May 24, 2018
Started Playing: Q1/2018
Joined the band: Q2/2018
We interviewed the three founders of Dashbird; Taavi, Annika and Mikk, and got a great overview on how their backgrounds has led them to the place where they are today.
They have an exciting story on how they started building Dashbird - a company that's trying to solve the problem of monitoring and debugging fixes by developing serverless architectures to build more scalable and cheap back end applications.
IB (Icebreaker): Hi, how’s it going for you?
Taavi: It’s going really well for us! We are super excited to get on with this new company and we try to enjoy it as much as we can, but we’re super busy as well.
IB: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your team?
Taavi: Yeah, so it’s three founders, and we’ve known each other for six years. Mikk and I are developers, and I am the CEO now in Dashbird. Mikk is responsible for the technical development and working with software engineering, and Annika joined the team earlier this year and is responsible for the growth and marketing.
Annika: I don’t have any technical background, which is why this is so exciting and there is so much to learn. Before Dashbird I worked as the marketing manager in Toggl and the last year as the CEO of Teamweek, so I have a bit of experience in team management and hiring as well. I think the interesting thing about us is that we all have a common history at Toggl. Another thing is that Toggl, Teamweek and Dashbird are all remote companies.
IB: You know each other from the past, but could you elaborate a bit more on what you’ve done before and how did you end up at Dashbird?
Taavi: I started programming when I was 15 years old and obviously ended up studying computer science at the Technical University in Tallinn, but got bored during my first year and started working at Toggl. That was the first start-up I’ve ever worked for and I loved it. That is basically where I learned the most about start-ups. Then I went to Testlio where I worked together with Mikk again.
Annika: Taavi and I started working at Toggl on the same day in 2012 and Mikk joined a bit later. I started out as a support agent, and that was my first job in a startup. I then started building Toggl’s marketing team and later got an offer to be the CEO of Teamweek, which is a spin-off of Toggl. And after a really successful year in Teamweek, Taavi and Mikk contacted me since they wanted some help with marketing and growth for Dashbird. After some talks, in mid-February, I jumped fully on board and here we are.
Mikk: Yeah, my story is quite similar to Taavi’s I guess. I’ve been developing all kind of stuff since I can remember. Previously I’ve worked for huge telecom companies and did then also join Toggl, where I met Taavi and Annika. After Toggl I joined Testlio, whereafter I moved to Starship Technologies, which was also quite fun.
IB: Sounds interesting! Where did your idea for Dashbird come from?
Taavi: At Testlio we tested different mobile apps and we worked together in a team where a large part of the infrastructure was serverless. We noticed pretty quickly that the serverless space is missing proper tooling for figuring out where the failures and inefficiencies are. It became clear to us that it’s going to be a big problem for people who are using serverless in the next two years or so. That’s where it got started. We did some research and asked people about the idea and we got some really good feedback and so we just kept going and started building Dashbird.
IB: Perfect! So how did you come up with the name Dashbird?
Taavi: Partly because we use dashboards all the time, which are i.e. visualization tools. One of the initial ideas was to have an animal in our product name and Mikk had some suggestions from which we finally chose this one.
Annika: And now, whenever I mean to say "dashboard", I always say "dashbird."
Mikk: For us, it’s "dashbird" forever.
IB: Haha, quite clever! How has this year started? What are you currently working with?
Taavi: We’ve just finished raising our seed round and now we’re basically doing the best we can to grow close to 10 people team by the end of the year, which is by the way quite difficult to achieve. Besides that, we are strongly focusing on marketing and raising awareness on the serverless field. We already have paying customers, but there is still a lot to do there. Our biggest challenge for the next 6 months is to widen the product offering and to cover more event sources.
Annika: Yeah, and when it comes to marketing, we want to communicate more and more what value Dashbird brings and to grow the user base. At the same time, an overall education in the serverless field is needed. That’s why we need to organize all kinds of meetups, workshops, and publish tutorials as well.
IB: You mentioned that you need to increase your team size, so are you planning to stay as a remote company as the team grows?
