globalHMA is a global marketing agency that helps its clients promote their businesses all around the world via three core services: advertising, research, and the development of interactive resources. Whether you specialize in alternative energy or industrial equipment, the globalHMA team can bring your industry to the global market. Workhorse Development is a large part of the interactive offering.
We had the opportunity to communicate with Drew Dorgan, globalHMA/Workhorse Development Owner, who draws the line between cooperation with freelancers and dedicated developers and talks about how to manage remote cooperation efficiently. Drew told us how Grid Dynamics helped her increase productivity rates within her companies and to solve the challenges of the U.S. tech market.
Q: Could you tell us the history of globalHMA? How was Workhorse Development founded and how is it connected to globalHMA?
Drew: globalHMA was started by my father, and I thought I would never happen to manage this business. I’m a microbiologist at heart, and I thought I would never become a marketing specialist. But eventually, it happened. In the beginning, this business was very different from what it has become now. Workhorse was created to foster new technologies. The idea was to add into our offering at globalHMA different pieces of technologies and things that would help us grow and provide something different to our clients. At that time doing business globally was not a common thing, and even things like sending JPGs through email to your client in another country were pretty fascinating. It was prior to FedEx. I’m dating myself here, but it was a lot different doing business then than it’s now.
So as we were growing globalHMA, my partner Amanda and I added all kinds of technology and about 9 or 10 years ago we made our first app. It was a calculator app for a smartphone for one of our clients in Germany. And we absolutely had a great time doing it! It was really successful, so I started delving into that on the side. This way our technological business grew, and we separated it and called it Workhorse Development. We’re doing highly specialized apps for our clients in heavy industry. Our clients would normally not have the opportunity to have an app, because it’s too expensive for them. So that’s how we got started and how both companies work together. Now we have two successful businesses – an app development company and marketing agency – it goes without saying that once you have an app you need to market it.
Q: What is globalHMA’s specialization and how does it help customers develop their businesses?
Drew: At globalHMA, we actually have just added a new segment. In the beginning and until now, we’ve worked with a lot of chemical companies and heavy industries that make locomotives, airplane parts, industrial heating ovens, and different kinds of heavy industry products used in manufacturing. So it’s very highly specialized and within very niche targeted markets. The new segment is non-profit businesses, which has been a new challenge on the globalHMA side. On the Workhorse side, we started building just the apps for our clients, and we actually have now launched our own app for smaller companies that go to traders and want to present their visual material.
Q: What is it that makes globalHMA global? What industries and countries do your customers come from?
Drew: When it started it was very different. It really wasn’t a global business – it was local on the East Coast. Since that time, throughout the period of business globalization, we have learned pretty quickly how to do things abroad. My partner Amanda is very good at it. She’s younger than I, so when she came out of school she already knew how to use her social media, expand her network, and make connections. For example, when we had to do a direct mail project in the United Arab Emirates, it was really difficult at that time. They didn’t use email, there were no smartphones, and the mailing system was really different.
But Amanda had a friend there who was able to set up everything and help us figure out how to do that mailing. So we have always been adding people like that all around the world with different kinds of specializations from mailing services to programming with you guys. We added in all different kinds of people to help us compete globally. And as we did, our clients were growing globally, so most of them aren’t US-based companies. Among our clients are German and French companies. It’s fun because everyone does business just a little differently.
Q: What makes globalHMA different from competitors? Is there something special you’d highlight about your company?
Drew: I think what makes us different is that we only keep 12-15 clients at a time, and they are usually very big companies. I tried to classify them into large, mid-size, and a few small ones, but I think everyone hates to say now “We’re a full-service agency” – clients want us to be specialized. But many times, we sit at the table with many different agencies, and I can see the whole picture and say, “We can do this for the trade show or we can do that, we could build this tool over here and we can use it over there, if we built this calculator and we’re offering it here, we can also offer it on the web or offer it with links and social media.” We structure our program around our clients’ talent and skills, as well as use ours to sort of put the program together. This way customers get a better impact and a better return on investment.
We have worked with GE for a long time. My whole career, I’ve been doing something with GE. We started with a water division and went to transportation then to other places. They do business very differently – they move at a speed of light and try new things all the time. Being a part of their team gave us kind of a good vision of how to put things together and use digital capabilities as effectively as we do. We also can take what we learned from a company with larger budgets and apply this knowledge to our smaller clients, putting things together really well to make things work. GE is very results-driven, so we’re always looking at how many people are using a tool, what the results are, how many new customers we gain, etc. We’re all very competitive here, so we’re always looking at what’s the result of each campaign. That’s kind of the HMA way.
Every time we say, “Okay, it was done, but we can do it better the next time if we do it another way.” And every time we get just a little bit better.
Q: What challenges did you experience when creating/managing globalHMA and Workhorse Development?
