Vive is for professionals and freelancers who are looking to become financially healthy. The company provides one solution for financial planning and investing. Consumers can use the app without prior knowledge or experience in investing. All you need to do is define your financial goals and the algorithm embedded in the system creates a strategy to help you reach those goals.
Vive is a Grid Dynamics client, so we sat down with Rogier Roukens (CTO) and Veronica Fresneau (Head of Marketing and Communications), to find out more about the team working on this product. It turns out that an inspirational management style, cooperation with dedicated software developers from Ukraine and the values promoted within the team are the basis to their approach.
Q: Tell us about Vive. What inspired you to create a wealth management platform and how do you think Vive can help people?
Rogier: Vive was originally founded by two entrepreneurs Rob Willems and Alexander Brouwer a couple of years ago. They started slowly, trying to find a solution to the complex Dutch pensions system. When doing so they came up with the idea to create an app, which later turned into a complete wealth management platform. They thought that if they make an app offering financial guidance and long term investing, they would help millions of people improve their financial situation. The way the application operates is as follows: people define their life goals and the app helps them reach those goals. They don’t have to have experience in or a thorough understanding of investing.
We think there is a big gap between those who need money to make their ideas come true and the financial world. We want to sit in between and help such people reach their goals in life by investing their money.
"We want to disrupt the old world by unlocking the power of investing for everyone." Alexander Brouwer (Vive’s founder and CEO)
Veronica: Yes, exactly. As it is our mission to help people reach their financial goals regardless of their understanding of financial services, income, or lifestyle. They can achieve whatever they have in mind: be it a house or computer or simply saving money.
Q: Why is Vive unique and how does it differ from other apps that offer financial services?
Veronica: Vive is for professionals and freelancers who are looking to become financially healthy. We provide one solution for financial planning and investing. We set apart from other investing solutions with our commitment to give people the best possible investment journey and return to help them reach their life goals.
We are unique because we are designing tailored investment strategies for all possible goals in life. We’re creating financial plans based on consumers’ goals, to put it simply. You have a dream or goal, for example, to travel the world. The algorithm embedded in the app composes a solution to help you achieve this goal. All the details are incorporated in the app, which the consumer can check at any given time.
Rogier: Some people have children and when these children turn 18 they want them to go to university, for example. This usually requires a lot of money (speaking from personal experience). By defining your goals, the app will guide you to these life events.
As a rule, we monitor all account activities and if we notice certain things that don’t work well or users overshooting their goals (which happens), we also offer guidance, such as reducing monthly contributions or contributing with a different amount.
Veronica: In the meantime, our competitors put a choice in front of you from the very beginning. It is not about the goals you have in mind, but rather about what they can offer.
Rogier: And if you can’t contribute for a certain period of time, don’t worry, just hit the pause button and suspend your contributions until it’s convenient again. What others do - they block your money until you retire. This is not the case with Vive. With Vive you are always in control of your budget.
We build and design our system from a user perspective, not from the product we plan to sell. We don’t concentrate on technological or financial constraints, we focus on what our users want and how we can implement it. Let’s take the onboarding process as an example. Onboarding in the fintech world means that the user needs to pass a complex identification process, which is usually time-consuming. We know our users don’t like that. Instead, they want to simply download the app and start using it.
Q: How does the app function?
Rogier: You download the app from the Google Play Store or the App Store. Then, go through the onboarding process, which is pretty fast. Provide your first name, your email address and, at a later stage, answer a few questions about your financial situation. Afterwards, the app takes your input into consideration and defines how much money you may contribute each month.
What we have done is actually very smart. We split the whole identification process into several parts and we only ask you for new information when it is necessary. Speaking about our competitors, they ask you everything beforehand.
You download the app and the first thing you need is to go through 25 questions and similar tasks. Most people will stop because they didn’t understand something or something goes wrong. We only need your identification (n.b. a scan of your passport and a selfie) when you actually want to deposit money. Before the identification process, you can already create plans. When you create plans and the app starts running, it already begins working for you. We notify you when things are going well or vice versa and keep you updated in real-time.
Veronica: In your profile, you can see all transactions because transparency is extremely important for us. The user can very easily see that there are no hidden fees, no complicated details to understand, no terms and conditions documents with hundreds of pages. Instead, you have a monthly summary of what has been happening in your account.
Q: Who are your target users?
Veronica: Our core launch target groups are professionals and freelancers between 20 and 45 years old. We are launching in the Netherlands and plan to expand at the European level soon after.
Q: How does the app function at backstage?
Rogier: We’ve partnered with a broker/custodian, that is why we never get money from our customers and don’t have assets under management. We also use their back-office application for all of the cash handling.
The only thing we do is trigger what should happen in the application through the API system, so we don’t have to build the system by ourselves and manage it. For example, we request the money transaction from our customer’s bank account to our account and then, we notify our customers that we have received the money.
An additional advantage is that the customer is always in control of their money and the money is always safe. We work with other cloud networks, thus our system can be described as one big box with a lot of applications working together.
Q: How big is your development team at Vive? Where is it located?
Rogier: If you start thinking about the development team, a group of nerds working together might come to mind. But I don’t see it like this.
Our great team consists of:
- 4 developers in Ukraine (4 guys, no girls just yet), which is our core team. Two of them are Ionic/Angular and the other two are Java developers.
- A CTO, that is me.
- A developer in the Netherlands, who deals with financial algorithms, writes all the statistical analysis as well as develops a part of the application.
- A front-end designer in the Netherlands who deals with app design, user interactions, etc. is also a part of the development team.
- We also have a Product Owner (also in the Netherlands), who is actually a decision-maker.
Together, we are a development team of 8 people.
Q: What values do you promote to keep your team happy and engaged in reaching common goals (both for local and remote)?
