Spotlight on Tim Brewer and Damian Bramanis - co-founders of Functionly

Our interview series spotlights Tim Brewer and Damian Bramanis' intrepid journeys: what makes them tick, what gives them joy, and what keeps them grounded through the weird, wild, and wonderful moments.

Tim Brewer and Damian Bramanis are the co-founders behind Functionly - a continuous org design tool that helps leaders create amazing places to work, through continual strategic planning and organisation optimisation.  Getting this right is a critical, but often overlooked, element of an organisation's long-term health.  Poor org design has a host of unintended consequences: from conflict, to burnout, to turnover, to lost opportunities. Functionly empowers leaders to address these issues, without the need to pull in expensive external consultants.  The AfterWork team loved the enormity of the problem and the elegance of their solution, and invested in Functionly’s pre-seed round in late 2020 (you can read our investment notes here). And just as quickly,  we fell for Functionly’s formidable founders.

Tim has an uncanny ability to draw top talent into his orbit, and rally them around a bold vision. He has a natural spike when it comes to motivating team members, and has coalesced a high-performing team with a bias towards action. Tim’s boundless energy is complemented by Damian’s exacting customer focus and product centricity. With precision and empathy, Damian can articulate customer pain points; and knows intuitively what product features to prioritise. These skillsets combined has given birth to a customer-centric product, and a team that gets things built with impressive pace.

Some members of the Functionly team with Frank, their wildly famous llama mascot

We’re excited to see this team continue to bulldoze through mountains. We loved finding out a little more about Tim and Damian in this interview.

How did you get the idea for your business?

Tim: In my own own experience working in and leading organisations, I experienced firsthand the dysfunction and pain caused by poor organisational design. After selling my business and working with Dropbox, I invested in and advised other businesses. As an advisor, org design was the most common request for help I fielded. I tested different methods for continuous org design and self organisation to bring better agility to companies.

Damian: Tim approached me to work on Functionly with him, and at first, I didn’t believe that it could work. I figured that org design was a proven consulting ‘service’ that was impossible to turn into a product. What eventually convinced me was meeting with CEOs who had been through the process in their own organisations; including people who had worked with Tim in the past. I was astonished by the number of people who told me that their organisations had been transformed.

I soon realised that there was some magic in org design, that had the potential to change the DNA of a workplace. I was convinced to have a go at capturing this magic in a product.

How did Functionly evolve from an idea to a living, breathing company?

Tim: It's a long story, but here are the key moments:

I was sitting in the Venice Whaler watching the sunset with Simon Anderson, who was the CEO at Mission (USA). He asked me what I had been doing, and I shared the idea of Functionly. Simon leaned across and the table and said, “Tim, that's a real problem. If you decide you’re going all in, I will invest”.

On another occasion, Jindou Lee & Andrew Macross (co-founders of HappyCo) gave me a sketch of a self-organisational design process. They said, “Tim, you must try to build this into a software product”. This was the moment I agreed to spend six months testing the idea.

Some other first believers included Andrew Larsen, whose backing catalysed our first round, and David Wood, the former Head of Investment Banking at Bank of America, who I sat next to on a flight to America. We kept in contact, and a year later, David became a cornerstone investor in our Angel round, and even flew to the USA to attend SaaStr and help us launch our prototype.

David Wood with Elizabeth (an early team member) at SaaStr

Damian: After I agreed to get onboard, we went all-in pretty quickly, throwing everything we had at the idea. We set ourselves some crazy big goals and wrote some scrappy code. This first iteration of the product relied heavily on ‘people in the room’ to deliver it; but these first engagements were when we started to build a rick understanding of what our product would need to become.

What was the biggest barrier to getting your business off the ground? How did you overcome it?

Tim: At the beginning, I actively asked myself four questions to stress-test the idea:

  • Can I find a co-founder, who has polar opposite skills and passions to mine, and who is way better than me at those things?
  • Can this problem attract an epic, global team?
  • Can I sell this product to someone who doesn’t know me from a bar of soap?
  • Can I raise an angel round to build a prototype?

As these big blocks fell into place, so too did all the small things.

The Functionly team visiting Dropbox’ office

Damian: For me, the biggest barrier was focus. The problem we were solving was HUGE, and we had the resources to build a tiny product, at first. Deciding on the boundary of what we should build has always been difficult. It takes laser-focus and discipline to build a product that’s small enough to be realistic to build, yet big enough to move the needle for customers.

What inspired you to make ‘Afterwork, work’?

Tim: I asked hundreds of smart investors and trusted advisors to help me ‘kill the idea’ (find the reasons it should not be a software product). Almost all of them sucked at this ask! They tried to talk me into building the product instead…

Damian: The pivotal moment was when a customer told us they needed us. We’ve always run a tight user research function; the feedback from early customers really opened our eyes to the potential for this business.

Outside of work what are you into right now?  

Tim: Family, waterpolo, surfing, my Peloton, travel and friends. I believe life is short - have a plan, play hard, and optimise for what's important.

Damian: I love getting on my feet and exploring. Right now, I’m working my way through visiting some of the UK’s most spectacular bridges. I just ticked off the Royal Albert Bridge and the Postbridge Clapper Bridge.

Who or what inspires you and keeps you focused on your north star?

Tim: I find inspiration in everyday people making the most of their lives. I think fame and money, in addition to having diminishing marginal returns, makes it harder to be fully ‘present’ and appreciative of what you have.

Damian: I find focus in moments of escape - I find that I gain perspective and clarity when I unplug, change up the daily routine, and have some quiet time.

What does a standard day for you look like?

Tim: After I wake up, I dedicate 1 hour to getting sharp in my head. On a lot of days, I have to change context every 5 - 15 minutes, but I where I can, I’ll spend 2 hours on the number one priority. I take time for me (usually waterpolo), take time for others, and get as much good sleep as possible.

Damian: The first half of the day is structured time - I usually have some deeper meetings immersed in product, plus a number of shorter catchups with team members, delving into different projects. The second half of the day ideally involves a longer block of time dedicated to deeper work - jumping into the code, preparing a brief for a new feature, position paper, or presentation. Later in the evening, I’ll often head into Central London for a tech event or meetup - I love learning about what smart people are working on.

What unusual or childhood experiences prepared you for what you do today?

Damian: Many hundreds of hours studying mathematics has helped me think in a different, more structured way, and to not be daunted by a conundrum.

What is your golden rule that you live and work by?

Tim: Be kind, and live beyond yourself. Play a game longer than your own life.

Always seperate the person from the problem - be kind to the person, but tough on the problem.

What advice would you have for anyone looking to take the plunge?

Tim: Try very hard to ‘kill’ your idea - stress test it, get a lot of perspectives, be clear-eyed about all the ways it can fail. If you can’t ‘kill’ it, then got all in for 10+ years. Once you’ve built conviction, don’t hedge too much; life is not a dress rehearsal.

Damian: Don’t rate your own ideas or opinions too highly. The thing to start out building will likely change; the more you’re guided by your customers the better. But even though the business and product will change, make sure you choose an epic co-founder to be on the journey with.

This portrait of Tim and Damian is available as an NFT on OpenSea