Key speaker for Zentyal Summit 2012 confirmed

Tom Henriksson from Open Ocean CapitalWe have confirmed the key speaker for Zentyal Summit 2012: Tom Henriksson from Open Ocean Capital.

Open Ocean Capital is a Venture Capital firm established by the founders of MySQL. They invest in community and open source start-ups to help them build scalable global businesses. Tom Henriksson, has a long and solid experience on developing and investing in new businesses, both at Nokia Corporation and Holtron Ventures (round A investors into MySQL AB).

In his presentation, “The keys to identify and scale category-winning open source companies”, Mr. Henriksson will summarize his experience to explain what an open source start-up needs to do to replicate MySQL’s success.

Very soon we will announce other presentations and workshops at Zentyal Summit. Seats are limited and they are filling up quickly, so if you are interested in attending, do not wait to register!

August 26th, 2012

Zenmersions, or how Zentyal staff does team building

Team building at ZentyalTeam building is a great philosophy in organizational development that helps considering employees as people working in collaboration with other people and teams, instead of as individual robots, achieving their goals due solely to their individual performance. Team building activities can range from simple exercises (like Helium Stick, Toxic Waste or Mine Field, to name a few) to multi-day retreats (full of such exercises).

Some people believe this is just cowpoo, and I agree that it feels a bit awkward and unnatural in the beginning to play silly games with your boss (or even with your boss’s boss). But on the other hand it is hard to break the ice and create the proper relationships in the typical work environment.

But in a start-up, team building is even more important, because you not only need to build teams from scratch, but also the whole company culture. And even worse, there is no budget nor time to set up such activities properly.

So, how do we do it at Zentyal? To begin with, it is common to meet after work once or twice a week to grab a few beers, have dinner, go to movies (the vintage old-fashioned movie theatre) or whatever comes to mind.

But the most enjoyable activities are the Zenmersions, consisting on several Zentyalers packing their bags and moving somewhere else (Internet connection is required) for 5-10 days of co-existence, recreational activities, brainstormings and telework. Usually they depend on individual initiative and funding and they are organized either at some colleague’s house (generously lent for the occasion) or at some city in Europe with an event deemed interesting for most of the staff. Obviously, it is voluntary to join the Zenmersion and for some it is hard to attend due to personal duties. Or some might just prefer keeping a clear division between work and pleasure, which is perfectly respectable. But most Zentyalers have participated in at least one Zenmersion and you can now feel a great comradeship atmosphere among he staff.

It all started from bencer, who invited the whole team to go and visit him in Germany during summer 2010. He eventually managed to gather eight of us and the experience was so good that we set up a similar gathering again a few months later. And again. And again.

Zenmersions are a lot of fun from the personal point of view, but they also help knowing your colleagues much better and creating stronger bonds within the team. Also, they are the perfect environment for brainstorming and many good ideas have emerged from them. Besides, there are plenty of funny stories during each Zenmersion that become good old chestnuts. I won’t publish them in this blog, but you can ask me during the Summit :-)

Here are all the Zenmersions organized so far:

  • Münster (Germany): the first and origin of all the barbarity. We came up with many of the catch phrases we use today at Zentyal.
  • Arnedo (Spain): a memorable Zenmersion at exekias’ home town. Rioja wine and The Settlers of Catan helped fight the cold winter days.
  • Brussels (Belgium): the first Zenmersion organized with the excuse of FOSDEM. We managed to close the Delirium Tremens four days in a row!
  • Budapest (Hungary): a barbaric Zenmersion organized with the UDS as our background. Lovely city, very original night-life and good new contacts in Ubuntu/Canonical that eventually lead to two partnership agreements.
  • Brussels (Belgium): second time in FOSDEM, the first time we reached 10+ attendees in a Zenmersion. It will always be remembered by a snow blizzard that collapsed the whole country. It took us four hours to get from the airport to the city!
  • Helsinki (Finland): a board of directors meeting was the excuse to bring the team and spend several days in Helsinki. White nights, Molly Malone and plenty of broken hearts. Our investors joined me and a few metal warriors to attend Tuska, the biggest Metal festival in Finland. And a few brave guys continued to experience the Nordic wilderness and fight the swarms of mosquitos.
  • Galicia (Spain): a delightful Zenmersion hosted by Javiv and J at Vigo, where eating was king. Oh, the lobster! Oh, the crabs! I got two kilos fatter in just 4 days!

