Working with Joost has been great for me. When I came in I had few marketable skills, little experience, and, not much wisdom about how people work. Now that Joost is largely over, and I am back on the market, looking for a new job, it is time to think about what I’ve learned and what I can take away into the future.
It has been a honour and privilege to work with so many incredibly smart and dedicated people. I haven’t seen anything that comes close at any previous employer that I worked with, and I am doing everything I can to find a job in the same type of environment. It is really strange to realize that Joost as a company has failed, despite all the talent and dedication it was riding on. Time to take a break and do a sub-item about one of the key questions about Joost:
Why did Joost fail?
At first, it seemed like there was no way that Joost could ever fail; they had an incredible amount of cash, and were backed by some of the biggest players in media (CBS and Viacom). Yet they did, and all I have left now is a closet full of t-shirts. ;-) I have by no means the wisdom to answer all questions, and even if I had, it would be imprudent or unlawful to tell everything, but here is a list of items that most definitely went wrong:
- Money: Most companies have too little of it. Joost had too much of it. Because they had so much money to float on, people spent too much time working on frameworks, writing real fancy, code, that could theoretically scale up to 100’s of millions of users, instead of creating a much simpler product that would actually appeal to those millions of users. Even worse, Joost squandered millions on secondary things like: Expensive offices, travel, all company parties/meetings etc.
- Management/strategy: Generally it is unwise to talk too much about management, but now the founders have started to sue the CEO, I guess I can point out one or two things that management has done wrong.
- Focus on USA: While the states were the biggest single market, it is most definitely not the most internet savvy, with relatively slow internet connections, especially in the heartland. Even now, the European market is wide open, and as far as I understand there is still plenty of opportunity in Asia too.
- Engineering focus: Joost thought they were a technology company, while the fact of the matter was that they were, and should have behaved like a media company. When the client didn’t gain much traction after launch, very quickly it was decided that the only solution was to get a website. One of the core issues, the lack of anything appealing to watch to make the client worth the trouble of launching, was never addressed. Moving to a website/flash wasn’t necessarily a bad move on itself, but leaving the client to flounder for a full year really hurt Joost’s credibility, both with users and content owners.
- Content: I already briefly mentioned it in the previous paragraph: Joost didn’t have anything worth watching, which was the main reason almost all users lost attention very quickly. Joost would have been better of if the spent all that too much money that I mentioned first on buying content and gaining loyalty from users, content owners and advertises in an early phase. (Of course there were mayor scalability problems in the platform that would have made this almost impossible).
- I’ll leave it at this. If you wish to find out how Mike Volpi has failed to perform his duties as CEO (and thus hammered the final nail into the coffin) I recommend that you read the court documents, while the declaration from Owen O’Donnell tells how Volpi failed to sell the company when the end was nigh.
So, now we have covered this, back to my regular programming.
What was in it for me?
While Joost hasn’t given me much in the way of money, I do think I have gained a lot from the experience. I worked with a lot of very nice, very cool and incredibly smart people, and I hope many of them think well of me. This network should be able to help me secure future opportunities.
While at Joost I gained an incredible amount of skill and knowledge. While just I knew my way around computers before I joined Joost, now I have gained a lot of very rare skills; I know a lot about video, and how things like content workflow work. Of course this is very specialized knowledge, but while learning this, I learned a lot more too: project management, politics (like it or not, you need to be able to do this if you want to get things done in a bigger organization), deal with crises, delegate, communicate, etcetera, etcetera.
I do notice that it stings a bit that (especially established) employers seem to insist on certifications, while fact of the matter is that (especially in this field) most certifications are useless. This is a bit of a tough hurdle to overcome, but I’m confident I will manage to do so very soon. I will probably be best off gaining more experience in the start-up scene, until I reach the amount of experience where certifications don’t matter anymore.
Working at a start-up is taking a leap, and trying to create a dream. It has been thrilling, addictive, and tons of hard work, and if I could turn back time, I would do it all over again.