“But I don’t want to be a CEO” — How Desmart created a human-first culture in a software company

Interview with the former CEO of DeSmart, Piotr Duszyński, conducted by Adrian Tomaszewski – People & Culture from DeSmart.

Adrian: Let’s start from the beginning: how did you become a CEO?

Piotr: DeSmart was founded in 2003. At first, I was doing my projects and working from home before it was trendy:). I was working, but I was also sleeping and eating at home. A friend convinced me to expand the business and hire people to work. I did it and quickly implemented the first student. Then came Wojtek and Iwona. After a few years, there were nine of us. We used to go for a beer together and were just buddies.

In 2017, we employed 25 people, with nine partners in the company. This was quite dangerous for the company’s management because the decision-making process became complicated.

We solved this problem at workshops where we chose a three-person board and nine partners with as many shares in DeSmart as they wanted.

Everything happened like in Silicon Valley. 😉

Adrian: Why did you decide to form a company?

Piotr: Firstly, I shared responsibility with others who had been working for a long time and became co-owners of the company. It was a way of appreciating them – I wanted it to be their company, too, because that’s how it was.

That’s why the philosophy of the teal organization suited us so well.

Adrian: Exactly, what is teal about?

Piotr: It’s about everyone feeling like a co-owner. Which is damn hard 🙂

At first, I didn’t think teal would be the next step. It was intuitive.

I read the book “The Boss Who Has Time” and thought that, finally, I would have more time for myself. The company was ours, but I was still worried about finances. It was overwhelming.

I think a teal organization has a chance to work better because people do what they can do best and what they want to do. Not what they are told to do.

Adrian: And what do the other partners think?

Piotr: The opinions were different. They didn’t have the same enthusiasm I had, but no one objected. Maybe people still treated me like a boss, so they didn’t say “no”.

For some, it was sad because they had just become partners, and here we introduce teal, where everyone is supposed to be equal. 😉

Especially when I said: “Let’s do teal, now everyone is equal, and I’m going to Thailand, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.” 🙂

I needed a change at that time…

Adrian: And how do you rate teal after four years?

Piotr: I can’t imagine working in a company where someone comes in and tells me how to work. Sure, today, we argue about a lot of things. But now I do what I want to do.

As a CEO, I had to sell and was good at it. Everyone around me said: “Because you sell so well.”

The thing is, I don’t like doing it. It stresses me out.

Too often, we are thrown into things we don’t want to do. And by dealing with what you don’t want to do, you won’t be happy in life. It took a long time for me to understand that.

Teal works, but under one condition – if people in the company can take responsibility for their things. Not everyone is suited to this, so selecting the right people for the team becomes a big challenge.

Adrian: However, resigning from the role of CEO is a serious decision. How did you come to it?

Piotr: I cared about equality. I knew there wouldn’t be equality if one person were put above others.

For a long time, I tried to withdraw from making decisions. Sometimes, I was at a disadvantage because some areas were unattended. But I believe it is a logical step to getting rid of hierarchy.

In teal, there is no such thing as always agreeing one hundred per cent. The strength lies in diversity, not unity.

That’s why diversity needs to be developed, not acting “as the president has come up with.” Thanks to the fact that we disagree, we develop.

Adrian: What was the team’s reaction when you resigned as president?

Piotr: The reaction was okay. The only legal issue was whether a company must have a president. Fortunately, it turned out that a board was enough.

In Polish reality, the CEO’s position is seen negatively, often with a wink. I don’t want to be a president. I never really wanted to be one.

Adrian: And what about the clients – do they understand?

Piotr: Yes, I can be a DevOps and help developers. Of course, some people would like us to have a classic structure and have a CEO on the outside. Clients often expect this.

If something goes wrong in the project, the client wants to talk to someone at the manager or C-level. Our clients talk directly to the developers.

Sure, it’s easier to go to someone higher and say, “Hey, he’s not doing this job”. We had two conversations with clients who expected someone from above to steer the team to his opinion.

We wanted the client to understand that everyone can talk equally. I think those clients who understood this appreciate that they have a team of engaged people who have cameras on at online meetings. They know these people,
they know their reactions, how they think, joke, and share their experience.

This team is closer to the client, supports him, and cares about the project’s success. The client who initially had a problem with this is our biggest client and wants to sign a contract for longer.

Adrian: How do you see the next steps of DeSmart?

Piotr: I want to be happy doing cool things with cool people. Develop myself and the company. My goal is not to make a million and retire.

Near plans are to introduce open salaries. I want us to go towards even more engagement of people and even more equality.

I would also like everyone to be equal and introduce important procedures and rules for coexistence. Rules are our guide, the written element of our life, which we can refer to.

It’s a bit like in a marriage. 😉

PS Want to see what teal is really like? 🙂

Adrian Tomaszewski – People & Culture @DeSmart

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