Talking to two veterans: Jakob and Rasmus

Next chapter in the “veterans stories” series!

Jakob started in Just-Eat.dk as a part time customer care agent after having been approached by one of the veteran-vetarans (Rune Risom), and in the beginning he didn’t even work at the Just-Eat office. Back then, Just-Eat was based on a farm outside of Vejle, i.e not really the Tech center of the world. In the beginning of 2005 Jakob then became full time, and quickly turned into “Mr Admin System”. Jakob has a unique insight into all the corners of our now very complicated back end systems, and has always been very helpful to learn new people about the systems.

Rasmus started in Evonax.com, which was a competitor that started operating just after Just-Eat.dk was launched in August 2001. That company ran into major problems (the founder hurriedly left the country, allegedly with the tax authorities chasing him, but that is another story), and Just-Eat tried to help Rasmus to save Evonax and then merge it with Just-Eat.dk. The stakes were high back then in 2003 since Evonax had no less than 100-200 orders a day and 50 restaurants in the network (!). Evonax faded away, but luckily Rasmus joined Just-Eat.dk as a developer. Well in fact, doing development was an evening job, because the CEO and co-founder, Jesper Buch, made sure Rasmus was busy in the daytime hours with admin tasks. That is the way you run a proper start-up: make sure everybody has four hands and two brains! Rasmus has had his involvement in almost all the existing systems of Just-Eat, and he recalls how easy it was to deploy in the old days: “no QA, no test environment, just deploy it directly and see what happens” he tells with a smile on his face. The link between him as a developer and those that wanted development was very agile to say the least, they sat around the same table, and things could be done on the fly. Classic start-up style, but as Rasmus also notes, it only takes you so far. Things had to change, and they certainly have; today we have as many in QA as we had developers 3 years ago. It has been a major – and not yet finished project – to reinvent the platform and tech approach so it scales better and new sexy development can be done faster and more securely.

Jakob and Rasmus has many interesting, fun and slightly scary war stories from the early Just-Eat.dk period, where a farm was the center of the Just-Eat universe. It would be too much to mention just half of them here, but one of the stories I have to publish, because it is pretty insane since another outcome on that story could have meant a very different and not so attractive path for the company.

One day in April 2005, the hosting supplier of Just-Eat.dk had to change one of the two disks in the rack. One disk had been down for some time, and it is risky only to have one operational disk, so that makes of course a lot of sense. However, when the disk no. 1 was changed, then the still operational disk no. 2 decides it is time to kill it self!

That is bad, but in normal circumstances this is no catastrophe, there are of course back-ups. This is where it starts to become scary. The hosting provider (no names mentioned …) explained that for some strange reason they did not have a back-up. Rasmus and the other Just-Eat guys then turned to their own mirror solution which they had in the office. However, with perfectly bad timing that mirror had stopped working 5 days earlier in such a way that not only had it not taken a back-up the last 5 days, but the last functional back-up from 5 days earlier had been over-written with nothing! The perfect storm had gathered and M/S Just-Eat was lying very low in the water.

According to Jakob and Rasmus, CEO Jesper Buch went to the toilet and threw up when he realised that Just-Eat had absolutely no copy of the platform, which had been developed over the previous 5 years. But true entrepreneurs don’t give up so easily so after a chaotic discussion then it was decided that 1) Rasmus should together with the second developer and Per Meldgaard (co-founder of FoodZoom which merged with Just-Eat) look for what ever code he could find on various computers, etc, 2) everybody and their friends & family had to work 24 hrs a day to enter data into the system (menu cards, etc.) and 3) the damaged disks should be send to Ontrack Data Recovery in London.

After 2 days 40% of the system had been reestablished and after 5 days they were up to 90%. And finally after one week, Ontrack came back with a recovered disk that had almost all the lost data. So, in the end the entrepreneurs did protect the company from a devastating problem. Many thousands orders were lost, restaurant and consumer badwill mounted, but they did get the ship back to harbour and soon everything was all happiness again. That’s a great story!

Jakob and Rasmus has seen many changes in the company the last couple of years as the company has grown and become more ambitious. Internationalisation and professionalisation has been high on the agenda, and they both welcome all of that, but they are also afraid that some of the cherished things of the past is under pressure. They both point to the fact that “in the old days”, they were much more involved in taking decisions for example on new products, etc., whereas today other countries and departments far away from tiny Denmark runs with ball, and their involvement is more fragmented.

This is the eternal problem companies face as they grow: how to maintain the involvement that secured crucial commitment from the entire company as you grow from 25 people to 150 people, and again when you grow from 125 to 500, etc. We try our best, and I am sure we are doing better than the average company of this size, but some compromises also have to be made, so every decision does not end up having to pass through layer and layer of people. Involvement is needed, it drives commitment, but we need to split up and specialise more than in the old days.

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