Working with Non-Technical Entrepreneurs
It is a real challenge to build a digital product that fulfills an entrepreneur’s vision. It is a challenge that Sebastian Pereyro of Empirical is always looking to take on. Empirical is a software development company that aims to assist non-technical entrepreneurs in building software products from the ground up. Sebastian calls it “A Software Factory.”
This is no easy task according to Sebastian. Clients often come with limited budgets, and in some cases, misconceptions about how easy it is to build a software product from scratch. Oftentimes, clients need help to see how creativity is involved and why some features are not as simple as they might look. But compromise is always on the table. By providing a simplified proof of concept, Empirical enables entrepreneurs to move in the right direction
Clients with Limited Budgets
Sebastian’s intention is to find a way to demonstrate the expected behavior of the product, using a minimal amount of the budget, and without sacrificing the quality. “We try to think in a very lean way” describes Sebastian. At Empirical, the team consistently explore different approaches and tools to leverage so every project doesn’t have to be built from scratch. His team has a process of deciding whether or not a client is a good fit for them. When the client is not a good fit, they provide guidance on how to move forward or they refer the client to a different, more appropriate software development company.
Fresh out of college, Sebastian started working for Motorola in Argentina. It was there that his manager asked him to join a challenging project in San Diego. He worked with big companies like Disney, ESPN, and HBO. During that time, he built software systems for broadcasting and television. After 8 years at Motorola, he went to work for Disney in their video game department.
Sebastian truly cherished his time at Motorola. While there, he worked on a number of projects. He remembers a particular complex project where he had to develop a big software component from scratch within a bigger project. It required collecting information about the status of commercial set top boxes deployed around the world. He needed to show the health status in a map and also stream live content of each commercial set top box within the application. This way users could remotely monitor the status of a very large system deployed around the globe. After working on the project for over a year, he visited the client’s content delivery center. It was so rewarding to see the application being used on big monitors hanging on the walls.
While working at Motorola, Sebastian spent his free time researching how to build his own company. He started several companies that didn’t work out. Then there was one that had a little bit of traction and investors. That company ended up sponsoring a green card for him to stay and work.
Ever since Sebastian has worked as a Systems Engineer he has loved building projects from scratch. He also really enjoys new technologies. Starting Empirical gives him the chance to work on both of these things. And better yet, he gets to choose the teams, the projects and the technologies that he works on and with.
But there are always struggles when starting something new. For Sebastian, it was garnering those first few clients and building a rolodex. It’s difficult to stand out in the marketplace. Sebastian tries to combat it the best way he knows how, by providing the absolute best service he can. He treats each project as if it were his own child. He understands that this approach takes time, but Sebastian is in it for the long run. It’s a marathon not a sprint.
The Art of Balancing Projects
Sebastian is currently based in San Diego. He’s found himself working on projects involving multiple technologies, from web and mobile platforms, WebRTC and Live Broadcasting features, to serverless infrastructures, API services and others. In the past year, his company has worked on 10-12 different projects. Each project is unique, but Empirical tends to commit 2-3 developers for 3-5 months per project.
There are projects that take longer than others and require much more attention due to the technology used. Complexity of the project is a big factor in terms of effort allocated to it. Some projects require a significant amount of research and experimentation before something can be implemented as part of an iteration.
To balance several projects at once, Sebastian’s team uses constant communication and collaboration. They are also extremely transparent about their processes. His team devotes a detailed amount of time to interviewing the client in order to identify if they would be a good fit together. The team also holds regular sync up meetings to review project status and to ensure everyone is on track and not missing any required steps or goals.
Overcoming Challenges of Working with Remote Employees
He employs and mentors developers from his home country in Argentina. He also has employees and contracts developers from Europe and Latin America. The time difference poses a challenge, but Sebastian believes in the team he has put together and how they compliment the projects he is working on. They communicate via Google Hangouts, Skype, screen sharing, Slack and other messaging tools.
Collaboration is How Success is Accomplished
Sebastian identifies the prime concerns for the project from the beginning. He serves as a guide for everyone working on the project to help them focus on the right things. “It’s the whole experience of building software together that makes the difference” claims Sebastian. He loves to collaborate and learn from the people he is working with. They’re all in the experience together.
Collaboration helps to ensure no milestones are being missed. According to Sebastian, “We either accomplish what we set out to do, or the process itself communicates to all the stakeholders why we are not going to achieve what we committed to do for the iteration.” If they cannot achieve a certain milestone, they try to identify the reason why and adapt.
Client Collaboration is Key Too
The team spends a large amount of time communicating with clients in regards to progress, demoing processes, and making them a part of the development. Sebastian likes to give full visibility so there are no surprises. They spell out everything as clearly as possible. “We do a lot of demos, very often, we sometimes demo the progress on a daily basis.” Sebastian says that he even invites the clients to tech collaboration meetings to see how the team works. It also helps the client appreciate all of the effort going into their product, and gives clients the opportunity to answer questions from the team right on the spot.
The team also engages in product level decisions. They use prototyping and brainstorming sessions to narrow down the next best moves. This allows the clients and the team to exchange information and make more informed decisions. Empirical approaches every project with an entrepreneurial mindset. These tactics help the client see that their budgets are being put to the most efficient and effective use.
Staying Relevant in the Industry
He can’t help but be obsessed with the work. “I am crazy about building software products” he exclaims. When he was younger, he would spend his afternoons researching how to build projects from the ground up. Today, software books crowd around his desk. Most mornings he heads out for a run to start his day. During that run, an audiobook sings through his head phones. Oftentimes the information he hears in the morning will play a role in his client meetings that afternoon. So it all comes full circle.
Even the projects that Sebastian chooses to work on he feels helps give him relevancy in the marketplace. He is currently developing a platform for streaming video content from a camera recording action sports. Empirical is helping this client with the entire video streaming infrastructure. The project also has an ecosystem of applications that play together; some being real time video editing apps, web, ios and android consumer apps.
The team is also helping harness the younger generation of developers. They are working on another project that is a web platform for teaching kids how to program using drones.
Future of the Industry
“We are not only building products but we are building entire systems. We help entrepreneurs identify, define and implement ways of doing things whether it’s using technology or manual processes to move quickly and efficiently to the desired goal.” Personally moving forward, Sebastian realizes software is only one piece of the puzzle. So he strives to use a more systematic mindset to better identify processes and solutions.
Overall, Sebastian hopes for the technology industry to continue to be open, inclusive and collaborative. Spaces for this type of collaboration already exist, like topic specific Slack forums. Infact, Sebastian met a client of his on a Slack channel. He is helping this client develop a very customizable technology used for video streaming and broadcasting. It’s situations like this that excite Sebastian about being in this industry. He sees the maturity of the market and how technology helps people learn and connect. He is curious to see how this aspect continues to evolve.