When I was 22, a few friends and I traveled through Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, and it was on this trip one night when I realized who I wanted to become. I was at a beach one evening and I had an epiphany.
It was a perfect moment: I remember the feeling of the sand between my feet, the waves wrestling in front of me, the sight of the full moon shining over them, and feeling their drizzle in my shoulders after they crashed.
I thought I had just experienced one of the best moments of my life, and I really thought that denying future me these meaningful experiences would be a pretty big mistake. Sitting in front of a computer and creating great work was going to satisfy part of me — but not all of me.
Right then, I knew that I had to define what success looked like to me so that I could eventually get there. Success means a lot of things to different people but, to me, it meant balance. I wanted to have a meaningful life and fill it with a good mix of the things that mattered to me:
- I wanted to create great things
- I wanted to explore the world
- I wanted to work for a company where we could add meaning to each other
These metrics of success, or keystone goals as I call them, have become so embedded in my decision-making process that they are more or less a habit now.
I would devote myself to these goals, and I would strive to get a bit closer to them every day. I would use a greedy algorithm to achieve this: by working hard and putting extra effort at every opportunity, I would create a higher chance of achieving the outcome I was looking for.
By time I was 25, I was lucky enough to work at small startups in Canada and California, large corporations and even a government agency. This diverse working experience helped foster my natural inclination to ask lots of questions, learn new things, and solve interesting problems. In each of these places, I had learned to thrive — but something was missing.
I grew tired of wanting to create better products, create better features, take educated risks, and play with new technologies, only to be confronted with the reality that I had to play “politics” to have any chance at achieving anything worthwhile. I was well compensated, had more vacation than I could take, and even worked remotely from various time zones every 6 to 8 weeks. I had been able to achieve some of my keystone goals — I really couldn’t complain too much.
But there was room for improvement. I kept wanting to be part of something bigger, I wanted to surround myself with like-minded people who weren’t afraid of taking risks, working hard, and achieving big time (or “crushing it” as we call it at TextNow).
I was approached by TextNow many months before I actually made the move. At the time, I was working on something fairly exciting with a great team. They had twice my age in their combined years of experience, were dynamic, thoughtful, excellent mentors, and experts in their field. This plus the fact that I didn’t really know what TextNow was didn’t exactly translate to a “yes, I’m in” right away. Through conversations with HR and my own research, I learned that TextNow gave options to their employees, was growing rapidly, and was building a really interesting product that could solve real every-day issues.
I did some research on their CEO and founder, and I heard that he liked to play hockey and liked biking. Two of my favourite hobbies. At that point I thought, you know what, TextNow is an option that I should really explore.
The Interview Process
When I came in for my interview, I was upfront about not having done much, if any, Android and Ruby development, and while I had PHP experience, it was distant and fuzzy. The interview process was thorough and we mostly focused on fundamentals. This gave me a chance to get to know the team, the executives, and the product. During the interview I asked some pretty honest questions:
- How much of a startup is TextNow? What I really meant was, am I going to get a pay check every two weeks?
- Is TextNow’s goal to build a great product, or to build a great company to sell off? Or perhaps both? I think it’s important to know what type of company you’re with and their end goal. I wanted to build a great product, and that can take time.
- Is the organizational structure such that I can openly ask questions and voice concerns? An open culture breeds trust and good will.
- Are the flexible hours such that they allow me to work during my golden hours? Let’s be honest, creativity isn’t created equal throughout the day — and certainly doesn’t remain equal for too long. I like to work when I feel I can deliver my best performance, and that varies throughout the day.
- Is the vacation policy flexible enough that I can explore the world while I create great products? I love travelling. This question has cost me interviews in the past, but I’ll never regret “dodging those bullets”.
- How’s the dress code? My biggest decisions in the morning tend to be: do I want a french press, latte, or an americano?
I liked that there was transparency, and I probably didn’t do too poorly: I’ve been at TextNow for over 2 years now, and have moved from a backend development role, to team lead, to R&D.
TextNow took a calculated risk on me, but I was given the ownership over my success while the company supported me through it.
Surely I had proven that I could learn quickly based on evidence in my career, but I did really like that it was up to me to succeed.
Working at TextNow
This is what makes TextNow quite a unique place: the ownership is on the individual to make assessments, communicate, set their own goals, and achieve them; but there’s a whole company behind them. Always rooting for you, sometimes reminding you of the bigger picture, but always nimble to ask and act upon feedback. We’re not afraid of mistakes and to take educated risks — our biggest fear is going one day without improving the product or the organization.
