10 years of GarageFarm.NET: a decade recounted by Tomasz Swidzinski and Michal Organisciak

10 years of GarageFarm.NET: a decade recounted by Tomasz Swidzinski and Michal Organisciak

It’s been 10 years since the humble beginnings of our render farm service, and so much has transpired in that time. Now as a bigger and tighter family, we look back at the experiences we’ve had. How we started, and what made us what we are today. In this article, we learn from Tomek, our CEO and General Manager Michal what it was like in the early days, and what has grown in the company and its collective vision.

Can you describe what the CG industry and 3d rendering was like ten years ago? What were the specific needs that eventually prompted GarageFarm.NET and its cloud-rendering services?

Tomek: It might sound boring, but the most significant difference was that there was less technology. We moved the goalpost much further, the things that were simple in the past are happening automatically, difficult things then are easy now, and something impossible then is now just hard to do. Each of us 3D artists can do more with less now, and I'm quite proud that our company is part of this movement.

Michal: Ten years ago, 3D graphics was based on autodidacts and enthusiasts rather than trained professional graphic designers. Keep in mind, for example, that YouTube was created in 2005, so there was no easy access to knowledge. The expectations of both final recipients and consumers' expectations towards render farms were also different. We are talking here about the fact that 10 years ago, awareness of rendering farms was very limited. To use the services of a rendering farm at all, one had to try harder.

Tomek our CEO and... Tomek called Domel, our IT software manager, who is fascinated with old computers.

That said, how did GarageFarm.NET start? When did you personally come in?

Tomek: The company I was employed previously as a 3D artist was closing its office and I was looking at the possible redundancy deal with them more as an opportunity than the danger. Actually, I had one meeting with people that were at risk of redundancy. I got a little bit too excited and was told off later by my boss then for being a little bit too jolly about it.

Michal: I started working with GarageFarm.NET 7 years ago when 48 render nodes comprised the whole farm, the service was already based on our CRM and queue management systems, but many tasks still had to be done manually. I have been chatting with many customers because the service process itself forced long conversations. Then the name fully corresponded to reality. The render farm did not fit in the actual garage, but in the rented office, where we set up two previously used large air-conditioners bought from a restaurant. After we reached 200 servers, it was so hot that we often worked there in underwear only.

How has GarageFarm.NET approached changes over the years? What was the journey like for GarageFarm.NET to get to where it is — both generally and with respect to your position?

Tomek: We grew from a small business run by a young couple to a medium-sized company. There were many changes in my position - from IT & customer representative to a more managerial position. Minhee was still doing customer service because of the language. She's the only person in the company that speaks perfect Korean, of course, but she's very involved in other areas of the company as well.

I would say the biggest of the changes were not the most grandiose ones, but few moments that were pivotal in our history. The first of these was when we moved all the servers from the UK to South Korea. We had some trouble getting cheap electricity, and affordable Internet connection. Everything was so expensive in 2010 back in the day, so we decided to move to another country. In retrospect, it was an excellent idea. It helped us keep the costs low and keep gathering customers at a slow but steady rate.

In Korea we rented an office where we actually lived for a few years and then when the number of computers went above 100, we rented another office. When we hosted whole servers, and somewhere around 250-300 hundred servers we moved back to Poland where our data center is now. As the company grew all our internal systems had to grow and expand, but at first, we did everything ourselves.

So one metric of compounding growth, of course, is the number of servers that we have but, the second one is hiring new people. In the second year our first year in Korea, we started hiring new employees and one of them, of course, was a Java developer who - we realized - was necessary because we had to move out from the stock software which wasn’t profiled for our company requirements. I remember one night we set up everything because it was mostly manual at this time. So the customer sent the data, we set up everything, went to bed around 2:00 AM, and woke up at 6:30 to realize that the queueing software that we had quickly decided to cancel our rendering for no reason at 4:00 AM!

I must say at the beginning we did make mistakes more often and had to fight the elements much more than we are now. So the first decision was to move out to our software so we can have more control and that was the time when we hired our first java developer and now good friend, Darek.
Since then, we kept hiring people, and now our customer service team alone is ten people strong, and we have whole departments for HR, IT, Marketing. Many things changed since that time, and they are changing pretty much every month, even by the week now. We are very dynamic- much more than we used to be not only because of size but because there is much more brainpower in our organization, not only in volume but in capabilities as well 😊

GarageFarm.NET at Siggraph Asia 2015

Michal: We have changed from a small company into a global brand recognizable on the 3D market, we offer a service that is unmatched in terms of both quality and speed. We have dedicated a lot of heart to reach our current level. I think it results from a stubborn, sometimes even unnecessary pursuit of perfection. Many of us started our adventure with 3D graphics as freelancers, hence we know not only the expectations of our customers. I think that we can empathize with their situation and thanks to this we give more of ourselves to solve their problems.

