Get to know us better! It’s time to present our team. People who together build up the spirit and strength of the GMI Group. Without them it would be impossible. We’d like to introduce a man without whom we wouldn’t be here. Our CEO – Mikołaj Lehman.
GMI Group was founded in 2009. A decade has passed since then. Tell us about the history of the company’s foundation. What factors made you decide to start your own business? Tell us about the beginnings of starting your own company. As far as we can remember, you were in your student days.
I knew that I would start a company and operate with technology already at the age of 12–13. I remember “Komputer Świat”, an IT magazine of which I have read each copy several times.
I remember this excitement when I didn’t have a computer yet, and I acknowledged the process of changing the wallpaper in Windows :). I don’t know if my colleagues enjoyed the fact that, when I was getting to their computers, I was changing the wallpaper and Winamp skins, and they didn’t know how to restore it. From today’s perspective and the popularity of technology in society, it sounds absurd, but it was just like that, and it’s nice to get back to these memories.
As far as the interest in technical subjects is concerned, at home, my dad was dealing with things related to electronics, and naturally, I was interested in how different devices work. If we combine this with my mother’s temperament and leadership skills, we can easily deduce why I have merged technology with business in my life.
Later, while working on my own apps and platforms—internet radio and multimedia portal—there were opportunities to work on paid orders. This way, I started to create products for other people or companies. The first projects were about management systems for restaurants and hotels. I remember this dissonance when, on the one hand, you think about filtering variables and SQL Injection, and on the other hand, you talk to the client about using a nicer set of icons to present meals.
This broad spectrum of knowledge that is required to create valuable products made every day, during these 10 years, brings new challenges that have been the driving strength for continuous growth – for myself and business.
Staying on the market for almost 10 years isn’t the easiest job. Can you tell us about the biggest challenge you faced during this time? How did you cope with the problematic situation?
We face many challenges every day, but this is natural for all businesses. From the public statistics, we can conclude that about 50-60% of established companies will go bankrupt within the first five years. We did have a tough period just after five years from the start of our business. I think it is fair to say that the GMI sunk at that time.
As captain of this ship, I feel entirely responsible for the fact that we haven’t managed to survive the crisis in the structure that existed. I think that dozens of different decisions caused our financial problems, which eventually resulted in the breakdown of the team. Indeed, it was the hardest period in our history, which caused me to review my assumptions and work from scratch on a new structure for the organization.
But most importantly, I had to do a serious retrospective of myself. When you are lying on a board, an immediate rise is impossible, especially since you feel that your “limbs” are broken, and your mind says, “lie down! It hurts!” But somewhere deep in the back of your mind, you hear, “I want to get up; I know I’ll get up”. and that’s why you finally get up and move on. It is not an easy or fast process, but it is a process that teaches a lot.
Additionally, having been at the bottom, you know that you don’t want to go back there, and your motivation increases every day. I’m sure that this crisis has shaped me as a human being, and it allowed me to run the GMI much more maturely than I used to. Paradoxically, I feel that this has been the most valuable time of my life because, now, everyday challenges are nothing in comparison to the past situation.
Do you remember, in particular, any project you had to carry out? If so, why? Maybe you want to share some interesting stories connected with it.
Recently, I have been wondering how many projects we have implemented over the years. Analyzing project directories, I can confidently say that, including small and large projects, we go into hundreds of completed projects. Many of these projects were unusual in many ways. Sometimes, it was an aspect of the customer, technology, market or timing. However, the most memorable thing for me was the Q2 Smart Locker project in the British market.
Working in a professional and very human way with the client, we were able to overcome a lot of technical and organizational challenges; as a result, a business that has the potential to become a global brand was built.
I’m also convinced that the projects we’re currently working on will have a significant impact not only on the development of the GMI but also on the development of society and individual sectors of the economy. That’s why Hublock.io was founded. In Hublock, with the help of data-sharing technology, we focus on changing the sad reality of people working in logistics. As a cofounder, I believe that this project, in retrospect, will be valued as one of the most important.
We know that everyone in the GMI Group works remotely. Tell us about the challenges of everyone in the company doing their jobs from home. Is it easy to monitor all the processes? Doesn’t this form of collaboration interfere with customers?
The attempt to use the all-remote approach goes back to the very beginnings of the GMI. In the early stages of the company, we established promising contacts with customers from the USA and Australia. That caused the feeling that remote collaboration with customers is straightforward enough to transfer to the teamwork model.
However, in the first years of running the company, we naturally built a local team in Krakow, where we used the remote approach but on a ‘home office’ basis—only if necessary. It caused dissonance between the fact that part of the team works remotely and part in the office. I’m convinced that, with the current knowledge and experience, we would have been able to organize the work in such a model, but the story went differently. During the restructuring, I decided that we would be pioneers and conduct business 100% remotely. The starting point was the freedom and flexibility that this form of cooperation provides. In the background, of course, was the topic of cost reduction. I set the requirement that everything we do has to be structured in such a way that it can grow with the model of remote work.
