how-to-unlock-business-potential

How a Software Development Company from Macedonia Unlocked the Japanese Market

How to Unlock Business Potential and Start Entering New Markets: Best Practices from Todor Panev, Managing Director of WebFactory

how-to-unlock-business-potentialThe story of Web Factory began when four high school friends decided to build something great together.

10 years on, what they built grew into an established company with clients in USA, Canada, UK, and Japan.

We at YouTeam are always on the lookout for inspirational stories of successful startup founders.

For this reason, we decided to interview Todor — Managing Director and Co-Founder of WebFactory, a B2B software development and tech advising agency focused on the end-to-end software system, web & mobile development, and product design.

In his interview, Todor shares his vision on the future of remote work, hands over secret ingredients for entering such complex markets as a Japanese one, and explains why outsourcing is here to stay!

Enjoy reading!

How the story of WebFactory began? When you started out and where you operate now? 

Our story began when my three friends and I decided to do something together. Back in 2009, we got the first “funding” by making complex end-to-end chat app and winning the 2nd place on local Android competition in Skopje, Macedonia. At that time, mobile was just starting to bloom.

We began in a 12 sq meters office. The first half a year was pretty tough: we worked primarily on minor tasks and small assignments.

However, when we took over bigger projects of one Canadian and one local company, things started to get much better. We felt that we need some extra force. That’s how the first hire (also a high school friend) happened.

All this made things different for us. We embraced the responsibility and we never looked back, as we now had clients who believed in our value and success.

How has your business changed since you’ve gone from operating locally to being global and working with USA, Canada, UK, and Japan? 

Even in the earliest times, we were working with Canada and locally. I can safely say that being global at the very start is a game-changer. At first, it hits you, but then you understand how business works and what needs you can exploit when working globally.

It was hectic at the beginning as we were taking responsibilities we weren’t experienced in. This just helped us understand that our team needed more people with diverse backgrounds. That’s why project management, QA, and design soon became part of the equation.

how-to-unlock-business-potential
Photo Credit: WebFactory

Working globally is impossible without thinking global. Language proficiency, catching up with the latest tools that were popping up from every corner, code camps and training sessions were part of the day-to-day business. We shaped our culture according to global needs. This helped us acquire extremely skillful people and gave us solid ground for strengthening the relationship with our clients.

You are continually entering new markets, which is great. But working with different cultures is quite a challenge. How can businesses deal with having employees and clients in different time zones? 

Eastern Europe is quite flexible and it can cover ranges of time in both East (Asia) and West (North America).

Being able to cover several hours of the working days on two sides of the world is a huge plus. However, there is always a challenge of wasting your valuable time on things you least expect to. Having flexible working time is not enough for tacking this issue. The right people at your key positions are also a big part of the puzzle.

We overcame this challenge quite naturally. Being young(er) back then :), having a flexible working schedule was heaven. I believe this shaped our culture and cooperation style in a major way.

Having flexible working time is not enough for tackling time management issues. Having the right people at your key positions is also a big part of the puzzle.

We understood that it helps both our people and clients better organize their time. That’s why flexible working hours are a part of our corporate culture up to these days.

Which tools can your team not do without? 

Oooh, this is interesting.

Everything evolved — so did we. We did use a fair share of tools and apps as we grew. Different clients with their own needs pushed us to learn and work literally with everything. Collaboration tools, issue tracking tools, chat tools, organizational tools, whatever way you name it.

Everything evolved — so did we. We did use a fair share of tools and apps as we grew.

To answer your question, I’d probably say Jira, Google Calendar, and Slack. These are the pillars we use company-wide. We even introduced training sessions to help every newcomer use the full potential of these tools in their daily work.

Is there any client’s project/product that you are really proud of? Which client’s challenge you’ve managed to tackle? How did you do that? 

We’re proud of all of our work but we do have several projects that are special for us.

There was this company that was designing a wearable app. We were one part of their development team. Their in-house engineers were not able to solve a problem for a few months and once we got in line for it, we were able to close it in a few days. This saved them tons of time. Moreover, we helped them not postpone the beta for the 10th time so they made it on the market on time.

There is a perfect moment of calmness in seeing how a product gets released on time. Growing that feeling just taps you on the back and says: you did the right thing, you did a great job, now be happy about it.

how-to-unlock-business-potential
Photo Credit: WebFactory

Another one is a telehealth service we’re still working on. With a pretty small team of carefully handpicked people, we managed to deliver an extremely complex end-to-end system and maintain it for two years already. The system is a backbone to the operational processes of our client. It now serves multiple thousands of patients.

The Japanese market is tough to get in. What advice would you give someone who wants to follow your lead and succeed there? 

First, learn the language.

If you don’t have time (and believe me, you’ll need it), find someone who knows it and is willing to help you. Although the Japanese economy is recognized globally, the market is big and unique. I cannot say that I’ve seen it all but I had my fair share of lessons learned.

