6 Questions with Enrique Posner, Co-Founder of Taiga

Enrique Posner is the Co-Founder of Taiga,an open source project management platform for developers, designers and project managers.

1. How did Taiga.io come about?

Taiga.io was spun out of a Madrid-based technology consulting company called Kaleidos. Kaleidos is a group of very talented, young software engineers and designers who build software using Open Source tools. I joined them as an investor some years ago.

I was attracted to them not just because they are hugely talented, but also because every year they stop working for clients to do a hackathon called Personal Innovation Week – PiWeek.

For one sleep deprived week every six months they team up to develop personal projects, and must take it from concept to working prototype. As the investor & entrepreneur that I am, I always hoped that I might become enamored by one of their personal PiWeek projects — and sure enough Taiga.io came along.

When I first saw Taiga (called Greenmine back then), I thought it was cool, but I was underwhelmed from a business point of view. I wasn’t sure the world needed another project management tool.

The team kept insisting that they disliked all the other tools which they were bloated, too ugly, too expensive, or too complex – and there were no good open source options. Still, I wasn’t persuaded.

One day I started wondered how project management might combine with the fast growing trend of freelancing and of the “gig economy” that is now reshaping the very nature of work.

I thought that perhaps the future of project management could involve a single tool that both helps manage a project and source the talent interested in being part of a project, not as full time employees, but on an outsourced, part time basis, hired specifically to solve a given task.

It’s amazing to think that in 2014, 100 billion lines of open source code were written by people who charged nothing for doing the work.

Android for example was built by 2168 contributors from all over the world, who working informally wrote 13.4 million lines of code, dedicating 4,227 person years to that effort.

At regular market rates they should have been paid over $230 million and yet no money was exchanged. On the other hand founders and company managers know how difficult it is to find and retain talented engineers.

What if a platform existed that could help people and projects find each other for the purpose of solve specific tasks, and which could also serve both by coordinating the collaboration?

Internal teams who need on demand resources to meet a deadline could benefit, as could an engineer with spare time and the desire to earn extra bucks.

Once I got my head around that idea, and hearing from our coders that it wasn’t crazy, I knew this would be something worth building. Vert early on it was decided it would be offered through an open source license.

The code we would create was not the core of what we were building. It was a community we were after.

We launched the Project Management tool in October of 2014 and we now have over 85,000 registered developers, designers and project owners. The employment marketplace module called Taiga Tribe which will really kickstart our community play, launches in January.

1.2 Can you tell us a little about your role and what you do at Taiga?

Kaleidos’ CEO Pablo Ruiz and I, together with the core engineering team founded Taiga.io. I took the role of co-CEO together with Pablo. I am not a coder, so I look after all our business affairs while Pablo keeps the wheels oiled on the technical front.

Pablo is an experienced entrepreneur himself so we also share some responsibilities on the business front like any co-CEO team would. It took some time for me to earn the respect and trust of the technical team.

Now I also play a role as a project owner, serving as the voice of the customer. Because the target users of Taiga.io are people exactly like the ones building it, the technical team have an almost instinctive understanding of what will be technically satisfying and appealing from a UX / Ui point of view.

However, I’m the voice in the room making sure we balance the technical needs with the overall business goals.

2. Can you tell us a little about your go to market strategy, current growth/marketing channels are working for you right now?

Our main strategy from launch until now has been to “be” Open Source. It took me a while to understand the nature of the growing Open Source movement, but now that I do, I attribute to the Open Source community much of our notoriety.

Though there are many wonderful project management tools out there, with all my respect, there were no good ones that were also open source. The day we launched Pablo said to me that already that day we are the best Open Source alternative out there.

Sure enough scarcely a month after we launched, the Red Hat sponsored open source.com named us one of the 10 Open Source tools of the year. That gave us a massive boost and great notoriety within a very specific demographic.

The other remarkable launch-day event was a post I placed on Hackernews which unexpectedly went to number 1 almost as soon as I posted it. Hackernews was incredible, in fact it has It has taken us 13 months of continued operations to reach the level of unique visitors that we had the month we launched.

We were totally unprepared for that level of traffic, and it speaks volumes of our team that our servers didn’t crash. This week when discussing our January launch plan for Taiga Tribe, the technical team begged me not to post again on Hackernews without their consent.

I laughed out loud — I wish I knew what it was that I did the first time! Whatever it was, I’m fairly certain I won’t be able to do it again… Which is not to say I won’t try.

I wrote a lot more about our launch here: How to launch an American Startup

We are a truly bootstrapped affair. To date we’ve raised $614,000, primarily from friends, family, some angels, and most importantly from our own software engineers and clients of Kaleidos. We decided that the bulk of that money would be spent building our software.

From the outset I knew I would had virtually no money for advertising or publicity.

We don’t do any structured work on advertising and PR other than responding to interview requests like this, posting on various sites, e-mailing our user base (very infrequently – we hate spammy sites) and maintaining our Twitter account.

I think we may have spent less that $1,000 on PR/advertising altogether!

We are now growing pretty consistently at a rate of 11% month-over-month. In November we had over 8,000 new registered developers, designers, and project owners.

