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From Meteor to Chroma

Deciding to start a new company

Tom Coleman
Last updated:

Chroma is defined as the purity or intensity of color. As a word it describes a visual property, as a company it embodies years of collaboration between Zoltan Olah, Dominic Nguyen, and myself. Nearly two years after we decided to sell Percolate Studio, our consulting shop, and join the Meteor open source project, our team is again at the start of a new venture. Follow along to see how we got here and what’s next.

It’s clear that great software experiences have a profound effect on people’s lives. What separates good from great is not only the skill of each builder but the collaboration between disciplines. Our goal has always been to deliver the best user experiences possible.

Early failure

Many moons ago, Dominic and I built the “failed startup we had to have” (Bindle — a consumer goods recommendation tool). In picking through its ashes, we learned that there was so much more to learn. Little did we know that our early failure would define our individual and group goals for years to come.

Building a consultancy

Fast forward a few years. Just because we knew the ins and outs of building apps, didn’t mean we could ideate and grow a product of our own. We started a software consulting company to experience first-hand how other folks generated and refined their product ideas.

Percolate Studio was born to help clients build apps from design and development to operations. In other words we brought our clients’ ideas to life. Things were going well. Externally we had fascinating client projects, a growing reputation, and repeat business. Internally we were refining our processes and standardizing our software stack for greater efficiency.

Since the core offering was design and UI engineering, we standardized on a software stack that was geared toward highly interactive and reactive user experiences. We found that in the young (at the time) Meteor JavaScript framework. By virtue of naturally contributing back to an energetic young project via open source packages, services, and articles, we became leaders in the community.

However, consulting wasn’t entirely satisfying. Although we learned much about ideation from others, there was still much more to experience. Repeating the process of building apps from spec to deployment was satisfying, but not necessarily getting us closer to building a product of our own.

Monetizing open source

It was around this time that we were approached about joining the Meteor Development Group to help build their first and subsequent commercial products. MDG is an engineering-focussed open source organization used by tens-of-thousands of engineers including Percolate Studio that is backed by YC, A16Z, and other Silicon Valley heavyweights. The consulting skills we had honed in client management, product design, and app engineering expertise would be invaluable for their commercial vision.

Although Percolate Studio had plans to scale back the contract work and experiment with our own products, it was difficult to find the headspace to do so while also keeping our customer roster happy and nurturing leads constantly coming through the door.

From our perspective, this was a chance to learn business ops, product marketing, and monetizing SaaS. It made sense to join MDG to learn the finer points of launching and scaling a product.

Creating our product company

Almost 2 years after joining Meteor, we’ve launched two major commercial offerings, many open source projects, and written a substantial collection of content. Our team’s core skillset began with product design and software engineering. We started Percolate Studio to learn ideation and client management. We joined Meteor to learn business ops, content marketing, and validating product market fit.

With those skills combined, it feels like the right time to put it all together into our own product. But what product?

A key lesson we’ve learned is that dreaming up a product in your head is an order of magnitude easier than really understanding what a potential customer wants.

With that in mind, we are embarking on a journey of product discovery to figure out the right thing to build. We’ll use the skills and experience we’ve gained to engineer compelling user experiences. We have a pretty good idea of the kind of problem space and audience:

🔨 Developer tools

Working on the Meteor and Apollo open source projects has given us experience with building open source communities and how they can translate into commercial products. We are especially interested in the movement towards component-oriented view layers that offer massive improvements to the quality, cost, and speed of UI engineering. We’ve started referring to the workflow as Component Driven Development.

🌐 Remote work

As a team we have been working between Melbourne and San Francisco our entire time together; along the way we’ve gotten pretty good at dealing with the problems that arise from a lack of face-to-face time especially across different timezones. We want to share what we’ve learnt about process and the potential tools. Our goal is to help remote workers become first-class citizens and empower organizations to become remote-first.

2017 and beyond

Chroma is just beginning. We’ll start by surveying a range of product ideas and writing extensively about the experience. In the spirit of our shared open source background, the latest on our product ideation and development process will also be open.

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