Taavi: It’s going to be a hybrid right now. When we look at marketing, it’s really hard to hire world-class marketing people from Estonia. There’s a lot of great talent all over the world though and Annika knows how to lead a remote team. So, I think it’s a no-brainer, but right now we’re trying to find the first developers from Estonia, at least so that we can iterate the product really fast.
Annika: But at the same time, with this hybrid approach, we’re still building communication systems that work for remote teams, so it doesn’t matter if our developers are in Estonia while the others are somewhere else. We’re still going to have our weekly meetings and other things online so that we can all stay connected and move fast.
IB: Actually, there are successful companies built as remote teams. To be decentralized is still quite unique. Do you think that organizational structures will be decentralized in the future
Annika: I personally think they will be. There is so much great talent all over the world, and it’s really a matter of making it work in terms of leadership style and the proper communication processes. We are trying out this hybrid structure, and we will see how it works, but I don't have any doubts about the benefits of decentralized teams.
IB: So what are your biggest challenges at the moment?
Taavi: Finding developers. It’s super hard because in Estonia there are a lot of successful startups that offer good salaries and are super attractive to work at. But we’re making headway.
Annika: We can already see that some people know what serverless is, and they are really excited about the future of that. We just have to find the right people with the right motivations.
IB: What are the biggest learnings you’ve taken with you from your backgrounds?
Taavi: For me, the biggest learning comes from the time I was working at Toggl, where they used to lead people by setting goals so that there was no micromanaging, which led to that the teams worked really efficiently. I think that this was really high-quality leadership for a little company like Toggl. At Testlio, I learned the speed of developing and working with new technologies.
Annika: For me, it's the same results-driven workflow I learned from Toggl. Which means you have to set KPIs that suit everyone and trust your people to figure out the best way to reach those goals. Another thing is the focus on delivery and not on effort. You just have to get the stuff out there quickly, or otherwise, you’re not going to reach your goals.
IB: Have you noticed some differences with a centralized company vs a remote one?
Annika: I think it really ties together with the last flow; you have to trust the management and be results-driven because when people are working remotely you can’t really monitor how many hours they have been working and how much effort they have put in. You have to base everything on results, which I think is the better way to lead a team anyway. So the main difference is in leadership. You have to put a lot of focus on teamwork, and you have to figure out new ways of how to communicate since you don’t see each other so often.
IB: Do you still monitor hours?
Annika: No, but it’s really a matter of being transparent. We mostly do Kanban, so we use Trello boards with Slack notifications and whenever you drag a task to "Done" list, everyone sees a notification about it. But in the end, since it’s all results-based, we check the metrics and KPI’s every Monday. So, it doesn’t matter how many hours you do, it's only about the results.
IB: So what are your next steps on the roadmap?
Taavi: We are currently thinking about the pricing model, or more broadly about how to restructure it in a way that makes the most sense. Further down the line, we have the challenge of doing enterprise sales, and having an enterprise offering is something we haven’t figured out how to do yet, but will get there. Doing sales is clearly the next step.
Annika: At the same time we’re also creating content, educating the serverless community, and trying to get new people into serverless. And we are trying to establish Dashbird as the go-to tool for serverless monitoring. We want to dominate this market.
IB: Perfect! How has the support of Icebreaker.vc helped you out so far?
Taavi: We haven’t quite started yet, but we’ve been emailing a lot and got some great contacts. We’re really excited to meet the whole team and build a great relationship so that we can be in contact more in the future.
Annika: And in general, just hearing the note that Icebreaker is going to fund us was a really good confidence boost and got us thinking that we can really go all in with Dashbird. That kind of support was really good as well.
IB: That’s really good to hear! What kind of advice would you then have for other pre-founders or founders thinking about jumping into the startup world?
Annika: I just think that you have to jump in, head first! If you are thinking about it too much, you’re maybe going to change your mind. The first step is always the hardest one.
Taavi: Jumping in is good, but you do also need a motivation that carries you for at least the next five years. It seems and feels really hard at first, but once you do it, it’s more rewarding than you think.
Mikk: You also have to be really confident about your team because if you don’t have a good team of founders, it will not succeed. I think that is the key thing!
Annika & Taavi: True!