Carerix is one of the top suppliers of recruiting software, developed directly for the needs of the staffing and recruitment industry. In 2018, Carerix was acquired by PIXID – the European leader for temporary and flexible employment management.
In our interview, Arco Westbroek, Head of Products at Carerix, explains how Scrum helped boost the productivity of their Ukrainian development team and why it’s so important to foster cross functionality within your team. He also reveals why he thinks outsourcing is the best option for Dutch startups to grow and succeed and describes how outsourcing enabled Carerix to hire 6 new developers in only 3 months, which would have been impossible in the Netherlands.
Q: Could you please introduce yourself and describe your role at Carerix a bit?
I started at Carerix in 2012 and before that I was a Carerix customer. So initially I began cooperation with Carerix as a customer from the recruitment world. After that, in 2012, I joined as a Business Consultant, helping to onboard new customers. Then, I made a shift to the Product Marketing position, and the last few years I've been a Head of Products – I'm responsible for all the products we deliver to our customers.
Q: How did it help you to be first the customer and then in your role as a Product Manager at Carerix?
Well, it helped a lot. I worked for 10 years at a recruitment agency and used all kinds of different software to facilitate and ease my workflow. Actually, the main reason I joined Carerix was to become the customer "representative" within the organization. When I joined, Carerix was a very technology oriented company, yet the main aim of our company is to help customers become more successful by delivering them high quality software. So definitely, looking from the customer's perspective helps a lot.
Sometimes we have technical challenges and whenever these occur, I just think what would be the customers' opinion about it, will it bother them or not, or should we fix it without taking their time for it. It's just like an iceberg – the customer only sees a little piece of the software and the rest is all behind the scenes, yet it requires a lot of attention and work. On my part, I mainly focus on how we can help the customer and what they want to see as an outcome, concerning the rest – we just all need to take care of that.
Actually, the main reason I joined Carerix was to become the customer "representative" within the organization.
Q: Carerix is a long-term partner of Grid Dynamics. We know Carerix is a mature and successful company that serves over 10,000 users from 17 countries daily. What are the top 3 things (about Carerix software) that you are proud of and what are the top challenges that you see at this stage?
We're focused on helping recruitment agencies and recruitment teams become more successful, so it's recruitment cooperation. One recruiter doesn't need recruitment software, right? They can use email or Excel or whatever they like to handle the candidates. But if you are a bigger recruitment team, you'll need recruitment software.
Another thing is in 2013 we started building an ecosystem and we're proud of building that. We're using Skype now for this interview, but there are also other video tools or video software to interview candidates. The thing is, you don't want to retype the email address or the invite, or have one system where you can see all the videos and your database in another.
We're not building video software ourselves, but we integrate our ecosystem with good video players. So we help recruiters in their workflow by connecting relevant tools such as assessments, video pitches, or CV parsing and we believe that for a software company the best-of-breed strategy is to use relevant software in your workflow.
Also, in Europe it's important to be multilingual. As a Dutch company, we know that when you want to push your software to Germany or to other countries, you need to be multilingual. Actually, that's our competitive advantage over American competitors (Carerix now operates in 10 languages). You have 24 languages and 28 countries in Europe, so you need to be able to adapt and be as local as possible.
These are the things we are proud of building and arranging, but the main challenge is that initially Carerix was a technology driven company. You can see that our interface is also a bit technical and nowadays it needs a better user experience and design – that's what we're working on currently. We've already done it for our mobile versions, adding new software and a fresh look. Now, some of our customers say: "Is this really Carerix?" And that's a good sign, so we continue making Carerix more user friendly and even more recruitment focused.
We help recruiters in their workflow by connecting relevant tools such as assessments, video pitches, or CV parsing and we believe that for a software company the best-of-breed strategy is to use relevant software in your workflow.
Q: Who are the target users of Carerix? What type of companies and users can benefit from using Carerix the most?
We serve corporate clients who have multiple offices, high volumes, large internal recruitment teams. If you have multiple processes, manage temp recruitment, staffing, and headhunting – we can help you handle all of these different processes and steps underneath. So temp agencies, recruitment, corporate recruitment, headhunting, and staffing agencies are among our target users.
Maybe it sounds strange, but for me it doesn't matter whether they are in Rotterdam, in Paris, or in Kyiv. I mean, you should treat them as colleagues and inspire your teams on a product level.
Q: We know that in 2018 Carerix was acquired by PIXID group. What changes has this brought to the company and what possibilities has it provided for Carerix growth and market position?
