Talking with Konrad Weiske from Spyrosoft
Hello Konrad, nice to meet you! Please introduce yourself and tell us what you are doing.
Hi, thank you! My name is Konrad Weiske, and I’m CEO of Spyrosoft S.A. We are a software engineering company with 500 people working from several locations including Poland, Croatia, Germany, the UK and US. Despite having that many offices, we do not have an HQ. We create software for various sectors, but our focus is on Automotive, Industry 4.0, Finances, Geographical Information Systems or Human Resources. In these areas we not only have technical expertise but also a deep knowledge of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and the Cloud. Primarily, we develop software for external third parties, but we also have intellectual property that we license, mostly in the form of components used to speed up the development processes and in the ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions than only require some customization.
There are a lot of software development companies out there. What makes you special? What is your philosophy?
What distinguishes us from other IT companies is that we combine embedded and enterprise software development. I don´t want to say that we are the only company in the world who does that, but we are among a limited number of companies who do. Especially when it comes to medium-sized enterprises like ours.
Our offering includes both technical and business counseling, thanks to our extended knowledge of both areas. For example, because we know so much about loan management, which is crucial in the finance sector, we can advise our clients on how to tackle their problems in the most efficient way. We provide them with end-to-end solutions, starting with a choice of technology, through software development to product maintenance. In other sectors, like Automotive or Industry 4.0, we combine embedded and enterprise software development in order to provide our client with complex digital products that cover the route from a microcontroller to the final user, via a Cloud platform.
Besides the technical point of view there is also the human side to all we do. We try to remain decentralized, as we don´t want to be based in one place. That is why, we strive for all our locations to be independent. Obviously, it is determined by the size of the location and some are more advanced than the other ones. We care a lot about our employees and their development and satisfaction. Therefore, it is very important for us to engage them as much as possible.
In February, we became listed on one of the Warsaw Stock Exchange’s market. A part of our shares was issued exclusively to our employees. We wanted them to become our shareholders. We did it because we appreciate their engagement and involvement. I think they know how much I owe them. I simply wanted to share the success we have achieved together as they really deserve it! The longer they are with us, the more they benefit. A person, who believed me three and a half years ago when I was predicting that the company will succeed and have 500 people with almost 100 mill turnover, deserves a credit for their trust at such an early stage. The success of the company can be heavily attributed to our employees, so it was clear to me that I need to thank them for their trust. I think that it makes us a bit special.
There are some other aspects of our company that differentiate us from others. One of them is that we employ an Employee Experience Partner, who is responsible for conducting an comprehensive study of employees’ work satisfaction. Thanks to that and many other initiatives we can see that our attrition rate is quite low. In every company people fluctuate as they feel a need for a change. We succeeded in keeping the attrition rate at 7%, thanks to our knowledge of the employees’ expectations of the company, their career path and professional development.
That sounds very thoughtful and insightful. Some companies have phrased their leadership principles or philosophy. Do you also have such principles, or do you “just” live your philosophy?
I hope we do! (laughing) Nevertheless, I just think it’s best to just to do what you feel is right. Here are some of our “cool beliefs”:
- We try to be authentic. I would never tell our employees (or customers) something that is not true. If I don´t know something, I´m honest with them. We don’t try to gloss over inconvenient truths as they will instantly recognise that something is wrong. We are who we are, maybe not perfect, but nobody can accuse us of pretending to be something we are not.
- We have a very flat company structure. Which is also a sign of our philosophy. I strongly believe the more management levels there are the more complicated it gets, in short words: the fewer the better. We only have three levels in the company structure, and I hope it won’t change despite the company growth. Instead of creating hollow positions of so-called managers, we hire people with hands on attitude who are eager to contribute operationally and to take responsibility.
Having too many levels in the structure prevents you from being efficient even when you have great talent on board. With that in mind, I would like the company to be more egalitarian. I myself don´t have a corner office with a lot of assistance. I´m just one of the employees, simply doing my part.
The main reason for our company to exist is the projects we realise along with our clients. It’s a place where we bring our expertise in. It is also the main reason why our employees joined us. Everything else, including myself, is just something that should facilitate the projects.
- We are transparent We don´t hide anything from our employees whether it is good or not. (It is mostly good.) We want Spyrosoft to be a place where everyone feels good and well informed. Therefore, we believe in open dialogue with our employees.
- We all are engaged in what we do. The flat structure allows the employees to take responsibility in their projects and other actions they participate in. Those responsibilities and requirements make our company quite a demanding place to work. We are neither an international corporation nor a startup and we’ll never be either of those things. This, however, grants our employees a chance to affect the world around them, especially when it comes to the project. Of course, we understand that this kind of setup is not attractive to everyone, therefore we look for specialists who fit our company best.
- We keep it simple. During meetings, we stick to the agenda and action items which only have two stages: open or done. Of course, we could divide it to almost done, in progress, on hold, etc. But we believe in simplicity.
These are by and large the values that I personally believe in and I hope it reflects on the organization.
Did these “cool beliefs” grow with the company or were the ideas there from the start?
From the very beginning it was crucial for me and the people I started the company with, to create a place of work that reflects our beliefs. The company was created by engineers, as we received education and worked as developers ourselves, for engineers. In my opinion, it’s also quite important to have constant engagement from those who started the company. We are not an establishment that was started by a private person and later taken over by a private technical fund where people with no technical experience are in charge. We own the company, and we are in it for the long term. I don´t mind if the profit is smaller as long as the company develops in the right direction. We are not here for a short-term profit; we are here to build something that we consider to be ours and built with people we like to work with. That´s the main purpose. Of course, money is needed but I see it only as a tool. I could have built a company for the sole purpose of making money, but I didn’t. Instead, I created a place I love to go to, where I see people who are satisfied with their job and where the atmosphere is good.
