Intellias

Vitaly Sedler, CEO and co-founder of Intellias, on company’s mission, understanding of success and the specifics of German-speaking markets

24.05.2017 Taras Prokopyshyn

“The technology of success” is the series of interviews with the most prominent Ukrainian IT companies’ leaders. Throughout the year, along with Lviv IT Cluster, we are going to tell you about the people who are leading technology companies in Ukraine, trying to get to know better those who move the country forward.

We talked about the company’s mission, understanding of personal and organizational success, as well as the specifics of German-speaking markets with the co-founder and CEO of Intellias Vitaly Sedler.

Розмову українською мовою читайте за цим посиланням — Віталій Седлер, Intellias.

 

Could you please tell how the story of Intellias began?

I was 14 when the USSR collapsed. Everybody was shocked and didn’t know what to do. At this time, the Lyceum of Physics and Mathematics was established in Lviv and this gave a big push to many people from our industry. I was lucky enough to get accepted there and basically thanks to the lyceum I got interested in informatics and programming, in information technologies. Computers were my life, it was something new and very interesting. As a teenager, I really enjoyed working with computers and coding. After all, it was something simple back then.

Later I was studying at the Faculty of Applied Mathematics at Ivan Franko National University of Lviv. After finishing my third year I started working. Courses available at the university were completely out of the market, the situation is much better now. Back then, everything you could achieve you could only do on your own. Universities did not help in any way. All of this determined why I started working after my third year.

At first, I was working in one small company, but a bit later me and my today’s partner Mykhailo (by the way, the two of us have studied together first at the lyceum and then at the university), decided to start Intellias. Analyzing the experiences of companies that already have been on the market and thinking what does success of these companies shows, we decided that we should try to start our own business.

Intellias for me is not just a business for the sake of doing business. It’s a business with technologies that I can personally relate to

This hobby, interest, personal involvement in everything connected to information technologies influenced the way our company is now. I like looking a little bit deeper into projects. And my technological background really helps in working with clients.

The fact, that me and Mykhailo became partners is a lucky coincidence to some extent. Once we were walking down the hall at the Faculty of Applied Mathematics, saw a job advertisement and decided to call the number written there. Both of us got the job. This is how we started to work at the which worked for the German market.

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Unlike many other companies which often work on America, Intellias focuses mainly on German-speaking markets.

Intellias for me is not just a business for the sake of doing business. It’s a business with technologies that I can personally relate to.

What is the specificity of working with the European market?

On the one hand, it is easier for us since our clients are located not too far. We are mentally and culturally quite similar, so it is not difficult to connect with Germans or other Europeans. If necessary, we can easily visit them. We live in the neighboring time zones, which simplifies the work.

However, Germans are very conservative. Until recently, they preferred working with professionals from inside the country. They would rather pay more, than risk by outsourcing.

In contrast, in the USA everything is different. It is a country of emigrants, so working with representatives from other countries is a usual thing for them. They know it and they are open to it. They are more dynamic and do more outsourcing.

Why don’t you move in this direction if you understand that it is a simpler way?

We have a huge market within easy reach, and we are used to working with it. This is the first reason. The second one you need to have slightly different skills if you want to work with players from the American region. Moreover, their market is more competitive, it’s dominated by Hindu who have been in the US for a while. For now, we are successful in Europe, but the time to conquer America is yet to come.

What is the mission of your company?

We are living in the era of the fourth industrial revolution. Usually, people talk a lot about that, but we are witnessing how this revolution is happening. Its speed is much faster than previous times. Its scale is impressive.

Our mission is to be part of this revolution. Along with our developers and clients, we are willing to constantly change the world and our lives for the better.

Our mission is to be part of the fourth industrial revolution. Along with our developers and clients, we are willing to constantly change the world and our lives for the better

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What is the company like right now?

We are growing and developing. At the moment, the company has 600 employees with the main office in Lviv. By the way, the atmosphere in Lviv its democracy and openness, played a decisive role on our personal values as well as the values that prevail at the company.

A year and a half ago we opened an office in Kyiv, last year in Odesa. We want to have more possibilities, be better represented in Ukraine and have access to talents that can be involved in the work of our company.

As I’ve already mentioned, we mainly work with European clients. There are a few bigger projects and one of them is in the automotive field. Two years ago we won a tender in one global company which is a leader in this sector. It’s a work with navigation, maps. Now we’re moving in a different direction, which will have to do with the location of a person. And it’s not just a route from point A to point B. If you buy different types of navigation, there’s most likely a huge part of our work.

The atmosphere in Lviv its democracy and openness, played a decisive role on our personal values as well as the values that prevail at the company

The project has substantially grown now. It’s building the route which begins in your device at home, continues in a car, and then you can continue the route walking with your phone. What is important, it is not just a map, it’s services that it can offer.

