Aderson Oliveira: I've spoken with Nick Kaeshko about why businesses should consider Belarus when they are thinking about outsourcing in technology. On top of that, the country has amazing talented professionals, and the government has been encouraging the development of modern technologies with initiatives like the Hi-Tech Park. Not only that, but you also have time to have some fun with a tough call.
Hello, hello, Aderson Oliveira here. This is another interview for the OuchSourcing podcast where I talk to professionals, to business owners, to people that have experience with outsourcing, and they come in to help us take the pain away from outsourcing. Today, I have with me Nick Kaeshko. He is the co-founder of GrinTeq. Nick, thank you very much for being here. Welcome.
Nick Kaeshko: Hi, hello.
Aderson: Nick, let's start with the basics. I usually like to cover the basics first. Let me know where you are located and give me a one-minute spiel on you and your company.
Nick: Yeah. We are based in Minsk - that's Belarus - and our company is three years old. We are mainly focused in IT outsourcing and in dedicated teams of developers, which can be constantly interchanged as definitions in the IT industry, but those go sometimes hand-in-hand, sometimes not. Yeah, that's about it, I think.
Aderson: Got it. How long have you been providing outsourcing services to your clients?
Nick: For around three years. But, we have been mainly active with the foreign customers with the companies in Europe and U.S. for the past year.
Aderson: Got it, perfect. So, one of the reasons why we are talking today is because last time that I spoke with you, I could really see how passionate you are about talking about why Belarus can be an outsourcing destination that is not that well-known out there. So, why all that passion? Tell me a little bit about that.
Nick: The passion is actually coming from me seeing what kind of people we have in the country and what they are capable of, and actually seeing what kind of, let's say, bridge -- not the bridge, but the gap is there between these people and what the other worlds think about these people in terms of their engineering, intellect, in terms of their skills, social skills, knowledge. This is why I wanted to participate in this podcast. My other reason was that I wanted to sort of educate people about what's actually happening in this little piece of land between Russia and Poland.
Aderson: Let me mention that. Whenever I think about Eastern Europe and technology, I think about countries like Hungary, like Poland, like Czech Republic, and even though I worked with two very, very talented guys from Belarus before, actually, over 10 years ago, Belarus doesn't come right away to mind. Why do you think that it's not as popular as you think that it should be?
Nick: Well, I think, first of all, we have been only recently, maybe like 10 or 15 years, sort of developing this IT industry within the country, and also developing the relationship with foreign companies, and being able to be recognized as an outsourcing, actually, destination. So, we are pretty new to this if you compare us to Poland and Czech Republic. This is the first reason.
Second reason is that we have been a pretty closed country after the Soviet Union fell apart. We had our differences with the political situation. We had our difficulties with that. And I think that actually resolved it into Belarus being not as well-known as it probably should be. But, if you look at the recent, I don't know, five years or maybe four years, you can see that there's a lot of potential coming out, and not only resulting in the good in perspective corporations, which is Apple, or IBM, or bigger companies.
But also, if you look at the product side of it. For example, Masquerade, which has been bought by Facebook, is a Belarusian startup. They are Belarusian guys. Viber, World of Things, and I can go on and on about that, about these different companies.
Aderson: Got it. I guess that what you're talking about is it is really about Minsk, or are there more cities that you see as potential outsourcing destinations than Belarus?
Nick: I would say we need to consider Belarus as a whole and do not divide it into specific cities. Of course, Hi-Tech Park is based in Minsk, but we have many companies with offices, and many IT companies who are working, for example, only on the U.S. market, whose office is in Brest, for example, and other smaller cities in Minsk. So, I would say Belarus should be considered as a whole country, not as some specific city.
Aderson: Got it. So, why is there so much talent around in your country? Is that because of education? Talk a little bit about that. Talk a little bit about the high education there.
Nick: Yeah, so I think we sort of have a pretty good heritage in terms of science and education. Back to the times when Soviet Union was still alive, we were called the intelligent sort of center of the whole Soviet Union. So, we would be producing TV sets, transistors, and everything. Somehow, when the Soviet Union fell apart, this all transitioned into IT, basically.
This basis, this mathematical, physical, educational basis which was still there in Soviet Union, for the bigger part, it remained in the country, and now it's actually providing pretty good education to the students. Also, I think it is enriched by overall educational transformation. For example, students get the basic skills and knowledge in the university and then they're able to upgrade their knowledge and skills from Coursera or other open source educational sources.
Aderson: Got it. So, let me ask you that. You have high levels of education there. When people graduate from university there, do they stay locally, or a lot of them, they go to other countries, they move away?
