but at least it works for me and makes me more productive, so I share it below. (read more…)

Just updated goldenberry page

Trying to make it more respectable.

Thoughts on best approach to consulting

I’m just coming out of a fairly intensive period, and of what? Consulting work. Who would have thought.

In the last couple of years I tested relation with consulting industry from three different angles: as an employee of a large international company, as a freelancer, and now as an operator of a stand-alone consulting practice. Each has its set of pros and cons.

As an employee you get comfort, stability and benefits, and initially you can learn a lot. However, you don’t have any control over your life, you are not rewarded for managing projects unless you are a manager, and you are not rewarded for selling projects unless you are a partner (and I love selling projects).

As a freelancer, you get control over your time, you have incentives to sell and most likely you earn more money. You don’t have direct responsibility for projects, so I was thinking you would be under less stress, too. However, I discovered that watching some people managing projects and having little influence over them is more stressful than having the whole responsibility for the project myself.

Which brings me to third mode of operation, negotiating and selling projects oneself. It’s a hell of a fun so far. It’s like having a startup, but in area when you have the most expertise, so it’s like a ride downhill. You make all decisions. You can invest in research and development to improve the way things are delivered. Or hire people you want to work with.

Sure, it might be just a honeymoon period, but I’m enjoying it enormously.

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