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Interview with Darwin Gosal, CryoWerx
Transforming food service in Singapore with an open culture model
Darwin Gosal is a visionary technopreneur in Singapore who believes in societal value creation. His company, CryoWerx, developed a smart fridge that allows users to conveniently purchase fresh food. Gosal says the company contributes to open source software projects as part of its work.
To flatten its structure and maintain agility as it grows, CryoWerx has adopted holacracy as its approach to management. I chatted with Gosal about the impact this had on CryoWerx's organizational dynamics.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background. How did you get involved in IT and start your own company?
I wasn't born in Singapore but in Indonesia. When I was 10 years old, my dad gave me a computer and I started learning Basic and Pascal programming. I wasn't exposed to Linux until the age of 16, when I first got a dial-up Internet subscription. Although I was offered a scholarship to study computer science, I was more interested in quantum computing, so I turned down the offer and went to study physics at the National University Singapore (NUS).
After I graduated in 2003, I did some research jobs—in the field of quantum computing and cryptography. While I was still at a research center, I started to become more interested in IT. The research center needed infrastructure management, so I helped them with it. I am crazy about IT automation, DevOps stuff, and continuous integration. I also help to automate the infrastructure with Puppet. Small things happened and I gradually found out that lab work was not my cup of tea—doing IT stuff was. So in 2007, I made a switch to IT.
Other than that, I am a food fanatic. I really love food. I cook, blog, and join cooking competitions. I entered my first cooking competition when I was 14 years old. It was really fun and meaningful. I believe that good and healthy food enables people to live healthy and learn well.
About 2013–2014, the Singapore government introduced some new policies to set a maximum amount of foreign workers in a company. This caused the food and beverage industry (which is already struggling) to experience more manpower issues. Restaurant queues seemed to get longer. As a person who loves food and is obsessed with automation, I saw this as an opportunity. I wanted to automate it and solve the manpower issues for the industry. Hence, I started my own company.
What motivated you and your company to contribute back to open source?
Well, my company and I use a lot of free and open source software, and we benefit a lot from it. So, naturally, it's the right thing to do. Other than that, when we open source some of our projects, and some members of the open source communities contribute to our projects. Through the power of collaboration, this increases the amount of features we will be able to have in our core product. Again, we benefit from the open source community.
You once mentioned that you did not consider proprietary software at all, why so?
It's not that I do not consider proprietary software, but rather that I have a strong preference for open source software. When I was an undergraduate, I was more like Stallman, who is someone with strong beliefs about free software. These days, I am much more of a pragmatic person. I will use proprietary software only if there are no open source alternatives.
The main reason why I choose open source software is because I do not wish to have my product taken hostage and be at mercy of a software company. If a software company chooses not to patch their proprietary software, there is absolutely no way I will be able to fix it. I will be at their mercy. Whereas for open source software, I can either fix it myself or pay someone to patch it for me. On top of that, the patch can be contributed upstream, and everyone else will be able to benefit from it.
You mentioned that your company adopted holacracy. Why embrace open management principles?
In this age of rapid change, I strongly believe that even a big company can lose to a smaller company with more agility; only the most agile company can win. Without open management, your company will move slowly, due to the large amount of bureaucratic processes involved in traditional management. There will be a huge amount of latency, and messages, that more often than not get filtered out by middlemen. Open management offers an agile solution, it enables companies to swiftly execute, adapt, and change. Things can get done in the most efficient and effective way. The idea of decentralized power and transparency also appeals to me.
What kind of companies do you think benefit the most from adopting an open culture?
Most companies would benefit quite equally. Open management improves a company's agility. Organizations like spy organizations or super private offshore banks, for example, won't benefit from open culture. Secrecy is their primary concern.
What kind of employees do you think will be able to thrive in open cultures? Do you think you can convert close minded people to become people who thrive in open cultures?
The term "open culture" could mean different things to different organizations. For example, Buffer implements open salaries, which is also a way to promote an open culture. In general, people who are slow to judge, open minded, less cynical, optimistic, and a team players are employees who will be able to thrive in open cultures. As with any open culture, collaboration is important and these personalities allow great room for it.
I think it is challenging to change a person because we are dealing with personality, which is something that even psychologists have difficulty with. Companies usually do not have the energy nor time to convert. A closed-minded person would be destructive to the team and destabilize the company.
What do people outside the company think about your open culture and your open management principles? How do you explain these things to them?
The locals think that I am crazy and that it is a foreign concept that will only work in western countries. I disagree with them.
I believe that it can also work in Asian countries. From my observations, newer and younger generations want to work in an open culture. On top of that, I believe that an open culture allows us to extract the best talents. It gives people the freedom to do their best.
When I explain it to younger people, they understood it easily and have found it very attractive. However, I find it very difficult to explain it to older generations. The concept of an open culture is very unacceptable to them.
As your company grows, will you stick to your open principles? How will you do it?
Yes, I will definitely stick to them. When I have a sufficient number of employees, we will establish constitutions. These constitutions are foundational to holacracy, and we will use them as guidelines for the company.