This startup has no offices and unlimited vacation, and its founder has lived in more than 30 countries in 5 years

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toptal_cofounders

Toptal cofounders Taso Du
Val, left, and Braenden Beneschott.

Toptal

By the time Braenden Beneschott graduated from Princeton,
his startup for placing technical freelance workers with
companies, Toptal, was already doing about $1 million a year in
revenue. 

Nearly six years later, the company is “flying way
past” $100 million annually, has clients ranging from the
Cleveland Cavaliers to Airbnb, has hundreds of employees — and
not a single office space anywhere in the world. 

Beneschott founded Toptal while he was still in school at
Princeton University, where he paid his own way. In order to
put himself through school, he taught himself to be a software
developer and started to do freelance work. Very quickly, he
realized the pain of navigating the freelance world, both as
a freelancer and someone looking to hire freelancers. 

The idea for Toptal was born out of this realization. There
were plenty of talented technical freelancers, and lots of
companies who needed short-term help, but there wasn’t an
efficient way to connect them.

As Toptal grew, Beneschott and his cofounder, Taso Du Val, had a
decision to make: go the traditional Silicon Valley startup route
or take a different path?

“I asked myself, are we going to do that assumed route of
‘I’m going to move to Silicon Valley and raise a $10 million
Series A and get a big office and really go with this,’ and I
didn’t really want to,” Beneschott told Business
Insider. 

The pair decided to move somewhere that was not only much
cheaper than the Bay Area, but also had a wealth of smart
people with fewer local job opportunities. They chose Budapest,
Hungary. But that was only the beginning of the
journey….


remote_team (002)

“There are no offices —
everybody is encouraged to travel,” Beneschott says of the Toptal
team.

Toptal

‘No matter where you are in the world…you’re
behind’

Toptal’s employees live like the freelancers it serves. The
company now has hundreds of employees in more than 30 locations
around the world, but anybody can work from anywhere. The
company also has an unlimited vacation policy an encourages its
employees to travel as much as they want. 

“If you’re cut from a certain cloth, you really avoid
burn-out with a lifestyle like this,” Beneschott said. “Traveling
constantly and going to new places and feeling refreshed daily —
as opposed to sitting in an office and staring at a clock in a
cubicle — your life kind of becomes your work and your work
becomes your life.”


Toptal travel photo

Beneschott travels with
only three or four bags, which contain his work computer, a
10-pack of black t-shirts, and snowboard equipment or polo
gear.

Toptal


toptal_event_svalbard

“We
had the ‘penthouse to have’ in downtown Budapest and had an
amazing time as young single 20-somethings,” Beneschott says of
the early years of Toptal.

Toptal

This might not sound ideal for people who crave a defined
work-life balance, though, and for those new to the company, it
can sometimes come as a surprise.

Toptal doesn’t schedule meetings. If you need to
get ahold of someone, you ping them on Skype and talk right then
and there. 

“People can be watching a soccer game or standing in line
at a movie theater or even out on the town,” Beneschott said.
“P

eople are shocked when they first come to the
company at just how available people are around the clock. It’s
not because they’re chained to their desk, it’s because they’ve
figured out how to be available while living a hell of a
life.”

So how does Toptal keep track of hundreds of employees in
multiple time zones?

“We use a lot of time-conversion tools,” Beneschott said
with a laugh. “But n

o matter where you are in the
world and what time you wake up, you’re behind. Which, for the
right person, is a really exhilarating feeling. You wake up and
drink a Bulletproof Coffee and you dive right in and it’s just
non-stop. It’s constant change and constant problem
solving.”

Taking a break from travel — for the moment

Beneschott himself has now lived in nearly 35 countries since his
big move to Budapest. A self-described “summer chaser,”
Beneschott stays in countries in Europe and South America
for a couple months at a time. This type of lifestyle is ideal
for the way he works, he says.

Beneschott travels for another reason: he’s an avid polo
player, a sport he competes in worldwide. Friends in Budapest
first got him into the sport in the early years of Toptal and he
plays often, even recruiting fellow Toptal employees to join
him. 

“We probably have the highest concentration of computer
scientist polo players in the world,” Beneschott
said. 


Toptal polo

Beneschott has played
competitive polo in places like Argentina, New Zealand, and
Europe.

Toptal

But Beneschott is taking a bit of a break from all the traveling
at the moment, but for a very happy reason: he and his wife just
welcomed a new baby girl. Right now, Beneschott is living in
South Florida, which he described as a great place to raise a
family, but not a place he seemed keen on staying for the
long haul. For someone whose life is a constant series of new
things and new places, he just experienced yet another “first,”
albeit a more mundane one: signing a lease. 


I have a one-year lease for actually the
first time in my whole life,” Beneschott said. “But
o

nce [my daughter] is able, actually in the
next few months, we’ll start to travel a bit around the US and
we’ll see how that goes and play it by ear, but the idea is that
she will be with me and so will my wife.”

