Positive initiatives
Stories and studies at the intersection of technology and positive social impact.

Customer Story: 1859 Cloud,...

1859 Cloud is one of marmelab‘s customers. The digital product we’ve developed for them is both typical of our work (Lean Startup, agile iterations, API-centric architecture, full-stack JS) and very unique (long running, finance sector, very high quality requirements). Let’s see that in detail. Helping Charities Using a FinTech The vision of 1859 Cloud is simple: attract and select high quality professional investors, build a financial markets idea-based meritocracy, and capture the collective intelligence derived from the collaboration and competition within the community. This intelligence is used to drive the performance of a low cost investment fund, but with very attractive performance profile. Investors in the fund will pay a normal fee, but given its low cost base compared to traditional funds, 1859 Cloud aims to redistribute a very large share of the difference to charities. For a usual fund managing several billions dollars, this can represent up to a million dollars a year given to charities. Who said FinTechs can’t have a soul? But how do you create a high performing fund with lower fees? In usual funds, the fees (about 1 or 2% of the invested funds, and 10 to 20% of the performance realised) pay the fund manager, a highly skilled trader who knows where and when to invest. The bet of 1859 Cloud is to use the wisdom of crowds, i.e. to delegate the sourcing of the most attractive investment ideas to a group of volunteer contributors. The Wisdom of Crowds, a book written by James Surowiecki, describes how a group of well-organized individuals can outperform highly skilled experts. Building up on this mechanics, 1859 Cloud is a private club of investors, selected for their performance, diversity of expertise, and investment style. Inside the club, members/contributors share investment ideas. Each member can invest virtual risk units (like casino chips) on each other’s ideas. These investments are a signal of trust, and allow the best ideas to surface. This swarming process is monitored and consistently evaluated, and this drives the fund to invest real money on some of the ideas – ideally the best performing ones – without ever needing a human fund manager. Tips Why would professional investors share their best investment ideas? Well, first because of the quality, multiplicity, and diversification of the other ideas they receive in return. They share something obvious to them, with the likely chance to get quite a few ideas they did not think about. Also, those who share an idea get valuable feedback from their peers, without the risk of tarnishing their reputation if the idea doesn’t work. This is because members are anonymous in their interactions. Anonymity is a strong condition for the wisdom of crowds to emerge. If investors know the authors of the investment ideas, they might invest based on the authors’ reputation rather than on the idea merit. So 1859 Cloud completely hides the investor names, and all they can see in the club is the members’ grade – a representation of the member observed performance or judgment quality over a multi-year horizon. The Domain: Ideas, Investments, Portfolio As for any B2B business, the 1859 Cloud domain is large, and sometimes hard to understand for non-specialists. For instance, here is a typical idea shared by a 1859 Cloud club member: " Long CAC/Short DAX (sell ratio) " The rationale behind that idea will only make sense if you have strong financial background: " Global selloff has brought French index almost back to pre-election level. Stronger EUR and potential global rally topping out makes the DAX an attractive hedge while the French government seems to have a good start and reforms ahead of it. Also, equities maybe to be exempt of French wealth tax in fiscal reform to come. German election in September another excuse for underperformance ahead. " Tips This is a real idea from the club, but it’s an old one. Current ideas have a potential strong value, and therefore cannot be shared outside of the club. Inside the club, investors submit suggestions. The club administrators need to vet these suggestions according to some set of rules, they adjust the size notional to make them comparable in terms of risk, and they format the suggestions so they can become ideas, i.e. a published suggestion. Investors invest tokens on ideas, defining the limits when they will sell (a target price and a stop price). Each idea has a daily value taken from financial markets. An idea can also have events (like dividends, or roll for a Future), which add to the investment value. This value determines the performance (gain or loss) of an investment, and, by extension, the performance of an investor’s portfolio (the sum of all their investments). There are many more concepts on the 1859 Cloud’s platform, in addition to complex calculations to get exact performance for a given investment on a given day. Besides, using financial products involves a big focus on properly handling dates, timezones, currency conversions, and roundings. The Lean Startup Needs Adjustments for Finance 1859 Cloud came to Marmelab mid-2014 to build the club’s digital platform. Marmelab has provided a team of 3 people: 2 full-stack developers full-time, plus an agile projet pilot part time. The pilot is, at the same time, a scrummaster, a proxy product owner, a