Maciej Gdula, CEO of Skillforce.pl tells us about solving customer problems using technology
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Maciej Gdula: Thank you, we’re doing quite well. We passed Covid-19 in a very mild form, and it has not disrupted our family and business lives. Of course, we are bothered by travel and social restrictions, but we believe that will soon pass.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Skillforce.pl.
Maciej Gdula: I’m 45 years old. I have been working in the IT industry since 1996, although I had my first contact with computers in the early 1980s, at the age of 7 – my father worked at the Silesian University of Technology as an assistant professor and had access to computers with a memory size of 16kb. Then, of course, there was an Amiga demoscene, and after her first job in IT as a database developer (good old FoxPro. In 1999, I founded my first software house specializing in web and mobile applications, in which I sold my shares in 2013 for health and family reasons. For the next few years, I worked as a manager for one of the largest Polish IT companies and for a computer games producer listed on the stock exchange. In the meantime, in 2017, with two colleagues, we founded a company whose goal was to create an application supporting crossfit and triathlon training. However, clients and projects appeared in the company, and over time we transformed into a software house specialized in AI and image analysis as well as in mobile applications based on Flutter technology. Currently, in addition to projects for clients, we are working on our own products that use image analysis and AI to support processes that have been complicated by the COVID situation.
How does Skillforce.pl innovate?
Maciej Gdula: We try to be up to date with the news in our industry. We spend part of our work time on research and development, testing new technologies before implementing them in commercial projects (some R&D results then become our products). We plan to create a separate research and development department, whose task will be solely the production, testing, and implementation of new technologies in the field of AI and image analysis.
We work with representatives of the academic and scientific communities, with whom we exchange experiences and knowledge and conduct joint projects. We are also happy to cooperate with other companies operating in the same sector as us and together solve customer problems.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Maciej Gdula: In the first phase of the pandemic, we felt the effects of the lockdown strongly – we had two large projects planned for clients from the restaurant and medical industry, which were canceled due to the epidemic. We had to modify financial and employment plans, postpone the move to a new office and discontinue work on our own product due to lack of financing.
Fortunately, thanks to our quick action and a slight change in the “course,” we were able to attract new clients and start new projects that support our clients’ operation in these complicated realities of the pandemic. We managed to make up for the loss from the beginning of the year, and our current financial result is much better than in similar periods in previous years.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Maciej Gdula: Fortunately, thanks to our hiring strategy, we managed to avoid having to make a decision to say goodbye to staff. We tried to maintain a minimum permanent staff for our main specializations, and outsource the rest of the work to contractors, so limiting the number of projects related to the pandemic did not force us to reduce our key personnel.
The pandemic has shown that the vast majority of our colleagues from the industry appreciate the flexibility associated with contract work and the possibility of remote work, which opens up completely new opportunities for us to build teams and search for specialists.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Maciej Gdula: From the beginning of the company’s existence, we have placed great emphasis on remote cooperation with clients. Our industry is in a very comfortable situation – our services and products are easily sold online. We also deliver them to clients in a form that does not require physical transport, and we also maintain and develop them online.
Of course, we have increased our activity on the web, especially on social and business sites, and our employees contribute to open source solutions, which makes us more visible.
Paradoxically, the pandemic and the need for online communication allowed us to maintain better relationships with customers and attract new partners.
When it comes to tools, at the moment, we are supporters of the old school – CRM, calendar, and paper notebook 🙂 Plus, of course, videoconferencing platforms 🙂
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Maciej Gdula: We only used one loan, available to all Polish entrepreneurs. We managed to get through the difficult time without having to apply for government grants.
Your final thoughts?
Maciej Gdula: The difficult time of the pandemic has significantly redefined the principles of modern business, especially in the hi-tech industries. We lost a lot but also gained a lot. We have verified our model of managing and working with clients in difficult, even extreme conditions of the lack of direct contact, fear of infection, and difficulties in traveling. We have developed new, more effective methods of communication and project management; we focused on flexibility and quick adaptation to changes. It was definitely worth it.
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