From the sound of it, that one-year lease might be
Beneschott’s last for a while. 

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Here’s all that new Roland stuff in one place, even accordions

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It was called “909 day.” It was on the ninth of September. And it included a new 909 product. So far, so good. But Roland’s 909 day stops making sense around there. It launched over 30 products, many of them unrelated, over 24 hours. “909 Day” saw new … accordions. Also, record players that said 909 on them. There were four continents, and a marathon Web stream that would have taken 24 hours to watch, sometimes switching between Japanese and English. In years of covering this business, I’ve never seen anything like it. But before you blow this off, there was some cool stuff in there – depending on whether you play the accordion or sax, for instance. Let’s make sense of it.

Roland_SYSTEM-8_Top

The new PLUG-OUT flagship

Roland’s SYSTEM-1 was actually in some way the most interesting of the first AIRA offerings, not so much because of its PLUG-OUT technology, but because its default mode was a genuinely new synth. So, yes, it was built on ACB – their name for their proprietary component modeling techniques – but it was alive and weird and wonderful. The problem is, PLUG-OUT had some growing pains when it shipped with drivers, and the build on the SYSTEM-1 was to me really poor.

I hope the SYSTEM-8, a keyboard version, improves on the original. Roland is promising updated ACB – as with the Boutique line, they’ve been tweaking all their models. It does seem it has a better keybed, which to me was the deal killer on SYSTEM-1.

Because it works with “PLUG-OUT,” you can load different software models of instruments (purchased separately) … a bit like plugging in expansion cards in Roland products of yore. JUPITER-8 and JUNO-106 are included, or add SH-2, SH-101, PROMARS, and others.

The good news: Roland has smartly added more hands-on controls, and the excellent step sequencing from the AIRA TR, plus chord memory. That makes this look like a lot of fun to play, and I do believe they can make interesting ACB-based instruments.

The best news: it has three PLUG-OUT slots. That means it can be up to three synths in one without swapping back on the computer.

The bad news: it’s still light-up green. And while it’s more powerful, it’s US$1499 — which means you’ve got some strong choices from the likes of Dave Smith or Moog competing for your hard-earned cash. And while it’s nice not to have the flexibility of swapping models, now with three onboard at once without going back to the computer, there’s a trade-off in the intuitiveness of the control layout. The SYSTEM-1 was frankly a bit weird using it as anything other than the default. So I remain a bit cautious here.

I think it’s unfair to call the Boutique series or the other AIRAs “software in a box,” because it is so well integrated. But on the SYSTEM-8, having a standalone keyboard that runs software instruments (albeit tailored to the gear) is the whole pitch. I’m curious who’s buying this line and how they’re using them, though.

Lots of smart discussion on SonicState.

Correction: when I first wrote this, I missed the very important detail of there being three slots.

For futuristic wind players

By far, the product I expected least is something called the Aerophone. It’s a kind of digital wind instrument with sax fingerings. That puts it in the category of things like the AKAI EWI series and digital brass instruments, but with some important differences.

First, if you’ve played a sax, you can pick this up and play it right away without any new fingerings. Second, it comes with all the sounds ready to go – clarinet, flute, oboe, trumpet, violin, plus all the sax parts, and you can layer those.

I think wind instruments are as natural a match for electronic performance as keyboards are, so to me, this is a great development.

Between the AKAI EWI series and the Aerophone, there’s something that works for you. I think Roland has an edge for built-in sounds and sax players, while the AKAI remains a more flexible controller (especially as it’s wireless). Fingering matters – check out this page for a discussion of all the different ways you can adjust fingering to the EWI (apart from standard woodwind fingering).

A visual inspection will see what I mean: the EWI looks like a clarinet, and the Aerophone looks like a saxophone … from another planet.

That Aerophone also looks freakin’ huge, a bit like a keytar for the mouth, but … I’m still interested to see it.

Oh yeah, and synth heads can make fun of these all they want. There’s a whole world of instrumentalists out there, though, and they’re a lot larger than the synth community.

Meanwhile, in Japan:

Roland_FR-4xb_Black

For Accordionists

Yes, there’s a new V-Accordion – the FR-4x. That’s Roland getting under the $4000 mark. Uh, for everyone who thinks Roland is just cheap stuff made in Asia, this is a flagship accordion of the future built in Castelfidardo, Italy – seriously. There are people in Italy building MIDI accordions. We live in a wonderful age.

Otherwise, it’s a V-Accordion — just a bit cheaper, lighter, and more portable.

Accordions are cool. No, seriously. Don’t believe me? Watch – Finnish style accordion rock:

You can actually tell a lot about the traditional side of Roland looking at this thing. There’s a similar philosophy as to other instrument categories: load this with sounds, let it run on batteries, meet different genre needs, and offer things like USB playback to keep up with the Internet.