In this model, I am an adult, a professional, and a whole person. I put as much effort as I can because this is a mutually beneficial relationship. This model has taken me to new personal and professional heights.
I have learned about VoIP, learned Android, learned Ruby, sharpen my PHP skills, learned to identify and evaluate risk, all while creating some of the coolest features in our product — and my career.
The organizational structure is relatively flat, but as we grow larger, we accept that we need to create new positions in the right places so that we can function better as an organization. We’re thorough in this process so that we can keep the nice perks, the culture, and the free beer around!
The product spoke to me at a personal level right from the start: I would love to use something like this in my travels. I love the idea of connecting to the internet and be able to receive calls without the caller having to download an app to contact me. But the fact is, you don’t have to be a traveler to fall in love with our features. Before having the TextNow app, my day would be full of anxiety if I forgot my cellphone at home. I would keep wondering if I missed texts or phone calls, but this problem doesn’t exist with TextNow. Our multi-platform support makes it actually very convenient to take a call or send a long message from a laptop.
Having worked in the calling feature over the last year, I truly believe that we’re at the cusp of a chain-reaction event that will change the industry forever. You see, offering a calling product that is based on the PSTN network is archaic, while offering a system based on VoIP alone can only be as reliable as the connection in the user’s end. An offering that seamlessly combines the availability of PSTN with the flexibility of VoIP is a winning combination, and this is exactly what TextNow is about. We are able to seamlessly mesh the VoIP and PSTN layers so that our users receive optimal service across a wide range of environments.
But getting here wasn’t easy. It’s taken many long nights and months of R&D, trips to Niagara Falls to test across different phone networks, and parsing over many thousands of device logs.
Does this sound a bit exhausting? Sometimes it was. But every idea that has made the product better came from within the team, and all ideas were heard and some acted upon. Together with the team we got really good at creating proof of concepts, identifying and evaluating risk, and our small wins eventually avalanched into bigger ones.
TextNow helps you make a difference by providing autonomy and flexibility within a framework of responsibility and respect. Our organization rewards good ideas and good habits.
After a few weeks at TextNow, I came to learn that our CEO worked as hard for this baby as no-one else I’ve ever met, and this is a quality that I highly respect. I hate bad coffee, bad beer, and mediocrity. Mediocrity is the worst addiction there is: easy to achieve, silently ever present, and therefore a hard habit to get rid of. A real killer.
Going Above and Beyond
In my opinion, Waterloo is the tech hub of Ontario. Regardless of what my Toronto or Ottawa friends think, this is where you need to be if you work in technology. The tech hub is strong and there are a lot of startups and mature organizations in the area. The house prices aren’t as disproportionate as in these other cities, and we have bike trails, hiking trails, and a great community feel.
There are very few companies in the Waterloo area that offer unlimited vacation. Even fewer companies that also offer catered lunch, beer on tap, unlimited groceries, four different types of coffee machines — whether you’re a one button sort of person or you’re a chemist, your coffee dreams will be realized here :). We organize social events so that we get to know each other better, we have a gym in-house so that your mind and body stay in harmony, and we throw awesome parties.
We can have all of this because the culture values responsibility and commitment at every level; because each of us is committed to each other and to winning big, we put our personal priorities and the business’ at equal footing so that we can achieve big things together.
Surprisingly, my favourite perk isn’t unlimited time off. I actually don’t take more than two or three days off every month or so. My perk of choice is working remotely, and having the flexibility and ownership of my time. For example, working remotely allows me to satisfy my personal goals of traveling while replenishing my creativity so that I can be good at what I do. Another great example of flexible time involves my morning routine, which includes watching the news — Peter Mansbridge and I have a date most mornings, and I like reading while having a cup of coffee. This is my recipe to a great day. Then I check emails from home, catch up on slack, etc, but realistically I’m not in the office until 10 or 10:30am.
A Great Place To Work
We take the whole work hard, play hard seriously. We throw big Christmas parties, and other socials such as Oktoberfest to prove it. The compensation package is generous: every employee owns a piece of the company so that you may benefit from your effort and the company’s success.
At TextNow we’re working towards something special and we like staying “hungry”. I would recommend TextNow to anyone who is well-rounded, loves their craft, is passionate, and is hungry for a new challenge. Your career surely has brought you a lot of experience, but you may not have reached your full potential yet.