You mentioned at the beginning that you are developing software for your clients, but also offer your own products. Please, tell us more about what you are offering and why.
There are some repetitive chunks of work you need to use in various projects which are fun to neither the developers nor testers because of their repetitiveness. From the engineering point of view, it is not challenging at all. Our idea is to have some components that could be reused to shorten the delivery time. It may not always be applicable, as some clients prefer to own the IP in full. When it comes to the Cloud such an approach towards projects is less common but still there are some areas where we do things several times and later offer our components instead. Let’s focus on the facial recognition project as an example. There are AWS components that do that quite well. Our approach is to combine facial recognition with reading information from an ID. The solution scans the ID to acquire all the necessary information including name, birth date, etc. When the face is presented later to the mobile camera the program verifies one’s identity. It is extremely versatile and may be used for various purposes such as entering a building, applying for a loan and many more. Despite the wide use of these applications they all are essentially based on the same technology and serve the same purpose.
In order to grow as a company and gain new clients, we need to provide intellectual property in the form of components or even finished products to limit the size of the teams. It doesn’t matter whether the team consists of a hundred or only ten people. The amount of time spent on developing a product is quite the same, but it is simply better to work in smaller teams.
There is always a niche for software development, but we are slowly progressing towards developing intellectual property. The salaries in Poland grow, which is a good thing, but to keep it that way we need to provide more value, otherwise the further growth would be limited and finally we would stop. It is a little bit like in Silicon Valley where the salaries are high, but this goes along with extraordinary products. We are doing our best to follow that trend.
That is an interesting approach! You mentioned the change in technology, especially the Cloud. How are you involved in this topic? How is it changing your work?
Has the communication between your company and the customers changed due to the pandemic?
Well, the communication within our company has never been easier. There are remote first or remote only companies which do not own any office spaces. We are not one of them as we have offices in Poland and abroad. Nevertheless, our employees do have a choice between coming to the office or staying at home. Of course, the online conversation will not replace a face-to-face meeting. When it comes to communication with clients it has also changed. They don´t have to know as much about IT as they used to. My thoughts go back to times, when the customers had great technical knowledge. They had sizeable IT departments with project managers and all needed employees. The transfer of knowledge was strictly between the “IT people”. Over the years, with the ever-changing technology, clients’ profiles have also adjusted. They now focus on their products without having to know all the technical details. It is our job to learn as much as possible about their idea, and based on that, propose a solution. Despite the adjustment introduced to the communication, one thing has not changed – the importance of having close relations with the client. Sitting next to a person who explains to me how his or her business works is essential.
To be able to understand the business the best we can we have created segmented areas of expertise, the so-called business units devoted to various industries. We need to follow what the client is talking about otherwise it would take us ages even to start. After receiving the requirements, we work on finding a solution alongside our client. The sales experts that we hire are quite often the engineers themselves. This makes advising the client easier, as our employees understand both the business and the technology perspective. In the past, completing the first stage of the project, defining the project description and figuring out the details, took up to six months. Now, we cannot afford to take that long to figure out the product specification. That’s why our salespeople take care of the high-level description and the team of developers focuses on the precise data and solution. Again, the Cloud and pre-made components make the whole process of creating the proposal much easier and faster. That simply means spending less time checking a concept before putting all the effort into developing the final product. What’s more, I would say digital transformation is no longer limited to large businesses or enterprises, it’s also for the smaller companies as well. But still, small businesses have high expectations, too
That´s true. Do you coach your engineers in communication with customers and clients?
Yes, we do. And I like the way we do it. From my experience, coaching someone to be excellent with clients, especially if we are talking about an engineer, takes about five years. You cannot do it in weeks or months, it takes years. It is a very long process, which can be compared to learning a new language. Once you know the basics, the vocabulary and grammar, all you need to do is practice. We teach our employees by giving them the support of those who are already engaged in the project and have experience in talking to the clients. It is certainly one of the most important processes in our company – even if it’s demanding and difficult for the trainees, it’s still crucial for the business.
So, you’re doing a lot to improve your employees technical and personal skills?
Yes! This is also important for the Project Managers. Ten years ago, project management was based on PMP, Gantt charts, critical paths, etc. It is no longer used in software development. Instead, we use Scrum or similar frameworks. The Project Management skills are now more account and team management oriented. The Project Managers must also have great soft skills with a ratio of 70% to 30% of technical knowledge. Thanks to that, we are more focused on the clients’ needs and mutual relations.
We need to know how to talk to someone who speaks about tarmac milling. Honestly, it is even our duty to learn about tarmac milling – as it is our job to familiarize ourselves with product environments and the clients’ sector. In the end, our offer is not only about the outcome, but also about the process itself. It is crucial for B2B services to know that. Even a great final product cannot be perceived as a success if the client decides not to continue the cooperation due to inadequate communication.
You seem to be a visionary. What is your vision for the next three years?
I wish to continue what we have started! It is absolutely necessary for us is to develop our business units and deepen the domain knowledge. Perhaps, we will also focus on other industries. Lately, we´ve started working for companies from the healthcare sector.
We need to keep up with the changes in technology. That is why we have created the role of a Chief Technology Officer, whose main task is to follow the newest technology trends, so we do not fall behind. One of the subjects he is following is quantum computing and whether it is going to be relevant ten years from now. I don´t have that knowledge but hope our CTO does. At the moment, we only have a handful of specialists with knowledge of mixed reality and I am sure it will become our future as well.
Last but not least, we must continue building our own intellectual property. The road is pretty much set, and even though the plans may change, that is how I see our future in the next three years.
That is a clear vision. Thank you. I´m very full of new impressions now. Thank you for your time and insights!
The interview was conducted by Friederike Zelke.