UI/UX advisor, and a software architect – think a Chief Operating Officer in a startup. In many aspects, the building of 1859 Cloud is typical of The Lean Startup approach. Customer-centric design, features seen as experiments, early and frequent releases, metrics-based decisions, even a pivot to change the business model about a year ago. But the 1859 Cloud case is also very different from your usual move fast and break thingsstartup. Mostly because the 1859 Cloud customers are wealthy people with very little spare time, and high expectations for super slick products with zero bug. In addition, this Fintech activity falls into the “providing advice for investment” category, which means it is regulated, and 1859 Cloud’s legal obligations translate into strong software requirements. We had to accommodate our process to deliver a super stable product every two weeks. In developers terms, this means more thorough backlog grooming, a certain formalism in acceptance tests, longer qualification time, and a polished UI even for the first release. The Minimum Viable Product took 9 months to develop. Tips Fun Fact: The 1859 Cloud name comes from the year of the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origins of Species”, which unveils the theory of evolution via natural selection. Performing ideas are selected by the club, the ideas unfit for a world of profit die quickly! Building A Fund With JavaScript In collaboration with a London-based web agency, we designed a classic API-centric architecture, and started developing 3 apps: A responsive frontend app, used by the club members An admin app, used by the 1859 Cloud staff A REST API, used by both the frontend and admin apps The frontend app is responsive: it has to work on desktop (in web browsers), as well as on iOS and Android devices (tablets and phones). We chose PostgreSQL, Node.js, Cordova, and Angular.js for the main tech stack (remember that this project started in 2014). Along the years, we added a queuing system, asynchronous workers, cron jobs, a notification system, and many other bricks. 1859 Cloud uses several cloud services from Amazon Web Services (AWS) (including VPC, ECS, ELB, RDS, SES, SQS, S3, CodeBuild, CodePipeline, CodeDeploy, etc), which allows the infrastructure to scale easily without high upfront costs. After more than 3 years of development, the 1859 Cloud apps totals about 150,000 lines of code, mostly JavaScript, HTML and CSS, with bits of Bash and Python. It’s been up and running for more than a year, mostly without hiccup. We don’t manage the production servers – 1859 Cloud appointed another contractor, Osones, for that. If you’re looking for a host company relying on AWS with great engineers, we can definitely recommend them. Lessons Learned About Developing A Mobile App in The Financial Sector Of course, we had our share of troubles. The performance of a large angular.js (1.6) app is, by default, very poor. We had to invest a lot in web performance optimization. Dealing with offline access, concurrent editing, live notifications synchronized on several devices, and highly interactive data visualizations required significant research, as the JavaScript landscape does not offer enough solutions (or sometimes too many half-baked solutions) for mobile usage problems. And a large share of our efforts has been dedicated to building a full-fledged admin – in fact, more of an ERP. We pushed ng-admin, our open-source admin dashboard development framework, to the extreme to allow all sort of custom screens, optimized for speed of use. Anyone who develops a mobile app knows this, but we learned it at great cost: deploying updates to the app is always a risk. First, all modifications must be done in a backwards-compatible manner, as the mobile apps will update way later than the API server (and therefore the new server must be able to serve the old apps for some time). Second, when it works on one device, it doesn’t work on all the devices of the same manufacturer. Mobile testing takes a lot of time. Last but not least, in-app analytics are a must, otherwise you’re blind to any problem the end users may have. We invested a lot into a custom Continuous Integration service based on Travis and AWS. In addition to running automated tests, it automatically deploys the code according to the branch it’s been merged to (integration, staging, production). We can deploy with one click, and it doesimprove the quality of the apps significantly. Oh, and about those tests – we’re so happy we started writing them on day one. The code has a strong coverage of unit, integration and e2e tests, and this has saved us countless times. I’d even say that e2e tests, which are very expensive to setup, write and maintain (especially with Angular.js), have a strong return on investment. With this test base, we can start large refactorings with confidence, and that’s the reason why the codebase is still fresh after 3 years. It's The People, Stupid Over the course of the project, the Marmelab team has changed at least 6 times. We try to rotate developers on a yearly basis, so that our developers see a variety of projects and technologies. Developers are notably hard to find, but easy to lose if they do the same thing for too long. You can imagine how painful it is for the Product Owners at 1859 Cloud, who must re-explain and share invaluable domain expertise twice a year, and support some periods of suboptimal productivity. However, this also