This post was originally published on the Corilla team blog on New Years Day 2018 🎉🎊🎈
Happy new year from Sydney, Australia. For most of the world it’s still 2017, a year that I summed up in our 2017 retrospective recently. If you missed it, the overall vibe has been “a good year of growth”.
The year ahead looks pretty amazing and definitely an exciting challenge for Corilla. One that I wanted to take a little time to write about now that the Sydney fireworks have died down. And before I unplug for a few days to drive up the beautiful Australian coastline.
It’s a long read, but an important one for anyone looking to understand the underlying context of this team of wonderful humans tackling a year with an renewed mix of ambition, curiosity and vision.
1. Getting back to our roots as community
It can be very easy for a tech startup to get caught up in the day-to-day of being a tech startup. It’s a whole ecosystem in itself and one that can steal focus from the bigger picture at play. And for Corilla that’s our heritage of community.
Before I started Corilla I was working on content publishing toolchains in and around Red Hat and the wider open source community. Events like Write The Docs were just plain fun. Participating in hackathons like GovHack were not only a joy but where I met great people like Ton Ha (where our BrisBert project swept the prize pool), years later joining us as our head of design. Community is in our DNA.
Throughout 2018 we will be doubling down on this heritage. Some examples are various community projects we will be spinning up on the side and financially supporting until they find their way (namely Yellow Pencils and All The Pens). Others will be making sure we can block time to get out of the Corilla headspace and just enjoy being around our content peeps again. Off-brand and back on the pencils.
2. Doubling down on a stable business model
For those that have only recently joined our journey, it’s worth knowing that Corilla has come through the route of a startup accelerator and venture capital funding. Our early days were supported by funding from the NUMA Paris startup accelerator, Google For Entrepreneurs and Hippo Ventures, the VC firm created by our advisor (and Red Hat founder) Bob Young. We’ve also enjoyed the support of the Google Launchpad program, the Brisbane Lord Mayor’s Budding Entrepreneurs grants, and most recently the Hot DesQ program.
All of which has been an incredible asset in our journey. But as I recently listened to Tim O’Reilly quoting at the launch of his new book WTF:
“Money is like gasoline during a road trip. You don’t want to run out of gas on your trip, but you’re not doing a tour of gas stations”.
I think about this a lot. And I think about our commitment to our users a lot. Which now span across 85 countries. Amazing.
Our core focus has always been on our community and our product solving their collaboration and publishing problems. We have an enormous vision that underpins our (public) roadmap right down to our weekly sprints. But all of that depends on understanding where to double down on the profitability of the company as a means of stability outside of reliance on venture capital. My intuition tells me that this will be the year for that.
3. Moving to a transparent public roadmap
This is an easy one. A transparent public roadmap makes sense precisely because so many companies seem so utterly terrified of it. That and because it puts on display our customer-driven development process.
When I think about our roadmap for 2018, the bulk of the high level items for the foreseeable future are largely implementations of things that the customers are asking for. The secret sauce is in the execution and the company culture around it.
The secret sauce in the original Corilla beta release wasn’t that we created a publishing tool — it was the unique methods of handling dynamic content sets to maximise content reuse. The surprise and delight stuff, often cited as the reason customers converted into paid accounts, were things like “the automatic version controlled screenshot copy and paste”.
That level of attention to detail is a part of Corilla — and one that can’t be copied from a mere map of what we’re building. How we get there matters and we would rather get there together with you.
4. Connecting our vision to our progress (and process)
We begin every team summit with an exercise in reviewing and discussing our company vision. As the founder I work hard to maintain our true north as a company, but our collective voices create the discussion around our shared vision. Which is…
“Increasing the human capacity to create and connect with our collective knowledge.”
Whats been interesting in the slight adjustments to that vision statement over the last two years is that it has rarely strayed from a core curiosity in how groups of people come together to share and access actionable wisdom.
Our product focuses on team collaboration and publishing — which itself sits inside of that vision like a matryoshka doll. The distance between that high level and product level is something I will do justice in a dedicated blog post, but these both in turn continue to fold like a product manager’s origami.
A vision statement should fold down into both far and near horizon goals, roadmap elements, weekly sprints, and all the way down to unique tickets of work. Keeping awareness of the rapid progress we’re making to that vision is something I’ll enjoy keeping always within reach of the team and our community together.
5. Committing to customer-driven development
Admission. We probably think we do this more than we actually do. Speaking to customers, distilling their feedback through iterations of design sprints and feedback analysis. Engaging our amazing Early Edition community.
