Pizza with a CTO — NUMA x VideDressing.com

Every week, Alban Dumouilla, NUMA’s CTO, will have a Pizza with a CTO from different stages companies to talk with them about their roles, constraints, management issues… Let’s get started for this first article, we are hungry.

Videdressing :a community of fashion lovers, operates an online marketplace for the sale of pre-loved fashion and luxury goods
  • Founded: 2008 by Meryl Job and Renaud Guillerm
  • City: Paris, France
  • Funding: 12M€
  • Company size at time of writing: 34
  • Tech team composition: 12 in the team, not counting product (1 CTO, 1 android, 2 iOS , 1 front, 5 php, 1 lead dev, 1 devops)

What’s on your pizza ?

Pizze del giorno: Mozzarella, Tomatoes, Pancetta, Spinach à L’Altra, 52 Rue Saint-Maur, 75011 Paris

Hervé Lourdin, CTO at Videdressing.com
Your product will always look like the team that built it

I’m not sure we’re at an age where the school still matters, so I’ll skip that ! I started working as a pre-sales engineer at Sun Microsystems on high-availability architectures. Then the internet bubble blew up, and I wanted to go back to software.

I joined OCTO technology for about 10 years, where I worked on a lot of different and exciting projects like information systems architecture and a lot of Agile methodology. I worked for different companies like Viadeo or Meetic, and ended up being the lead of Agile teams on tech and product subjects.

I then co-founded an internal startup at OCTO, called Appaloosa store, which is an Enterprise App Store solution. It’s now a subsidiary of OCTO !

They found me, actually, through my network. I wanted to switch jobs to get into a more technically demanding company, and was on the lookout for opportunities. They contacted me and the match worked out fairly easily.

You know the metaphor of changing a car’s engine and tires while driving on the highway? That is pretty much my job, on 3 main subjects:

  • I need to have a clear vision of what needs to be changed without taking the business hostage, even if some choices can be deeply restructuring.
  • I also need to build, consolidate and animate the team. The product will always look like the team that built it. You need to take time to train people, and create connections between teammates. You can’t just always be running.
  • The last part of my job is to interact with and report to the board. The company is 7 years old, has been through several rounds of investments, which complexifies the reporting needed to stay transparent.

When I arrived, there was no tech person in the direction committee of the company, so I had to change a bunch of things.

But after that, my job is very cyclic. Sometimes I can be rushed into periods of convincing investors about numbers, hires, etc. and then go back to getting my hands dirty. I have to keep up with what’s been done in the mean time.

So I wouldn’t say my job description drastically changed, it’s just a job with different facets.

Everybody truly worked with each other to face the crisis, it was beautiful

Nothing too fancy, as we have a lot of traffic (16M pageviews, 2M unique visitors/month). We’re running Symfony 2, and some parts still run on an old Zend framework application that we’re progressively killing.

My main job when I joined has been to automate the deploys, configs, builds, tests, etc. Everything is now dockerized in the dev side of things, and we use Gulp and GitlabCI for our deploys.

The rest is fairly standard : MySQL, varnish, memcache, Solr.

We don’t use any modern framework on the front-end side, as we are really SEO dependant and can’t really fool around with our front-end. But I’d like to be able to progressively switch to a framework, I’m not sure which one yet.

We also need to reorganize the way we work to be more flexible and have people work in a more parallel manner, to deploy smaller pieces more often.

Yes, pretty much all of that ! The 2 not funny ones are :

  • Full scale DDoS attack, that was quite tough to manage. I was 6 months old in the company, and our hosting provider handled the crisis quite well. I love how Videdressing’s team reacted, all hands on deck and everybody truly working with each other to face the crisis. It was beautiful, the typical example of a good crisis management situation.
  • We also faced some negative SEO attacks, where people duplicated our site and started linking to it from hacked websites, confusing Google about the legitimacy of our own site. We now have automated abusive links reporting strategies in place.
Developers are not really what we can call fashionistas, and they just don’t know about us

Hiring, definitely. We’re pretty famous on the fashion scene, so it’s quite easy for us to find good marketers and communication people that want to work for us. Devs are not really what we can call fashionistas in general, and they just don’t know about Videdressing.

Maintaining a good cohesion in my team. If you screw up your team, you screw up your company!

I would have killed some projects faster. We iterate on small projects, but when I started there were a few big projects ongoing, and it took us way too long to kill them. Maybe we should have cut them in smaller pieces to take faster decisions.

Now we have a 6 months vision for a product and can’t realistically look further. We meet every quarter to decide which projects to activate and find the little thing that will win big and fast.

You need to be able to say when you screwed up

Decontracted. There’s a really kind spirit in the team, everybody’s here to help one another. We’re all in the same boat and it feels good. The people that end up choosing another path and leaving the company are generally sad to do so!

There’s also a strong attachment to the product itself that enables to have a real dedication within the team. The team is fairly young in age, but tighly-welded.

  1. Is the person a team player ? I don’t want lonesome cowboys in the team, we’re all one pack and need to communicate clearly.
  2. On the tech side, I’m trying to see how the person thinks with questions like “How would you do this?”, or for more technical questions “How would you modelize this part?”
  3. I want them to be introspective on whatever they screwed up. We all screwed up something in the past, and you need to be able to say it, and say why. If they don’t want to take the blame when they screw up, that’s a red flag.

Listen to your guts.

It’s the only time in whatever you do in your life when listening to your inner self is important. You and only you know if you want or don’t want to work with the person.

We’ll be in most major European countries. We’ll also have a very strong mobile focus, as we already have 60% of our traffic coming from there.

If we can kill the desktop site, that wouldn’t even surprise me ! ;)

The roadmap is quite clear, we need to repeat what we’ve done in different countries, different cultures.

The hardest part will be to offer a smooth cross-country shipping experience, as we are a C2C service. It’s already hard to manage local interactions, so international ones are raising the bar !

I’ll also need to success in building the employer’s brand. We’re a cool tech company with a lot of traffic. Come work with us ! (Links below)

Article written by Alban Dumouilla and originally published on CTO.Pizza

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