brings some strong benefits. For example, to avoid relying on a developer’s knowledge, we automated many processes – from configuration management to developer onboarding. The project has great technical documentation, which is unusual for us (we believe in code as documentation). And the codebase has no dark place – many developers have seen the code many times. The variety of experience of the developers who participated in the project has brought innovative ideas about architecture, performance, or system administration. Projects at Marmelab usually last for a few months – we bootstrap products up to the MVP, then train developers working for our customer to take the code from there on. The 1859 Cloud project tests the solidity of our model on longer projects. A continuing collaboration for 3 years only works if the parties trust each other. The project works because every individual involved in the project demonstrate goodwill. The Future The 1859 Cloud High Conviction Fund will launch in the second-half of 2018, and hopefully the first check will be sent to a charity in January next year. The 1859 Cloud company is raising more capital, and hiring more people, to accelerate their growth. They just closed successfully their Series A. Soon, 1859 Cloud will start analysing its members’ behaviour even more thoroughly, looking for new signals pointing at great ideas – using Machine Learning. On the technical side, we’ve started the transition from Angular.js to React.js in the frontend. There is so much code that it will take long, but we’re confident that we can integrate Angular and React together to allow a continuous migration. We alternate technical iterations to consolidate the platform, and the development of new major features inspired by the feedback we get from the investors. We’re super happy with this project, which is not only innovative, but also challenging, and motivating. It’s a great achievement by the 1859 Cloud and the marmelab teams, and we’re looking forward to making the word a better place thanks to the wisdom of Charles Darwin! Find the original blog post here !

Startup Weekend Sing...

“Startup?” “Weekend!”… That was the cheer used over the past weekend at Startup Weekend Singapore 2017! Deemed as the biggest startup event in the whole of Asia, the 72-hour event was a resounding success as 150 over participants attended the event held at Google’s APAC office. The event saw a wide range of talent, ranging from developers and designers to hustlers (those who do not have experience in either), coming together to pitch ideas and launch startups in the 54-hour hackathon. Individuals came in with ideas that were personal and relatable, in hopes of getting the right people from the pool of talent during the weekend to kick-off their startup. Teams then went on to work on their selected idea with the end-product in mind. They also rendered the help of mentors who contributed 15 minutes of their time to give tips and advices on the team’s ideas. Then on Sunday, 22 January 2017, teams rallied together to pitch their ideas to the esteemed judges that were invited specially by the organisers of Startup Weekend Singapore. The judging panel comprised of individuals that have had experience in the startup ecosystem. List of Judges: Vishal Harnal, 500 Startups Arthur Brejon, Lazada Guillaume Sachet, Mediacorp Jacqueline Poh, GovTech Vivek Kumar, NTUC Chris Chen, Nielsen Innovate   To be honest, I was extremely thrilled and excited to hear the pitches since the teams had innovative ideas that addresses the needs of the community. I actually would consider investing in some (if I had the money, that is!). The teams that stood out the most for me were ‘The Whisky Guys’ and ‘Team Class’. Team Whisky Guys speak for themselves, as they aimed to produce a “Made in Singapore” whisky. They captured the hearts of the audience by providing a sample of their whisky to the judges, with the promise of localizing it using pandan, orchid and jackfruit. All these were done within 54 hours, by the way! Team Class who classify themselves as ‘dating experts’ Team Class, on the other hand, were rather classy *ahem*. They started their pitch by asking the ladies in the audience how they would feel having their potential dates screened by their best friends before meeting him in person. It got the audience riled up when they promised to offer the service at only SGD$2 while comparing it with its predecessors like Tinder and Match.com that offers their services at SGD$9.90 and SGD$50+ respectively. Phew, I was glad I wasn’t part of the judging panel because the ideas that were pitched all sounded exciting. I am pretty sure the judges had a hard time deciding on the winners. Just like what Vishal Harnal from 500 Startups nicely said in his closing speech, “It’s the teams that were forged, relationships that were formed and ideas that were shared the past weekend that matters the most.”   “It’s the teams that were forged, relationships that were formed and ideas that were shared the past weekend that matters the most.” – Vishal Harnal, 500 Startups   As cliché as it sounds, I thought that all the teams came out as winners from the weekend because they came up with pitches and even prototypes to present to the judges, all within 54 hours! List of Winners:   Most Creative Award – Team ‘The Whisky Guys’ 3rd Place – Team ‘Weaver’ 2nd Place – Team ‘Blinked’ 1st Place – T eam ‘Githip’

Take the start of La...