Now you know what you are missing for not working at Zentyal 😉

Here are a few selected pictures to give you an idea of what a Zenmersion looks like:

Zenmersion in Münster - Learning teamrowing
Zenmersion in Münster – Learning teamrowing

Zenmersion in Arnedo - Javi's birthday
Zenmersion in Arnedo – Javi’s birthday

Zenmersion in Brussels - FOSDEM 2011 closing ceremony
Zenmersion in Brussels – FOSDEM 2011 closing ceremony

Zenmersion in Budapest - Statue of Anonymous
Zenmersion in Budapest – Statue of Anonymous

Zenmersion in Brussels - Afetr the Zentyal session in FOSDEM
Zenmersion in Brussels – After the Zentyal session in FOSDEM

Zenmersion in Helsinki - Tuska
Zenmersion in Helsinki – Tuska

Zenmersion in Helsinki - Rowing on a lake
Zenmersion in Helsinki – Rowing on a lake

Zenmersion in Galicia - Swimming pool
Zenmersion in Galicia – Swimming pool

Zenmersion in Galicia - Private concert
Zenmersion in Galicia – Private concert

3 comments August 19th, 2012

Zentyal Summit 2012 has been announced

Zentyal Summit 2012 has been announced
Original picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The Zentyal Summit 2012 has just been announced, with a more ambitious scope and plenty of surprises to disclose. Stay tuned for the spoilers! And register asap if you want to book your seat.

Disclaimer: the Indonesian children in the picture might be joyful for reasons not concerning Zentyal nor its Summit. In fact, they probably have not heard about Zentyal yet. Oh, unless they are gifted children with a passion for system administration, that could be. Anyway, they look merry.

July 31st, 2012

We are hiring (and Brahmin likes it)

Zentyal is hiring and Brahmin likes it
Original picture courtesy of TontonJon

Zentyal has just opened new positions as Cloud Developer and QA Engineer. Apply if you are interested, and stay tuned if you are still waiting for your dream position at Zentyal.

July 21st, 2012

Mono or multilingual community?

Multilingual communityTwo months ago there was a discussion in our forum proposing to make it English-only (it was mostly English, but there were two small Spanish and Portuguese sections). Almost at the same time, there was a petition to open a Dutch-speaking board. Which decision should we take?

Both options had good convincing reasons. If we standardized to English-only, we could avoid dispersion of information and isolation of groups of users in language-specific islands. Every comment, suggestion, solution and improvement could be shared equally for everyone in a common language. And Zentyal users need to have some level in English anyway, because no one can work in IT nowadays without understanding Shakespeare’s language.

However, even if people can understand written English, interacting in a forum is a different matter. Many users would feel more comfortable if they could do so in their mother tongue. So, forcing everyone in English might make us actually lose many interactions from potential users who can then start their own Zentyal forum elsewhere in their own language. The result would be eventually similar with either option, except that with an English-only forum, users interactions would be scattered in different sites, instead of different boards in the same forum.

With this rationale we eventually opted for a multilingual forum. We can open as many language-specific boards as required, with three conditions:

  1. The main forum language will remain English
  2. A board needs to have at least one person responsible for its moderation and maintenance
  3. Every useful contribution will be translated and shared in the English sections and/or in the community documentation

So, once we set these minimal rules, and once mmullenders kindly offered his help, we launched the Dutch board. The results have been very positive: the board started to get alive and during the 7 weeks since launch, it has accounted for some 5% of all the forum posts during the same time. More importantly, the number of Dutch forum member has increased by an astonishing 40%!!! Which means that either there were many Dutch who did not feel comfortable writing English, or that our SEO in Dutch has improved and we have been found by many new users searching in their mother tongue. That is easy to prove: take the words “VPN achter een proxy server” (VPN behind firewall), one of the topics started during the past 7 weeks. Now google them and the first result is our forum 😎 Proost Nederland!

Encouraged with these results, this week we launched the French board, again after a petition from the community and with a responsible for it (christian, one of our Forum Moderators, who happens to be from France). The results are even better: in just two days the number of posts in French have surpassed the total number in Dutch, and a google search of a topic started yesterday, with such a generic title as “Comment envoyer et recevoir des mails” (How to send and receive emails) is on the top 10 results!!! All I can say is: Mes félicitations à la communauté francophone! :-)

Now, when will we have boards in German and Italian? 😉

July 21st, 2011

7 tips on open-sourcing a project

CommunityOpen source is an attractive badge that most software vendors are eager to wear, especially in times when customers’ budgets are being tightened and their ears are keen to hear about cost cutting. However, many vendors’ approach on open source are filled with myths and false expectations, most probably because they did not experienced it by themselves.

During the last 10 years I have being deeply involved with open source business almost non-stop and from multiple points of view (system integrator, business association, software vendor, etc) and I have had the chance to discuss about it with many different people (customers, vendors, VARs, public sector, contributors, users, etc). So, I will try to sum up what I have learned in the way in just 7 tips, hoping to do my bit in understanding how software vendors can sensibly embrace open source.

