My today guest on Software Project Management is Piotr Ukowski. Piotr is an entrepreneur who started his business with a couple of friends two and a half years ago. In the following interview we discussed starting a business and bringing a startup into success. If you think about running your own company you can find Piotr’s thoughts very interesting.
His company – INTENSE GROUP (unfortunately the website is available only in Polish) – is built on knowledge and experience. They goal is to provide high quality, technologically advanced Business Intelligence solutions and consulting services which allow their clients to achieve sustainable competitive advantage.
The first and the most obvious question is: why? Why have you changed a nice safe position in corporation to uncertainty of own business?
I won’t be very original here – I’ve needed a change. A change in work environment, atmosphere and company culture. Changing a boss to “no boss” was an argument too. If I changed one corporation to another it wouldn’t give me all of that. Maybe that’s not so professional – it makes some mess in resume and brings a lot of risk but sometimes that’s the only reasonable choice. Anyway, there are successful election campaigns built on “need a change” motto.
In my opinion people often start a business with only short-term plan and they believe things will go somehow. How did it look like with your startup?
I don’t know what you consider as a short-term perspective. In IT business you can’t predict and plan everything 5 years ahead. We started from a scratch. On the very first day we were sitting on the floor of our office writing first lines of code of our product. We had no guarantee our ideas were good. There was no “proof of concept.” However I think our plan was very precise. We had all written down for 18 months from the starting point: budget, product development plans, team, marketing activities etc. As a curiosity I can say that after 18 months we missed our budget goal by 0,2%. That requires much luck of course – we’re good at planning, but not yet perfect.
Having a plan is crucial. You need to be ready for a lot of different challenges and problems. That’s because unplanned problems can be a real pain in the neck while planned ones are bread and butter – you just manage them.
What was an initial plan to fund a company? Did you have to change it over time?
The initial idea was a bit broader than what came out from the plan. Working on budget and searching for financing forced us to focus on main goals only. Initial investment was made fully from private money of founders. We had some offers of outside financing but we preferred to adjust strategy a bit and have no investor over our heads. The price of freedom one would say.
Talking about money, how long you could go with no income?
It’s hard to say precisely. Costs are always connected with income so with zero income we’d run a company much cheaper. If I had to give you a number it would be about half a year.
It is said that business model of startup will change over time and the best owners can do is to prepare for that change. Have you changed your strategy during those years?
The funny thing is we haven’t. I’m always surprised about that. We had a lot of luck since our predictions appeared to be pretty good. It’s fairly obvious we made some corrections over time but they were rather small anyway. To give you an example: when we were working on the second version of our system (the first one was made in Power Point) we found out we need a workflow application for our own reasons so we added workflow functionality to our production plans. It was hardly a revolution but it generated some work in software development and sale strategy.
When we consider software business the team is the key. If you want achieve a success you have to create work environment where great people would like to work. When you have a great team it’s much easier to guide them in the right direction.
Another path one can choose is a brilliant idea. With a great idea you have a chance for huge growth – even a couple of thousands percent yearly. Of course both paths are complementary.
We don’t do a revolution. We just build Business Intelligence systems better than anyone else. That’s because we have a great team, big experience, deep knowledge and we’re consistent in what we do. Our growth is about 40-50% per year and that’s perfectly OK for us.
The most difficult moment so far was…
It’s hard to say. I guess it would be the first year looking from financial perspective. We were much stressed these days. As I’ve said we started from a scratch, we had no products, no clients and no contracts. Since we rejected outside funding our resources were limited, so we couldn’t play big. Lucky for us it all went according to the plan.
Any advice you wish to give people who think about their startups?
Be ready for unexpected. There are always things you can’t predict.
Be consistent. If you’re convinced of doing something, just do it.
And one last advice for founders of software companies – technology is not everything. Remember about salespeople, managers or people who will deal with administrative tasks like accounting and HR.
Was it worth the effort?
Yes! For me that’s completely different to what I was doing before. New level of responsibility, more adrenalin but satisfaction is bigger too. It may sound weird but my current team is 10 times smaller than the one I had in corporation I worked for, but I don’t regret. It’s fantastic to feel you can raise a company exactly the way you want. Even if you make a mistake you pay for that with your own money. The only limit is your business environment, not the organization or structures you work in.
Whole Entrepreneurs Time series.