Nick: I would say most of them actually stay in the country because of the relationships with their friends, family, some sort of habits. Some part, of course, leaves, but I think only those people leave who have difficulties finding a job here, like people with marketing education, with economical education. Those people tend to immigrate more often, and I think technical guys, programmers, first they shape their career here, and then they might migrate at a later stage when they are valued way higher on the market, and they might go to Europe. U.S. is also a common destination.
Aderson: Got it. I saw that you mentioned briefly about Hi-Tech Park, and actually I have a note here because I did my research, so I had a look. Talk a little bit more of what is Hi-Tech Park.
Nick: Basically, this is a physical place, and it's also an intangible place as well. So, it's a sort of jurisdictional zone where companies can reside and this will give them tax benefits, and some tax exemptions. For example, some companies go there because they really need those tax reductions, and some companies go there for the infrastructure because when you work around the greatest companies out there, you get access to the seminars, to all the learning possibilities for your employees. So, this is the sort of accelerator to the bigger possibilities, and also it's a good networking point there.
Aderson: Got it. So, it's really a hotbed of tech startups, of tech companies that they feed off of each other. Is that a hub?
Nick: Yes, yes, it's a hub. It's also a place of residence for startups. For example, Viber was there. It's a place where hackathons and coding camps happen. Recently, there was, I think, robot technique competition where you can create and code your robots. Actually, it was an event for children, not for the adults. So, they were toddlers, like teenagers. It's a concentrated place of brightest talents and the brightest business minds who try to make it all work.
Aderson: Perfect, perfect. Very good, very good. Let me ask you that. We have covered the talents, the talent in the country, many universities, the government, I guess, stimulating that side of the industry as well. But, let's talk about another side which is important as well when people are considering outsourcing or having overseas partners, which is the cost aspect.
Without getting too specific numbers here, how does Belarus compare? I know that you have experience -- I assume you have experience dealing with other countries as well, other outsourcing countries as well. So, just from a cost perspective, how does Belarus compare to places like the major outsourcing destinations like Philippines, like India, and Pakistan. How does it compare with those places?
Nick: I'm not really particular with Pakistan outsourcing prices, for some reason. For India, of course, everybody knows. India, I think, we are slightly higher in the average price. I mean, I was on Zebit last week, and I was offered by an Indian company a price of, I think, $15 to $18 an hour, while we are maybe 20% of that, on average, I mean 20% higher than that on average. But, it also very much depends -- I mean, there are so many factors involved. Because, you can get lower price but more hours to complete the project, and you can get a higher price and lower hours to complete the project.
So, I would say we are higher than India, definitely, price-wise. Quality-wise, I would also -- I mean, I would consider us being higher on a quality level than India, and this is not just my assumption or my own opinion. This is, obviously, an internationally recognized fact. I would compare our prices, maybe, to the prices of Poland and Czech, but still slightly lower.
Aderson: Okay. Again, price is just one element of the entire situation. So, I'm not saying that, "Pick this one because price is lower there." No, it's not just about price. But, price, cost is also a factor that builds the big picture here. Now, I'm going to mention another aspect, which is part of the puzzle of outsourcing, which is culture. Let me tell you just a 30-second story of me personally.
When I came to Canada - I'm from Brazil. So, I came to Canada 15 years ago, and there was something here that was called the Canadian experience. At that point, 15 years ago, I said, "This is bullshit. This is BS," because I'm a talent guy, I know how to code, but just because I don't have local experience, I don't get the job? This is BS. Today, 15 years later, in a way, I understand what that is. Because, different countries, they have different ways of working. They have different cultures, of course, they have different ways of dealing with each other, with people, and that translates to the work environment as well.
I guess my long question is just this: how about culture? How does your local culture, the way people communicate, the way people interact, how does that reflect when you bring that out in an outsourcing scenario? How does culture impact there?
Nick: Well, I think that we actually have sort of a tradition here, because of course, we have our differences culturally. But, from day 1 of the university education, what we get is the corporation and some internships, some projects with IT companies, with local IT companies, and local IT companies are like 100% integrated into the working culture of United States and Europe. People already see how the whole communication process happens, what is the do, and what are the don'ts. So, this is already something we just sort of encode it in the people's mindset.
I think what difference we still have is we are, as a nation, Belarus, we are not that easygoing, I think, as, for example, Europeans, some Western European countries. For example, when we have a team, if our developer is working in Denmark, then guys are like, "Yeah, guys, what's up? Let's do this, let's do that," and our guys are like, "Yeah, hello. Let us discuss this work." So, it's a bit different, but once you break the ice, then you get this really good connection, and I think it's a good sort of balance between the different cultures.
