Monthly Archives: April 2009

Percona Vision: Employees

At Percona a lot of vision aspects come from what we as a founders and later as a team consider good from the position of the other party.  With Employees/Consultant – the question is what would  I value working for the company ?   This is interesting because our job desires come a lot from personality aspects – some people love challenge others would rather have relaxed work with no challenges.  Some right success based payments other would rather have smaller steady guaranteed paycheck.  So I do not expect our approaches and values to be right for everyone but we expect you to love them if you’re person we would like to see as member of the team.

  • Consultants are main value creators. We do not see  consultants as “cost”  but rather as the true value creators which deserve lion share of consulting revenues, with rest – sales, administration being the overhead which has to be controlled and minimized.   When we just started Percona someone suggested me the good way to have a good business to hire some cheap labor force in India and get great gross margins billing customers 10x what is paid to the people actually doing the job.  I thought that was wrong and unfair and this is not the road we took.   We have employees in high cost and low cost countries but we pay them the same way based on the share of the true value they bring.    In particular with remote work the country where you live becames similar choice to the local neighrborhood.   We’re able to pay some 65-70% of gross billings to the consultants in average (as salaries, benefits and payroll overhead) which is a high number considering we do a lot of small jobs which has significant overhead.     Percona is a business and we as a founders took the risk of starting the business expecting some payout. We have not however planned to sell the company for quick turnaround or rip off consultants pocketing 50% of their billings. We expected a lot of fun and some fair profit share from our labor.       Working for MySQL I did not feel like my contribution were paid well both in terms of value and equity compensation. And really if you look into the people who were paid best and who made a killing when Sun bought MySQL these were mainly  sales and marketing positions which in my opinion are responsible for the preseption and packaging rather than true value.  I think it is very intresting excersise for anyone to fairly assess how much value they are bringing to their current employee and who really profits from it.
  • Consultants are Enterpreneurs. If you’re consultant you usually have couple of choices – either you’re doing your own stuff as independent consulting business or you go work for somebody else.   Working for yourself can be well paid but is risky and makes engineer to do a lot of things engineers often do not like to do – such as sales, dealing with contract negotiations, collections.   At Percona we wanted to provide something in between – we have people doing all this boring stuff such as sales, contracts, collections, insurance so engineers can focus on the stuff they like the most.  Plus working together we can be more efficient dipping into each other experience as well as have better life quality – if you’re lonely consultant your clients may well call you on vacations or in the middle of the night and you may have no one to cover you.  Working together allows to work more efficiently as well and shared client pool allows better utilization and less risks  which often means you can be paid more as consultant at Percona than being independent.  We also go further allowing consultants with good leadership coaching and management skills profit not only from their own work but from the work of people they supervise, so you can be running your small consulting business inside Percona.
  • Success based compensation. We strive to provide personal service for our clients which means each client gets lead consultant and the group assigned to them.  Lead consultant would mange most of the client needs while the group will be well understanding customer envinronment and following on all the issues so more people can be involved if needed as well as lead consultant can take vacation or a sick day off.  As customer typically stays with consultant and the group for long time this means  if you’re doing the good work for the customer there is more work to come your way.   Good consultants typically can have better utilization and they get larger cut of the revenues too because of the pie.   We also bill clients based on efficient time only – we do not think it is fair to have customers to pay for consultants learning general learning (not specific to their envinronment) or for making mistakes which again converts to great opportunities for great consultants.
  • Employees come first. We love our employees and want them to have a great life.     I know everybody says that.  Though I believe we can do a lot in this area as we do not need to sacrifise employee needs to please shareholders.  We engage in the businesses our employees are comfortable to deliver. We make sure they work comfortable hours and can spend time with their families or themselves.  We allow employees to put their family needs first, hence if there is any emergency with your family you just do what you need to do and the team will cover you.   As a good example I would say why do not we sell a lot of long onsite work – this is mainly because many of our consultants to dot want to travel away from their famility for weeks in the row.  I personally like to get out and visit customers in the Bay Area for the day or too and so we sell these services.     What is about customers when ?  Should not they come first ?  I think they should be happy on the second place because we ensure our consultants treat customer needs very seriously.  If customer has an emergency and his system is down and he is loosing thousands of dollars every minute I share his feelings of pain and urgency and a lot of other consultants do too.
  • Team Work. Nobody is as smart as the team.  We are seen as a team so we succeed as a team or fail as a team.  It is important our consultants are not working alone and there is always their team mates to help them.   We believe the team work is very important both to provide great quality of services to customers as well as to have great joy from work for human being – in particular while working remotely active team involvement is very important.
  • Openness/Integrity/Participation. When I was the part of management team of my first startup we  were far from open with our employees. They barely knew about company plans and deals came to them as a surprise, furthermore we were dishonest to them and our customers about what true intentions of various decisions were.  I was a junior partner at that time and though that is a way to do business.  When I came to MySQL I was shocked by how much transparent the company was.   Many things like company revenue were open to everyone and active participation of everyone was encouraged – meaning you could really get your opinion heard.  A lot of these things were lost in the corporate MySQL of recent years.   So back to principles – we are very open with our team about what we’re doing and why and we do not want to trick our employees clients or partners missleading them about facts, plans or visions. We actively welcome pariticipation of all the team in decision making process as reasonably possible.

