Adam Turek : Why foreign startups choose Polish software houses?
Maciej Krasowski: Our programmers’ skills are on par with their Western colleagues, and we can be much more cost-effective. That means even 3 times less, in terms of expenses. The wages are going up, of course, but as of now, we don’t have much competition.
Just a few years ago, foreign startups didn’t hold our market in high regard. Moving production to Poland was considered a risk. Today, we’re praised for high quality of our work. This is the best moment for Polish programmers – we still offer competitive prices, and we are constantly improving our skills. You can see it in the increasing number of new software houses. We also have Polish programmers getting reputation for being good, competitive subcontractors on the American market.
What does the client get from such cooperation?
First of all, it’s the competitive advantage. Seamless cooperation, high-quality work, substantially lower prices. In my experience, we seem to try harder than our Western colleagues. We are eager beavers when it comes to those markets. We care about our image, and we are well-aware that highly-skilled programmers can become Poland’s next big ‘export brand’. All of this affects the way we work. Clients have noticed that Polish programmers are more diligent. We care about the code quality, as this can be the difference between getting and not getting good references.
What’s in it for software houses then?
Most of all, salary, high-quality cooperation. And by that I mean organizational culture: Western companies have slightly different attitude towards conducting business. Mutual trust is a core value, and you are given more responsibilities as a partner. The result is a better product overall: our programmers can make full use of their abilities, offering their own solutions and insight. We gain trust, even though we can’t build a relationship while talking face to face. In Poland, we start projects with a handshake, but we’re strictly monitored shortly after. Trust is something you have to earn.
‘Time and material’ type of payment (wage per hour) is also a big plus for us. Western and American clients are used to this type of cooperation. Polish companies still prefer the fixed price model, which is less favorable in terms of payment. It also results in less efficient workflow. This is a bad situation for clients, although only a few of them are aware of that.
What are the difficulties?
Time zone difference can be a problem. You can address that by using specific workflow.
Language barrier might be an issue too. To put it bluntly, advanced English is a basic requirement nowadays. Skype talks play major role in regular contacts with our clients. Otherwise, we couldn’t work on a project and meet their expectations. In other words, fluent communication in English is a must.
How do you acquire foreign accounts?
We get leads using SEO. Obviously, that is influenced by site content, tech blogs, SEO campaigns, industry press articles, and social media. It’s good to have a person in a team, who already has the relevant experience and a contact network. These are the most important assets. Word of the mouth can be equally useful: high-quality-for-sensible-price approach works wonders. Also, it’s good to cooperate with other companies. In that regard, there are two main reasons for improving your skills. First one is education. I mean, it’s better to learn from each other, than to keep your knowledge like a big secret. That’s how the Ruby on Rails Community works anyway. We’ve seen that with our own eyes. You don’t have to employ the ‘divide and conquer’ rule in its literal meaning. The second reason is purely financial. There are many projects, assignments, and job postings. It’s hard to keep up with heavy workload, and it’s not like every programmer knows everything about his work. That’s why companies look for subcontractors complementing their skillsets. This is where we come in. We’re making ourselves visible at the industry events and meetings, we look for people, make use of networking. Sooner or later, that will always yield results. That’s how we met our business partner a year ago.
How about the competition? Are there any other countries for Poland to watch for?
I think Ukraine is right behind us. They’re doing well, and get big clients. Their prices are similar to ours, only slightly lower.
The real competition is not defined by borders though, looking at software houses alone would be more accurate. In terms of our technology, the competition is as focused on quality products and services as we are. Actually, it works both ways: clients seeking quality products are our first priority in seeking new prospects. They have sufficient funds to hire a good team, and they will look for such people. These clients already know what happens, if you hire unqualified staff, and leave most things to chance. We compete with skilled, hard-working people, not countries.
What does it mean to work with a foreign client? And how is that different from projects with Polish companies? Where do you get more clients from references – in your country, or abroad?
Typically, it’s a polite business conduct, with mutual trust. We’re the two sides of the same coin, not two fighting armies. We care about our projects, and to get most of such opportunities is to give our best. Sometimes foreign clients require project assessments, to estimate the approximate timeframe and cost per month.
Jobs as a result of references and word of the mouth are more common for Polish market, at least in our case. We live here, and Ruby is not that popular in Poland. The industry is still young, and we already have substantial experience in this field.
By the way, how a standard software-house workflow looks like?
Typically clients contact their account managers, and they explain clients’ need to programmers. Then the whole process is reversed: programmers discuss details with account managers, so they can communicate that to their clients, acting as intermediaries. This is a standard and reliable solution.
Working with startups, however, requires a bit different approach. The standard solution has one major downside: a lot of information, nuances, and details is ‘lost in translation’ – account managers don’t have programming knowledge. Programmers, on the other hand, tend to work in isolation, and lack of regular contact with ‘normal’ human beings impacts their social skills.
We knew right from the start, that we don’t want any account managers in BinarApps at all. Programmers are divided into teams responsible for communication with a client. Every client works with a team, and the team lead acts as the intermediary. Still, everyone is required to participate in project development: the whole team, and the client.
We were already told by several clients, that they decided to continue our cooperation, because it went so well – I mean working with programmers directly. It enables faster and easier bug-fixing, and discarding bad ideas before they reach implementation.