What we love most about freelancers is that they are not afraid to pursue different professional paths and do multiple things simultaneously. Obst Digital’s skillset is a colourful mix of design, Full Stack development, law, operations and jazz music. We sat down with them to talk about freelancing, finding projects and maintaining good communication with clients. Here’s what they had to say.
Martin’s name (Martin de Frutos) was the initial inspiration behind Obst Digital’s name. Martin is both a coder and also a graphic designer with 10+ years experience in the industry. Before learning how to code, he studied Graphic Design and Fine Arts. Besides coding for Obst Digital, Marin focuses primarily on the design process. His superpower lies in understanding clients’ needs before they have even figured them out for themselves.
Alex: Martin is also our ‘good-first-impression’ master. He’s the representative face of Obst Digital, understanding clients and making them feel like we're people that they can trust and rely on. He brings our social vibe and represents the energy of how we interact with each other and also how we interact with the outside world.
Favourite fruit: Watermelon
This is Toni (Antoniette Panacek). She originally comes from California but came to Berlin a couple of years ago to do a 180-degree career change and learn how to code. At Obst Digital, she works as a full-stack developer. Her superpower lies in her ability to handle complicated people (approved by Martin). She can also craft fruits from styrofoam, she’s a pro in Wordpress development, and a great teacher.
Favourite fruit: Nectarine
Alex (Alexander Dubovoy) also comes originally from California and moved to Berlin with the same intention as Toni. They both share the duties as the developers of the team.
Toni: Alex is one of these people who can do everything really well. He’s а professional jazz pianist, he has worked in law for a while as a paralegal, he can learn languages incredibly easily, he’s super fun and he’s also really good at back-end development and setting up things really well. This makes the process for us really smooth and easy.
Favourite fruit: Kaki
Toni: We all met at an intensive coding bootcamp here in Berlin organised by ‘’Le Wagon’’, part of which is also based in betahaus | Kreuzberg. After working in operations for retail businesses, I felt very stuck and unhappy with my job and I was looking for a drastic career shift. The fact that there are thousands of jobs in tech these days and that there are great opportunities for freelancing and working remotely, really helped my decision, which turned out to be one of the best I’ve made so far.
Martin: I was living in Spain, working in the advertising industry around Europe and the U.S. I was doing art direction and design jobs. This experience taught me a lot as a designer, but I was lacking a greater meaning behind it. No one around me was feeling passionate or really excited about their jobs. I liked doing freelance projects with people who own small or medium-sized company, because they were much more driven and excited about my work. I think that was what made me change my direction and made me want to become a freelancer.
Martin: For me, as a graphic designer, it made sense to upgrade my portfolio with not only understanding graphic design but being able to code and produce digital content as well. I also liked the idea of changing my surroundings - go somewhere new. So that’s how I ended up at the bootcamp.
Toni: It’s a lot of work but if you’re trying really hard and if you’re genuinely interested in it it’s absolutely possible to get a job as a junior after graduation from the ‘Le Wagon’ bootcamp.
Martin: The demand for web developer jobs nowadays is really high. Even though there are plenty of people who have a computer science degree and can charge hundreds of thousands for salary, many companies (especially startups) can’t allow spending so much for an expert. They'd rather hire someone familiar with the basics of coding and then develop his/her skills from there in the direction they need.
Toni: There are also multiple reasons why people sign up for the bootcamp. Some just want to widen their knowledge and don’t continue learning as developers afterwards. Some work more in product development after they graduate. It really is like learning a language and using it for your own reasons and goals.
Martin: After finishing the bootcamp, I was working for a client and I needed more people to support me. So I reached out to Toni and Alex. For this first project we were working from the client’s office and it was great. Eventually, however, we realized we needed our own office, as we started taking on other projects. We first went to another space but happily moved into betahaus | Neukölln in September.
Toni: After working for a while from a coworking space, all of the sudden, we started receiving many job offers through the community and all the Slack channels. So many people needed websites or apps to be built and that’s when we decided to pitch for these as as a team, instead of as individual freelancers. That’s how we present ourselves now - as a team of developers and designers who are going to build the needed product or solution from scratch.
Alex: After this first project we realized we can work really well together and didn't need another boss or someone to manage us. It all flows great. Also, through Le Wagon or working from a coworking space, we have a great community of freelancers we can reach out to, if we need more support on a project.That’s why for now we have sort of a collective structure.
Alex: For example, a few weeks ago we did a Design Sprint with betahaus. For this one we actually hired a former Le Wagon student who facilitated this. Because of the community we have, we can tailor our services to what's needed for different projects. This allows us to have this core team that you see, but we can also engage with the broader community of people that we know so we can take projects of different sizes and manage them individually as needed. And this is one of the things we really like about our work.