The most distinct changes are that we're now a bigger group, we raise around 30 million in revenue, have nearly 200 people in internal staff, so that's much bigger than Carerix on its own. We have offices in London, Paris, and Rotterdam, development teams in Ukraine and Casablanca (from PIXID side). Together, we're creating new opportunities, we both focus on the recruitment market, yet also cover different areas and processes.
PIXID works on establishing connections with all the suppliers and digitizing this process, so they focus on a real temp business. At the same time, Carerix focuses on professional staffing and the next recruitment steps. So we have some shared knowledge and can build shared propositions collectively.
Consolidation of Carerix with PIXID also brought professionalizing, because we're bigger, we invest more effort and money in the infrastructure, security, and everything that is behind the scenes and remains unnoticed by the customer.
We're now a bigger group, we raise around 30 million in revenue, have nearly 200 people in internal staff, offices in London, Paris, and Rotterdam, development teams in Ukraine and Casablanca (from PIXID side).
Q: Carerix has a portion of their development team at Grid Dynamics. Are you satisfied with the work of Grid Dynamics development team? What is your personal feedback on working with Ukrainian developers?
When I started at Carerix in 2012, I heard that we were outsourcing to Kyiv. I think in 2014, I had my first experience of traveling to Kyiv and meeting the team. So far, I have worked with Grid Dynamics colleagues for 4-5 years and it's fun to see that it's a stable group. But it really started to pay off when we started using Scrum for our daily updates. Before that, we only had meetings once a week or every two weeks, not sure whether we can call these sprints. It was a conversation in the beginning and then one or two weeks later I just got a result. Well, you're never happy with such a system, because during a sprint a lot of things change and need a decision. So if there's no communication, your team will just make the decision on their own and proceed.
Becoming more transparent proved to be really useful, but also it helped to learn how developers work. Making day to day decisions together via Scrum, especially when you have a remote team, which is what we have, is the key to successful cooperation.
I have an emotional connection with my Grid Dynamics colleagues, because I've known them for years now, and we build a lot of great things together. It's fun to see how it has evolved over the last years, how developers are growing, how you learn things, because we're doing completely new stuff now. While one developer can say "ok, I want to work on that new stuff," others may stay satisfied with the work they've been doing for years. So even if it's remote, it's all about cooperation. It's also about inspiring the team, you need to ask yourself, "Can I inspire them and if yes then how?"
So yes, I really enjoyed it and still do. I'm not that involved now on a daily basis, because we have more product owners now and they handle daily Scrums. But we have a quarterly session at Grid Dynamics, where we look at what we have accomplished in the last quarter and what will be the focus of the next one. It's an open discussion, it's not that Ukrainian developers say, "please, tell me what to do and I will do it" – no, that's not what we want – we want to say why we need something and the "how" comes from the team.
We are satisfied with the level of tech expertise, the approach, and proactiveness of our Grid Dynamics developers. Maybe it sounds strange, but for me it doesn't matter whether they are in Rotterdam, in Paris, or in Kyiv. I mean, you should treat them as colleagues and inspire your teams on a product level. With a scrum master it's also very important to try to help them grow within the teams, but that's not different when you look at Dutch, or Ukrainian. For me, I'm not saying that it's all the same, but it's easier to hire new staff in Ukraine. We don't even start in the Netherlands, so if we want a new developer, we'll just look at Kyiv. It's never easy to hire a new person, but it's easier than in the Netherlands.
Becoming more transparent proved to be really useful, but also it helped to learn how developers work.
Q: Speaking of development teams. I know that Carerix has had an interesting case: you have gone from having a team where each developer is proficient in a certain tech stack to having a team of cross functional developers that can substitute each other. Could you talk a bit more about this?
The most difficult part with developers is when they are only specialized in one area. Let's say there's one developer specializing only in newsletters, and we're now starting to work with MailChimp, so what do we do with that developer? Yes, we want our developers to specialize, or to deep dive into one area, but they need to have general knowledge also to work on other stuff, because otherwise it's not fun.
We have a lot of separate features, so you need to be able to work on several things. From a product perspective, we need to work on those areas and in my opinion software engineers should evolve throughout the development process and be up to speed on versatile areas and technologies. During our conversations at the beginning of each sprint, we discuss what we need in the upcoming sprint, and if the team says, "ok, but we don't have the skills to do that," then how can we grow into new areas?
I'm really happy with Ukrainian developers. And one of the reasons why is because working in the IT industry is really high in rank in Ukraine. A lot of people want to work there and that's the main difference if to compare with other countries. It's a very attractive sector for Ukrainian people, meaning they are ready to adjust to your timeframes, without the need to ask for that – it's just the natural flow.