Tons of world-renowned services and networks are being used differently on this island. Just for an example, Facebook is being used as a business network, similar to what the rest of the world calls LinkedIn.

Actually, many local companies are offering advisory services on how to enter the Japanese market and expand, which just confirms the challenge.

Second, be there.

Local presence is important. Having been in the constant move between Skopje and Tokyo for the past 3 years, I can surely say that the biggest leaps I made were during my stay there.

Third, explore the culture.

They are a world of their own. Invest some time in understanding their social aspects, the way of living, and what they value.

At YouTeam, we also work with different cultures, languages, and company types. We turn this challenge into an opportunity, as we believe that the future of work is fully remote. What is your vision for the future of work evolving in the next 5-10 years? 

I totally agree with you. The future is all about remote work. We are embracing it as we progress. Soon we’ll be in a position to work from any place in the world.

In remote culture, you have a team in the cloud excelling in whatever tech you need. 

By the way, there’s one Japanese startup I visited a few months ago. It’s named “Tonari.no” and they’re all about shaping the future of remote communication.

They are trying to project their whole remote team on the wall, and I’m not talking only about the visual side of it — audio as well.

It’s like they’re here and you’re there. The chatter, the small noises, the meetings, the laughs. It’s like the portals we see in the movies that allow you to move to another dimension. And this is just one company. There’re tons more making similar products dedicated to bridging the physical gap at work.

how-to-unlock-business-potential
Image Credit: Tonari.no

Remote work was unimaginable one or two decades ago, but now you can have that team “in the cloud” excelling in the tech you need.

Due to automation, many jobs became obsolete in these past 100 years. That’s something we should be cautious about. However, it also creates a lot of new positions that didn’t exist previously.

My vision is that we will push towards replacing physical jobs with machines. This will enable us to focus more on the creative part of work.

Do you outsource your project or some parts of it? From the perspective of team members and leaders, what are the biggest struggles of outsourcing? 

Outsourcing is all about shared vision, business goals, and documentation. So far we have outsourced only some parts of our internal projects. The biggest challenge that I believe is common for everyone is finding the right people for the job and validating their experience.

Experience is not always noticeable at the beginning, especially if you don’t have the people with a relevant skillset in your team.

Outsourcing is all about shared vision, business goals, and documentation.

Being on the other side of the table, we know our potential clients’ pains. Their approach and our past experiences give us a picture of what we can expect from outsourcing. That’s why when we outsource, we look for the same dedication, diligence, and transparency as that provided by our core team.

how-to-unlock-business-potential
Photo Credit: WebFactory

From a team member’s perspective, I can say that outsourcing is all about shared vision, business goals, and documentation. These things provide purpose, give context, and spur enthusiasm. No matter the complexity of the project — be it small or big, we do not continue without these. Any kind of presentation, text, wireframe, mockup, and even handwritten note matters.

These are the essentials that help the whole team understand the product.

What’s the WebFactory’s attitude towards outsourcing as a whole? You see it as a challenge, or rather an opportunity? 

Outsourcing software should be treated like any other service, even though currently people see it differently. This is because people still don’t consider it as necessary in their day-to-day business.

It’s still new, and the benefits are not always directly visible and completely understood. We’ve been outsourcing legal services, resource management, accounting, and maintenance. Why should IT be any different? Outsourcing companies have a bright future but we should work towards being recognized as strategic service partners, not just one-time deals.

Our client’s retention rate of ~93% just confirms that having a strategic development partner can be one of the key factors for any business growth.

Is there anything I didn’t cover that you want people to know? 

Well since it’s all about remote, I’d recommend to everyone who’s on the lookout for a development team to search for a long-lasting partner. Just go for it!

It might not succeed at first but I’m damn sure once you find what you’re searching for, it’ll change the way you’re looking at outsourcing.

Use service providers like YouTeam and be confident in the fact that they got you covered. Provide your outsourcing team with continuous and constructive feedback to make sure your expectations are fully met.

Oh yes, and yet another thing.

This year is special for us since it’s our 10th anniversary. We branched out to other segments, like AI and gaming, moved to bigger offices, and expanded to new markets.

And I can safely say that this wouldn’t have been possible if we didn’t have clients that believed in outsourcing their development in the right way.

About WebFactory

WebFactory is a software development and tech advising organization from Macedonia.

As an engineering-centric company, WebFactory is an expert in developing complex end-to-end systems tailored to clients’ specific needs.

Aside from an impenetrable code, companies that go for WebFactory get extensive support from its Business Development, Q&A, and Project Management teams. WebFactory ensures that its digital solutions development runs the way you expected.

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Mary Atamaniuk

Mary Atamaniuk is a content writer at YouTeam — a curated b2b tech talent marketplace that matches businesses with dedicated development teams from pre-vetted software outsourcing agencies.

Mary's areas of interest include digital marketing, tech entrepreneurship, and influencer blogging.

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