Aderson: Got it. Okay, that's a good point. Actually, thank you for the honesty there, because I think you brought a good point. Let me ask you about language as well. Another piece of the outsourcing puzzle is communication. So, how do you guys learn English? Is that from high school, is that from university? How do you guys get to the language as well?
Nick: Well, when I was in the school, I think I started to learn English from the fourth grade, and I think now, today's pupils, they start from the first grade. So, it's very early that we started to learn English. Also, we have many sort of camps, also internships, working groups which are aimed only at practicing English. I went to two or three such courses when I was in the school.
I think it's very, very much improving, the average English knowledge in the country. Still, there are some problems. Maybe not a problem, but some inconveniences, for example. Because, when people are speaking with accents, it's a bit hard to understand them. When people are speaking or writing some abbreviations which are not commonly used in our developing culture, it's a bit harder to understand them. But basically, it's all -- not covered. It's -- how do you say? I'm looking for the right English word here. It's all compensated by the fact that in technical English is very international, and if you learn coding, then it's all English. This is the very good bridge between the gaps, for example, in the communication.
Aderson: I would like to move our conversation a little bit now closer to the outsourcing topic itself and draw on your experience. So, when companies are outsourcing, initially outsourcing, what are some of the challenges and some of the pain points that you see happening when people are just getting started with outsourcing initiatives.
Nick: Well, I think it's an important tool with different shape. I mean, in terms of -- our company any my experience, there are two ways of outsourcing. First is the outsourcing in the classical way, where there is a project that needs to be done, and you just, for example, say, "Okay, we pay this amount, you do this project, that's it." Or, there is a so-called dedicated team model where the project management and all the technical operations are happening on the side of outsourcing, not on the side of the client. What outsourcing companies do is that it provides the talents, the developers to this CTO, for example. Then, it's two different kinds of problems that may arise. I mean, those two different situations. So, which one do you want me to --
Aderson: Here's the thing. From my previous interviews, you are not the first one that brings this model of work of having an outsourcing team, this "build your own team" there. So, I guess start with that and go with the more traditional. Start with the "build your own team" on your company.
Nick: So, you mean start with a dedicated model?
Aderson: Correct, correct. That's dedicated, correct.
Nick: So, with this, the main trouble which might arise is the poor integration into the main team. If this is a team which needs to be integrated into the larger, let's say, team, or in the larger company, then there is a problem of this team remaining as a standalone unit and not being closely integrated.
Aderson: How do you solve that? How do you solve that one?
Nick: So, this one, what we have come up with is that first we have a live communication, people are coming, CTOs, and other teams are coming, for example, to Belarus for a round of working days. So, they come, they meet, they communicate, and they actually work. It's not only coming for fun or for introduction. Well, they have fun, but they also work, and we have been providing this space and everything for these two or three days of work where they can build the team relationship, this team spirit.
Also, for some projects, we have TVs which are hanging on the wall and live streaming what is happening in one office. So, you sort of feel the connections still, and then if you want to ask somebody, you just stand up, call on the TV, and ask, "Okay, Mike, can you help?" and then it's easier.
Aderson: So, the idea there is to try to close the gap and build a closer relationship with the remote teams, isn't it?
Nick: Yes, yes. This is correct. Also, this is now getting easier, because before January 2017, you needed a visa to come to Belarus. Now, you can come to Belarus for five days without needing a visa, so it's just easier.
Aderson: That's one model. What is the term, again, that you have used there? Build your team.
Nick: Yeah, dedicated team.
Aderson: Dedicated team. I keep missing that. So, that's the dedicated team format. Now, what about the more traditional one, which is not a dedicated team. It's just, "I'm going to send some work there." What do you see as challenges there on that model as well?
Nick: Well, in this model, I think the miscommunication, actually, is the biggest problem. I think the planning for the project, of the project is almost as important as actual implementation, and when there is a company who doesn't know, for example, what it wants, and then it comes to the outsourcing company, and there is a clear miscommunication of the desirable versus what has been described, or what has been produced, then there is a big problem, because you actually don't get the problem that you like, and it doesn't work like you want it to work.
This is the first, like miscommunication is the big problem. So, before the project starts, it needs to be 100% clear on what is the deliverable, how it should scale, and so on and so forth.
Aderson: Got it. It's funny that on both scenarios, it's really about communication. Because, building relationships is also about good communication. So, a lot of the problem that goes on on a remote engagement, an outsourcing engagement, it's really about communication. Again, if you extrapolate that, it's a major problem in some companies is the communication aspect as well. So, again, it boils down to be a lot about communication, not so much about skills, correct?