Ernie Rideout, former editor of Keyboard magazine, is actually an accordion player and reviewed the very first V-Accordion. Again, make fun all you like: there’s a lot of accordion music in the world.

I’ve seen Matmos play Whirpool washing machines in Berghain, so … I’d also like to see someone make techno with a V-Accordion, quite frankly.

It’s available in all black finish, so it won’t get turned away at the door.

gp607_image_7_gal

For pianists

The funny thing is, in the midst of something called “909 day,” Roland not-so-quietly made an aggressive play for the home digital piano market – one that pits it head to head with Yamaha.

There are some interesting features here. Roland’s progressive hammer action has improved a lot lately, and SuperNATURAL has upped its sound game. These are premium-priced digital pianos, but you get a compelling offering.

More gee-whiz stuff lately involves Bluetooth MIDI, which allows integration with tablets and hands-free page turning. There are also interactive features for immersive sound, interactive metronomes, and more. I really wonder what the experience of growing up with this stuff is; it’s the one and only case where I really don’t feel digitally native.

The new lineup starts at US$1500.

Roland_Pianos_collage

td-50kv_kd-a22_main_gal

For drummers

The latest model V-Drums actually represent a big upgrade. The sound module is all new, and does what Roland is doing elsewhere – from circuits to acoustic instruments – bundling together a bunch of proprietary modeling stuff that’s meant to make things more playable.

What’s nice here is, this isn’t just a black box of presets. You can customize heads and shells, choose mics and ambience, add compressor and EQ, and even save and compare snapshots.

In other words, what the V-Drums represents is the latest attack on computer software. To my mind, I can’t see a whole lot of benefit to a drummer working with soft synths, because they can get similar power in a drum kit – and they need the hardware anyway. (Film composers and whatnot are another matter, more likely to customize the software.)

Oh yeah, and – interesting to CDM readers, you can even load your own samples on SD card for the first time.

New sensors, new snare and ride pads – technologically speaking, the V-Drums might be the most sophisticated of the new Roland announcements, even if it was the one that got the least attention. (Create Drum Music? Dunno… somewhere. Me in an alternate universe, possibly. I hope I also have a goatee there and that I’m totally evil.)

BOSS_Katana_Amp_Series

For guitarists

The first BOSS announcement is easy to sum up, because you start with the price – BOSS are making a US$199 version of their GT effects processor. I almost don’t care what it does; I think that’s going to be competitive with other offerings, partly because of the name (and the GT has a lot of sonic experience in it). The looks are nothing to write home about, but on the upside, they’re also not confusing, which may be the key here.

BOSS_GT-1_Front

More interesting is the BOSS Katana amps, BOSS’ big new amp play. It’s interesting because the line integrates BOSS effects, which I think is meaningful to a lot of people. And Roland are also playing up on their Japanese-ness using script and name to evoke quality, which I think is smart marketing. Here’s where things get Roland-y, though – you control the head via MIDI? Customize the effects via software? Head-scratcher for me, but, well, different, at least.

Roland_EC-10M

For cajon players

Here’s why I love Roland. Their ELCajon EC-10 was an acoustic cajon (a percussion instrument) that layers electronic sounds – basically, the best busking product I’ve seen in years. Now, it’s available as a standalone module, so you can use it with your existing cajon.

Now, there’s just no excuse for anyone not to have some cajones.

Sorry. I’m really sorry for that. There were a lot of announcements. I lost some sleep. Moving on.

It’s still cool, even if I’m lame.

Roland_TT-99_Front

Roland_DJ-99_Front

Roland is putting “909” on things

I’ve saved these for last, because… they appear to be bog-standard products that Roland has just rebranded, and are otherwise not worth mentioning. Still, Roland: if you’re doing mixers and turntables, I really would like to buy 909 sneakers and underwear. Consider.

And a video switcher

But I’ll put that in another article. Okay, so not quite everything fits here.

This is of course on top of the Boutique and DJ ranges we’ve already covered.

I’ll say this, though: Roland is coming for the market, in an aggressive way I haven’t seen for a long time. Combine this with their DJ partnership with Serato and the Roland Product Group’s more particular approach to our electronic production market, and Roland seem to be on their game again.

The post Here’s all that new Roland stuff in one place, even accordions appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

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This 3-D Model Of What A Clitoris Really Looks Like Will Haunt Your Soul Until You Die

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clitoris

Handout

Men are already naturally adverse toward going anywhere near a clitoris during sex, and a new French sex education idea — showing young dudes accurate, 3-D renderings of it — ain’t going to make a difference, because dear CHRIST, clitorises are terrifying.

