The Origin of Feats
From Copenhagen with ❤️
Every product is a reflection of the people who made it. In this post, I hope to give you a sense for who we are and why we are building Feats. Our goal is to make Feats a part of your journey, and you a part of ours.
Feats was founded in December 2018, by Mark Ronan, Victor Duarte, and me (Michael Sherain), as a spin-out from Quadric, a consulting company based in Copenhagen, Denmark. We’re self-funding development of Feats with consulting projects. There’s more on our team below. But first, what is this all about?
It was a slow birth. The original project was a brand analysis tool for Quadric, with Hollywood-style professional credits as an add-on. Initial users liked one thing or another about what we had built, but we gradually realized it was too complex. We needed to choose.
As consultants, we were passionate about the analysis tool — it was finally possible to quantify the focus and alignment of brands. But, we all knew that helping people get credit for their work was a far more important mission. We believed that, in the future, people would hire and be hired based on what they had done, and who they had worked with, rather than where they had worked or for how long they had been employed. CV-oriented professional networking was stuck in the past. ‘Project networks’ were the future, and verified credits would play a central role.
Feeling the pain, seeing the opportunity
Quadric has always used a “network” model for its projects, with a core team pulling together larger teams of freelancers and other consultancies on a project-by-project basis. The Quadric core team focuses on strategy projects, then outsources to these project teams to implement recommendations. This gives Quadric flexibility while ensuring that recommendations are unbiased by in-house capabilities or overhead.
Over the years we’ve collaborated with a wide range of designers, writers, art directors, 3D animators, filmmakers, event planners, and others involved in transforming brands and launching companies after carve-outs and mergers. We’ve built trust through the projects we’ve done together, and we all rely on these relationships for future projects.
We have always thought of this model as mirroring Hollywood, with unique, talented teams coming together for each project. Unfortunately, there is one thing missing from that picture. In Hollywood, everyone gets credit. Public credit. In our world, few ever do, including ourselves.
Client contracts restrict our right to claim credit and require us to pass the limitations on to our employees and sub-contractors. We’ve often succeeded in adding a clause that allows us credit with prior approval, but that approval has also been withheld for no reason. At times we’ve had to ask sub-contractors to remove work from their sites or portfolios, due to clients’ requests and our liability fears.
In July, 2018, we even received an email from a company acting on behalf of the Maersk Group, a client of ours, asking us to remove a project reference on our website because, “As a general rule, companies affiliated with Maersk Group are by the standard terms in their contract not allowed to promote this affiliation publicly.” Unfortunately, there is nothing unusual about this. “As a general rule,” few people are able to claim public credit, and even fewer are actively given credit by those who hire them.
We felt the pain, personally and for the people in our project network, and we decided to do something about it. But, the path has not always been clear.
2015–2016: Prototyping and learning
Benjamin Algreen Adler joined Quadric as an intern in 2015 to build the first prototype of our brand analysis tool. It demonstrated a new way to determine which core idea a brand wanted to stand for. Then, to quantify how focused and aligned the brand’s activities were with the core idea that mattered to it. The result was an index that ranked brands in a new way. Unlike brand indices based on awareness, valuation or other scale metrics, this index could inspire and guide future decisions in all areas of a company of any size. Prior to that, we had only hypothesized that such an index was possible, now we could see it taking shape. Benjamin’s work was thought-provoking, but we put the project on hold nonetheless.
A few months later, we picked it up again by hiring Martin Andersen as a freelance designer to build the next prototype. Our thinking was very much guided by our interest in brands, but in this prototype we could see the network of people behind each brand — the beginning of credits. Interviews with potential users were encouraging. In late 2015, Mark and I decided that it was time to either take the project seriously, or not, and hired Victor to lead development.
Early in 2016, Erik Fiala joined as a student UX designer and Július (Jules) Retzer as an intern front-end developer. It was a young, but capable team, with a strong belief in the project. In late 2016, Ahmed Magdy joined to help with back-end development and DevOps. Quadric consultants also started helping out, with Lioba Brand doing project management and Nicole Fung and André Rossi doing testing.
We applied for a grant from the Danish Innovation Fund but were rejected. We solicited feedback, applied again, and won a grant to supplement our investment. That feedback loop, and the successful application that resulted from it, were instrumental in shaping our direction.
By the end of 2016, we had a brand analysis tool that was truly unique. People running large brands, both clients and non-clients, were giving positive feedback. But, we had a relevance problem — the challenge of collecting enough data to analyze enough brands to make the index broadly relevant.