Moreover, we have a few projects in facility and energy management fields. A few projects are related to telecom and educational technologies, travel and fintech.

I really like our project for learning English. It’s an intelligent feedback program, created not by a standard template, it requires high-quality results, adapts to the user’s needs and tries to fix the existing bugs.

What are the values of your company? And what makes your company culture special?

We position ourselves as a smart and comfortable company; for us it is important that our employees succeed. We have an individual development program which helps to plan the further growth of our employees and reward their achievements. We help people that want to build a career and have clear aspirations and ambitions.

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We’re mostly working with the youth and I’m very happy about that. These people travel and learn a lot, their mentality is different compared to the older generation. It’s easy and interesting to work with such employees. We help to support their values formed outside of the company, or even to create them.

One of such basic things transparency and openness of the company, lack of bureaucracy and hierarchy. However, you can’t call us a family company since we are already significantly larger. We tried to keep this “domesticity” as long as it was possible. Since the company is already quite big I might not know everyone personally. However, any employee can always talk to me or any other top manager. There are no barriers.

This is important for the company since it’s one of our values. We collect feedback to improve our business and make working conditions here more comfortable. We often organize sports, e.g. cycling projects that would be interesting for our employees.

What does success mean to you? Do you consider yourself a successful person?

Yes, I do. (Laughing) After a certain point, the value of money disappears and you start to measure success a bit differently.

I, as a CEO and a leader of the company, believe that success means leading in our business segment, as well as a chance to be ahead of our competitors, doing a better product. It is not easy in our business. If you compare IT-outsourcing with a sport, that will be a long-distance running. It is important to know not how fast you are running, but whether you’ll keep the same pace all the time.

If you compare IT-outsourcing with a sport, that will be a long-distance running. It is important to know not how fast you are running, but whether you’ll keep the same pace all the time

We’re a fast-growing company. For the last few years we are annually growing by 50%, e.g. last year we welcomed 220 new employees. That is why we are successful. The fact that we managed to create a leading company, makes me successful too. We are constantly listed in top IT-employers rankings in Lviv, 10th among hundreds of companies in Kyiv this is a proof of quality.

How did the company go through the period after the crisis in 2008? And what about the period after the war?

In 2009 and 2010, when the crisis has just started, we grew by 45-50%. In my opinion, you have to see a crisis as an opportunity. This is what we did.

When clients are in crisis, this means that they would like to save some money. Intellias – is an outsourcing company, which delivers quality services which are not that expensive compared to others. We used this opportunity.

We’re a fast-growing company. For the last few years we are annually growing by 50%, e.g. last year we welcomed 220 new employees

In the same way, in 2014-2015 we won a tender for a big project among many other, more powerful companies. There were moments of instability, but we put a little bit more effort and proved that even in such conditions we are able to deliver everything without creating any risks for our clients.

What challenges is the company facing right now?

There are some business challenges, and challenges which we cannot control, related to the situation in the Eastern Ukraine. We can’t influence certain things, and we try to leave them aside.

There are certain risks: outsourcing is starting to change and it is going to continue in the future. IT companies that are not aware of it and won’t be developing, will be forced to leave this business. The larger the company, the better specialists and management who understand the situation, but on the other hand, the more difficult it is to change anything.

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This transformation would be the most difficult: changing the business model and transitioning from outstaffing to more value-added services. That’s the biggest challenge, but we still have a few years left. The main factor that can influence is a proper economic and political integration of Ukraine into the Western world.

There different opinions on the ratio between outstaffing, outsourcing and the product approach. Some people say that it’s important to move in the product direction because that’s the best existing approach. Others say, that the only important thing is to have an efficient business model, without any difference which approaches you’re using. What do you think?  

It’s just another “holy war”. (Laughing) I prefer outsourсing. Of course, startups and product development are cool, but there’s a problem with a business component. On the one hand, we need people who can turn this into business. On the other, there’s a bigger problem: until the state remains as it is now, we won’t be able to build a good infrastructure. For product development, we would need a well-protected eco-system, internal and external investments, a good security environment etc.

In outsourcing, we’re working on complex projects and raising awareness about Ukraine in the world. We don’t train personnel, but people who work with us, learn a lot from our projects. Moreover, it’s an opportunity to learn something new not on one project, but on a couple of projects during an extended period of time.

It’s important to work with various clients in the beginning in order to understand how business works, and then apply this knowledge when developing products.

Currently, we won’t be transitioning to the product approach, since we are successful in today’s business and with the present approach. Our main challenge to strengthen the success we have already achieved. This is a very difficult managerial challenge and we are making every effort to reach our goal. When we get bored, we might accept other challenges.