It's easier to hire new staff in Ukraine. We don't even start in the Netherlands, so if we want a new developer, we'll just look at Kyiv.
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Q: We also know that you work with LeSS framework. What are your impressions? Does it give enough predictability of delivery and how happy is the team to work with it?
Well I think they are, because it was the suggestion of our teams to start working with LeSS framework. We had 2 teams – team red and team green and we wanted to glue them together to structure it in several focused task forces with one sprint, which is where the LeSS framework helps us better.
I'm really happy with Ukrainian developers. And one of the reasons why is because working in the IT industry is really high in rank in Ukraine. A lot of people want to work there and that's the main difference if to compare with other countries.
Q: The Netherlands is called the new Silicon Valley. Obviously, there are plenty of tech companies on the market. How do they source tech talent? What challenges do Dutch employers face when it comes to hiring software engineers?
In the Netherlands, it starts with "are you attractive as a company?" And I believe, only 5% of the market can give a positive answer. Look at Carerix – we have 70 people all in all, but we're not attractive for IT professionals in the Netherlands because there are Coolblue, Shell, bol.com and all kinds of typical Dutch players. They have a brand, they have an attractive name, and if you are a tech person, you want to work there. These are only the top 5% that are attractive for the IT people and concerning others, why should we be attractive for developers? Anyway, we won't win the battle against those other players.
And that's why I say, maybe it's easier to cooperate with Kyiv instead of trying to hire someone in the Netherlands. Even if you manage to hire in the Netherlands, there will always be the possibility of that person being hunted by the top attractive companies. So for IT skilled people we look into hiring in Ukraine. We doubled our team 2 years ago, stopped with our Bucharest team, and hired a completely new team of 6 people. It took 3 months and then 6 people were ready to work, which will never happen in the Netherlands, where you'll need to work for years to create these 6 new hires.
In the Netherlands, it starts with "are you attractive as a company?" And I believe, only 5% of the market can give a positive answer.
Q: What is a common opinion of Dutch companies about outsourcing software development?
They don't know about it. Maybe they have heard about it, but they want to hear real cases from somebody who's actually doing it. I had a conversation a couple of weeks ago with an executive at an IT company. They have 15 people in Amsterdam – it's a small company on the startup stage. He said that the next one or two hires are possible in the Netherlands but then the problem will get bigger.
This is how we do it – we don't even start in the Netherlands. He was asking more and more questions about outsourcing and eventually he said "I think this could be an option." A lot of such players want to start in the Netherlands, but in fact they have two options – stay small or go to other countries.
You always want to hear it from somebody you know – that's sharing experiences. Wherever your team is based – in the Netherlands, in Kyiv, or other places in Ukraine, it will require attention and inspiration. Yet, remote cooperation will take more effort to succeed, because in the Netherlands you can see your team on a day to day basis. With remote cooperation it's quite different – maybe you'll see your developers only 15 minutes on some days, have a one hour or two hour meeting, etc. So becoming successful needs attention and maybe it needs a little bit more inspiration when you have a remote team.
As I've already mentioned, Dutch business owners don't have enough information, and I mean not only successful cases, but also the geographical diversity – you can outsource to India, or to the rest of the world. What is really important, is to spread the word about what works for Dutch companies and what does not.
It's also about the language, I often see typical Dutch software players only working for the Dutch market and they do everything in Dutch, including their documentation. Well, if that's your case, don't even think about outsourcing, because it'll take a lot of time. For a Dutch company one of the most important questions should be the documentation language and the ability to communicate in English within the organization.
We doubled our team 2 years ago, stopped with our Bucharest team, and hired a completely new team of 6 people. It took 3 months and then 6 people were ready to work, which will never happen in the Netherlands.
Q: What have you learned about working with the remote teams that you would like to recommend to other companies that still hesitate? Are there any effective preparational steps?
You should do it at a certain point. Some companies start outsourcing because they think it's cheaper, but in fact it's not cheaper. You shouldn't do it to save money, you should do it if you want to have several new hires in the next three months, which is possible in Ukraine and most probably not possible in the Netherlands.
Think of what will happen to your business if you don't have a developer in the coming year. It'll most probably be more expensive and unpleasant to reject new projects because you don't have developers than actually starting remote cooperation.
So don't go for remote cooperation thinking that it's cheaper, because you'll also have to handle expenses for the arrangement of good video software, travelling, etc. Instead, do it for the flexibility and for the capacities you'll acquire working with remote developers.
If I had to start a software company tomorrow, I would build it with the same model. I'm really in favor of how we work and the decisions we make as a company working with remote teams.
A lot of Dutch players want to start locally, but in fact they have two options – stay small or go to other countries.