The company intive yet emerged last autumn as a result of a merger between SMT Software, BL Stream and Kupferwerk. With nearly 1,300 employees in 12 locations in Poland and Germany, intive is among the leaders of the Central European software services market.
When I first landed in London in the middle of 2013 with a mission to increase our company’s (at that time it was still simply SMT Software) presence in the UK market, we had only had three clients, but they were among the best clients for our company. We knew we wanted more, but had no clue how to achieve it, as we had acquired these first ones quite by accident.
Four years later we can boast of nearly 30 successful projects, for the BBC, Primark and Virgin Trains, top digital agencies like MullenLoweProgero, and for some of the hottest fintech startups like Tandem Bank and Azimo. We now have a large dedicated sales and services team for the UK market, a thorough market strategy, and a steady 30% growth year to year. Have we finished yet? No. We still experiment and tweak our strategy, and our achievements pale in comparison with the sheer scale of the market, but we’re on track to become broadly recognised as one of the industry leaders. And the market potential only means there’s almost unlimited space for growth if we stay on track.
The UK is an attractive market for a tech company. It’s the largest, fastest growing, and most globalised ICT market in Europe. For many it’s also the last test before entering the US market. In fact, London is often perceived as a springboard to Silicon Valley, due to the strong business relationships between the two.
On the flipside, it also means it’s one of the most competitive markets out there. Companies like intive offering software development services have to face fierce competition not only from dozens of other Polish companies, but also hundreds of players, large and small, from other CEE countries, as well as from India, Russia, China or Iberia. No wonder many Polish companies feel overwhelming respect before trying to tackle it. How can one stand out in such an ocean of competition?
The good news is, that just being a Polish company already is an advantage. One obvious reason is that Poland has one of the Europe’s largest tech talent pools (in which the UK faces a dramatic shortage), renowned for top quality and still available at a comparative cost advantage. Many British companies have had bad experiences with outsourcing to India and are now looking for partners in a similar time zone, that they can visit in a day without bothering with a visa. Our direct, assertive, critical and proactive culture (although sometimes coming across as rude) is also a breath of fresh air for many companies accustomed to outsourcing to other locations.
And don’t forget that over 900,000 Poles live in the UK, making us the biggest migrant community in Britain. And it’s by no means all waitresses and plumbers! Nearly every tech firm in the UK I’ve encountered had a Polish developer on board, up to the CTO level. And their employers love them! This make it easier to build relationships with such companies. Not only do they not need convincing about the quality of talent from Poland, but it also makes aligning our cultures much easier. Our nations have already grown mutually accustomed to each other’s accents and temperaments, meaning it takes almost no time at all to build a relationship and trust, and in case of issues, there’s always someone there to translate!
The main lesson we’ve learned since starting to do business in the UK is that relationships are what matters most in doing business with a British counterpart. The British are rational and well grounded, but at the same time, they favour human-to-human interactions and trust over documentation. We’ve worked on multiple projects on the basis of a hand shake and a few emails while the contracts were still being ironed out by lawyers. In fact, we never got our hands burnt! Funnily enough, in one case where we did have a problem with executing obligations from the other side, the paperwork was all in perfect order.
We’ve grown our business based mostly on recommendations from our existing or past clients and on partnerships with local companies, whose services were complimentary to ours. We’ve tried dozens of lead generation techniques, yet the vast majority of our business comes through some sort of personal relationship, that’s why it is so important to maintain the highest standards and keep our customers satisfied. Even if it means forgoing some revenue now and then, it literally pays off in the future.
That’s also why, of all the lead generation tools, networking events are by far the most efficient. Fifteen minutes of small-talk at such an event won’t close the deal immediately, but does mean that the email inbox of the other person becomes open to your messages. And that you will get a response, even if it’s a no.
Differentiate or die
It may sound clichéd, but applying theory to the real world always proves more challenging than it seemed. The key to our success lays in quality of our people and processes. This is the most important value that a service company can offer to its customers and we strive to maintain the highest standards year in, year out. But when entering such a competitive market like the UK, one gets to re-evaluate one’s own strategy and values. What once seemed to be a USP is today a minimum market standard. And even the best relationships alone won’t cut it, if there’s no value-added on offer.
We had to go back to the drawing board and redefine our service and offers. We had to learn to leverage our organisation’s know-how and experience, not just that of individual people. We had to move well beyond just simple team augmentation services. We had to become innovative.
This wouldn’t have been possible, had we not focused. Four years ago the company was a little short of 300 people. Yet, we were offering nearly any type of service for any industry, grabbing any opportunity that came along. Now, with 1,300 we are much better positioned to actually ‘do everything’, and the breadth of our experience is a value, but we started looking more closely at the way we do things to differentiate.
The hottest part of the UK tech scene nowadays is fintech – tech for the financial services sector. We entered the UK when this market was just heating up and luckily – we have quickly realised that, having already had quite a bit of banking experience in Poland, we can’t afford not to be there. Now fintech constitutes for almost a full half of our UK business and we’re offering increasingly specialised services in this area, such as API management that’s compliant with the upcoming PSD2 regulations. We’ve not abandoned other industries, but combining our deep technology expertise with our equally deep understanding of industry specifics allows us to add more value to clients and to be more efficient in searching for new ones.
Now, most of our clients treat us as a technology partner, enjoying our ability to support them throughout the entire software development lifecycle. We help them refine their ideas, find technology solutions to their business challenges, design the user experience, take them by the hand through the digital transformation process. But most importantly, we help them innovate. We are not just about ‘writing the software they order’. We challenge our clients’ assumptions, we suggest other solutions, point out security or performance risks, update them on the newest market trends and hottest technologies. The great thing about it is that this isn’t something one can build overnight: every completed project adds to our experience and builds our advantage.
Last June’s referendum was a big surprise. The pound entered a period of turmoil and complete unpredictability and uncertainty hit the market. But for now, after the initial shock, business seems to have stabilised; waiting on more concrete news to come, we have stood by our clients through this difficult time, which they reciprocated with even more trust. Now more and more media suggests that Poland is a great alternative to British businesses, in particular banks, to move their jobs to. Especially if they need to retain their operations within the EU. As we have experience setting up our clients’ operations in Poland from scratch, including office rental and management, this may turn out to be yet another opportunity rather than a threat. Time will tell.