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Tech Captains

CTO interview: Jaume Fontal, giving flowers producers access to end-buyers

At Colvin, Jaume and his team didn’t just build an e-commerce website for flowers. They are building a marketplace for flowers growers to sell directly to the end-buyers, instead of physically selling the products to Holland for auction. Read this interview and learn about their technical challenges, especially on Valentine’s day.

Before we start talking about Colvin, can you please give an overview of your career? You’ve spent 12 years at Softonic, which is unusual in today’s working world!

I originally started coding when kids were playing football, that is 12 years old. I created my first website for the World of Warcraft. I also have created a community from scratch. It was growing, so I have contacted the game-maker Blizzard Entertainment, to become the official community in Spanish. That has enabled me to get access to the game beta, contacts with developers, and I have started to understand what they were building. Speaking with them, I realised it was something I wanted to understand and do better.

My notable experience was indeed at Softonic. Up to a few years ago, Softonic was in the top 50 tech companies in terms of global traffic worldwide. It allowed me to learn a lot as a junior, as the company was growing. I have learnt not only to code but also how to face the challenges of scaling.

What is Colvin and how did you get to be part of the adventure?

I have joined more than 2 years ago, however, the company was founded around 5 years ago. Colvin’s mission was to reimagine and change the flowers and plants industry with two goals in mind. The first goal is connecting people with the help of technology with one or more of the emotional products, that is flowers. For example, wishing a Happy Birthday, celebrating a birth, or helping to cope with sad events. The second goal was to digitalise and reduce lots of the intermediaries in the flowers and plants industry that is really fragmented. That creates inefficiencies.

In earlier funding round, Colvin was growing quickly, and the existing team reached out to me to help with the scaling. I met Andres, the founder, on a management course. He explained to me what Colvin was and convinced me to join him.

What intermediaries exist in the flowers industry?

For example, the producer from Barcelona will auction the flowers in Holland (it’s the biggest auction market in the world for flowers). The producer sends all the flowers physically to Holland, which includes transport costs, customs and taxes, and involves a great deal of manual work. They sell it at a certain price to whoever, but it could, for example, be shipped back to Barcelona! It is then sold in a small market where the florist will get the flowers to sell. There can easily be 7 or 8 intermediaries.

We, on the other hand, give the growers, small family businesses, access to the end-buyers directly. We’ve built that network of growers, digitalised them, and we’re offering fresh flowers online.

What is your tech stack, and why do you think these choices make sense?

When I joined, we rewrote almost everything from scratch. Like many start-ups, it was growing fast and the code wasn’t sustainable for the scaling we aimed for and expanding to new countries.

Our infrastructure is on Google Cloud with Kubernetes. Sometimes we have ten times the usual traffic from one week to another, for instance on Mother’s Day. Therefore, it gives us an easy scaling infrastructure-on-demand.

For the frontend, we are using React with Next.JS. On the backend side, we use PHP with the Symphony framework for a number of services, in addition to NodeJS.

How do you empower your team to own the product? What internal structure do you use for the engineers to feel they have a say on the product?

First of all, the product and engineering are the same teams. My role is managing both product and tech. We try to be as close as possible. We make sure engineers always understand the goal of a feature, and that they’re close to the end-user. The objectives for a designer and an engineer are the same. They’re sharing the same goals. We are organising small squads between product designers, front-end, and back-end engineers. They are mostly autonomous with OKRs they define. Giving them autonomy and ownership is key. This structure enables everyone to have the recognition they need by seeing the impact of their work.

Do you have any fun story or horror story to share?

On the 14th of February 2020, St Valentine’s day, I had joined the company for just a month, and as you can imagine it’s the biggest day for our industry. We had a huge marketing campaign. We did something wrong by sending an SMS campaign to so many people at the same time, they all connected to our service and we mistakenly DDoS ourselves as we couldn’t catch all the traffic of all the visits.

The pressure to handle that high traffic spike was a lot of pressure on that day. That’s when we didn’t have containers and auto-scaling. It was one of the first things I changed in the infrastructure. We stopped being dependent on partners and hired a DevOps team.

If you want to connect with Jaume, click here.

To learn more about Colvin, visit their website: thecolvinco.com

If you’re a techie working on something exciting or you simply want to have a chat, get in touch with me. I’m currently CTO at Kolleno.com

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Ron Danenberg

CTO at Kolleno.com — Tech-related topics. Be kind 😊 and let’s connect! Special ❤️ for #Python #Django