Of course, we had to overcome a lot of challenges and difficulties during the establishment and creation of the organization, but right now, writing these answers in Barcelona and gazing at the Mediterranean over my laptop, I’m convinced that it was the perfect decision.
Such a question probably doesn’t come up often, but how would you rate your current team and your commitment to the team? Are you satisfied with the work they do and do they share your vision?
I believe that we have the best team in the world. At GMI, we not only have experts in our fields, but we share a common vision of creating products that are more than just an EU grant. I appreciate the fact that, despite each of us being different, we can find a floor for open discussion; it is this otherness and multiplicity of different experiences that stimulates the synergy of our personalities and knowledge to create GMI’s real value. Working with people who are better than us and enabling them to act in a transparent way is one of the aspects that makes us grow faster than our competitors.
We know that the GMI Group is in a continuous phase of development. What are your plans for the next few months or even a few years? Are you planning to expand your business by another technological stack or hire more people?
Continuous hiring of new people or changing of the tech stack according to the needs of the market is the basis of our business. As a software-house, we earn money by solving problems with the use of our know-how, and it is natural that we have to be pioneers when it comes to the technologies.
If you ask for next steps, it isn’t by mistake that GMI is conducted by Group/Hub. The specificity of running a software company is that with each project, you get to know new businesses, their business models, or ways to generate profits in detail. The goal of GMI Group is to create an ecosystem of companies that will be able to fill in new technological gaps.
As a software house, we regularly experience situations in which our customers become our partners, and we support them more and more by conquering new markets. Of course, this also leads to outspread contacts with investors and acceleration programs. With this approach, we perfectly fit into the gap between a mature western market such as Silicon Valley and, for example, the typically task-oriented Indian market.
We know you used to programme yourself. Haven’t you thought about taking part in some projects as a hobby? Isn’t this a stage in your life, and you are focused on other tasks?
Programming was the starting point when, at the age of 13, I bought the Visual C++ book when I was trying to rewrite the code, and I tried to understand how it works.
Because I never had a full-time job, and I was always focused on my business, I touched all other aspects of software development. At the beginning of my career, it resulted in the fact that I built my own websites, designing graphic interfaces and then converting to HTML/CSS and writing application code so that they started to fulfil their planned function. Even one such product, which was a copycat of Twitter, I was able to sell for a dizzying amount of $500.
For a teenager, that amount for 2 days of work seemed to be quite a nice result. Coming back to the question of whether I would like to program–I currently don’t feel such a need. It is much more fun for me to work on building a business and watching how the next elements start to work better and better. It may surprise some people, but it’s very similar to programming because, in the end, it’s a creative process when something that gives value to others is created from nothing. Whether you are creating another application module or a new company department, the satisfaction from this achievement is very similar.
What are your business plans outside the GMI Group? Do you already have a vision for the next few years about what you would like to do in your life?
The creative process is something that drives me the most. I love to create new things, develop new ideas or processes, then put them in the hands of people who will add their knowledge and experience to do something even bigger. That’s why I think that building new businesses is a natural step. If you ask me if all enterprises will be 100% remote–I’m not sure about that, but I would like to keep the freedom this way of life gives me.
Without a doubt, it is crucial to maintain a work-life balance. How do you spend your free time? Do you have any hobby that allows you to spread your wings?
There has always been a trend to combine working time with results in a straightforward way. However, working with many successful clients, I noticed that these people own their time. In my opinion, the ability to understand the value of time is one of the essential steps towards health and happiness.
If, as an employee, you tell me that you didn’t sleep, for example, three nights, to deliver the project, I’ll appreciate it, but at the same time, I’ll ask you not to do it again.
I’m aware that everything in nature is about balance, and the fact that you haven’t slept for three nights will harm the next weeks of your work. It is much more efficient to work with people who operate on 70-100% every day. It’s not productive when we have 150% one day and 10% for the next four days. That’s why I call work-life-balance a life must-have, which allows me and my team to stay focused and predictable.
Privately, sports have become a part of my life—whether it’s in the form of cycling, going to the gym, or running. It’s extremely important when you work ten hours sitting at the computer. The second thing is travel, or more precisely, life as a “digital nomad”. Thanks to that, during the last several months, I had the opportunity to live in Italy, Thailand and Spain. It gives me motivation for further action.
In the following years, I’d like to return to electronic music and automotive as part of my private life.
Business is important, but outside of work, there is such a thing as private life. How do you see yourself from the perspective of a few or maybe several years? What do you dream about? What are your personal goals?
Private life is a part of my life that will undoubtedly require more focus in the coming years. Focusing on business allows me to fulfil myself professionally and achieve success in this field. However, I’m already slowly sprouting the need to take care of family aspects. What will come out of it — we will see. 🙂