Sounds good — and I’m sure some of the team would be quick to point out that we do engage in user experience research, regularly poll the users and have prompt support replies.
But read that paragraph again. It sounds so… distant. For a company that began as a group of technical writers solving their own problems, and grew due to supportive communities of fellow writers, we can do better than this.
It’s not just a better way to work with our community — but fun for us too. The open roadmap, the declaration of our vision and manifesto, launching the public Slack channel, the community projects like Yellow Pencils. This isn’t a distraction from building Corilla as much as the foundations the we can build a better product on top of.
6. Creating opportunities to connect with new talent
This point ties into the doubling down on communities idea (especially Yellow Pencils and All The Pens) but extends it to our daily perspective.
There’s a lot of amazing people out there. The more we scale out our community projects and grow the company, the more opportunities we have to connect with those that share our vision. And the more people we can enable to surf at the crest of this incredible converging industry.
Technical writing and documentation in 2018 is not what it was in 2008. Even if much of the industry grumbles at this change, we think this is an amazing era. No longer is it the domain of the distant writer, hidden behind a wall of style guides, lecturing on some vague etymology. It’s all about teams doing awesome things to empower users to create.
As a designer I’m influenced greatly by the works of Ray and Charles Eames. Their mission to “make the best for the most for the least” moved me greatly. And it’s no surprise that this influence carries over to Corilla — where we aim to enable team collaboration to capture knowledge and share wisdom to empower action. We’re honoured to be a vocal part of this cultural shift, and I will work even harder to ensure we open this journey up to those that wish to join us along the way. Got an idea for a collaboration, application for a job, or just want to talk tech? Drop me a line.
7. Empowering the team to grow beyond their roles
We all know that the journey is the destination when it comes to the majority of startups. Of all the amazing things we could be doing in the world — we’re doing this one.
It’s an incredible way to push your skills to the limits, and grow incredibly in the context of your role and your overall experience in life. But it’s also easy to get caught up in hitting shipping goals, exceeding customer expectations, or just making payroll in those early days.
Corilla will continue to grow in 2018 and in ways we’ve not yet experienced. Ensuring our culture of curiosity and candour continues to thrive as we expand the headcount is a priority. But so is making sure that we’re baking in a culture of growth across and within roles and interests from even our earliest configurations.
Our individual growth as an early-stage team has been pretty stunning when we look back. So making sure those opportunities continue to exist is a pretty exciting commitment for the year ahead (when we will be, by then, looking back on “days like these”).
8. Encouraging diversity at all levels
2017 was a really interesting year for a whole host of social issues. As I was primarily based in San Francisco this year there’s an inescapable American lens through which I experienced much of that time. The wider conversation about diversity in all ways is something we think deeply about across the team and our various overlapping communities.
This is something I want to explore deeper and with more conviction throughout 2018. As a relatively small but growing company, we have total control over our destiny. There’s no brand team telling me I can’t use an emoji in a company blog post 🖖. And as a successfully growing company there’s no nay-sayer telling us that we can’t in fact achieve our vision of “increasing the human capacity to create and connect with our collective knowledge”.
The only limitation is our ability interface as much knowledge and capacity to explore as possible. Which means extending our curiosity and our community in as many potential directions and diverse voices possible. As a community, as a company, as a team, and as individuals.
9. The value of time in the real world
Living in Silicon Valley has been a powerful growth experience for me as a founder. As was London in 2016, Paris and Helsinki in 2015, and my life roaming around for Red Hat prior. I’ve done my fair share of soundbites and panels on this topics, but I’m thinking a lot at the moment about the really “real” benefit for Corilla.
Namely that having these diverse experiences in the real world was such positive fuel for my own growth as a person. Which in turn applies that benefit to the company as a force multiplier.
I do love periods of just heads-down deep work on challenging problems (much of my life is actually like this), but the periods of emergence into and around planet earth bring interesting little revelations of immense value. Which is partly why I’m disconnecting for a few days to recharge while I’m back in Australia — and I’d challenge any founder who thinks “hustle” means “sit in an office your whole life” to get out of the building. Talk to users, take the team on off-site adventures and enjoy life enough to bring your best self to task each day.
10. This. Writing. To you.
Thanks for taking the time to follow our journey — I appreciate the interest and attention. I love hearing from our community so please drop me a line if you have any thoughts, ideas, suggestions or reflections. We’re going to have an amazing 2018.
That’s it from me. I’ve got a 4WD waiting for a road trip up to Byron Bay and Burleigh Heads to catch a few waves and kick this amazing year off to an incredible start. Happy new year!