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Jeffrey Elkner

Whither NOVA Web Development?

Teamwork / Cooperation

NOVA Web Development Present and Future

I received the very disappointing news at my monthly meeting with the worker / owners of NOVA Web Development last Sunday that the hoped for employment of Louie with Agaric doing Drupal work did not materialize. We are keenly aware now of the possibility that we may be approaching the time close down the coop. Simply put, we can either generate enough revenue to sustain the needs of the four coop members or face the realization that we have failed as a business. With our three Django developers heading to DjangoCon Europe 2022 in Portugal this September, we agreed months ago that we should make an evaluation immediately after they return from that our drop dead date for deciding our future. If we leave Django Con without a substantial work contract, it will be time to throw in the towel.

The coop members also told me they had little confidence in the prospects of the sales effort that David Izy had started during June, and that they felt it was not worth continuing that effort. I had a long conversation with David the following day, and I'll exercise my prerogative as the one footing the bill to override that decision beginning July 15th. David is the only one associated with NOVA Web Development who talks sense from a business sales point of view. Of the four members, only Louie had any alternative proposal at all, and his proposal was more about finding an individual gig for himself than a sales / marking plan for the coop. So as a last ditched "Hail Mary" plan between now and the end of September, letting David take the lead on our sales effort is our best hope.

Planning for Our Hail Mary

In the best MBA speak I could muster, I told David that if we were going to keep doing this sales effort together, he would need to become very familiar with two things:

  1. Our Product
  2. Our Market

Our product is simply the skills and experience of the four members of the cooperative and the others who are working with it as fellows and supporters. They are, by name:

  • Our members: Stefan-Ionut Tarabuta, Natalia Cerna, Louis Elkner-Alfaro, and Adrian Buchholz.
  • Our fellows: David Izy, Rachael Wilson, Eduardo Guasti Ortiz, and Spencer Cooper.
  • Our supporters: Jeff Elkner and Kevin Cole.

We have skills and experience as Django developers, with examples of our work including LibreOrganize and Business Tracker. The most marketable examples of our work are the recently completed custom web application we did for AR Traffic Consultants, Inc., and the work we have done for Gallaudet University for five years running on a web application to generate a required federal reporting document for them.

Our market consists of organizations that need custom Django applications and / or organizations that just need a web application and are open to hiring a company to build it for them with Django. Given our limited size and experience, we do not want to take on jobs at this point that go outside that focus, since the our own training costs would exceed the value we could deliver in the short run, and we are very much in a short run situation.

Going forward, David should become very familiar with both the AR Traffic and Gallaudet University contracts, and reach out to both organizations to ask if we could use them as references. He should then look for similar organizations with similar needs, and reach out to them. That kind of focused marketing is the most likely to lead to our finding work.

It's going to be an uphill battle for David. He will be hampered by the fact that his English, while good, is still a long ways from fluent. He will also be hampered by the fact that the warm, personable, and fun to work with NOVA Websters have been as a bunch almost completely useless for the marketing and sales of our business. My dear friend Kevin Cole, despite 38 years working at Gallaudet, is completely tone deaf when it comes to our business needs, and has even been of very little help in building our potential business relationship with Gallaudet, the one area where I had hoped we could count on him for support. The other members, like Kevin, signed up to be tech workers, not business people. Only Louie, strongly motivated by immediate personal need, seems willing to engage actively in this effort, but he will be viewing the task based on his experience as a political activist working in the non-profit sector, and as I mentioned at the start of this post, may find a tech job for himself in that sector, which would take him away from the coop.

Other than our contract with Gallaudet, a legacy of Kevin's career there, and design work that Natalia has done with Agaric, I have found all our paying gigs. I lack both the time and the ability to find enough paying work to make us a viable business. David has both the broad understanding of what is required as well the desire to try to become our coop's sales manager to make him our last best hope of success. With only a few months left until we possibly pull the plug on our life support machine, I want someone with David's attitude on our team.

I'll end this post with another possible long shot business opportunity.

Win-Win Cooperation Between MCSS and NOVA Web Development?

Isaac Zawolo has several times expressed his desire to me to use electronic data processing to help improve the efficiency and productivity of MCSS in both the academic and HR parts of the institution. I told him several times in turn that one of my hopes in coming here was to establish the kind of long term win-win collaboration that would both directly contribute to the development of the socially oriented tech sector in Liberia and give NOVA Web Development work to do that directly aligns with our principle of "helping to build the world we want to live in." Coming here was essential to getting a direct understanding of the needs for such a project. Getting to know Spencer Cooper and others on the ground here in Liberia who would have to be part of the solution is what would make such a project viable, and make it possible to develop using design justice principles.

The problem, about which I have now written several times, is that Liberia is so desperately resource constrained that there may not even be the capacity here for the bargain basement prices NOVA Web Development would be willing to charge.

In the 5½ weeks I have remaining here, I'll definitely be working with the Superintendent to explore grant possibilities to fund the automation project. Expect more on that in future posts.