First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Anton Kovach: These are very challenging times for everyone. Also, now agility and adaptability prove their benefits. We have 5 children, the youngest is 1 year old – so we are never bored at home. I’ve set up my office space at home and an aesthetic “stage set” for online meetings, conferences, and webinars. Furthermore, my wife is ShiwaForce’s COO that is a demanding position, but she is doing great on both sides: supporting family and managing business day after day. I’m very grateful to her.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded ShiwaForce.
Anton Kovach: I have already experienced both the 2001 dotcom and the 2008 economic crisis as a company leader; there have been very difficult and turbulent times, full of fears, tensions, and basic questions of existence. In addition to the challenges, each crisis brings us a lot of opportunities that need to be noticed and exploited, so we have grown as well, while many other companies have failed. The secret is that you need to constantly adapt to change and be able to innovate instead of panic.
How does ShiwaForce innovate?
Anton Kovach: We are constantly reorganizing our teams, working in short cycles, giving and asking for feedback, strictly following the rules, but constantly questioning and reviewing them. I think the three most important things are transparency, agile adaptation, and quick reaction.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Anton Kovach: Luckily, our industry is not struggling a lot because of the coronavirus pandemic. Moreover, as the digital transformation has become more important for every company, IT development and agile methodologies came to the fore. At Shiwaforce, a technology company with more than 130 employees, remote work is familiar to many of our employees who work at our client’s office. It is also common for someone to work or meet remotely.
During the 2001 dotcom crisis, I went to my parents for advice, and they told me: “If you starve yourself, you will not have the strength to fight, if you waste your reserves, there will be nothing left.” I realized that this is the “Lean methodology” itself. You have to constantly invest in development, but what slows you down must also be constantly cut off. This operation is also excellent as crisis management, but it is also a basic requirement in our normal operation.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Anton Kovach: The most important lesson I have learned from the crises so far is that the biggest mistake companies can make to switch to panic survival mode. Meanwhile, it is also true that for a segment where revenue is suddenly falling to zero, the crisis poses completely different challenges than where only 30% of revenue is in danger. But in both cases, you need to quickly decide what the company is going to do, which path to prefer, and communicate the decision, its background, and expectations honestly and clearly to employees.
How do you plan to stay in the game?
Anton Kovach: Two types of entrepreneurs can be distinguished, one who goes forward blindly and one who measures everything and follows it thoroughly. In my opinion, the effective operation is between these two. A thousand factors affect what happens to a company. It is important to be informed, but the top managers do not need overly complicated dashboards in this case.
In a crisis, the good tools and methods already introduced in the past help the most; this has been confirmed several times by life. Even in previous crises, we have started to surround ourselves with solutions that help with vision, task management, and increase transparency in our system. This way, it is easier to act, even if a storm comes. Time is critical in a crisis.
Your final thoughts?
Anton Kovach: Rapid adaptation does not mean that we do not experience pain, but that it does not paralyze us for months. There are a lot of practices that will help you get used to the change. Continuous and scheduled change is natural for people; we only have to provide a framework for this natural process.