Our solution was to build a specialized professional network behind the brands to crowdsource the data we needed. Unfortunately, as we added the network features the product became complex. Even more than the complexity of the user experience, initial users felt that combining brand analysis with project credits was a problem. Credits are factual descriptors of each person’s role. Brand analysis was essentially evaluating the impact of their work. The combination of giving credit while evaluating work was at best distracting, but more likely, conflicting.
We had to face the fact that what we had built was not what we should launch broadly. Slightly frustrated, but also relieved that we had figured this out, we entered 2017 knowing we needed to simplify and clarify our direction.
2017: People want, and need, credit for their work
By early 2017, Jules had left for an opportunity at Danske Bank, and we had hired Erik full time. We decided to find another intern with front-end development skills and turned to AIESEC which was how Victor had come to Denmark from Brasil a few years earlier. We quickly had three top candidates located on three different continents. The move was a big commitment, so we gave them a coding test to give us certainty about the choice. Ironically, Carlo Gabriel Pascual was so young, but his code was so good, that we wondered if he was taking credit for someone else’s work! If you know Carlo, you know he would never do that, but at the time he was just a name and face on the other side of the world. Beyond incredible coding skills, Carlo proved to be one of the best at articulating why helping people get credit for their work is so important.
At this time, others were also teaching us about the importance and challenges of credits. Deborah Bayer Marlow, a producer of large film projects, told us about using spreadsheets to keep track of the hundreds of people she’s worked with from project to project. Charlie Fisher, a creative director, described how he gave credit to project team members through Instagram posts, but worried about accidentally forgetting someone. Claus Mollebro, a partner and creative director in an ad agency, shared his experience of going freelance for a period — struggling to collect all his work and build a portfolio site. Wakana Sakihama, Head of Corporate Branding at Coloplast, wore both personal and corporate hats as she joined our tests.
Interviews also revealed that the need for professional credit reached far beyond the world of brands and marketing. For example, an architect shared a confidential story about giving credit to thirty people on his project’s Wikipedia page. Then, seeing the managing partner of his firm remove the credits. Twice. From brands and buildings to apps, automobiles, and events, everyone deserves credit for their work but it is not as easy as it sounds.
We entered 2018 with renewed belief and commitment, and major challenges ahead.
2018: Focusing our mission, splitting our product
The brand analysis tool would be used by Quadric consulting, but would no longer be part of our product. That was obvious. But, there were many other product decisions that needed a fresh perspective. Luckily, RJ stopped by Copenhagen in Spring 2018 on her way to speak in Belgium.
She took our team through a two-day sprint that resulted in a completely restructured product, focused entirely on credits. It was called “Cred”. The name didn’t stick, but our minds had been transformed. All our experiments had built up some technical debt, so Victor’s decision to rebuild the product from scratch was not a hard one. But, it was still daunting.
Coming out of that summer, user feedback had a very different tone. We could start to see it becoming a business someday. It was time to get the formalities in place.
Mark, Victor, and I emerged from a weekend naming session with “Feats.” It had the double meaning of “achievements” and “featuring”, and the right feeling. Erik designed the identity. By December 2018, Martin von Haller Grønbæk had given us his legal perspective on professional credits, helped us secure the “Feats” trademark, and got a shareholders agreement in place.
Helping people secure their legacies, as one can think of professional credits, is a big responsibility. Until that point, we had only used test data. The first permanent credit in Feats was given to Borislava Kyurkchieva, a former Quadric consultant, for a project we had done together.
Watching credits spread was an incredible feeling. First, between people we knew. Then, between people, we had never heard of. The viral effect worked. Feats will become not just a static list of credits, but a vibrant professional network of people who can count on each other.
2019: Making it real
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, said, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” We are proud of our product, but we also know there is a lot to be done.
Like the early days of LinkedIn, this year is focused on building the network. We will use our social accounts as an extension of our product, serving the same mission. And, we will keep listening to our users, and improving.
Our ambition is to empower you while taking as little of your time as possible. Feats’ core features will always be free: verified credits, a profile you control, and a project network you can count on. At some point, we expect to generate revenue from a marketplace and advanced features.
LinkedIn is the giant that people love to hate. We see it a little like Instagram must have seen Facebook. A focused start-up can grow up next to a large incumbent. Project history is very different than employment history, as are the networks that emerge from each.
We are here to help everyone, in every project, get credit for their work. We hope you will join us!