Interestingly, we’re seeing users not just from startups and young companies – which we expected, but also users from large Fortune 500 companies. That was a surprise. The growth is largely driven by word of mouth.

There’s also some virality involved in that a project owner will invite team members to join, and these in turn start their own projects and share the tool with their networks.

In terms of traffic referrals, the largest source by far is Github, followed by opensource.com, alternativeto.net, stackoverflow.com and Facebook. Facebook is interesting given that we actually don’t use that channel at all.

Being Open Source, we offer our project management tool for free, and that of course is a big driver. Taiga.io will always be free for users who agree to make their projects public. Those who prefer privacy will pay a modest monthly fee based on number of projects.

People who use Taiga Tribe to source talent to perform specific project tasks will pay 10% of the amount they agree for the job.

Once we do begin charging for these services (in February) we will need to change our growth/marketing strategy. But before we make too many decisions, we want to see how the expected 100,000+ users will behave, what services they value and what we will actually earn for providing those services.

Only then will we decide how much we can prudently spend to capture a new user that wouldn’t have come to us organically at no cost.

3. What is the biggest mistake you have made with Taiga so far that other founders can learn from?

We made a choice at the outset to build a company that could quickly become self-sustaining, and to do so without actively seeking the support of institutional VC funding.

With just over $600,000 we have built our software and with approximately another $400,000 that we are now raising, we plan to become cash-flow positive by December 2016.

But given the enthusiasm with which people have adopted our tool, I do ask myself if we wouldn’t have a much larger user base had we spent more money or been smarter about growth hacking strategies.

We don’t have that expertise in house and perhaps it’s a mistake not to have spent some money finding someone great on the community management and provided them with a budget.

Should we have tried, as so many others do, to raise a larger amount, perhaps from established VC’s and chose to operate at a loss for a lengthier period of time?

I don’t read much about companies willingly choosing adopting this “go it alone” strategy as it runs contrary to the current unicorn (God I hate that monicker) wisdom that feeds the whole financial underpinning of the tech industry.

I have no specific aversion to VC’s. In fact I have enormous respect and admiration for them. I have great friends who are VC’s and would want to learn anything they would want to teach me.

But when you accept institutional money it is important to understand that you are buying into a set of timings and expectations to which you must adhere.

For now we do not have those pressures, and I like that. But perhaps in our rush to avoid them, we are inadvertently put a lid on our growth. I’m not sure… Would love to know what others think.

4. Let’s talk you… what apps, blogs, and tools can’t you live without?

On the blog side, I use Feedly to zip through Techmeme, HackerNews, Lifehacker, Phys.org, Tech Crunch and The Next web. I couldn’t live without Spotify (nor could my kids) or Netflix, but everything else could disappear.

I would miss Uber, HailO, and other apps that make moving around easy. I’m from the generation that appreciates, sees the value and understands Instagram, What’sApp, Twitter and Facebook, and such, but as a user I’m totally indifferent to them. In fact I’m glad no one expects me to post periodic updates of my activities or whereabouts!

5. What’s your best time-saving shortcut or life hack?

I have a feeling I’m not your typical startup founder. For starters, I co-founded Taiga.io when I was 49, which doesn’t feel old, but it does look old just now that I typed it. Having been around the block a couple times, I have to say I’m not focused on being hyper efficient with my time.

I don’t like to waste it, but I’m not looking to squeeze extra seconds out of my day. I totally understand why at 25 one wants to perform all day as though one were a peak athlete. But at this stage, I’m perfectly content letting time slip by as it will.

The two things I avoid like the plague are meetings and commuting. At Taiga lengthy meetings are very rare. The team does have a 10 min morning technical call I used to attend religiously, and we have 60-90 minute end-of-sprint meeting and retrospective meeting which I try to attend.

I hate meetings. I find them wasteful and want them to be as short and concise as possible. Commuting is another huge time sinkhole. At Taiga.io our team only assembles physically on Monday and Fridays, the rest of the days people are free to work from home. Works like a charm.

6. What resource have you watched/read/listened to that’s had the biggest impact on your business/life so far this year, and why?

I just finished reading David McCullough’s wonderful biography of the Wright Brothers. Aside from being a great read, there’s much to learn about the virtue of patience and about the nature of disruptive change and how it ripples through society in unexpected ways.

While it’s true that news traveled very slowly back in 1901, I was amazed by just how long it took for people to understand the importance of something as disruptive as was the controlled flight which the Wright’s pioneered that year.

The U.S. government for instance, who stood the most to gain from what the Wright’s were doing, completely and proactively ignored them for the better part of 5 years, and only really engaged with them almost 10 years after that first flight.

Reading it, I was reminded that things that are worth building take time. It takes time to develop them and then it takes time for people to find them, to try them, to fall in love with them, and then to make them part of their lives.

News travels much faster now, but there’s so much more of it. It may be that cutting through the clutter is no less of a challenge today than it was for the Wright Brothers back then to persuade people they had really flown, and that there was some utility in being able to fly!

My advice to founders is to make sure they have bought enough time from investors. It always takes longer than you think.

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