Friday, November 9, 2007

Small is good

One of the most popular questions we get at trade shows is, "How many people work at MailFoundry?". Lately I've been asking back, "Why do you ask?" and the common theme is because we're being innovative and doing things that people claim is impossible (ZERO false positives WITH 98+% kill rates on spam) they are wondering just how we're doing what we're doing. Everyone is surprised when I tell them "...less than 20".

I'm a big believer that a small, highly focused team can accomplish more in less time than larger, more complex groups of people given the same project. This philosophy was anchored in my brain back in my early teens as I discovered how Kelly Johnson and his now famous Skunk Works at Lockheed Martin worked to build truly revolutionary airplanes some of which (SR71) are still unequalled 40+ years after their first flights.

In addition to the team being small, it needs to be flat. Seclusion is also an important ingredient, and it also helps that the work space be, how shall I say, less than desirable? No plush offices, no high priced furniture and even things broken all contributed to increased productivity of Kelly's group.

When I spun off the group that is now MailFoundry in the winter of 1999, we moved from the larger group in the middle of the night into the basement of a building I had recently bought. We didn't tell anyone we were leaving, or where we were going. Not even my management team knew what we were up to. There was construction going on and we were almost impossible to find. They saw our cars there, but it took some of them weeks to locate us. This enabled us to get development back on track and set the stage for what was to follow. As the team has grown and shrunk over the years, one thing rings true - when we're small, flat and fast, everyone is happiest and we turn out our best work.

Are you small, flat and fast?

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