Employment Security at big companies

A year ago I’ve been discussing with some people how unsafe and unsecure is working with small companies like Percona – which are small and bootstrapped, having no venture capital to relay on.     The comparison was obviously MySQL which just acquired by Sun at that point.

It is really interesting how things have changed.  As economic crisis stroke we see huge companies going bankrupt or having major cuts.  I know number of people which lost their job just because their whole department was no more.  They were great engineers but this is not enough as in many large companies people just tools.

With Sun/MySQL another thing is interesting – the people who were running MySQL before it was bought by Sun (Marten,Zack,Mark) are gone  (Zack is still at Sun but at other position). Many other people from senior management are gone as well  – these are the people which you as employee would have relationships and they would give you promises… and now be gone.    Now  even if you enjoyed Jonathan Schwartz vision about Open Source he may be no longer in position to implement his vision as Oracle takes over.

Interesting enough I think even Jonathan Schwartz  has little control here.   Sun is the public company and management team is not the major holders  –  Jonathan himself has well below 1% of outstanding shares.  Most shares are held by institutional investors and mutual fonds which have little of romantic nature – the dividents and capital gains are what they care about.   If head of the large corporation can’t deliver them he is risking to be replaced and the strategy which does not work be replaced with something which works.

The same applies to Venture Capital funded company – VCs want their money with a great return back first of all.   “Being Good” alone is not enough for them.   However if Founders/Visionaries and the team own the company they have the luxury of putting their values first and foremost if they choose to.

What does “I Can’t” really mean

What does it really means if someone tells he can’t do something ?   This is surely the popular excurse of my eldest child.   It is very easy to say you can’t do something and it makes it hard to reply something if we assume the claim is true.  If I can’t speak French it makes little sense to speak French to me I will not understand…  I know  this because I tried.   To often however I can’t  means something entirely different – it means either I do not want to or I believe I can’t do it.

The “Can’t” which is really “I do not want”  is the hard one because there is a question of how much hardship (either physical or emotional) the person can take and which really depends how important something is.    For example if you ask me if I can jump from the 3rd floor – I probably can’t do it just for fun. I may break my leg doing so or worse, though in case of fire I would jump because alternative or being burned alive is even worse.  What people can and can’t in the casual life depend a lot on their self discipline and hardship they are ready to take to reach the end goal.

Taking it to extreme if you’re saying you can’t do something you should ask yourself what if your life or life of your loved ones would depend on you doing this ?  If you would do it in case of extreme crisis it is not “can’t”  it is rather you do not want it for some reason.    The reason can be quite valid one –  I can jump from the 3rd floor but  this will most likely result in the broken leg so I do not want to do it unless absolutely required.    There are things which I can’t do, such as flying.  Even if my life would depend on flying I would not be able to do it.

Assumed “Can’t” is  another story.   Too often we do not believe in our ability to do something, refuse to try, refuse to learn or accept general preception in the world about something being impossible.   I remember as a child I could not ride a bike and I was afraid to try until I was forced by my Mom to try hard enough to finally learn.  “Can’t” turned to “Can” in a single day.    Many things take much more time and energy to learn and same as in previous case it becomes a question of how much time and energy are you willing to make things possible.

I do not speak French but I can learn to speak it.  I just do not want it because there is a lot of time and effort required but the benefit for me is marginal.  I currently probably could not run a marathon  but I could spend time to train but it is just not something I want to do.  Time and energy are scarse and we all have to do our picks.

Note in this case we know people in our age and physical conditions do learn French or train for Marathon, however even if there would not be it is not enough to say it is impossible –  many things from running 100 meters in less than 10 seconds to swimming cross English Channel (La Manche)   There are people who dare to try and make things happen.   Do not say you can’t unless you can prove it is physically impossible.

There are very few real “I Can’t”  in this world the rest are  “I do not want to”