Outsourcing is helping to build an engineering system for the future eco-system. Therefore, it’s not a confrontation, but more like a symbiosis

Outsourcing is helping to build an engineering system for the future eco-system. Therefore, it’s not a confrontation, but more like a symbiosis. But what we lack the most, is not an IT-system, but legal and political components.

What do you think are the prospects for change in these areas?

It’s a long process, so I’m not very optimistic right now. The good thing is, at least we’re moving in the right direction.

Then there are two options: evolutionary or corrupt. As for the evolutionary one, I have no idea how long will it take. Hopefully, Ukraine will be developing at a fast rate. Right now, when other countries, for instance, Estonia or Israel are developing at a rapid-fire pace, we’re at a standstill.  You need to remember here that the “window of opportunities” won’t be open forever.

In ten or fifteen years the world will radically change and it is yet unknown what will be the place of Ukraine there. Revolutionary changes are possible! Let’s take Estonia or Georgia. However, you need a team ready to implement and develop them. The difficulty of our situation is the fact that Ukraine is a huge country, so it’s much harder to fight resistance and corruption here. The example of Georgia shows us that a small team of like-minded people managed to change the country simply because there were not many points of influence. We need a huge change in Ukraine, thus we have to find a strong team.

IT is one of those areas where proactive, educated and responsible people can succeed, regardless of any external circumstances. It’s an area where social elevators work well.

Yes! And these social elevators work in such a way, that you can come to an IT company as an ordinary employee and in a few years grow to a high position. And, of course, all of this would be possible solely because of your personal characteristics, persistence and hard daily work.

When I was finishing Lviv Physics and Mathematics Lyceum, the Faculty of International Relations was really popular. Everyone wanted to become a diplomat. Faculties of  Economics and Law were always second at popularity. It was really difficult to get enrolled there, you either had to give a bribe or had good connections, because the competition was crazy.

This is when we decided to study Applied Mathematics. And that was a very wise choice. I often recall a line from the Polish movie “Chłopaki nie płacza”: “Think what you would like to do in life and then start doing it”. This is my story.

I always wanted to be engaged in computer technologies, and I simply started to do it. I devoted all my time and energy to it. And it worked out.

I have a motto “The more you train, the luckier you get”. Some might say, that Intellias got lucky. But that’s not true. The more you work, the more you succeed. If we weren’t the same as we are, and didn’t put that much effort to work as efficiently as possible, such “coincidences” would probably not happen.

What do you think is a perfect IT employee? What is a perfect employee for Intellias?

We have a serious team with only 3-5% of junior employees. Of course, this is due to the fact that our clients need highly professional employees and engineers.

Half of our company consists of seniors and team leads. The other half are mid-level employees. We are looking for professional and experienced human capital, instead of starting our own training centers and involving people. If a person is more talented than their colleagues, of course, we are going to help them, but won’t teach from scratch. If there are dozens of juniors, we choose five or ten the best ones and give them a chance.

What’s your strategy? What plans and ambitions do you have?

First of all, we can clearly see a place for our business in the long run. We understand that the number of opportunities will be growing, but at the same time challenges will be even more ambitious than now. The company will be growing. We will enter the markets not only in Eastern Europe, but also Latin America and, perhaps, Asia.

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We have certain benefits, and we will be using them. Of course, we will be growing and developing here in Ukraine too, since we have a lot of work here. We will participate in even more interesting and innovative projects, and most importantly we will continue to deliver quality services to our clients.  

You need to plan the strategy and development of a company for five or seven years ahead. You need to predict how technologies will be developing. Predicting for a longer period of time is impossible in the modern world and probably not even necessary. 10-15 years now can be equated to 30-40 years in the past. Could we have predicted in the 70s everything we have right now? I don’t think so.  

However, we can predict how bioengineering and related industries will develop over the next few years. You need to do this and develop companies through new ideas and approaches.

What would you advise young entrepreneurs and people who are thinking about working in IT?

I would advise young people who are thinking and hesitating about what to do, to think about information technologies. Programmers are usually seen as trendy and well-paid employees. However, money is merely one component. Another one is the fact that this is a very interesting job on the edge of changes and an opportunity to work on the global market.

This should be the main motivator for potential programmers because in my opinion money is not the major benefit. People do not stop with something simple but are constantly developing and implementing innovative technologies and approaches. With the globalization, the demand for programmers will only increase, and the earlier a person understands this and joins the IT sector, the better.

People working in IT, work with western clients, so they understand what European and American markets are like. They see the way their colleagues think and are changing too. They’re becoming better, more educated and more client-oriented. Here win-win approaches and western values dominate, not ephemeral Soviet principles. IT is a chance for Ukraine.  

Taras Prokopyshyn Nazar Parkhomyk

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