Four big challenges, two long years

Thursday, February 24, 2022
Nick Bolton
Nick Bolton
Founder CEO & Interim-CTO of Symless (Synergy team)

I said that releasing Synergy 3 Alpha 1 has been a tough journey, but I didn't take time to expand on that. Today, things got tougher.


Our journey started with Covid, a dreadful disease which has killed almost 6 million people, equivalent to the population of Dallas. Sadly, this caused many businesses to fail. Thankfully, we managed a lucky escape. I say "lucky", because when I started this company a decade ago, knowing that 65% of businesses fail in the first 10 years, I honestly didn't consider how a global pandemic would affect us.

Relocating people during the pandemic also turned out to be a struggle. But, thankfully we were already operating as a worldwide distributed team, so remote working was already second nature to us.

From March 2020 through to June 2021, we spent a great deal of time and effort helping out on the front line, which redirected some of our business resources. We gave out almost 2000 free Synergy licenses to help emergency workers making significant impact on the pandemic, speeding up the progress of analysis to find specific antibodies for COVID-19 at an early date.

Though it was worrying at the time, looking back, Covid was the least of our problems.

Brain tumour

This is quite personal, so I had to seek Daun's permission to share this story (he said yes and wanted me to share the details). I'm really proud of how Daun handled himself, and how certain team members showed admirable support for him during this difficult time. Daun has a way of being unflinchingly positive and optimistic.

On the 12th of November last year, Daun sent me a message. He needed to take some sick leave due to having a migraine. After I approved, I got another message. Daun was worried that he might be having a stroke, and was wondering if there might be a clinic open nearby at the weekend. To me, it sounded a bit more urgent than a weekend-clinic type problem, so I advised him to call the health services and see a doctor. Soon after, I got another message from the patient... his right arm and leg locked up out of the blue.

He called 999.

After a tense 18-hour wait of nothing but silence from Daun, we were relieved to hear that Daun had found his way to the hospital. When they noticed something while doing CT scan, I figured that it sounded a bit more serious than a stroke, and feared the worst. After a few days in hospital, the doctors noticed swelling on the brain and began consulting with neurologists at a specialist hospital in a nearby city.

I'd be kidding myself if I wasn't worried about how this would impact Synergy 3, but I felt that the health of my employee was far more important. Not that there was much I could do anyway, but I felt like the best thing to do was to show my support and reassure Daun that everything would be ok while he's away, and that the team were all thinking of him and wishing him well.

Weeks of struggle ensued after being temporarily released from hospital, dealing with the side effects of medication, and the worry of what could be going wrong. Thankfully he had an MRI booked in, and it sounded like the NHS were on top of it.

It was a brain tumour.

We were all shocked and saddened. I couldn't even imagine what Daun was going through. He had some big decisions ahead of him, and at this point it was clearly serious enough for his family to fly over from Korea. I discussed with Daun how we were going to share this news with the team. He needed some time to think about it.

"Hey Daun, good luck for tomorrow! We’re all thinking of you"

The surgery plan was initially to move as much tumour as possible, along with biopsy, but due to it's location it ended up being more of a biopsy (this was to test the behaviour of the tumour). Because Daun had to fly to a different city to see a specialist surgeon, Daun's teammate, Kyle—along with Kyle's wife—flew out to give him some company while he was recovering from surgery.

Daun eventually managed to make his way back. Then, Daun got Covid. Unfortunately, this meant that his family who flew in from Korea couldn't see him, despite being in a hotel nearby. A couple of weeks passed, Daun recovered from Covid, and thankfully they were reunited. I can only imagine how hard this must have been for Daun's family.


Today, as of writing, our Ukrainian team at Symless are sadly being forced to deal with one of the greatest atrocities of our time: war.

After weeks of rising tensions between Ukraine and their neighbour, following several discussions with our People team about contingency plans, the worst finally happened. "Russian forces invade" headlines read.

It's difficult to put myself in their shoes since my country, Britain, hasn't seen this kind of behavior since the 1940's. Well before my time.

We honestly all thought it was just posturing, but after reading "It started in the early hours of this morning"... We realised, it's real.

Our thoughts are with our Ukrainian team members and their families at this difficult time. We can't discuss too much at this point, and all we can do is wish them luck and safety at this awful time.


My pursuit to make Synergy 3 great has delayed the release by about a year. A couple of years ago, I was obsessed with hammering home the message "Let's make Synergy 3 great!"

Things have changed. Not to say I don't want Synergy 3 to be great (I certainly do), but over the last year, I've started to develop a new phrase: "Good enough is good enough." If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you've launched too late. Reid Hoffman is famous for this quote, and I wish I'd remembered it sooner. You absolutely should be embarrassed by your first version. I think in this case we certainly were not. If anything, I think we were dangerously proud!

Synergy 3 was good enough for alpha testing a year ago, and had we launched it then, even to a closed group of alpha testers, I would have been embarrassed (which would have been a good thing). Even after a year of perfecting the alpha, the general feeling was "After three years of work, we don't want to ship something bad." People were worried that customers would be disappointed.

After hearing this, I realised what was happening. So, I set a release date for the alpha: Christmas. And... wouldn't you know it, we missed it. But, for good reason, the application wouldn't actually install. Plus, I realised that we probably wouldn't get the best feedback over the holidays while our customers were spending time with family.

On January 17th 2022, we finally shipped the 1st alpha.

Understandably, the team wanted the first impression to be a great one, since we'd been working on it for so long, it would be embarrassing if it didn't work, especially after what happened with Synergy 2. Learning a lesson from Synergy 2, I realised that we can limit the first few alphas to a small number of registered alpha testers, and scale up gradually to eventually include all alpha testers. We had over 3000 sign-ups over the last three years, so picking 10 at random was tough (technically easy, but psychologically difficult).

At the end of it all, I let this delay happen. It's my responsibility, and due to the culture that I created, the Synergy 3 alpha shipped a year behind what it should have. I made a mistake by letting this perfectionism go on unabated, and it's a lesson that I will never forget:

Ship early, ship often.

After all that

...we managed to release our first alpha for Synergy 3, and got some excellent feedback. I am really proud of the team for pulling this off through such adversity. Oh, and Daun is making a great recovery so far... remarkably, still unflinchingly optimistic and positive!

One final thing. Congratulations to Nicola, who heads up the People team, currently on maternity leave. Beautiful baby Charlotte was born on 5th February.

February 24, 2022
Nick Bolton
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