Drew: To me the biggest challenge on the HMA side was how to manage people. I’m always very project-driven, I’m always looking at what’s the next project and how do we get it done. It took me a long time to learn how to adjust to different people and their talents and how to find these talents. Amanda is very good at it, which helped a lot. From the Workhorse side, it’s still challenging to find good programmers. We had been waiting way too long before we tried Grid Dynamics. We went through a lot of different iterations. In addition to finding proficient developers, we have to stick to the high security standards of our clients. With Grid Dynamics, we were able to satisfy this requirement by setting up our own servers and security protocols for our code to make sure it’s secure. But before Grid Dynamics, while trying to hire good developers according to all requirements, we only had people who were freelancing, which meant having regularly missed deadlines. It was a frustrating time, so probably our biggest challenge was how to find good programmers.
It was like having your own HR person in-house. We were able to say this is what we want to look for and this is something we prefer. And they found a perfect person.
Q: What are the specifics of the U.S. tech talent market? Is it hard to find candidates with the right specializations?
Drew: Because I like this “dream big,” I always like having ideas like “Okay, this app here is next to impossible for a small company like mine because I have to hire the programmer who knows their stuff and really can build it correctly and within a certain budget.” Like I said, what I ended up doing was hiring freelance people. Basically, this way you get someone who is really excited about your project at the beginning, starts building it, and then sort of fades away. We started working with front-end developers and because of the security requirements of my clients, I had different people build different pieces, and then we put them together here with the developer. Again, it isn’t really an efficient process, as it takes a long time to do that. It’s almost like cooking: two cooks are cooking the same recipe the same way – would one depart from the order of actions – it all becomes a mess. It’s very hard to find talent that is affordable for building apps for my level of clients.
It’s very hard to find talent that is affordable for building apps for my level of clients.
Q: Is the only problem the salary level of programmers or is it connected with location?
Maybe it’s easier to find developers with specific qualifications in certain areas?
Drew: Developers, I would say, are all over the place, but Google, Apple, and Microsoft collect the majority of them. It used to be that they were all in California, but now I’d say they are across the country in all of the tech companies possible, because you don’t need to be in the company’s location to be able to program anymore. A lot of tech talent is usually going to the government. And the government is willing to pay them a lot of money and let those people work remotely. We actually have a work space in our office where people work remotely.
Q: What does the interview process look like at globalHMA and Workhorse Development?
Do you have some recruitment tricks that help you find the right candidates?
Drew: Outside of standard interview practices, we tried services with freelancers, like UpWork, we have interviewed people over Skype and were hiring them overseas. We’re used to doing things over the phone and trying to figure out whether candidates know what they’re talking about. We make sure that we ask them enough questions and give them the opportunity to look at a piece of code. Usually we ask, “Do you know what it is? How would you find this? How would you solve that problem?” These questions give me just enough of the idea to tell candidates, “Okay, let’s give it a try and see what happens."
Q: What are the ideal qualities of a candidate? Maybe there’s something you usually pay attention to initially?
Drew: One of the biggest things that I look for is, “Will that person work in a team?” Because when you hire an independent programmer, a lot of them happen to run their own lives and schedules – they simply don’t understand the deadline we have to meet. It can be a real problem when you’re trying to get something done. They also don’t want to come back for debugging process. Usually, I try to talk with them a little bit and see what their processes are because these two areas are actually harder for me than the programming part. I can tell pretty quickly whether they can program, but will they play on a team, especially a remote team like ours, and will they be someone who will finish the job well, debug it, and give you a quality product? That’s the hard part.
When you hire an independent programmer, a lot of them happen to run their own lives and schedules – they simply don’t understand the deadline we have to meet. It can be a real problem when you’re trying to get something done.
I have been fortunate so far because even though our apps are highly technical, the people I work with quickly get what we’re trying to do. For example, we have one app that is complex with all different kinds of things that have to fit together. For me it was important that that person would be able to understand how all the pieces of data are collected and how everything comes together. That was a challenge and it took me way too long to build that app. I actually made a hire and then things went along pretty smoothly. I learned a lot there, in particular how to set the job out from the beginning and ask the programmers, “Do you understand how the calculations are done?” We also have an app that’s for refrigerants, which is highly technical. It calculates temperature and pressure. Another complex app that we have developed works in 15 different languages now. If looking at how you’re doing it all: calculate the temperatures, calculate the pressure, change the unit – it’s a complicated arrangement of things. I think it helps to have a developer who understands all of that.
You can’t take your time – you’ve got to go quickly and get things done. So you have to be very organized and very disciplined in your work.
Q: What can you tell us about globalHMA/Workhorse Development teams?
What type of employer-employee relationships do you follow to support team culture?
Drew: One of the biggest things that is important to me, whether it’s HMA or Workhorse employee, is that they can see the whole picture and can stand in the customer’s shoes to see it from their point of view. It’s important because we have to work as a team and if the designer is struggling – then the programmer is struggling, as they can’t kind of talk to each other. One of the important things to me is that you need to be able to see everything from every direction. And another thing – you’ve got to move quickly. You can’t take your time – you’ve got to go quickly and get things done. So you have to be very organized and very disciplined in your work.
