We talked to Marco Otte-Witte of simplabs on how to ensure product excellence through digital experiences that are clean, dependable, and architected for scalability and extensibility and this is what he had to say.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Marco Otte-Witte: We’re doing pretty good, actually. Luckily, everyone is healthy, and we’ve been able to handle the situation pretty well so far. I do feel for everyone who has been affected more than us, though. Many people obviously have been suffering significantly throughout the year and will likely continue to do so.
simplabs has luckily been able to handle the situation relatively easily as well. Having been a fully remote company since the beginning, we didn’t have to adapt much organizationally, and luckily most of our clients are getting through these times without bigger consequences as well. We are looking forward to hopefully being able to see each other face-to-face next year, though – as I’m sure is everyone else.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded simplabs.
Marco Otte-Witte: I’ve been in the tech/startup industry for about 20 years in various arrangements – as an enterprise consultant, as a freelancer working with local startups, and I was even a Blackberry employee for 2 years. I’ve seen lots of projects and companies come and go during that time.
At some point, I was looking for something that would allow me to continue to improve my skills as well as the tech I used and work with a stable team beyond the lifetime of a startup (which is often short, as we all know). That’s when I founded simplabs as a consultancy which allowed me to do similar work to what I did before but with a stable team that grows its experience and expertise continuously so we get better every day and can help clients that didn’t have the time yet to grow their own team and experience.
How does simplabs innovate?
Marco Otte-Witte: We are a consultancy focused on helping our clients execute their innovations. We provide support and expertise around things like engineering, design, and process, and those are also the areas we innovate in. We’re continuously refining our processes and practices and are actively involved in a bunch of open source projects, so we actively contribute to making those better step by step.
Generally, I think in the startup industry, innovation is overrated, though. The main challenge we see companies dealing with is not a lack of innovation – there are lots of great ideas for services and products – but actually executing on the innovations, they have made already and turning those into functional products or services efficiently at a steady pace with high quality. Innovation being such a holy cow though often leads to execution being neglected, and instead, most of the focus going to seemingly innovative change, often to the extent that all change is seen as innovation. A lot of change is simply not more than just change, though, and focus on it too much draws attention away from execution and the positive impact improving in that area can have, effectively doing more harm than good then. In our experience, the real innovation is often focusing on doing what you’re already doing but continuously improving that in small steps rather than looking for the next hot big thing that is expected to result in breakthrough changes.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Marco Otte-Witte: Our team has been remote from the very beginning. Therefore, we didn’t experience drastic changes in the way we work. Luckily, we didn’t really see a decline in client projects (except for a few projects being delayed). I think for the startup economy in general, the pandemic will even have a positive effect over the long term – money will remain extremely cheap for the foreseeable future, and a lot of it will go into funding startups, so maybe now is a better time to start something than ever.
The only major downside we experienced through the pandemic is the fact that it’s not possible to see each other face-to-face. We’ve been a fully remote company from the beginning but have always found it critically important for team spirit to be able to meet from time to time. There are alternatives that can be done remotely, but there just is no remote replacement for meeting people face-to-face – as I’m sure everyone has experienced over the past months also in their private lives.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Marco Otte-Witte: Luckily I didn’t have to make any difficult choices yet, and I hope it stays that way. The main lesson we learned during the pandemic – or I should say where the pandemic reinforced our previous learnings – is the importance of having good practices for remote work in place. I see quite a few companies (even otherwise modern tech companies) struggling with this. Some of them might think the pandemic will be over some time next year anyway, and they just have to get through a few more months, thus would not invest in improving their remote work practices. I think that’s a misbelief, though – remote work is here to stay, and many people will not want to go back into the office once we’re through the pandemic. If you’re not figuring out remote work properly now, you’ll continue to be in trouble for the foreseeable future.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Marco Otte-Witte: My main mechanism for compensating for stress and anxiety is sports. One of the big advantages for me running a remote company where I’m the only one in my office is I can do sports in the office without having to worry about annoying my coworkers. Climbing Mt. Ventoux during lunch break with my road bike on an indoor trainer is something I find extremely relaxing.
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