We talked to Christian Haintz, co-founder and CTO at Carrot & Company, about customized software development, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Christian Haintz: Thank you. Fortunately, everybody is doing fine, at least for now. But I am really looking forward to getting vaccinated as soon as possible.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Carrot & Company.
Christian Haintz: Well, my entrepreneurial story started during my time at the university where I studied Software Development and Business. I remember that I needed lots of servers for my bachelor’s theses and couldn’t afford them, so I wanted to get virtual ones, nowadays called cloud. Back then, there weren’t any promising providers, so I made the virtualization on my own. That worked that well that my colleagues also wanted to switch from their providers to my virtual servers. So I founded my first company with 100€. That was my first entrepreneurial experience which led to my first company. It has always been my passion to improve or create new solutions that solve problems and help people or at least improve their lives somehow. Therefore I am exceptionally curious and excited about every new technology.
After creating different online products and services – so-called SaaS Systems – with my partner, other companies asked if we could help them bring their business model online as well and create web services and software solutions for them, so my partner Karin and I founded Carrot & Company, which supports other companies and startups in bringing their digital strategies to reality. We have done this since 2007, and it never gets boring. We are now a team of experts in bringing ideas to digital reality, and I have the honor to be the CTO of this amazing team.
How does Carrot & Company innovate?
Christian Haintz: Continuous improvement and innovation have been part of our company culture from the beginning. The whole company has been working agile since 2007 in a 2-week sprint cycle. Every second week we reflect on what went well and what didn’t. We try to figure out why all the things and processes didn’t go as smoothly as expected. The team brings up suggestions on how we can improve. In the next two weeks, we test the changes and reflect, innovate and test again. With this process and culture in place, you learn to automatically challenge the status quo and constantly innovate in all areas.
Although innovation helps you stay ahead of competitors, we learned early that you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel, especially in the technical area. In the software industry, the best approach is to stand on the shoulders of giants. That’s what open-source software is often used for. But even with using open source software, you still have a lot to do and learn when you want to bring your idea to life as a digital solution. It starts by choosing the right open source tools, frameworks, and libraries and wiring them to get a solid foundation instead of a fragile house of cards. That’s what we do, helping our clients with our 14 years of experience, developing a solid software solution based on their idea and business requirements, from consulting and training to custom-built turnkey solutions.
Over the years, we have built a technical foundation for our clients with preselected and wired-up state-of-the-art open-source software. So even when we are building a completely new and custom solution for them, we can save them money and be quicker than any other software development company with this foundation. This way, they can iterate and innovate more quickly in their field of expertise. Our innovation enables them to innovate faster and more cost-effectively.
How did the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?
Christian Haintz: Well, when this crisis came to Europe last March, new projects in our pipeline were delayed due to the uncertain future. So we had unused resources and didn’t know how long projects would be delayed and how long the crisis would last, and you are facing the limited runway to get the business flying again, or you crash at some point.
After crafting different scenarios on adapting to the situation, we went on with probably not the most straightforward idea. We decided to invest the time to make a product out of our software foundation, which has helped us for years to save time when developing web and mobile applications for our customers. So the new product Carrot Seed SaaS Kit was born during the first lockdown in May 2020 with an uncertain future.
The good thing was that we’ve been using this foundation for a couple of years already. It is already proven from a technical perspective, and there wasn’t much to change in that area, but we still needed about 2 months to transform it into a sellable product. So, for us, the lockdown was quite a busy time with some all-nighters.
But once it was ready, it enabled startups and companies to use our 14 years of experience without developing the project with us but only by getting the Carrot Seed SaaS Kit. This way, they could use their own development team. And even though they may have had less experience in web development or digital product development, with Carrot Seed, they could get a solid source code foundation and the documentation to start themselves quickly. And if they need help, we can train and support their development and design team, so they progress even faster.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Christian Haintz: As co-founder of a company, it feels like there are difficult decisions every day. That’s what makes it so interesting to me. You are responsible for all your decisions. There’s no boss to blame. You are forced to learn from the bad ones and improve for future ones every single day.
Right after the government announced the lockdown and the economy reacted to it by putting a majority of new investments on hold, we needed to decide how to cope with the free resources which arose in our company due to planned projects being delayed or set on hold.
We decided to put all free resources into creating Carrot Seed even if we didn’t know how the economy would be affected by covid in the future. It was a tough decision because investing in a new product in those uncertain times when all others are freezing their investment projects didn’t look like the right decision.
But we wanted to help our clients to get started with their projects themselves even when their budget got reduced or frozen temporarily due to the unpredictable economic situation. Luckily, our product Carrot Seed helped them get started quickly on their own, which was especially important because being able to generate revenue online was suddenly getting more important. In the end, we got good feedback for Carrot Seed and are happy that we could help others realize their ideas with limited time and budget and that we were crazy enough to decide to go that way.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Christian Haintz: Luckily, our company’s agile approach is the perfect tool to cope with rapid changes. The secret makes us so flexible and well suited when we work with clients who have “moving target” projects where you don’t know what you will aim for in two months. So basically every startup project.
We are used to adapting processes and methods every second week, so business culture and management style was perfectly suited for that situation. Nevertheless, we had to change a lot more because of the corona situation we would have if there hadn’t been a pandemic. But the change process itself was already in place as part of our culture, so the company, the whole team, could deal with it.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Christian Haintz: Where should I start? (laughs) The position of our product Carrot Seed as a Software Development Kit and foundation for SaaS Solutions and Cloud Applications is exactly in the sweet spot between traditional software development – in terms of our team developing everything themselves, similar to reinventing the wheel – versus the No-Code or Low-Code approaches which are very hyped nowadays. Carrot Seed combines the advantages of both, like full control over source code and high development velocity, without integrating the disadvantages like the vendor lock-in, limited customization, large upfront costs, etc. And that’s what developers, designers, and project managers really like about Carrot Seed.
And as a software development agency, our product Carrot Seed is one of our core USPs because it helps us speed up the development by more than 1000 development hours per project. So when we are building turnkey solutions for our clients based on Carrot Seed, we save them and a lot of time and money, which makes us one of the first scalable software development agencies.
Your final thoughts?
Christian Haintz: Even though it is a tough time for everybody, we try to see every setback as an opportunity. We had to deal with the situation anyhow, but it helped to stay positive and supportive for us.
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