Peep this scorpion-looking monster.

clit-clit

Imagine seeing that things scurry across your kitchen floor one evening. You’d torch your apartment to the ground and move to another city.

Yet sex educators think that will help men be more into playing with that thing? Fuck no, man. Fuck no. From The Guardian:

But the important thing is that it debunks myths that have repressed female sexuality for centuries. For one, it refutes the dictionary/textbook education that wrongly asserts the clitoris is the size of “a fingertip”, a “pea” or that it is small. We can now clearly see that the clitoris includes two shafts (crura) which are actually about 10cm long. Not only can we visualise that the clitoris is more than what the eye perceives; with the visual model we can also now get a mental image of how it encircles the vagina, making penetrative sex potentially orgasmic. This means that a demystified discussion about the female orgasm is possible at long last.

This, this confuses me even more. I thought there was a little button you were supposed to press and swirl your finger about. Now, I feel I need a third and fourth hand and a couple extra tongues. Even then I wouldn’t know which knob to twist and which pointy end to flick.

Clits are wild. If you know how to handle this thing, let me know.

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Playing Pong While Climbing a Wall Looks Like a Lot of Stupid Fun

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Every work week should end with a quick game of wall climbing Pong. That is, a game of Pong that is projected onto a rock climbing wall that tracks your body parts as paddles so that the ball reacts appropriately to each hit. It looks fun because you’re actively maneuvering your body around to smack that ball of light but also looks so silly because you’re hanging off a freaking wall and could, like, fall off at any time.

The game is just one set up of the Augmented Climbing Wall. There’s a lot more games you can play while trying to scale the thing.

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Electronic music pioneer Don Buchla has died

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We all have a short time on this planet, and some of us are lucky enough to get to work on tools that people use to make music. You can count on your fingers the number of people who had the kind of influence that Don Buchla had on electronic music in the last century. And this week, at age 79, he’s left us.

The reality of instrumental history (electronic or otherwise) is that instruments aren’t simply invented. They are instead best described in clusters of activity around musical practice, even with certain objects at the center.

And Buchla’s instruments have been at the center of musical practice since the 1960s, from the 1963 debut of the System 100 modular and in each decade since. They were at the heart of Morton Subotnick’s music, including his legendary Silver Apples of the Moon. They were the soul of Pauline Oliveros’ ground-breaking work at the San Francisco Tape Center, too, and you can still catch Suzanne Ciani making music with them today as she continues to use them to break ground.

Working with composers, Buchla helped dream up many of the ways people design and think about modular synths. In particular, it’s hard to imagine sequencing on synthesizers without Buchla’s contributions on his modular.

buchlaabuchlasys.l1

Buchla I believe deserves as much credit as Bob Moog for the invention of the notion of modular synthesis in hardware generally – alongside Max Mathews and the team at Bell for the creation of unit generators and modular synthesis in software form. That should never have to be a contest, some Olympic sprint between two inventors. It’s when you realize how the two played off each other’s ideas and the musicians they worked with that you see how powerful that moment in musical history was. Much of the talk West Coast or East Coast synthesis is misleading (further muddled by the fact that many of the supposed Californians were from New York). If anything, it seems as you study the record that it was the coexistence and interchange of Buchla and Moog, composers and musicians, that helped create the nuclear explosion of electronic music.

But it’s not just modulars. Buchla also leaves a rich legacy in performance interfaces, modular and beyond. The Buchla modular itself was from the start conceived as a performance instrument – a radical notion at a time when electronic instruments were largely devices meant to construct sounds for tape, and still a challenge to pull off today. From the touch plates on the first modulars, to his Thunder and Lightning (which have influenced gestural interfaces generally), to marimbas and piano bars, Buchla’s mind was an endless source of ideas about how to play.

But this is why I think it’d be a mistake to look too hard backwards, or to try to sum up who Buchla was in a series of pieces of hardware. It’s important that he was someone who made objects, and made those objects function. But at the risk of stating the obvious, a musical instrument is a physical artifact of ideas about music. Buchla’s real influence is a thread that winds through other hardware and software and musical output in ways that may be impossible to trace.

Over half a century on, we’re not going to invent modular synthesis all over again; that’s done. But we might wonder and marvel at how we may dream up ideas about music that can spread – because there, the viral progress of creativity can still be boundless. Buchla’s legacy, on a scale true of just a handful of pioneers, is that there is endless wondrous sound where was there was none, sounds that otherwise would never have lived.

And with that in mind, class with Don is still in session. Watch:

Synthesist and historian-journalist Mark Vail has an enormous extended interview with Don. (full links, described in German, though you can watch the videos either way)

Alessandro Cortini in duet with Buchla:

Everything Ends Here from Alessandro Cortini on Vimeo.

A video recorded at Berkeley starts out shaky, but is fine once Don starts speaking.

The Guardian has a beautiful and succinct obituary.

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