The Chamonix Branch Office

You're never going to find good clients on the internet. Pay attention, aspiring consultants out there because it's true. You can spend all the time you want at guru.com or scouring craigslist, and you'll never once bag a client that will keep you fed for more than a month at a time. You're going to meet your clients the same way you met everybody else you know, through friends and by going out and doing things. You'll buy outrageously overpriced tickets to the Ballet for your girlfriend and the guy sitting next to you will ask what you do for a living. "Hey, what a coincidence! I've got this great idea for a website." And you know this guy is squared away enough to see the project through because he's spending his time (and money) at the Ballet and not on some free classified ad service on the web. Seriously, if you want to completely overload yourself with work, just spend a week flying first class between Los Angeles and New York.

I met Ben at an Italian restaurant in Pasadena. He had this great idea for a site that was a sort of WebMD for Traditional Chinese Medicine. I sent him home with a card and a week later we were at a Starbucks, behaving like those jackasses you always see with tables covered in diagrams and open laptops. Over the next month, I built him a nice little prototype that he could show to potential investors and hopefully drum up some funding to build the whole thing. It was starting to get towards winter, so I soon found myself in Southeast Asia, climbing rocks on the beach and putting some hours into one of my side projects. I sent Ben a postcard, but didn't really expect to hear from him again for a while.

From: Ben
Date: Feb 17, 2006 12:22 PM
Subject: DUDE!

Just got out of a 1 hour phone conference between Jeff Arnold and his VP; the creators of WebMD... not only was it a cool opportunity to just talk with these guys, but they're extremely interested in the project and feel that the strategies in place are ideal!

Investors started calling and Ben had his funding secured within a couple weeks. Now we had to start looking at everybody's schedules and decide on a good time to converge on LA and get this thing started. But hang on, why LA? We'd be pulling in the whole Expat Software team for this job, and we were sort of scattered at that point. And besides, Los Angeles sucks. How about we just pick a spot on the globe where we'd all like to spend some time, and then find a cheap rental house with fast internet access? All in favor? All opposed? Sorted.

At the top of the list was Antalya, Turkey. A couple of us had been there before and we knew that there was good rock climbing nearby. Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that that's a priority? Here's the list of requirements: Good climbing (and/or surfing), cheap accommodation, fast internet access. Turkey met the first two but we never found a big enough place with DSL installed. Kalymnos, Greece and Currumbin, Australia failed for similar reasons, and the island nation of Niue (with its free WiFi coverage of the entire country) was just too far off the map to get any good information about.

In the end, we fell back on the South of France. Besides having the best climbing in the world, the Rhone Alps are a major ski destination during the winter. That means that you can pick up a giant chalet for next to nothing if you show up in July. Our six bedroom rental house in Chamonix ended up costing less than a comparably sized cube farm in LA, including airfare to fly everybody out and back. Something worth thinking about next time you have a major project that needs doing in a hurry!

The two months we spent in Chamonix were among the most productive I've ever known. Each morning I'd wake up to blue skies over the most amazing view of Mont Blanc. I'd brew up an espresso and take my croissants onto the balcony to enjoy another perfect summer morning. I'd boot up and slip into the zone, flowing smoothly and uninterrupted until dinner was served hours later. In the evenings, we'd get the entire team together in the great room; founder, developers, strategists and even a few hangers on to discuss the direction of the project, triage bugs, and flesh out designs for new features. Wine would flow and brie would, uh, smear, and the creative process was let loose to do its thing.

I can't get over how good it was to have the whole team together in one house, cut off from the details of life and left with no choice but to focus on the task at hand. Communication was a simple as dragging the client over to a couch. "Issue 381, what are you trying to accomplish with this?" "Could you draw me a quick sketch of how you want that to look?" Draw up a quick data model for the feature in question, and back to the table to code it up. A couple hours later that new feature would be pushed to the QA server (a laptop nestled amongst the bottles of the wine rack) and ready to hit from anybody's machine.

Weeks flew by, friends came and went, and we got to watch France and Italy battle it out in the world cup, while sitting astride the border between the two countries. Eventually we had to pack up and go our separate ways, finally pushing Continuous Build 310 live as Rootdown.us. The data-entry minions were set loose back in LA, and Ben went off to promote the site and raise capital for round two.

That was six months ago, and we've just finished a big planning session for the next year of operations. It looks like this thing is actually going to start bringing in revenue earlier than anybody expected. Finances are in place, and soon we'll need to start thinking about another big development push.

I'm already talking to real estate agents in Spain.


Jason Kester
@jasonkester

I run a little company called Expat Software. Right now, the most interesting things we're doing are related to Cloud Storage Analytics, Online Classrooms, and Customer Lifecycle Metrics for SaaS Businesses. I'll leave it to you to figure out how those things tie together.


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