Martin: This flexibility allows the companies to pick and choose exactly what they need, too. They sometimes can’t afford a senior developer, but then we can find them a junior from Le Wagon, who charge less and still be involved in a project he/she can learn from. So in a way it’s a win-win situation.
Toni: Currently, we’ve somehow ended up in this niche of building a lot of internal tools for startups and teams. But this is not the only thing we want to do. What I like about it is that we’re starting projects from scratch and we have full control over them.
Martin: The first project we worked on was a tool for a large scale real estate development company. What they needed was a tool for their Sales people - to be able to mark their different spots and locations at different stages of the sales funnel. So we created a tool that helps them in this process.
Toni: And this one actually served as a starting point for the tool we’ve developed for betahaus, which aims to allow the Sales and Management team to see which team rooms are occupied right now, which ones are free or will be occupied in a few weeks or months, so no double bookings appear.
Alex: These two projects were more focused on real estate, let’s say, but we’ve also done more design-heavy projects like the one we did for Artique which is an online artists agency. For them, we built a whole website and an online system to present their artists starting only from their logo. It had to be very flexible, because the artists needed to be able to edit their own profiles, putting their resume, changing colours.
Martin: We break the project into 3 main stages - the design stage, the development stage and the deployment stage. At the first meeting with the client, we try to understand in depth the problem that they want to solve. Then we take around a week to think about possible solutions and ideas, we measure the size of the project and in the end not only we explain the three stages and the needed time and input for every one of them, but we also give them a creative proposal - a presentation, which visually explains how the end product should look and feel like.
Alex: At the second meeting we want to show them that we’re excited about the project and the solutions we’ve come up with. They're usually not expecting us to walk in the room and show that we’ve thought about the problem we're excited and we have an initial idea.
Martin: After that comes the time for a Design Sprint. That’s the moment where we sit together with the stakeholders or the person responsible for the work with the developers, we identify the problem together and we discuss some possible solutions. That way we can all be on the same page. From there we start working on it, developing a first prototype, showing it to them and trying to meet in the middle.
Toni: Going back to the subject of the superpowers, Martin is really good at ascertaining what the client needs even before meeting with them. At the start, many clients don’t actually know what they need. Martin is really good at explaining to them what they actually want to have in the end of this project, but also without taking over ownership of the ideaHe guides them to a solution.
Martin: Well, a very good part of being a freelancer and working in an agency is understanding that. We're not selling the website, we’re selling the service. In a way we are the tools that bring clients to their final product. It’s not about hitting it on the nail. It’s how to understand different personalities.
Toni: Honestly, we have skillsets that you don’t usually find in developers. Because we've had lives that were not just about computer science. I think to some extent this is what makes us different.
Martin: I believe one of the reasons why people pick us over other studios is because it can be very hard working with developers. If you’re not understanding their work, if the communication is not flowing, you, as a client can feel lost. We're easy to communicate with and we’re always open to feedback and we're open to discuss anything. In the end, after all iterations, if you say we need to start the website from scratch and that you don’t like the idea, we won’t take it personally.
Alex: Also, I think, since we all work as coding teachers, we are officially qualified to explain what coding is to people who don't code, which is actually really rare because a lot of developers, as Martin says, don't want to, or literally just don't know how to articulate what they're doing. Whereas we are trained in articulating what it is that we're doing, why it's meaningful and why it takes a certain amount of time.
Toni: I think we just really have a great network.
Alex: Absolutely! We meet a lot of people through Le Wagon. They have a massive freelance channel where people often post offers. Same as the Slack channels here in betahaus. Coworking spaces in Berlin make a big dIfference in that too.
Tony: Word of mouth really has been working great for us, for now. I feel like the biggest reason why people hire us is because they see that we produce good work, but we're also easy to get along with. So then when they hear that someone is looking for developers, they just recommend us.
Alex: Zimt & Mehl - the Turkish bakery around the corner. It’s just soo good.
Martin: Oh, there is this Italian restaurant called Ristorante del Arte
Tony: Oh, my God, this place is so funny. It looks like a pretty average Italian restaurant, but the whole interior design inside is just decorated in such a weird way. The entire place is covered in frescoes. They have crystal chandeliers and Easter bunnies. Some Greek columns. It has a different name on the menu, on the side and on the Internet. And it was an ex-shoe-store.
Want to get in touch with Obst Digital? Come around betahaus | Neukölln and meet them here or send them an email to firstname.lastname@example.org !
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