Prove and the Testgurus

It was way past midnight. The after party was going strong and three boys were sat around a table sipping their beers. Then the idea struck us. It was a bigger than life idea, like most of the ideas that come after midnight.

“Let’s start a business. Become entrepreneurs and revolutionize the testing business.”

Little did we know back then and lucky for us, as we wouldn’t have started the business if we could have foreseen the financial crisis of 2008 and everything that followed.

Ato, a friend of mine who was an academically exceptional guy with a masters degree in finance and engineering, promised to set up the business and we promised to follow him.

In January 2006 he called and asked if I remember the promise I had made? I didn’t of course, so he had to refresh my memory. A lot.

When I was little, my entrepreneur dad always taught me that a man must always keep his word.

And like an old Navy SEAL proverb says ”we do not rise to the level of our expectation, we fall to the level of our training”, I had to keep my word to Ato. My father had taught me well.

So I quit my day job as a test- and support manager and became the co-founder of Prove. A testing company made up of three friends in their twenties who were ready to reinvent their career paths from scratch again.

It was a rocky ride for us. We were engineers who had no clue about sales, marketing, running business or finance. Sitting in our 9 square meter office, we had to figure out what was the most valuable outcome of testing for the people we wanted to serve. Even more difficult was to figure out how to actually sell the idea to a stranger.

Our first business decision was to buy a printer to print out our job contracts. We wanted the paperwork to feel official. The printer was a cheap HP Deskjet. It was a grand feeling that day.

In the first two years we managed to land 3 contracts employing a total of 9 friends of ours and then the day came. As the financial crisis took hold, all of our contracts ended within a month. Our then CEO Ato left the company and I made the move from being a tester to being at the helm of a small business.

Laying off friends wasn’t a fun start but it had to be done. That’s how the journey of discovery began for me.

My first instinct was to meet with as many strangers in the software industry as possible and to ask what their biggest concerns were. Over the course of 10 years I’ve met with 2000 people in the context of understanding their problems and selling them software testing services. During that time I’ve also had the privilege to meet another 1500 or so more people giving software testing workshops and training.

It turned out that the people who decided about testing, based all their actions on assumptions and ignorance rather than experience and curiosity.

  1. What they knew about testing was taken from school books.
  2. They usually fell back on age old habits of industrial management.
  3. They had no clue about the outcomes they wanted.

In addition to that, most of the decisions were derived from the upper ladders of organisation charts, which presented even more problems. For example regarding a simple question – What is the ROI of software testing? How can we make sure that the investments we make in testing pay themselves back? How can we measure it?

To be able to sell the simple idea of professional testing to a stranger presented a significant number of hurdles that had to be overcome. As if that wasn’t enough, we needed to learn how to convince strangers to decide on real, practical ways of testing, instead of the schoolbook approach.

Today Prove is a company employing 50 testing gurus with a revenue of 4 million euros, so I can safely say we have learned something along the way.

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