Every company I know is preparing the sum up of 2020. It was a strange time for the whole world. Many companies failed and others had to change to stay on the market. All of the sum-ups I see are important numbers or posts by founders to show off their achievements. There are not many honest conversations with founders. That is why I have decided to interview our CEO – Miko. And because we have survived this year together there is no way for him to sugarcoat the story. So today you can learn how running an IT company in 2020 really looked like.
Patrycja: So let’s start from the beginning. January 2020 – the only thing that reminds me of this date is our integration. Quite unusual, because we came from all over Poland for a few days and, apart from the party, we also had the opportunity to work together in one room, which is not normal for us.
Miko: Yes, it was our first meeting where we combined entertainment with work. We drew conclusions from previous integrations, where we arrived in the evening, we spent time together, and the next day people had to go home. It was exhausting for everyone. This is a form that has proved successful and we plan to expand it. I have a vision that we are gathering a team and going for a few days together to a nice place where you can not only work but also visit some interesting places. When working remotely, “real life” integration is needed, especially when projects are demanding and stressful. X was such a project. I am very glad that we could combine our integration with meeting our customer who came from us from Germany. It is rare to work with a client from another country and be able to discuss plans and goals face to face… and then drink a beer together. We managed to build a relationship that was impossible to establish only when working online. Our entire plan for this year has been mostly based on what was decided at this meeting. We were supposed to expand the team and focus on the development of X. An additional aspect here was quality – when hiring so many people as we planned, we had to be careful not to lose control over the quality we delivered. And even though our plans changed completely over the course of a year, I think we managed to keep the quality at a good level and even get better. We are now a much more mature team and have much more to offer.
P.: We started well, but we did not enjoy this long. Because the first lockdown came. We were in a winning position here, because we had several years of experience working from home and our industry could operate normally. How did you feel about this change?
M.: Nothing has changed in our daily life. At least in the beginning. I only started noticing changes by observing people. Everything that happened in the media and the inability to unwind, made the team feel worse mentally. Due to the fact that their private life was severely limited. And that’s probably what touched us the most. This is also one of the reasons why we decided to create our PCP (People-Culture-Projects) department.
P.: What I liked the most was that we didn’t sit around waiting. Many team members were privately involved in helping others in such difficult times, but you also took the initiative to use your skills in creating the software. In one weekend, an application was created to connect people who need help with those who want to provide it. The rest of the team didn’t find out about it until Monday morning.
M.: The initiative came from Matthew. He threw the idea on Slack, and after a while, we were on the call and talked about what and how we could do. Everyone started to get their contacts up and running and we quickly got together a team to write this app. It showed me what a great community can be formed around such initiatives. There was a mass of people who wanted to create graphics or share information. It is very encouraging that there are so many good people around us who, seeing that they can help others, decided to devote their time and help without thinking about earning money.
P.: 2020 sent tragedy after tragedy not only around the world. Once we got used to living in lockdown and wearing masks, problems came with client X. This is a tough topic. We thought for a long time what to say about this situation. However, it influenced everything that has happened and is happening to this day in the company, so you will not avoid this topic and at least a piece of history will have to see the light of day.
M.: The relationship with customer X was demanding from the start. We fully focused on it during the first and second quarters. We’ve come to the point where the team made it clear that they are already on the edge. Of course, business is a business, but the people who build this business are always the most important. The goals that X set for us were unrealistic, so after many months of trying to reach an agreement with the client, we decided to withdraw from this cooperation. Determine together how and when the cooperation will end and how we can support the transfer of the project to another team. I still believe that it was the right decision, despite the fact that it had a significant impact on our company’s finances. To this day, we have not seen the almost 100,000 euros that X owes us for our work. It seems to me that there is no point in going deeper into this situation. The scale of the problem is clear, but most importantly we managed to get out of it. Of course, we still feel the effects of it, but we have learned a lot and we will certainly never again allow ourselves to base most of our revenues on one customer.
P.: There were hard moments and I admire you that you did not decide to quit everything. Not only did we not receive payments, but we also did not have a project for most of the team, because the cooperation ended overnight. And you had to grasp it all.