How do you see the company changing in 5–10 years? How, if any, do these reflect changes forecasted for the 3D industry in general?

Tomek: There is more technology that is making everything more accessible, and I certainly hope we're going to be part of this process for the foreseeable future, secondly, as the industry is changing, we are getting incorporated in it more and more.

Michal: I perfectly remember what the 3D industry looked like 15-20 years ago, then the use of rendering in the entertainment industry was a hundred times smaller than it is now. However, the last 5-10 years is a rapid development of visualization techniques. Everything has changed, and we try to follow this change or even initiate it often. It is difficult to predict how the next years will affect the 3D graphics market, one thing is certain, we will try to respond to changes so that our service always meets the needs of our customers.

How do you motivate the people under you?

Tomek: Showing how hardworking I am. I had a mild case of work burnout a few years ago and I could see how it spreads out around the company. Seriously it's like things like that are contagious or something.

I'm always trying to explain that one-person performance is directly linked to company for formants we're getting paid salaries from the customers yeah so customers are giving us money and if we don't perform perfectly for customers we might find difficult to be paid.
So I'm not so much into sports but I read in some business health book something very very smart you can't have the best team if all your players are impressed so even one average team player can drag performance of the whole team down and of course in the competitive market you need to be the best.

Michal: I think the best motivation is to achieve small successes, so I always try to divide large tasks into a series of small, feasible in a short period of time. And I don't forget how important the simple word 'thank you' is. When success happens, it's easy to celebrate, but I think failure is the real lesson. Usually, we try to analyze them according to the scheme that we are not looking for someone to blame, but for solutions that will help us avoid such events in the future.
In Poland, we have the saying that “the human thing is to make mistakes, the thing of fools is to persist in mistakes”.

Michał, when he was training our team during the company meeting in 2018.

What were the three biggest accomplishments your department has made for GarageFarm.NET?

Tomek:

1. Full automation
2. Better safer IT
3. Proper structure allowing easy growth
4. We're kind of medium size company now I'm really proud of that - to get from two people to 30 plus.

Michal:

1. The payment handling system based on Google spreadsheets and JavaScript helped us a lot in managing finances before the automation system appeared. It is past now, but I mentioned it because I am not a programmer and the system was based on the code I wrote. The most interesting is that it was created from scratch in three days.
2. The movement of servers from our office to professional server rooms, so we can provide our services without a fear that our servers will suddenly stop working.
3. Effectively acquiring external investment funds, allowing us to rapidly develop not only the computing base but also the quality of services.

What was the biggest challenge your department had to face? How was it overcome?

Tomek: Budget and being small, starting late. There were other render farm companies already when we were starting, many that started later w/o big investors money just disappeared.

Michal:  We've always wanted to be independent, which is why we wanted the headquarters together with our own fully professional server room. And we succeeded, not only have our own office, but also one of the most modern container server rooms in the world.

How does your current venture contribute to the company as a whole?

Michal: We are completely independent, we have control over the entire cloud rendering process, we have our own servers, our own software and a team of people who can if necessary, immediately adapt our servers and software to the needs of our clients.

The differentiating factor with GarageFarm.NET is its “human touch.” Is this aspect still as relevant today as it was before?

Tomek: I am really strict about this. Of course, you can't please all, but 99.99%? I'm really trying to push to everyone that our company’s motto is “we are here to help”.

Michal: As a company, we need to stand out, I think that approaching clients as friends is what gives us all the feeling that we are working together. The goal and deadline of the client is our goal and deadline. Not only do we do everything to solve customer problems, but we also build a team so that it includes people who know the specifics of our clients' work perfectly. The idea of our company is to help people who want to render their projects as quickly and cheaply as possible.

Martin, Kate and Michal at Total Chaos 2019

What impressions would you like customers to have of GarageFarm.NET? Why?

Tomek: Professionalism, and that we are on their side. Smart people will understand their problem whatever it is at the moment. And that we care.

Michal: I would like them to feel that someone will take care of them, that we are here to help. Customers very often use the services of a rendering farm only when the deadline is close and many of them are afraid that they will not make it on time. Stress is a very unpleasant feeling, but we try to do everything to minimize this stress. Then it is easier for us and the client to control the situations and bring the rendering process to a happy end.

Anyway, this is how we finish our messages to customers, "happy rendering" is the perfect summary of what we want to be for you - the best.

There you have it - the growth of GarageFarm.NET as told by our CEO and founding member. To learn more about our render farm, have a look at what the Director of Operations has to say, and a more general overview of our history. Thanks for listening, and as always, Happy Rendering!

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