First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Niels Siskens: We are keeping safe. This year has been very difficult for all of us, but we are hanging in there. Above all else, the Quarantaines have affected us most, and now in most of Europe, the weather is getting worse, but we are happy to be inside.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Parrolabs.
Niels Siskens: I started my career about 15 years ago. As a procurement consultant, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Europe and see a lot of different companies. After my MBA, I started working more in the field of Technology and Marketing, as this is a field that does not have enough Technologists.
When I arrived in Medellin in 2014, I knew I wanted to start my own business, and via some winding roads, we formed Parrolabs in 2015. The company has been in business for about 5 years now, and the company is thriving. We started off helping US-based digital agencies make more money by outsourcing some of their tech work to us in Latin America. Oftentimes, we had to keep things quiet as that was part of the contract.
Realizing that this did not build us a portfolio, we’ve since been able to work to get US corporations and startups as our clients directly. At the moment, we are a proud partner to over a dozen companies.
How does Parrolabs innovate?
Niels Siskens: We follow the market more than anything. So 5-years ago, WordPress and Ruby on Rails were the primary Technologies. These days, you see the shift towards JAMstack and more diverse technologies. This makes it harder for us to keep up with a wide range of technologies.
On the one hand, we have a lot of clients who are upgrading their WordPress CMS to be using React on the front-end, as that means better compliance with the mobile environment and an increase in speed. We innovate by building “templates” around the solutions that we can use over and over again in order to significantly speed things up. I think agencies can use this in helping their clients better.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Niels Siskens: Having clients from different industries, we have seen some that are heavily impacted by the Covid-19 crisis, and we are seeing clients that are not affected by it. Having some startups as clients in the hospitality industry means we were negatively impacted.
However, e-commerce and gifts have increased significantly as people are spending more time indoors, and sending flowers or chocolates to family members is making this industry very solid. So we have had to pause some contracts but expanded on others.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Niels Siskens: I think nobody saw the Covid-19 situation coming. Things were looking very solid, with many people looking for a Nearshore outsourcing partner in Latin America. Then the Covid-19 crisis came, and people started holding on to their gunpowder for months. So, unfortunately, we had to let go of people, and that was difficult. We also had to evacuate our office building from one day to the next.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Parrolabs in the future?
Niels Siskens: Being “Locked Up” in an apartment like 24 hours a day 6 days a week is very stressful. Being in Colombia and seeing the country move to strict Quarantines meant being at home almost all the time. Seeing negative financials in the company statements did not help either. I think that overall, this must have been one of the most stressful periods of my life.
That being said, it became clear that anti-malaria drugs would help against Covid-19. One of the best medicines against Malaria has always been drinking Gin-Tonic (mind you, the quinine is in the tonic, not in the Gin). I started to have 1 Gin-Tonic every night to remind myself that things would get better. Eventually, they did, and now about 8 months later, things have been picking up in terms of Business, and also we are allowed to walk the streets and continue our lives.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Niels Siskens: We have an increasing number of competitors. The best thing to do is to keep expenses low, keep rates reasonable, and build a great relationship with your customers. There are more clients than businesses are offering our services. As noted before, the other thing is that we are good in a couple of technologies and not in all of them.
Niels Siskens: Colombia is one of the upcoming countries. It is not a 3rd world country, but with a few exceptions, everyone has plenty of food. The country has had some difficulties in the previous years, but things are looking good for the future. Latin America has always fascinated me, and having learned Spanish makes it easy to go from one country to the next. I think that expansion into Peru and Ecuador can be achieved easily.
What is Nearshoring?
Niels Siskens: Nearshoring is finding the right kind of outsourcing partner for your particular need in the same timezone using a culture that is similar to yours. I feel outsourcing has gotten a very bad name as people went to extremes by going to countries that were significantly cheaper than their own but also had the burden of being on the opposites sides of the planet and carrying with them issues like different cultures and different timezones.
I recently spoke with a client that before had their operations in Pune, India. While they were happy with the quality of their staff, the issues were that the USA operations and PMs started working at 11 PM on a Sunday, crushing their motivation. You will not have to worry about it when you stick to similar timezones.
Has the WFH revolution helped your Business?
Niels Siskens: I’d say in a sense. At the moment, a lot more companies are open to working remotely. As such, nearshoring becomes a natural next step for them. If you can have a partner that is a specialist in Sales Outsourcing, Marketing Outsourcing, Technology Outsourcing, or Design Outsourcing, and you can reach them with a 2-3 hour flight, you are having the best of both worlds. A cheaper solution, great flexibility in staffing, and a reduction in overall labor costs.
Your final thoughts?
Niels Siskens: As we all go through what has the potential of being one of the biggest crises of our lives, I feel things can only get better from here. So for everyone seeing their finances dwindle. We will need to look forward and plan for the future.