Jarosław Błąd, founder of Vertabelo tells us about a data modeling platform that helps to create various business applications.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jarosław Błąd: We have had no severe COVID-19 cases in our family so far. In everyday life, like probably many people, we have felt for over a year as if we were under siege. Nevertheless, we are constantly trying to adapt to the new reality. Our children learn remotely, and my wife, who is a chemistry teacher, had to quickly develop a completely new approach to teaching her subject. All of this cost us a lot of energy. The positive thing is that despite the circumstances, we as a family were able to spend much more time together than before the pandemic.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Vertabelo?
Jarosław Błąd: I fell in love with computers and programming when I was a child. As a teenager, I created computer programs and games. Over time, I started making money on it. For most of the 90s, I worked on creating various business applications, most of which required relational databases. This is how I came across SQL.
LearnSQL.com, our latest project, is a development of the previous Vertabelo Academy, which was created a bit … by accident. We had been working on our Vertabelo Database Modeler and thought that users would need some SQL courses to get more out of this tool. The interest in these courses exceeded our expectations. Something that was supposed to be just an additional feature has become our flagship product, which we are really proud of. The market told us that people need a reliable source of knowledge about SQL and we gave it to them.
How does Vertabelo innovate?
Jarosław Błąd: First of all, we try to monitor and analyze the situation all the time. We react to changes in the market and we can do it quickly thanks to the great team of people on board. We solve problems together and work out the best scenarios. We often use brainstorming sessions, we don’t close ourselves to even very bold ideas, and we try new things and solutions. We constantly improve our courses by listening to our users and observing current industry trends.
This is how we managed to create LearnSQL.com. We not only try to be innovative ourselves, but we also provide our users with tools that allow them to introduce innovative solutions in their companies. We give them interactive courses based on real scenarios, thanks to which they can get even more out of the data. We believe that knowledge is important, but only practice makes us learn something. Our courses are a hands-on experience. It’s also fully web-based, meaning you don’t need to install anything, and you type the code in your browser. Our offer is addressed both to beginners, who dream of being data analysts, and data engineers, who want to make better business decisions based on data. It’s also suitable for SQL experts who are looking for a way to take their skills to the next level.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Jarosław Błąd: We are a platform offering online interactive courses, and it can be said that we were prepared to switch to “remote life” even before the pandemic. The demand for data analysis specialists means that more and more people are looking for good sources of knowledge about databases. On the other hand, our main market is the US, where people and businesses have been hit hard by Covid-19. Some companies have started to reduce the costs of their employees’ development, and many people cannot afford even small educational expenses. This was confirmed by our SQL Scholarship Christmas campaign, during which we gave dozens of SQL courses, for free, to people who could not afford them. Their stories made us realize the terrible impact the virus has had on the lives of ordinary people and the economy. Despite the adversities, however, we closed the year with a slight increase, and we are still developing and moving forward. In recent months, we have managed to acquire more B2B clients, for whom we prepare dedicated courses, and we are optimistic about the future.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Jarosław Błąd: We managed to keep our entire team together in these difficult times. I watch my friends who run IT companies, mainly software houses, who lost a large part of their orders in the first half of the pandemic and unfortunately had to lay off people. Often, reductions were as great as a quarter of entire teams. Fortunately, there is still a shortage of specialists on the market and the redundant people quickly found new employers. Compared to other industries, ours rebuilt relatively quickly. This can be thought of more in terms of correcting an overheated market.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Jarosław Błąd: In the case of our business, where from the very beginning we chose to have full remote contact with customers, the pandemic did not have any impact on the technical aspect of cooperation. For years, we have been using Google tools to conduct videoconferences, work on documents, etc. We also use additional customer service support systems.
However, we have noticed changes on the customer side, mostly in the case of larger companies. The decision-making processes were stretched significantly, especially at the beginning of the pandemic, and some of them had difficulties working on projects. We also observed frequent staff changes.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Jarosław Błąd: Yes, in the first phase of the pandemic, we received help in the form of small tax breaks. It was not a huge amount of money, but it gave us more freedom in judging the situation. It was a time when no one knew how the pandemic would develop and how much impact it would have on the global economy.
Your final thoughts?
Jarosław Błąd: There is no turning back from working remotely. We practically switched to this form of work almost immediately, trying to follow the requirements of social distance and pandemic safety. Working from home also made life easier for our employees who had to look after their young children and elderly people in their families. From the first day of the pandemic, we were flexible and understanding.
We have not noticed any significant problems in the current operational activities. In many cases, we even managed to develop procedures that streamlined our work and increased the efficiency of our daily activities.
The main challenge during this period was the inability to talk to each other face to face. Many of the small, everyday matters that we have been working on so far, for example during the coffee break, during short conversations in the corridor, or during lunch together, now require extra effort. Over time, relations between employees, which so far were built on non-professional grounds and were associated with shared passions, interests, etc., will degrade. It will also be much more difficult for us to build such relationships with people who will join our company in the future. Therefore, while maintaining remote work, we will strive for such an organizational model in which the element of direct contact between employees will be possible.
The second issue is quite an unusual situation in the IT job market. In times of pandemic, companies are afraid to hire juniors and graduates. Why? Mainly due to the difficult process of remote implementation into the corporate ecosystem. They prefer to hire experienced specialists, which risks creating a gap in the influx of new employees. This will again lead to overheating of the market and even a crisis of the entire industry. Let the young people prove themselves and spread their wings.