SAN FRANCISCO — Victor Broido has an enviable lifestyle. He lives and works 200 yards from a sun-kissed beach. He often kitesurfs before work. Sometimes he surfs during work.
“It was my dream, as a kid, to surf for an hour before going to the office,” Broido said. “That’s my life. It’s happening right now.”
You might want to punch Broido in the face upon hearing this, but he’s the nicest, most self-deprecating guy. You can’t begrudge him anything. Plus, he worked to attain this way of life.
Broido and his colleagues run DigiDNA, an eight-person company based in Geneva, Switzerland, with a satellite office in Geraldton, a small city in remote Western Australia with a reputation for world-class water sports.
DigiDNA is one of thousands of small, independent software developers spawned by the mobile revolution. In 2013, Apple’s App Store revenues topped $10 billion, and a lot of that money flowed to small startups. There are small indies in every category, from games to databases. Lots of them flocked to San Francisco last week for Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference. DigiDNA was a gold sponsor of last week’s AltConf, the alternative conference that ran parallel to Apple’s event. (DigiDNA has also sponsored Cult of Mac’s Cultcast in the past.)
It’s not often you nearly get eaten by a shark on a company off-site. When DigiDNA’s cofounder and CTO Jérôme Bédat went swimming with his coworkers, he was the only one without flippers. So when the shark showed up, his workmates took off as he swam frantically behind them.
“Yeah, I left him,” laughed Broido. “I thought, ‘We’re both dead — but he’s going to be first.’ Afterwards I told him I was going to get the harpoon gun on the boat and save him. But I don’t think I could have.”
Luckily, no one got eaten. “I wasn’t so scared,” said Bédat, also laughing. “It wasn’t a very big shark. It would have been like getting bitten by a dog.” Right. It’s a good thing he wasn’t eaten, Bédat is the “coding genius” behind all the company’s products, Broido says.
DigiDNA holds two off-sites a year, one in Australia and the other in Switzerland, where Bédat is based.
The company’s other cofounder and CEO, Michael Fuhrmann, also lives in Geraldton and is another kitesurfing fanatic. Fuhrmann is the brains behind the company. He lived on the beach in a tent for two years before helping start the company. He and the other surfers wanted a way to trade music on their iPods, so the company’s first product, DiskAid, was born.
The three principles — Fuhrmann, Bédat and Broido — are close, spending a lot of time working and playing together. “It’s thanks to these two guys that I can be the cool surfer entrepreneur dude,” says Broido. “I would probably live as a ski bum if I didn’t have the chance to work with those two.”
The software has earned DigiDNA a renegade reputation. DiskAid allows music to be copied off an iPod, a function Apple disabled to keep the music industry happy. Over the years, DiskAid has matured into a full-featured file-management tool for iOS devices — and file-management apps are banned from the App Store.
Broido acknowledged that the company exists a little outside the mainstream, but argues convincingly that there are lots of legitimate uses for the software. He said many doctors use DiskAid to manage files on their iPads. They need a quick and easy way to put X-rays, prescription files and spreadsheets of test results on their devices, and DiskAid does that.
He also said Apple’s own Geniuses regularly recommend DiskAid to people who have lost their computers and have no backup besides what’s on an iPad or iPhone.
“We are a necessary evil, because we are doing things they (Apple) won’t do,” Broido said.
“We’re hackers and we’re hackers because we love Apple,” he said. “As kids, we broke down our toys to see how they were working and when Apple gave us this” — he held up his iPhone — “we broke it down because that’s how we are. It’s not because we are subversive, it’s because that’s how we are.”
He lives in Geraldton with his wife and two kids. He works early in the morning and late at night (when he makes calls to Europe), but spends a lot of time in the water during the day. At night, the family often eats BBQ on the terrace.
“I was also BBQing in Switzerland,” said Broido, “with a ski jacket on.”
“I make a living out of a product that I love,” he added. “It’s the whole thing. I love Apple. I love the design … but I understand that it can’t be perfect. Nothing is. So I’m trying very hard to make it better. So yeah, it’s a dream. I’m living the dream. I love it.”