INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
A Company Culture Focused on Your Team can Help Weather Any Pandemic
We talked to Juan Pineda, managing director and founder of Agile, about digital marketing start-ups and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Juan Pineda: I currently live in Spain. Here, the pandemic became a reality in March 2020. It began with the closure of schools for 2 weeks. The government advised everyone to avoid unnecessary meetings and travel. This then turned into several months of total lockdown. When the first lockdown started, we were at my in-laws’ house. They have a garden there, so we could be outside every day. This made the lockdown much easier for us. The subsequent phases of the pandemic have been much less restrictive here. Everything is open but running at a lower capacity. People can still go to bars, restaurants, cinemas, and theaters. We currently avoid all of this, but we enjoy the freedom we have to move and do outdoor activities.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Agile.
Juan Pineda: I met my business partner, Simeon, in the US in 2000, where we became good friends. Upon my return to Europe, I spent the following years working for digital agencies in Spain and France. Simeon returned to Bulgaria. During those years we saw the rise of the e-commerce and Internet industries. And we began to dream of the possibility of creating our own digital company. But it wasn’t until a few years later, when I was living in the UK, that we saw a good opportunity to do it. I worked in a digital agency and, as we grew, we found that it was difficult to find and retain technical talent. The freelancers were expensive and they took the know-how with them when they left. We also hired some resources offshore. Due to different time zones, communication was a time-consuming process. And simple tasks often took several days due to a different interpretation of the requirements. This was a common problem for other agencies. So we decided to create a nearshore digital agency in Bulgaria. To solve some major problems that local agencies were having:
1) access a stable technical workforce,
2) who could work in the same working hours,
3) and be cheaper than getting freelancers through recruitment companies.
Over the years, our agency accumulated a lot of experience in many aspects of digital – UX and design, web development, SEO, PPC, email marketing. We worked for renowned international brands as a white-label team through other agencies. And we also helped startups and SMEs around the world. During that time, we began to see another gap in the market that we could fill. We saw that project manager in the agencies we worked with often quit after a short period of time. This was not good for clients, nor projects. A new person would have to take over and get slowly onboarded with everything. Often we found that we had more knowledge about the history of projects than the agency that hired us. We believed we could do as well as these agencies to help local clients with their digital needs. But our agency was positioned as a nearshore ‘agency for agencies’, so it was not easy for end clients to find us. By setting up a local digital agency in the UK we thought it would be easier for SMEs to find us and use our services. They would have access to a stable digital management workforce. And they would take advantage of the expert and cost-effective resources provided by our nearshore company.
How does Agile innovate?
Juan Pineda: The values of our company are health, family, and work. This means that we prioritize our health and our families over financial results. In our industry we can work from anywhere and at any time, so we take advantage of this for the benefit of the company. Our team has the flexibility to adapt the working day to their personal life. We know that when your mind is busy with a personal problem, you are not productive at work. At other times, you may feel unproductive for no reason. Why would you have to be in front of the computer from 9 to 6, just because that’s the normal business day? Wouldn’t it be better if you could prioritize what’s really important to you? This way, when you’re ready to work, your mind will no longer wander. Of course, for this to work, you need people that you can trust and who are willing to help each other. Luckily for us, we are surrounded by very smart people who share the same values as us.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Juan Pineda: The pandemic slowed things down. We have not been able to travel as before or have face-to-face meetings with some clients. The amount of RFP we received also decreased. But, in general, we have adapted quite well to the new situation. Long before the pandemic started, we were already working as a distributed agency. We operated mainly from different coworking centers in different countries. And our team had the flexibility to work from anywhere. So when the first lockdown started, we already had the tools, processes, and routines in place to work as usual.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Juan Pineda: Many companies were not as ready as we are for their teams to work remotely. At the beginning of the pandemic, we noticed that many people were busy all day talking on the phone. Jumping from one call to another. That showed us how unprepared they were to work in the new situation. By adopting the values of trust, flexibility, and transparency, we could adapt to the new situation faster and without stress.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Juan Pineda: The main ‘tool’ we use is called trust and flexibility. We trust our team to do the work that is required. Apart from this, there are business tools that can help you manage your business remotely. I mentioned some of them in this post.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Juan Pineda: To stay in the game, you need to constantly renew yourself, get rid of the past, and adapt to change. This was a famous Jack Welch premise that strikes me as the perfect answer to this question.
Your final thoughts?
Juan Pineda: The pandemic has forced companies to find new ways of working and collaborating. Those who had heavy processes and a classic management style had a hard time adapting to change. Wherever possible, businesses should adopt flexible management models. And give their teams the trust, flexibility, and tools they need to get work done from anywhere. Businesses get valuable ROI from this. Your teams will grow into a strong and efficient workforce that will remain reliable in all circumstances.
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