  1. Know why you do it: once you open-source a product there is no way back, so you better know why you are doing it. There are many reasons why it would make sense for a company to open-source its technology. For example to improve the quality/functionality of its products, to grow its user base, to gain visibility, to prepare for international expansion, etc. However, open-sourcing will have a profound effect in many of the operations, from sales to marketing, business development and, of course, R&D. Have a very clear understanding of why you are doing so and communicate it internally before going forward.
  2. Make it useful: it seems an obvious tip, but I found several vendors planning to open-source their core product, but keeping an essential part under a commercial license. The result would be a useless piece of software, with no way whatsoever of doing anything unless you pay for the license. Needless to say it is impossible to develop a user community around a useless product. In addition, making a product difficult to install or undocumented will turn it almost equally useless.
  3. Be active: when a potential contributor stumbles upon your project, one of the first things he/she will decide is whether spending a few hours testing and learning about it will be worth his/her precious time. That is, does the project seem active enough and thus guarantee some continuity to make use of initial investments of time. If you just publish it and “let them come and code for free” (sic) you are very much mistaken. You need to show commitment with your own project, by fixing bugs, releasing new versions or answering questions in the forum, especially in the beginning regardless nobody is downloading it. Otherwise, you will not find valuable contributors
  4. Get ready for different kinds of contributions: many vendors have the wrong perception that the main contribution they might receive are “free programmers”. However, the value received from the community will probably have very different forms. To start with, testing and debugging is a cumbersome task that usually consumes around half of the total R&D resources in a product’s life cycle. A large community, by trying it in very different scenarios and by very different users, can hunt the most hidden bug. Moreover, localization, a costly task acting often as an important barrier for internationalization, can be another benefit that the community can bring to the table. User requirements, documentation, expert suggestions and, eventually, code can be some other valuable contributions as well. However, you need to make it easy for users to contribute and be ready to receive and process these contributions in an orderly way
  5. Plan ahead: to outsiders it might seem that communities spring out around any project like magic and that “build it and they will come” is the way to go. But that is far from reality. Developing a community requires a continuous effort in communication and promotion, as well as investing much energy in providing technical support and documentation for free. You might also want to open up your community governance to externals, which will require a careful design of rules and a plan to make it happen. All these tasks mean precious time and resources that should be reserved in advance
  6. Hunt the community champions: members in a community do not behave uniformly. In fact, a year ago I had a look at the behavior of Zentyal forum members and the results were enlightening: just like in Pareto principle, 20% of members were responsible for 80% of posts in the forum. That means that a community will very likely have a small core of enthusiasts, surrounded by a bulk of occasional contributors and users. You need to spot your champions and focus your energies on them
  7. Be patient: developing a community is a complex and long process of engaging in a conversation, creating trust, educating your users, sharing common goals and developing in common. It is not something that you can build in one day, but it will probably take a few years before you can call it a community

April 25th, 2011

Zentyal, five years alive and kicking

Cake ZentyalTime flies! It seems as it was yesterday when we presented Zentyal (then called eBox Platform) at the Chamber of Commerce of Zaragoza five years ago. It was a big thing, because that very day we were making the project open source software, allowing anyone to download and redistribute it, publishing the source code for free public scrutiny and starting the creation of a community.

As 5 years sounds like a round number, this might be a good moment to look back and summarize the lessons learned. I guess the main questions to answer are “If we could travel back in time, would we still make Zentyal open source? Is it worth it?” and “What would we have done differently?”

The first question is easy to answer: definitely yes. I cannot conceive Zentyal as closed source software and I wonder whether the project would exist today hadn’t we open it up then. I could sum up the lessons learned on the way in the following three points:

  • Open source is the best market test: you will learn quickly whether the product has any interest among users and whether it is wise to continue investing your time and money in it.
  • Nowadays in the software market, if you want fast growth and to become a relevant player in your market quickly, you need to be open source. If you prefer a slower, more traditional path of growth, you will probably be obsolete before you can become international.
  • You need to know what you make open source and why: on one hand, once you open up the code you cannot take it back, and it is not straightforward to generate a sustainable business model based on a free product; on the other hand, turning a user forum into a user community is a long and costly process, so you have to be ready to invest time and effort in the community, probably more than what you would initially expect.

And what would we have done differently? I would have had a community manager/responsible since day 1. And I would have created a community-based organization/rules since day 2 (if not since the very day 1). These are key aspects that will define how your users will interact with your project and how your community will evolve. And most importantly, you can only see the results in the long term, so spending a bit of effort in the beginning means big gains in the future.

Anyway, let’s not become too philosophical. This is a time of joy and there is a big chocolate cake waiting to be tasted (courtesy of Heidi, thanks!). Happy anniversary Zentyal and cheers everyone!

December 2nd, 2010

The pronunciation of Zentyal

ZentyalSome people have asked in the community forum how to pronounce Zentyal, as it does not seem straightforward in some languages. Well, the short answer is that we don’t care much about how people say it, as long as they say it :-) The long answer is to mix Zen and Essential and pronounce it your way.

However, if you still want more detailed indications, here is a list of how we believe Zentyal should be pronounced in different languages:

Flags borrowed from Wikimedia.

1 comment August 23rd, 2010


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