Thoughts of a Jobless CEO

When you are the CEO of the company and left with nothing to do.

 · 4 min read

As Frappe completes 15 years, I find myself in a very peculiar position. All these years, my job had been very clear to me, but now it is not. For the first 10 years, it was writing code. Every day came with a list of things to be fixed or a list of features to be built. The team was also very small, so there wasn’t any “managing” to be done. Things flowed naturally. Customers raised tickets and we fixed them. They requested features and we built them. We looked at our own code and kept re-writing it so it was more robust and scalable. We kept redesigning screens so that they looked nicer. “Grunt” work became an opportunity to automate.

Over the years, our revenue kept growing and we kept adding new members. Some of the profiles were simple - engineering, customer support, sales etc. In engineering, we have always worked with fresh graduates (or non graduates). Since I was working closely with engineering, most of the “architecting” and designing went through me. Slowly the quality of talent in engineering went up and then my skills as a self-taught engineer became obsolete and often regressive. In 2020, I started to stop active code contribution. My colleague Nabin continued to do engineering management, but since the team was already very “self-driven”, there wasn’t much to do and things went on auto-pilot. We also split the code base into smaller pieces so we could have clear code owners. The engineering team continued to have good “taste” for both quality and productivity and each member inspired and drove every other member. We were lucky to work with great designers as well.

On the business side, we continued to struggle as customer orientation did not come naturally to me. Umair used to manage support and Prakash used to manage all the accounting and admin. As we grew, we hired experienced professionals for services and sales. Since we were open source, booking service revenue was a good way to grow the business. But services came at its own complexity and costs. In 2022, we decided to focus on the product and end the services part. Customers still needed services, but we started building a partner ecosystem for services. If partners were implementing and customising, then it made sense they did the pre-sales as well. So our core sales processes also moved to partners. This ensured that our “business” became simplified to partner development, training, support and success. During this time, we also moved from a user-based to a “cloud based” model, where we dramatically reduced our revenue and engagement with customers.

This streamlining came at the cost of revenue, growth and team size. We exchanged simplicity for lower growth and created more opportunities for the ecosystem. Along with this, our team went from a peak of nearly 100 to less than 60. On the engineering side though, we kept on adding more fire power. As ERPNext started becoming more mature, we started building new products, with one engineer building each product. While all of this meant a lower level of activity, our revenue growth still continued at a healthy 40% a year, while our revenue per employee grew even faster. We also were able to pay top market salary to our team.

With implementation of quality and security management systems (ISO 9001, 27001), our business process became mature and outcome driven. We started actively tracking customer feedback and ratings. Even though we are not at the level at which we would like, especially on the revenue side, we can clearly see the path to high quality customer engagement.

The other big job of mine as a CEO is motivating the team. Over the last few years, we have been practising a radical democratic style of management, where every member of the team has equal rights which include the right to choose their own work and pay. Apart from this, Frappe is also a social business, where we contribute all of our code back to the community as Free and Open Source Software. All of this has ensured that everyone in Frappe is mission oriented and extremely driven because they feel they have the agency to control their careers.

All this means that as CEO, I don’t have much left to do. We simplified our work, implemented radical working practices, and have a great culture that is focussed on quality and excellence. Yes, we are not growing as fast as we like, but that depends on so many other things. Frappe’s growth, if it comes, is going to be a delayed impact because most of our users don’t pay us anything.

This brings me to my dilemma, I have nothing much to do. I used to be a direct contributor by writing code, but now I feel incompetent and out of touch. Yes, I do interact with customers but that is once in a while, but I am neither an ERP implementation expert, nor a great sales person. I still get involved in brainstorming with the team, when they need me. I love talking with people but only to a certain extent. If I spend too much time with people then I feel very exhausted and disoriented. Now all that is left for me is to write blogs and wait for things to happen. We could do a lot better in many things, but I don’t want to push things beyond a limit (and I don’t specially know how to increase velocity beyond what we are currently working at).

Have you ever been in a position where you have nothing to do? Any ideas?

Rushabh Mehta

Rushabh is a software developer and founder of ERPNext. He usually writes about the startup experience, open source and the technologies he is working on.

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Eugen 2 months ago

Frappe is great, but still a dev oriented framework (disclaimer = I am implementation consultant). What about, for a change, somebody does a consultant (oriented) framework ? Meaning = an ERP with no need for devs at implementation time ? I'll put it like this : (plan is) devs will do (very) clever tools for consultants (= not for final users), to empower those consultants do final implementation in such or such company/industry. Just few examples, to understand what I mean : when I do implementations, I struggle with things like : what obviously is a constant in concrete client company, for ex. it s organisational chart. Second example : devs dont seem to understand that a business process like sales has totally different problems and workflows, even separate departments in a concrete company, for instance domestic sales vs. international sales. Why nobody does a generic sales module/template, so I can implement Sales1, Sales2, Sales3,, whatever sales modules customer really needs ? And about databases, dont get me started -> obviously modern database servers support hundreds of databases, even more -> why do I have to struggle with a single db, for Gods sake ? just because devs are interested in coding, and just to ennoy my final users doing complicated filters, so they finally reach their damn document ? In my opinion, every single ERP user deserves his/her own db, so anything there is familiar and of interest. Real problem should be how those miriad of personal dbs integrate = work together, as a network, and under guidance from business level strategic and tactical rules/dbs. Thanks (hope I did not offend somebody with my remarks, I think, as a consultant, least civilised thing I can do is be able to read devs code, not just to black box test it and hunt for bugs, but really white box understand what happens, and what logic is there, etc.) E.

mangesh 3 months ago

I like reading blogs, but there are very less blogs which take me from the top till the end. Your writing really has a good flow and one cannot stop reading till it's finished

Rajitha 3 months ago

Hmm...jobless!? I have a few suggestions, how about you pick up the kids from their class and while you are there just get the week's grocery too. Then once you are home if you could get the dinner started, it would be awesome. Once I'm back from work we can discuss what else can be done. Looking forward!