Have you ever heard of La Route du Rhum? If not, Google it right now because this is going to be the most exciting adventure this Autumn! For the first time, PALO IT will take part in an international sporting event: the legendary Route du Rhum. We are talking about a transatlantic solo boat race between Saint-Malo, Brittany, and Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe. The route has never changed since its origins in 1978. Every 4 years in November, this race welcomes the most adventurous skippers from all around the globe to challenge their limits on physical endurance and human courage. Ship's Ahoy! PALO IT will sponsor one of these wild sailors. His name is Antoine Carpentier and he is a tough cookie! Antoine has spent most of his life on the seas, where he built a rock-solid reputation. La Routedu Rhum will be his first time competing in a solo race. He will run on a Class40 (a monohull sailboat) called “Beyond The Seas”. The competition will be extremely tight. 50 experienced sailors will strive for the victory. A lot of emotion and suspense expected! Sea-proofed vision and values We act with COURAGE Taking part in this mythical race requires a great deal of courage and a little touch of madness. La Route du Rhum is a gruelling regatta. With determination, boldness, and mental strength, only the toughest of the sailors reach their goal. We believe Antoine is one of them. We choose POSITIVITY Antoine’s journey to the starting line was full of mishaps. With the help of his friends and family, he convinced major sponsors, found a boat to race and started his physical preparation by himself. Like Palowans, Antoine dreams big and undertakes everything he can to make it happen. We CARE about our world Antoine will spotlight a unique positive initiative every day during the race. By doing so, he will offer media coverage to these change-makers. Making a positive impact is at the heart of everything Antoine and PALO IT do. We SHARE, it's in our DNA We also admire Antoine’s endeavour to share his passion through coaching on Class40 and corporate sporty regattas. For him, sailing is a way of life and a wealth of knowledge for anyone willing to embark. What's next? Awesomeness! Get to know La Route du Rhum here: https://www.routedurhum.com/en Follow Antoine on Facebook to know more about the preparation of his boat and his sea excursions. Antoine was qualified for the race on September 6th. He is looking forward to starting the race on November 4th! About Antoine Carpentier Sailing since 5 years of age, Antoine became a professional skipper in 2004. Always in between competitions and training, the experienced sailor spends around 150 days on land, for his family and the preparation for new challenges. He made a name for himself taking part in numerous national races, especially multihull regattas. His most recent claim to fame was winning the Transat Jacques Vabre in November 2017, with his teammate Maxime Sorel. These achievements spurred him to engage in his first solo race: La Route du Rhum. ⛵️⛵️Let's wish Antoine fair winds!⛵️⛵️ Stay tuned on our PALO IT Facebook page. Last weekend, 11 lucky Palowans from PALO IT Paris had the chance to navigate together with Antoine on his boat: check our photo album here!

HK Service Jam: 48-h...