Nick: Yeah, because skills are pretty universal everywhere. Companies that are working in Belarus, they have really high level of expertise of their employees, and this is considered a common denominator. Every guy has, more or less, same good skills. So, what is different is the communication.
Aderson: So, it's a given. Skills is a given, and on top of that, you need to communicate well to make whatever you are trying to do successful. That's good, that's very good. It boils down to communication. Let me ask you that. Let's go a little bit more specific here. What kind of tools, and systems, and technologies do you have in place to manage and to assist on this remote engagement? Do you use anything specific? Again, you can list down some of the tools, and systems, and software, and SAS that you use. Can you share a little bit about that?
Nick: Yeah, sure. For the project management itself, no matter what model you choose, basically most companies use JIRA for the project development purposes. As a main track too, I think I don't have to explain the reason. I think everybody knows that. For smaller projects, we have many teams using Trello because it's also very good for smaller projects which are not involved with more than 6 to 10 people. This is in terms of the cooperation within the team. About the communication, we don't use anything specific or extravagant. It's Skype, Slack, WhatsApp, Viber. I think that's about it. This is the main software we use. So, nothing really special. You don't need any special tools to communicate. It's all there.
Aderson: Got it. So, let me ask you this. You have a lot of experience there dealing with clients, with projects. I bet that you came across problems before, problems dealing with a client, problems dealing with a hard situation, and this is what I call a horror story. Do you have any horror stories that you'll be okay sharing with us that this happened, and this is how you went about solving this problem? Again, I'm not talking about a technical problem; I'm talking about a communication problem with a client. Do you have anything to share?
Nick: Well, I think I have many, but if we want to narrow it down to communication problems, and one specific, I think that would be -- I'm not sure that actually qualifies as a communication problem. What he had is that we have been a prospect customer who has a semi-finished product, and it was developed by several teams coming from Romania, I think, and Serbia. So, this is something like this. Our client wanted to upgrade the project, make it work properly, debug it, and do the code cleaning.
The first problem, there was really poor communication from the client side because he was a really busy person, and he only gave us pieces of information, and the rest, we had to somehow investigate. So, we had to code the JIRA where there was 1,300 tasks in the backlog, and then we had to, one by one, investigate it. It was sort of a puzzle. So, this was the problem.
Another problem was that whoever created this system first didn't follow the structure development process, or any practice. So, not only we had to puzzle what would happen in JIRA, but also on the code, and it took us, I think, two months just to reorder the whole thing and to be able to clearly communicate to the client what we are capable of doing with this. Most of all, I think, was that we put an ultimatum. We said, "We will do it only if you will be giving us very clear communication channel with yourself and the rest of the team who is developing." This was a true horror story.
Aderson: So, finally, did the project move forward or not?
Nick: Yes, yes, it finally did. It's far from being perfect, but it's moving. It's getting optimized, and it's already being used by a few big customers of our client. So, so far, so good, knocking on wood. But, almost every day, we find out some new surprises, some hidden things and perks.
Aderson: Got it. I'd like to do something here with you, Nick. I have a segment that is called a "Tough Call", and a Tough Call is a role play that I put the two of us in a client/provider situation, and we need to sort out that situation. In this case here, I selected a very silly, I'd say, a very simple, very silly situation. I'm not your client yet, but I'm trying to get a quote from you on something that I have in mind, and I would like to see how we go about doing that. Are you willing to go and try that?
Nick: Yeah, sure. Let's give it a try.
Aderson: Perfect. So, I am the client, my name is Anderson here, and I'm going to give you a call. Hey, hello, Nick. How are you?
Nick: Hi, I'm great. Nice to talk to you, Anderson.
Aderson: Thank you, thank you. Nick, I've heard that you guys develop websites, is that right?
Nick: Yes, that's correct.
Aderson: Got it. Okay, so Nick, I have something in mind that I have been playing around for a while in my mind, and I need someone, a team, to create that product, to develop that, and my question to you is how much would it be to create a copy of Facebook?
Nick: Wow. Alright, a copy of Facebook? Is that what you need?
Aderson: Yeah, I really like the scrolling, and I really like the groups, and I really like the advertisement there, so I want to reproduce, do Facebook for something else. What can you tell me about it?
Nick: Well, first I would ask you a question if you are aware of how much the development of actual Facebook costs, and if you are ready to bear comparable costs for your idea?
Aderson: Well, maybe we don't need to copy every single line that is there in Facebook, you know?