From, Your dear wife

Modern Transition and Co 3 months ago

You've done a great job Rushab, you achieved many, and so many left to do, ERPNext is your baby, as a parent you should keep supporting for it, the more it grows the more challanges it will face, until it passes the Titans

Adam 3 months ago

BTW, i enjoy the blogs, pls keep it up. This one, much more so because your honesty and vulnerability is relatable.

Great title LOL!

Adam 3 months ago

Great work as a founding CEO. Sometimes I look at what you have accomplished with amazement.

IMO, put in your shoes, I think I would sign on a new CEO and move up to the board.

As a maker and creator, you'll always have that craving to move your creative juices. The world is a rich place, and the "Frappeverse" is diverse and interesting, with numerous areas of improvement. There's a lot to zoom into and contribute towards. A lot of small levers that can move mountains -- so much room to tinker!

I imagine this may feel like a problem now, but you can reframe it and choose to look at it as freedom. Who could have ever imagined freedom being so terrifying?

Nandhini anand 3 months ago

Cross train/re-train a foundational LLM model to take support tickets/emails/requests as input and output/create PR requests/modules.. :-P Seems everyone is on the LLM train, why not get on it with some Open-source models ??

Peer 4 months ago

Educate people to (universally, like a big family) love each other in more domains and help everybody acquire the freedom, positivity, non-judgemental attitude, self-determination, resolve, sharing proclivity and energy they need to not be hindered or unable in loving each other. There really is a lot to do in this respect in the world. Too many ideologies, laws, cultures, power hubris, etc. getting in the way.

Do you really need a Buddha moment? You already seem to live your name. Anyway, glad you asked! You will find answers for sure, because Heaven helps those who want to do good.

Take a look at people outside of the palace. What happened to the 40 of the 100, are they ok, frustrated, productive, or otherwise? How do people live in other places? Are people using Frappe framework and products for nefarious purposes? Might it be subverted, maybe even strategically? If so, how? The world changes fast, do people, who, where, risk being left behind? This might happen even at unexpected places (e.g. so-called rich, but politically and/or populationally a/o culturally-propagandistically / technocratically / legalistically / licensismistically / purely-materialistically enslaving countries or other entities breaking up, emitting too many people not able to self-sustain en masse). E.g. does the expected disruption create dangerous upheavals for some groups of people, what can be done to make the transition, if not slower, at least smooth, understandable, acceptable, inclusive of everybody, without taking away freedom, livelihoods, time, but instead helping to become creative, productive, wherever they are, e.g. loving?

Also, enjoy and care for your family, and continue to live a happy, productive, loving life, dear Rushabh!

Paras 4 months ago

These are peace times, weaponry feels useless. Markets are ever-changing. A slight hint of a disruptive change from the front lines, and the paranoid CEO will be back to the adventure.

Rohit Sharma 4 months ago

I enjoyed reading your blog post, Rushabh. I can relate to how you are feeling. I have been in a similar situation myself, where I felt like I had nothing much to do as CEO. However, I found that the best way to deal with this was to take on new challenges. I started by focusing on developing new products and services, and I also started a new initiative to give back to the community. This helped me stay motivated and engaged, and it also made a positive impact on the world.

I think you should consider doing the same. You are clearly a talented and experienced leader, and I am sure you can find new ways to make a difference. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

Kaushal 4 months ago

mentoring !! You would be pretty good at it

Tashi 4 months ago

Make AI driven erp

Raffael Meyer 4 months ago

I think it's the job of an entrepreneur to make himself superfluous. Seems like you achieved that goal. Now you can focus on other issues that are important to you. If I was superfluous yet, I would join my friend in building a renewable energy business.

Sudip 4 months ago

Hi Rushabh - I have spent some time trying to understand the ERPNext ecosystem and build a consulting & implementation business within it. I think you could potentially spend time on some of the items below:

  • Building awareness through advocacy activities of open-source & ERPNext amongst target customer segments (necessary since the majority of the market is in the Unaware or Problem-aware stage of the buying journey)

  • Driving maturity (& growth) of the partner ecosystem through crafting the partner journey, richer enablement & educational activities/collateral, strengthening incentives, and any other support needed

  • Developing offerings & solutions with viable engagement models & business models - for specific customer segments - that partners can sell more effectively (eg quick implementation SaaS-like offerings for the SME segment. I believe Frappe is best placed to build and drive this (rather than individual partners).

Nafeen 4 months ago

Remarkable journey! Since Frappe is on cruise control, perhaps it's time to chase a new dream? A new company?