Rogier: Getting the guys engaged is actually very simple. The engagement was already there. This is one of the surprises I had working with my Ukrainian team. I don’t know if it is because they are Ukrainian or hired by Grid Dynamics – from the very beginning they were not just interested in the technology and development of nerdy stuff, but they were also interested in our product.
I remember our one-to-one meeting with a developer, whom I asked to describe why he likes working with us. What he said was: “I would like to use the product I develop.” With a smile, I said that we will launch the product in Ukraine very soon, he is more than welcome to become a user.
What I did from the start to keep the team happy is facilitated open communication. I believe, there is no such thing as a stupid question. Questions are always good, so I encourage the developers’ team to keep asking and freely express their opinions. Since we are remote, the result is highly important for me, no matter when the developers work. Definitely, they should attend team meetings to be on the same page as the rest of the team.
You know, I would rather have them making mistakes than not trying new things. Here at Vive, we always share our plans and ideas and everything we do with the whole team. Veronica shares all of the marketing plans she has with the team as well.
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Veronica: We know open communication is very important. However, we are aware that keeping communication channels open is difficult in larger teams. We have a small team for now and so we cherish having the opportunity to freely and easily communicate with each other. We prefer sharing our knowledge with the whole team, rather than working in silos.
Rogier: Yes, we are a small team. We have the same goal, which creates a special team feeling and I think our Ukrainian developers are a really important part of this
Q: What difficulties do Dutch tech companies like Vive encounter while looking for tech talent in the Netherlands? Is there a shortage of developers with specializations required for your product development?
Rogier: There are not so many developers out there and due to the high demand, they have become very expensive. We also have a few very big companies in the Netherlands and they suck up all of the developers, by offering them higher salaries.
If we put a vacancy on the Internet saying we are looking for a developer, then we need to think about what we can offer, which is the opportunity to work in an awesome team. This might be the reason why some will choose us. But still, most of them opt to work in big companies with higher salaries. Considering this fact, we started looking for an alternative – an offshore solution.
Q: At what stage of your product development did you start considering remote cooperation? What problems was the remote team expected to solve?
Rogier: We started with in-house developers two years ago. That was not very successful. Eventually, we stopped and looked for an alternative solution to make our development cost-effective.
People have both positive and negative opinions regarding offshore developers. Speaking about myself, I had a good feeling that it would work. I remember when working with developers outside Europe the communication was not so good and I could not conduct a video call in the way that it is possible with our Ukrainian developers today. So I thought that we should stay a little bit closer to home. This is how we started looking at the Eastern European countries to hire developers.
Q: What factors did you consider when choosing a country to build a remote team? Why have you opted for Ukraine?
Rogier: I had a list of requirements, which were all met by choosing Ukraine:
- Cultural similarity;
- Education. The level of technical education in Ukraine is very high;
- Availability of developers;
- Technology stack.
Q: What things about working with Ukrainian developers impressed you the most?
Rogier: What was really impressive:
- High level of education.
- Top-notch technical skills. Of course, we have junior developers, who still have a lot to learn. But the senior developers Grid Dynamics offered us were really good.
- Good English skills.
- Ukrainian developers are not just doing tasks, they are interested in the product, want to cooperate, and bring their own ideas. They show all these types of initiatives.
- The personal qualities of developers deeply surprised me. I remember assigning a task to one of them. Later on, I realized that I had forgotten to mention some important details. So I thought that he would not be able to cope with the task in the way I had initially planned. The next day, I took a look at the solution and was surprised that he filled in the gaps exactly how I would have done it. That was remarkable.
Q: What do you do to make your remote team feel like an integral part of Vive and to compensate for aspects of remote collaboration such as the distance and lack of face-to-face communication?
Rogier: Definitely, there are certain limitations in comparing remote employees to having an in-house team when you see each other every day and communicate face-to-face. I am sure direct communication is more efficient, but we manage to compensate pretty well:
- We conduct regular virtual conferences, which are our daily stand-ups from an agile way of working. We start with a normal stand-up routine to plan our working day.
- We utilize Jira for task tracking and team management.
- We conduct a demo meeting every two weeks. I invite everyone from our company, which is now about 16 people. Of course, not everyone attends all the demos every time. Such meetings are not only about the development, but it's also about our progress. It is also the time to shine for Grid Dynamics developers since they do the demo and present the results. There is always a great party-like atmosphere.
Some developers work independently because they have certain tasks assigned to them personally. For instance, currently, we integrate our system with Аndroid. There is a lot of work and one developer is working on it.
Moreover, to stay close to the team, I visit Ukraine for a week, unfortunately only once so far. Because of the fact that you see each other and get to know one another better, it makes communication easier. My next step is to go to Kharkiv, but we also want to bring the guys to the Netherlands to work here as well.
Q: From our discussion, we have understood that you are not a supporter of a strict management style. The developers are motivated already.
Rogier: Absolutely. They are highly trained and skilled people. So I don’t have to micromanage them at all. They can handle it by themselves. I also assigned two developers that are in the lead. I give them freedom to make decisions about architecture and development principles.
Q: What 3 pieces of advice would you share with business owners about building successful remote teams?
- Don’t go for the cheapest option. The most important reason companies build remote teams is to cut costs. I still think that going for the cheapest solution will not give you the best quality. Don’t squeeze the market in search for the cheapest option.
- Have a precise idea of what you want. You have to understand your product, define all your requirements, user stories, etc. Don’t give a bunch of high-level product ideas to the developers without explaining it.
- Try to minimize the distance. As the distance is a limitation, compensate for it with daily virtual conferences, meetups, and visits. You have to invest in creating a relationship, it is not that expensive.
- Do not micromanage. Do not give tasks to your remote developers, give them bigger problems to solve and the freedom to come up with ideas and initiatives.