Theo Schnitfink, founder and CEO of Symphony Solutions on valuing quality people and quality services.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Theo Schnitfink: COVID-19 hit unexpectedly, and at some point, life seemed to have come to a halt. Now that we’ve been all in this together for over a year, we have learned to adapt and keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.
With some adjustments, but life goes on. As it is in life and in business, you can’t sit around forever and wait for things to magically get better. We do whatever is feasible in the given circumstances and take the most out of what we can have.
My family and I take a great interest in how the healthcare system is dealing with the pandemic. I personally have taken the test several times as a travel requirement, and we are anxious to see what new medical advances can help us get this crisis over with. Everyone can make their own choices; I am personally a bit more cautious about vaccination and still have my doubts. Understanding the urgency, we need to be meticulous, where human wellbeing is concerned.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Symphony Solutions.
Theo Schnitfink: I’ve always been involved in the IT industry, working for other companies, yet I had this idea to create a company that would be different. I envisioned a place with a distinct culture, where I would’ve wanted to work myself, that values quality people and quality services most of all—a place to cluster and nurture talent that’s both dynamic in its initiative yet intimate.
I saw great potential in starting an IT business in Eastern Europe and Ukraine in particular. So, our first delivery office we opened in Lviv, being the closest to Europe in mentality and location. That’s how we started in 2008 and gradually grew to where we are today.
How does Symphony Solutions innovate?
Theo Schnitfink: Innovation is one of our core values. We are always on the lookout for innovative technologies and methodologies, as well as unique, sophisticated solutions that would reimagine business as we know it. There are always a few focus areas that are constantly evolving and changing.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Theo Schnitfink: When the pandemic first hit, we went into full alert mode and quickly adapted where possible. We had to be strict about what was feasible for us at the time. We had to put on hold salary reviews and such benefits as free English classes and non-essential expenses. This was something that you don’t plan for. After that initial period, we are now back on track and gaining momentum. It is a big surprise for me how fast the recovery happens. I would say that a year into the pandemic, we have learned to seek opportunities in difficult situations and turn those into benefits. For example, we have now decided that after the pandemic rules are over, we will work in the hybrid model – 2 days from the office and 3 days from home; additionally, we are turning our offices into co-working spaces to make it more cost-efficient.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Theo Schnitfink: At the very start of the pandemic, we faced a setback with some of our clients who were more than others hit by the lockdown. Of course, we tried to keep our Symphonians who were left without projects and involve them in other ways. We extensively worked with the bench, which fluctuated in size week to week. We couldn’t keep all of our talents, sadly, but as we move forward, things are inevitable to change; people want to move on and see what other options they have. Some have already come full circle and are back in the family. After all, it’s been over a year, so a lot happened.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Theo Schnitfink: I wouldn’t say that our tools are any different from those that everyone else uses. All communication is, for the most part, strictly online. Being part of the international market, this is nothing new, but it did grow to a larger scale. Several of our clients expected their teams to work from one location, somewhat reluctant to have multiple previously. However, now geolocation became irrelevant.
Since the start of lockdowns, we’ve initiated a lot of internal communication and naturally, this transferred to our customers as well. From the early days, we made sure that we build an intimate relationship with our clients and have frequent communication. Quite peculiarly, many remarked how well-adjusted was our transition to fully remote work, and that it feels as if there was no change to begin with.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Theo Schnitfink: Unfortunately, we didn’t get any grant from the government.
Your final thoughts?
Theo Schnitfink: No one expected to be caught up in this crisis, but we’re all in this together, and we’re going to come out of it all more united than ever. The time for innovation is now, and we’ll make sure to take full benefit of the rising demand for our services.