M.: We made it through mainly thanks to people. It was the team who came up with the proposal that they could take holidays or temporarily take up other, side projects while waiting for new ones. It also gave us such a kick to try new things in terms of sales, to act boldly. Back then, we could try to go to court to fight for our money, but that required budget and time, so the only sensible path was to acquire new clients. And within two months we managed to start earning again and slowly recover from the crisis. But without the involvement of the entire company, it would not have been possible. The openness in communication and the sacrifices of the team members were amazing. It is very encouraging to be able to work with people who care just as much about GMI as I do. There wasn’t even one moment when I wanted to give up and shut down the company. I remember a time when I looked at our website and started to remember what it was all about, why we do what we do and I knew there was no way to end it. We just fight and do everything we can to make it work.
P.: Yes, the sale was supposed to bring new projects. I don’t know if there is a company of our size on the market that attracts new customers with a marketing budget of $0. It was a big challenge, but at the same time, it helped us find sales channels that we would not have come up with if we had this budget.
M.: It was a big experiment and a big challenge, but it wasn’t impossible. I have seen and read a lot about how you can operate without paid marketing. Like growth hacking. How in clever and creative ways can you achieve your goals within a limited budget? Marketing money should be in every business and should increase over time. And we had to do our best, using only our team and time to show people that we exist and that they could cooperate with us. Typical outbound marketing. We started reaching out to people ourselves and getting involved, for example, in events where we could meet our potential clients.
P.: As if there weren’t enough crazy ventures at this time, we decided to create a new department in the moment of crisis. PCP – which stands for People, Culture & Projects. What convinced you to do so?
M.: First of all, Kamil’s person convinced me. Because you could already feel he is tired of sales. Not only that I could not imagine losing Kamil because he is a valuable member of the team, but his initiative to create PCP was in tune with the mood in the company. I also felt that the sales in your hands could take some freshness because what you showed in the previous months was promising and I knew it could work. The combination of all this confirmed my belief that not only is it a good time to create a new department but that it will also help us overcome the crisis. We’ve talked for a long time about the need for someone to take care of people and the culture of work. A better solution was to do it now with a man who has known this company and has been creating it for years than looking for a new person to deal with the topic in a few months.
P.: This freshness in sales came pretty quickly. During our first conversation, after I took over Kamil’s duties, we managed to find a new direction. Maybe not entirely new, because it turned out that we have been in it for a while, but we managed to clarify what we want to do – Smart City.
M.: I remember that conversation, I remember exactly what I was doing then, where I was … We assumed that we had to change something. We did many experiments, we tested different groups. We started with the EdTech industry, but probably none of us felt it. There were no interesting conversations and the results were average. And when we started talking about Smart City, we felt internally that this is it. After analyzing the projects, it turned out that we have been operating in this industry for some time and we stand out from the competition because we integrate hardware with software. Customers started to notice it too, so we knew it was a good direction. Most of all, this good direction can be seen in our team meetings, where we all think the same and get excited about the same topics. We have always wanted to focus on projects that will be innovative and help us grow. We have now clearly defined our goals.
P.: Besides GMI, there are also two other companies where you are a huge part and you have worked with Hublock and Q2 no matter what happened. Since we are already at the summary of the year, how will you sum up 2020 in a few sentences?
M.: Hublock is still at a very early stage of development. We went through a pilot project and hired three people. We are going in a very good direction. I am proud of what we have achieved. We talk to potential clients who registered to test the app. It inspires me to create more products. And I have realized how important a partner with domain knowledge is in this process. We have been working with Arek from Q2 for several years, but this year we have returned to work on lockers. And once again, we are not just “code people”. We also support finding investors or building the very vision of the product. Thanks to the fact that we have created hundreds of applications in our history, we can support our partners on many levels, not only technological ones.
P.: Okay, ending this conversation … There is no summary without plans for the next year. I doubt if anyone is interested in our plans in numbers, so please give a brief overview of what we would like to achieve in 2021.
M.: Our plan is to lead to the fact that when someone in the world thinks “smart city” or “software & hardware”, he immediately thinks “GMI”. Or if not in the world, then at least in this network that we are building for some time now. This, of course, is followed by the company’s growth, hiring 3-4 new development teams, increasing revenue … But the main goal is to become a technology leader in the Smart City industry.