Last week, the Jam kicked off in around 100 cities worldwide! Thousands of Jammers all over the world cooperated with strangers, identifying needs, building interactive prototypes of brand new services and testing them. And as they did it, they were learning new tools, experiencing new ways to work, changing the world – and had a great time! Check out how Marivi – Senior Scrum Master, Herbert – Agile Coach, and Samson – UX Designer at PALO IT Hong Kong, who participated in the HK Service Jam session, took up this challenge – and even won! 1/ Hi Guys, can you explain to us what did the HK Service Jam consist of? Herbert: The main goal of this event was promoting Service Design in an exciting way. It is the end-to-end design of a total experience, including both tangible and intangible elements, like communication, environment and behaviour. Marivi: A bunch of experts from various backgrounds participated in this event, including designers, developers, agile coaches and even lawyers, from agencies, consulting firms and editors. 2/ How did you feel when you discovered the Secret Theme? Here is the video which started the Jam and introduced the uncanny Secret Theme of “Hello-lo-lo”: Samson: We were all surprised, because the theme was quite unusual! So we had to be creative enough to imagine what was the message behind it. And we had to think about a prototype in a very short term: indeed, we had only 10 minutes to draw something clear enough, so people can understand it without explaining it. 3/ Can you describe us all the steps of this hackathon? Marivi: Friday night, after having unveiled the Secret Theme, the Service Jam staff played some music and all the participants had to exchange their ideas. When the music stopped,  we had to discuss with someone the understanding of our idea and “sell” our product. Then, we had to select and vote for our favourite idea. 13 projects were shortlisted. Every participant had to choose the project they wanted to contribute to. Herbert and Samson (who were members of the winning team): Saturday morning, we were asked to find the central user research question. For our team, it was: “How might we personalize our diet and nutrition needs in a restaurant experience?” Then we went outside and interviewed people in the street to capture as much as data as we could. 4/ What kind of feedback did you manage to capture from people? Herbert: Here is a bunch of answers we collected: “I don’t really care about the nutritional value, or the price, or if it is tasty or not, or if it is a clean place”. We were surprised, but usually, people seem to eat healthy only when at home. On the top of that, most of them said they often skipped their breakfast or their lunch time meal because of their busy schedules. Samson: After analysing our first round of data, we realized that we did not get anything relevant. Then we had further discussions with the team and with the facilitators to still deliver the design. One of the team members even played the role of “super hater”. We finally decided to focus on bringing health to people at the workplace. 5/ Your team won this hackaton. Can you tell us more about the service you imagined? Herbert: We designed the “Hello Box”, which is a healthy, balanced and yummy meal with a little tailor-made extra in it, depending on the company and its concerns (it can be a message, some innovation gaming material like Legos or cards, or some instructions to facilitate meetings or workshops). This box mainly targets team leaders, executives or managers: they can order it to make their Monday meetings more joyful, for example! Samson: Over several hours, we tried to reframe the solutions in order to improve it, as it perfectly matched the users’ needs. Fortunately, we were helped by the HK Service Jam mentors in this. We asked them to rate the solution and to give us their feedback on it. Eventually, we designed some slides to present our project. The jury selected ours as the most innovative and added-value solution. There were 13 projects, so we are really happy to win! By the way, we won tickets for the UX Hong Kong conference!  6/ How was the Service Jam programme any different from the previous events you’ve attended? Samson: The format (48-hour hackathon) is much longer, so you got a lot to do… but you learn more! We even did meditation and yoga. I had a lot of fun! I really loved this event because it mixed workshops and presentation. For example, Cedric Mainguy, Head of Innovation at Palo IT Singapore, conducted a talk on “Prototyping”. And there was also a User Research talk conducted by Louise SCHENK, Service Designer at MAKE Studio. Herbert: It was my first time to attend a workshop related to service design. It was interactive and fun. I experienced a new way to gather information from the users through face–to-face interviews and phone calls. It was quite challenging to improve ideas in a very short time! Marivi: The whole experience was really challenging and yet fulfilling! Everyone was happy and excited about the new experience we gained. Materials provided were amazing. And the venue was great! 7/ What were some of your key takeaways from the conference? Samson: Get a “superhater” in your team! He will give you more insights than a “superfan” about your product. Sticking with the initial idea might not be a bad idea if you have a “superhater” in your team. By the way: don’t skip your breakfast! Herbert: Understanding of the service design itself. It is quite similar to the Agile mindset because it embraces fail fast and learn fast. It is great to ideate and fun! Marivi: Never be afraid of giving your ideas, nor interviewing people! It is OK to fail! Thanks to the feedback of the people you are able to improve continuously. It enables you to narrow your ideas and focus on the goal set. This conference gave me some tips on how to be creative and liberate myself, as well as how to identify painpoints and solve them it in a diverse team. Thank you guys for the feedback. And congratulations again to the winning team! (including Leo Chak from Cogs Agency, Jessica Pang from Asia Miles, and Gordon Lee, freelancer)   HK Service Jam website: https://www.jamhk.org/ Global Service Jam website: http://planet.globalservicejam.org/