Nick: Yeah, that would be illegal.
Aderson: I guess so. Let's say I just want the feeds to be scrolling, and you keep scrolling, it keeps rolling up. I'm thinking about that. What can you tell me about that?
Nick: For that, I can tell you that we have an established process of evaluation of said projects or products where you come to our office where we hold a Skype meeting with our business analysts and the PM of respected technical stack where we will take your words and put them on paper, or on the document outlining what is needed, what is the backend of it and frontend of it, what are the features, and then you will get an offer from us, including MVP, and including the final product which you desire.
Aderson: Okay, okay. That sounds a little bit time-consuming, a lot of time consumed in there. So, I was really hoping to get just a ballpark, a rough estimate. Can you give me a ballpark of something like this?
Nick: A ballpark is not something we actually do in here. That's the problem. If you want a good project that will run properly and as planned, it takes time not only from us, but also from you or your team. So, the best way to do it and the only way we can do it is by actually discussing the project in details, or in details which are sufficient for the MVP. Unfortunately, that's the only way we work.
Aderson: Okay, Nick. I really appreciate you taking the time. I'll get back to you once I'm ready to move into a more -- enter in an engagement like that. So, you're going to hear from me in the next few days, few weeks to see how we can go about that. Again, thank you very much for your time.
Nick: You are very welcome. Looking forward to talking to you.
Aderson: Bye now.
Aderson: Perfect, so I have to tell you, it's a scenario that sometimes we come across of people asking to do all kinds of things, and to do this like that. Tell me, is that a completely fictitious situation or did you come across things like that before?
Nick: No, totally. We have events like this or situations like this like every week.
Aderson: Oh, really?
Nick: But, the worst thing is that we actually have clients like this that we took on board and then we are like, "What did we do?" and then we just have to carry on.
Aderson: How do you bring a client? Because the role play that we were doing, I was still a prospect, but how do you bring a client that already has a relationship with you, already has a contract. How do you bring a client like that down to Earth?
Nick: Well, it's a process of mitigation. So, if the person does not come from a technical background, zero experience, and he wants something out of the air, then you, as a more knowledgeable person in this dialogue, you have to educate him, tell him this is how it should be done. If you do not trust me, this is the project we have done, this is the client that we have done this project for. Go check, if you do not trust in our knowledge and experience. Usually, it takes time, but it also filters a real prospect which might convert into the customers, and the people who are just trying to waste their own time and our time as well.
Aderson: Question: have you fired a client before?
Nick: No, we have not because we are really stubborn in educating the clients. We are doing it until the very end. We just like saying that we will not move forward until we get this information from you. That's it. Then, he is already invested, time-wise and money-wise into the project, and the only way he can move is actually give us what we need to actually help him, to finish this project. So, we have not done that. We have not.
Aderson: Fair enough. Nick, we're coming towards the end of our conversation here. Is there anything in particular that you'd love people that watch this interview to know about after leaving it? I mean, is there any one thing? If there's one single thing, it might be about Belarus, it might be about outsourcing, but what is it? What is it that you'd like people to leave this conversation knowing?
Nick: Well, I guess two things I have in mind. First is actually about Belarus that I think next time somebody should be thinking about outsourcing, it's a good idea to actually look at Belarus, maybe at Russia and Ukraine as well. But, since I'm from Belarus and I'm actually feeling sort of proud for my people, I would say Belarus. So, just give it a chance, give it a try, and then maybe ask around. Ask your network who has some experience because that's how we actually get clients. We get referred.
The second point. It's about the outsourcing and dedicated model mold. I would say that, yeah, clear communication is the key. I think I will not be the first person who says it, but that's just the pain point I have, and I would like to address that, I guess, once again. Communication is the king, and out of all the problems that are coming out, that's communication.
Aderson: Very good, very good. So, Nick, just to finalize, how can people reach out to you, get in touch with you if they have questions about Belarus, questions about your business? How can they reach out?
Nick: I would actually be happy to answer questions about Belarus or like how you can chill here, have fun here. It doesn't have to be a commercial talk or something. We have a website where you can contact us through email, Skype, Viber, Slack, you name it, basically. I think this is the most -- just come visit. You will have a nice time right here.
Aderson: Perfect. And all links, all things that were mentioned by Nick will be listed in the show notes. Nick, that's about it. Thank you very much for your time, thank you very much for your openness, and the fact that you are raising the flag about Belarus as an outsourcing destination. I really, really appreciate your time. Your information was very valuable. Thank you.
Nick: Thank you, Aderson, for having me. It was a pleasure.