Last July, when Taco was visiting his LS web development team in Lviv, we shot an insightful video interview with him. In this conversation with our Drupal developer Oleg Chemerys, Taco looks back at his very first entrepreneurial pursuits and product-building journey, opens up about the times when he felt Open Social wasn’t going to fly, explains how he balances open-source features and paid modules, shares his thoughts on Drupal and its community, and a ton more.
Here are a few teasers from the interview to encourage you to watch the whole thing through:
Oleg: I remember the first time I met you, you had a different company called GoalGorilla. I was just wondering, was that your first business?
Taco: No, it wasn’t. I set up my first business with a university friend. There was this open-source PHP-based system OsCommerce back in the days, you could install your own complete web shop on a server with it. We were trying to do that and see if we could make it work — and it worked! We didn't have anything to sell in the web shop, though. Eventually, we started selling MP3 players which we imported from Korea and China, and we were quite successful. But we were still studying and had to make a choice at one point: are we going to continue this MP3 player business or are we going to continue with the studies? We chose to study and sold the company. That was it with my first real entrepreneurial experience.
Oleg: You had a successful digital agency. Why did you decide to change it into something new? When did the idea of changing into a product company appear?
Taco: We completed a very successful project for Greenpeace International, an online community for volunteers called Greenpeace Greenwire. Initially, we built it for the Netherlands, but then Greenpeace International said they wanted us to build it for all their volunteers globally. It was a massive project, we really liked building these communities and seeing the impact they made. In 2015, we won the Dutch Interactive Award for the project, which is the biggest prize you can get for this type of work. After that, we started getting a lot of requests for copies of this community. That project was fully tailored to Greenpeace, but we thought that maybe we could make a light version of this product and make it easily adaptable to specific organizational needs. That’s how Open Social was born in 2015.
Oleg: Do you have a lot of plans for AI and ML?
Taco: Yes. We have the same issues as Facebook: our communities are big, so we have to decide what we’re going to show users and how what we show will help our clients to meet their goals. That’s why we need to use AI and ML to give the best content and the best interaction between users, but we want to do it in a very different way than Facebook. For one, we want to give users transparency about why they’re seeing something, how they can change the parameters, and how they’re being targeted. Next year and the year after that we're going to work on that. Big tech companies are moving fast, too. They’re really good at engaging you, so if we want to compete with them, we need to have a system that is just as good. There's no excuse for us to say: we're an open-source startup, so our system is just not working well. That cannot happen, Open Social needs to be as good as the experience people have on, say, Facebook. That's the standard we will have to meet, but we’ll do it with a different mindset so we don't get toxic communities.
Oleg: Could you talk about your cooperation with our company, Lemberg Solutions?
Taco: Yeah. My partnership has always been great with Lemberg Solutions. We come from the same open-source community and we have the same mindset. Lemberg Solutions is trustworthy, transparent, and open in the relationship. If the team promises something, they're going to get it done. We talk on a daily basis with the team, and they're part of the Open Social company — some of them say on LinkedIn that they work both at Lemberg Solutions and at Open Social. They feel like a part of our company while at the same time having their own company culture at Lemberg Solutions: their own events, coaching, etc. It's been a really great partnership for six or seven years now.