Born to be remote: how we built Reviewpad during the pandemic
João is a friend of Reviewpad and he asked us how we started the project.Here’s the story in his words.
Adriano Martins and Marcelo Sousa, the two founders of Reviewpad, are old university buddies. They met at the University of Minho in 2006, two fresh-faced software engineering freshmen, and their friendship would endure. Fast-forward thirteen years to 2019 and you’ll find Adriano in Brussels, working at the European Parliament, and Marcelo in Geneva, working at SonarSource.
They’re still in touch, however, and they want to work together. This is not news. They had discussed entrepreneurship in the past, but nothing was ever solid enough to materialise. This time, however, it feels different. Marcelo has been working on advanced security offerings, and he’s growing increasingly frustrated at code reviews. He understands their value, and how crucial they are. The software he’s building shouldn’t fail, so code quality is key. And yet, the review process feels like it hasn’t changed in years. Maybe decades.
We didn’t just want to do it for no reason, though, we wanted to make developers’ lives better
“Marcelo was the one who came up with the idea because he realised there was a sizable unexplored market there. We’ve discussed working together a lot, we were always looking for a project. We didn’t just want to do it for no reason, though, we wanted to make developers’ lives better. This is probably the most frustrating aspect of development right now” says Adriano.
Four cities, one company
How do you organise a company when both founders and the people they want to invite to their team are all in different places?
You go remote.
“When my girlfriend moved to Algarve, I was working in Porto. I wanted to be with her, so I came to an arrangement with the company I was working for at the time, which would allow me to split my time between the North and the South. We did this for a while, and then I moved to fully remote work. It worked out great.” says Tiago Ferreira. He was one of the two engineers that joined Adriano and Marcelo at the very beginning of the project. “I was working remotely already, so I didn’t really need to change anything in that regard.”
Xavier Vilaça, the fourth element of the original Reviewpad team, was in Lisbon.
The founding team knew they wanted to be fully remote from the beginning. No one was in the same place, and they weren’t interested in limiting their scope to the talent available in any given location.
“We always made it a point to do everything we could remotely. I had to travel to Portugal to sign a few papers, but that was pretty much it. Getting a business started has its bureaucratic challenges, but we did most of it by phone, mail, or email.” The accountant, the bank, the lawyers. Most of the people that helped set up Reviewpad never met anyone from the company in person.
By November, work started in earnest
“The goal was to have a hybrid model. We wanted to be able to operate remotely, but we also wanted to work together, meet, and socialise. It was never about having an office, but we did intend to get everyone in the same place for a week at a time, somewhere.” says Tiago. “Of course, that quickly became impossible.”
Work had been going on for three months when the lockdowns began. Everyone went back home. Gatherings and retreats were out of the question, and so was travel. The world was shut.
We built a company for the pandemic unknowingly
“On the one hand, we built a company for the pandemic unknowingly” says Adriano. “The only practical thing in terms of our operations that changed was that we couldn’t do our meetings, which were always meant to be quite sporadic anyway. Our real concern was helping make sure everyone was handling it well on their side.”
With a fully remote company working in earnest, and every one of the company’s members relishing doing their job as a form of remaining focused and busy during a time when most activities were banned, the product grew.
“Initially, we were developing a sort of GitHub extension. We wanted to extend things to a tab within Github that provided extra info during reviews. We ended up doing a couple of iterations of this, but then we realised the concept wasn’t ideal. We could do better” says Tiago.
That meant bringing more people in.
Hiring over the Internet
“I didn’t expect much from the interns,” says Adriano. “I had interns in the past, and of course they did their jobs, but..” he says, visibly trying to find the kindest words possible. “I could’ve handled what they did myself with no problem. I always felt like internships were more valuable to the intern, who is learning a lot, than to whoever is training them.”
This wouldn’t be the case.
It went incredibly well. Everyone who joined did fantastic work
“All the interns blew our minds,” says Adriano. “Hiring people over the Internet is a bit unnerving, and so is managing a team, because you can’t feel the room. You can’t tell if someone is excited in the same way. You can’t feel their frustration or discomfort either. And yet… It went incredibly well. Everyone who joined did fantastic work.”
One of Reviewpad’s original two interns, Cheila, would go on to be hired by the company.
“I mean, look, she wrote code in her first week that would go on to be in our product, that we shipped to customers. It’s unbelievable,” says Adriano.
The team was growing. The product was being built. And yet, the pandemic dragged on.
Feeling the strain of lockdown
“I missed running the most, I think,” says Tiago. “I was already used to working remotely, you know? Not having that watercooler talk with your colleagues, those moments of in-person camaraderie. Sometimes it sucks, because you’re frustrated with work, and you can’t just go for a beer after. That I was used to. Not running? Being stuck at home? Not so much.”
Aside from Cheila, who made her way to the team via her internship, every single member of the Reviewpad team went to University together, including Rui Santos, who joined a little later than the original four. They were and are friends. The mental health of the team was a concern both for professional and personal reasons.
These people are banking their future on our company
“When you’re trying to get a startup going, you can’t offer your team the same conditions or security that a bigger company can. That’s inevitable. One of the things that can make the difference in hiring truly talented people is whether they can trust you,” says Adriano. “We contacted people we knew for fifteen years because they know us. They know we’re serious. There is no way a startup like ours could’ve gotten developers of this level of skill if they didn’t know how serious we were. With that, of course, comes great responsibility. These people are banking their future on our company.”
Reviewpad developed a number of digital social activities, and actively tried to think up ways of getting people to socialise in a non-work environment. All of this via computer screen. Games, such as Gartic Phone, or Jackbox Party games, played a huge role, but also simply learning to switch off.
We had to learn how to switch off. How to do small talk, discuss current events and the news. Act like we’re in an office
“Marcelo and I struggled a bit because we were trying to do too much. We thought… well, there’s work to be done, and it’s not like I’m going anywhere, so I might as well just work the whole weekend… and eat at my desk… and that’s not healthy. We had to learn how to switch off. How to do small talk, discuss current events and the news. Act like we’re in an office.”
“We were lucky because we already knew each other. We were so lucky,” says Tiago. “We gave each other breaks, in the most frustrating times, that we maybe wouldn’t have given people we didn’t know well. We were all scared, and managing this stress without the ability to just go out for a beer is awful. We’re all glad it’s over.”
Opening up means meeting up
As soon as sanitary conditions and government guidance allowed, Reviewpad emerged from its cocoon. In possession of a functioning prototype, and with a team that had withstood a truly grueling time in all our lives, the team met.
“It was truly delightful,” says Adriano. “We were so ready for that. To be together, bounce ideas off each other, laugh a little. The work we did in three days was what we would’ve done in like a month.”
The team hadn’t gathered for over five months. And yet, it all clicked.
“There’s a human element to working together. Working remotely is awesome, and it has a ton of advantages, but there’s something about just hanging out with your mates that can’t be replicated,” says Tiago.
Reviewpad is now operating as planned. The remote structure allowed them to work all the way through the pandemic with no hiccups. The reopening is now allowing for the meetups to strengthen the company’s core.
Now I am genuinely excited
“When I first joined, I thought this was a good idea. I understood the potential. I wanted to be a part of it. But now? Now we have an actual product, and it works amazingly well. I am building Reviewpad using Reviewpad. We use our own product to do our code reviews, because it already is miles ahead of anything else out there. I was into it from the get go, but now I am genuinely excited,” finishes Tiago.
Do you want to know what he means by that?
All the hard work the team put in during the pandemic has translated into this. You can try Reviewpad now, for free.