BackHub got acquired – Tribute to a teal minded team

It’s finally public: our company BackHub got acquired by Rewind, a Backup as a Service provider from Canada. At BackHub, we are offering cloud to cloud backups for GitHub repositories. We have started it as a sideproject about seven years ago and were able to turn it into a successful SaaS business without any external funding.

I want to take a moment to reflect on what I think made BackHub successful from my perspective as teal minded entrepreneur. I’ve never mentioned BackHub in the context of this blog, because it never occurred to me, that it actually was a Teal Organization. I didn’t try to apply any self-organization framework or teal leadership principles here. After all, we were just a team of three. I realized however, that a lot of what I’ve learned about self organization and teal leadership, does in fact apply to BackHub as well. We have just been doing these things naturally and I believe this was part of our success.

The emphasis is on “natural”. At BackHub, things felt natural to me. We didn’t have fixed working hours, no formal procedures, no hierarchy, no overhead. It’s a lean team with an enormous output, good habits, focussed on the essentials, always making sure to provide value to our customers.

I think the challenge for leadership really is to preserve these good qualities of a small team on a larger scale, so people can do great work without management getting in the way. My theory is that a teal organization should feel like working in a small team, even on a larger scale.

So let’s have a look at how we’ve been working and how the principles of a Teal Organisation apply to us as a team. The three pillars of a Teal Organization are:

Self-Management

What does self-management actually mean? It means the team organizes itself without the need of a manager. Even in my formal role as the CEO, I never had to force a decision. I believe this is because we’re all very close to the customer. There is a sense of ownership. All we want is offering a great service. Everything that needs to be done, is naturally derived from this attitude. The more people get away from the customer in an organization, the more “management” is needed.

Okay, so we don’t need management. But how about leadership? Even leadership just emerged, depending on the situation. Sometimes it was Chistian who inspired us with a pioneering idea on how to do things radically different. Or it was Steffen, who’s a master in the art of continuous delivery, relentlessly making small but meaningful improvements. Or it was me with the latest customer story to guide us building a great product that customers love.

We also applied the advice principle naturally. Someone in the team wants to make a decision and asks the others for advice. Pretty natural in a team of three. When I had an idea for the product, I was asking Steffen and Christian for their opinion. It boggles my mind why and how this get’s lost in larger organisations. I’m on a mission to find out, but more on that in another article.

When I apply the advice principle, there is no insecurity about whether I’m “allowed” to do this or not. So much of what we call “insecurity work” falls away. I feel a need to change something, I can go ahead and change it with a sense of mission and urgency. There is no management getting in the way, no gatekeeper I have to convince. You might think this will eventually lead to poor decision and catastrophic failure. It doesn’t. The rule is, you have to seek advice from people who have experience in the matter and from anyone who might be impacted by your decision (including the customer!). Again, in a small team this is what you do naturally. But can this work in a large organisation? Sure it can! The company which actually defined this principle is a Fortune 500 with more than 8000 employees.

Wholeness

Christian, Steffen and I have been working together for more than 10 years now. We’re more than just a bunch of professionals who get together in order to get some work done. We’re friends. I think friendship is a good guide on what “wholeness” can mean in an organization. With a friend, I can be totally open about how I am feeling without fear of judgement. There is nothing I need to fake or hide. I don’t need to play the strong guy while in truth I have a moment of weakness and insecurity.

What’s important to me is that we are all familiar with Nonviolent Communication. NVC has become a life philosophy for me and I’m not surprised to see it on the rise in business as well. Building a company can be a tough ride. Being able to handle your feelings and needs and understand the needs of everyone in the team is key to survive. There are lot’s of things we could have fought over. We had moments of despair and frustration, and I remember we were close to giving up several times.

In those moments however, we’ve been able to support each other compassionatly. We helped each other to identify the need behind something that troubled us, and found effective strategies to meet the need. Sometimes those strategies were quite unusual. For instance, I remember that Christian had a need for more stability and so he decided to do a full time job at another company for a while. I could have raged about him leaving us alone in the mess, but I was clear about his need behind his action and was able to accept it.

In the context of Wholeness, I also want to mention the values we had identified while working at /gebrüderheitz together: Simplicity, Openness, Pioneering, Learn-To-Fail and Happiness. Having strong values can be a great guide when orientation is needed. Do we really need this feature? Nope, better keep it simple. Are we going to publish this as open source? We publish it, because we’re open. Can we do this radically different? Sure, let’s pioneer a new way.

Evolutionary Purpose

Lastly, let’s have a look at the Evolutionary Purpose. This is an interesting one, as it wasn’t so obvious to me for a long time, what the actual purpose of this business was. It got more clear to me, when we were participating in the German Accelerator Silicon Valley last year. Our mentors said it’s a lifestyle business we had built. Christian and I liked to call it a freedom business.

When we started out, our goal really was to build passive income. I remember getting excited when the first customer signed up and we had a $9 dollar passive income stream. Nothing is really passive however, and even a side project needs constant care. So in the end, we thought it’s probably best to cash in at some point and turn our freedom business into actual financial freedom (financial freedom is an illusion - the only real freedom comes with Demonitization). Anyway, the goal to reach financial freedom helped us to identify the right moment to sell and to come up with a selling price. Based on the 4% rule, we calculated how much money we needed to financially retire. We told Rewind this number during negotiation and in the end they were willing to pay that amount, so we closed the deal.

Now, besides this very personal purpose of our business, I acknowledge that BackHub also has an inherent purpose of its own. In the teal mindset, a company is considered an organism after all, and an organism has it’s own will and sense of purpose. BackHub’s purpose clearly is to protect our customers data from data loss. Therefore, it was important to us, to eventually find a buyer who is aligned with this purpose. We wanted to be sure to find a home for BackHub, where it can grow further and fulfil it’s purpose and full potential. I believe, with Rewind we have found the right company to do exactly that and so I’m very grateful that things have turned out well for us as a team, for BackHub as a business and for me personally.

We’re now working as a team inside Rewind to help with the transition, transfer know-how and expand to other git platforms. In the long run, I’ll continue to pursue my purpose of building teal economy and will likely build another business that is aligned with this purpose of mine. Stay tuned.


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