Hmm... I had this title prepared for quite a long time as some will have already guessed at that point.
A promising startup
This adventure all started for me in January 2012 when I got hired by a tech startup in Bordeaux which name I won't write because I wouldn't want the freshness of my article to let search engines think the name of this company is a fresh topic. A startup with an ambitious, ground-breaking project envisioned by the genius Amar Lakel. I got hired by Thomas Parisot, CTO of the nascent company.
I had met Thomas 3 years ago at a Barcamp in Bordeaux (as it happens, we discovered 2 days ago that we had actually met 7 years ago but both had forgotten about it). Cool guy. Special personality; some find him obnoxious, but that wasn't my case. Some say he's changed a lot over the years. Meet him to make your own opinion.
A dev team
Soon enough, Thomas told me that 2 other may join soon. Guillaume Marty and Nicolas Chambrier. I had Twitter-met both of them (I had met briefly Guillaume at a local meetup too) and was looking forward to working with them. They did join. Guillaume first. Nicolas then as remote from Lyon. (there were other non-dev employees, but that's beyond this post).
We were working well together. We had a daily ~30 minutes Google Hangout to sync up with Nicolas (and were text-chatting or calling back during the day as necessary). Each was learning something from the others.
I remember once where Nicolas came by to Bordeaux and peer-programmed with Guillaume, they had a non-trivial task involving generating thumbnails. They did the code for that in one afternoon with all the useful options you can think of. That was pretty incredible.
The startup failed. When you say that to people they answer things like "building a company is hard" or pull stats about failing startups. I wonder if we've really been parts of these stats. The company started by raising almost half a million and after 7 months, there was nothing left to the point where the electricity company called once to threaten cutting it.
For sure, we found a market, but a market that sure didn't fit the time constraints we had (read: took way too long to sign a contract). But the lack of communication between sales and the rest of the company (10 persons!) was appaling. The lack of communication on how the money was spent by the CEO so quickly remains even at best suspicious. We even discovered the company was out of money because my June check was rejected by the bank (yes, a paper check, French people still use that. About a tech startup doing paper checks... don't get me started on that. Really don't.). Pretty much everyone (co-founders included) got screwed over pretty bad.
I wonder if this kind of startup failure is the norm or the exception. Anyway...
We all left the company in a way or another, at different points. Soon enough, Guillaume found a job in London. Nicolas is in Lyon and hasn't come back to Bordeaux (and he has few reasons to). Thomas and I found ouselves freelancing.
This experience got us all much closer to one another (common legal action to reclaim the unpaid salaries certainly helps :-) )
I remember once, Thomas called me. We chatted and then he told me how it was for him freelancing and that he knew he could do whatever he was asked, but that was different. When we were together he said "it felt like we were invincible, like we could do anything in a heartbeat". I hadn't thought about it, but the kind of energy we had together was pretty rare indeed.
As a sort of obvious thing, we had open sourced some code while working for the company. Any code that wasn't business critical and others could benefit from. This "doggybag" (never ask Thomas to name a project!) repo was more like a collection of open source libraries we were planning to sort out when having the time. We all left long before we had the chance.
So yeah, "the invincibles" sounds much better than "the doggybags".
Teamwork and London calling again
Over the last few months, Thomas and I were working at a coworking space in Bordeaux. We talked a lot about what we were working on, what we wanted to do next. We both found that working in a coworking space isn't enough to "compensate" the "freelance isolation" (apparently common syndrom of freelancers working from home). We understood together that nothing replaces the emulation and stimulation you have in a teamwork. You only have that when you work in a team.
Thomas found a job at the BBC and at the time of writing he's either in the plane or has just landed.