A lot of times I walk away and you have to figure it out and put it together yourself. And if you have a problem, you have to raise your hand. Running two businesses is a big challenge for me, so I need people who can work independently, see the big picture, and work quickly. And after that, everyone here on both teams is an expert in their own field and I really respect that. They know more than I do about whatever they’re doing, which is important to me. We all have a little bit of expertise we need to make the results happen on the big level. And I think looking at the results of things is really important. Every time we say, “Okay, it was done, but we can do it better the next time if we do it another way.” And every time we get just a little bit better.
One of the biggest things that is important to me, whether it’s HMA or Workhorse employee, is that they can see the whole picture and can stand in the customer’s shoes to see it from their point of view.
Q: What is your story of cooperation with Grid Dynamics?
Why did you choose Grid Dynamics among competitors? What impresses you the most about Grid Dynamics?
Drew: My relationship with Grid Dynamics is actually a funny story. One day I said to an employee, who was one of the first people that worked at Workhorse, “Let’s look at some of these companies that help you hire someone and create a remote team for you.” We looked into it, talked to different people, did some thinking about it, and then we said, “No, we’re a little afraid to take this step. Let’s just try to do it on our own to save money.” Again and again thoughts like, “We really shouldn’t do it, it’s a big commitment, it won’t work, we should just find someone else,” stopped us.
And finally last year I thought, “This is crazy, I’m just going to do it,” and we did! We hired Tetiana, and everything changed. Tetiana came into a big mess, but she straightened it all out, put it all together so we were able to get other projects done at the same time. It just changed everything in our business. At first, I was worried because you know a person needs to be in the team environment and she’ll be all alone somewhere in a little cubicle. But it has been such a different experience, because it’s actually having someone on your team. There’s so much that Grid Dynamics offers, and I think she feels both a part of Grid Dynamics family and a part of our family. I think it makes a great work environment for her. For our businesses, everything grows much faster, we deliver on time, we deliver a great product, so it’s a really good thing for us.
It has been such a different experience, because it’s actually having someone on your team.
Q: We know that you work with freelance specialists. What are the benefits of working with a dedicated developer in comparison with freelancers?
Could you compare these two models?
Drew: I have experience with both sides, and they are completely different. I don’t think we had ever met my deadlines on the freelance side. Maybe we met the client’s deadline in the end, but we had a hard time meeting them in two out of three cases. I also had experience with my freelancers going away. The last one – I’m so happy for him, but I was so sad for me. He had a big hit on his own app that he developed and we had been waiting and waiting and waiting. I thought, “Why he isn’t answering me?”
Sure he was working on his own stuff, which was obviously of higher priority for him than my tasks. In addition, the cost would fluctuate all over the place, because if you have to change something, you need to add more money. By contrast, having a remote dedicated developer means a set cost. I know what it is and I know how to budget for it. It really helps to have someone on your team, as it allows you deliver a product both on time and on budget, and so far I haven’t met a client that doesn’t want their product on budget and on time.
Q: How did Grid Dynamics perform from the recruitment and HR perspective?
What did the recruitment process look like? What are your impressions about HR management and retention from the Grid Dynamics side?
Drew: It’s a little different from over here where you are always worrying if you have offered enough perks to your employees to keep them happy and keep them in place. Here, I worry all the time whether they have insurance, do they take care, etc. Concerning Grid Dynamics, I have to tell that from the HR perspective, starting with interviewing and all the way through, I always knew that my employees there would have good benefits and a good living standard. They were also helpful when my employees were moving. For example, we wanted to give them a gift card for their new home, and Grid Dynamics helped me set expectations to show appreciation. Grid Dynamics was especially helpful during the interview process—it was like having your own HR person in-house. We were able to say this is what we want to look for and this is something we prefer. And they found a perfect person. I had this high-level HR help me through the interviewing process, through the hiring process, and then through all of the reviews and everything else. I don’t have to worry about it. I just wait until they tell me about it. And it all works really well!
Concerning Grid Dynamics, I have to tell that from the HR perspective, starting with interviewing and all the way through, I always knew that my employees there would have good benefits and a good living standard.
Q: What is it like to work with Ukrainian software engineers?
What qualities of Ukrainian developers would you highlight? How have they contributed to your cooperation?
Drew: The technical skills of Ukrainian developers are unbelievable. In my opinion, Tetiana is smarter and more capable than the freelance developers I have worked with in the past. She can concentrate on the app in front of her and follow it through. For me, her technical skills are amazing. Public math and science education seem to be so advanced there.
The technical skills of Ukrainian developers are unbelievable. In my opinion, Tetiana is smarter and more capable than the freelance developers I have worked with in the past.
Q: How do you handle the time difference with your offshore developer?
What practices, collaboration methods, and tools helped you establish efficient work with a remote developer? How often do you communicate?
Drew: Maybe it is because we have worked with people globally, but remote cooperation doesn’t make something more difficult for us. It’s actually kind of nice. When we come to the office in the morning, we check on what Tetiana has done. We use Trello as our management system. She’s working all day, and we can see what she’s completed. Usually, we have 2-3 hours of overlap. Sometimes she stays longer when she has additional questions. So she either waits until I can get to her, which is awesome, or goes home and checks my answers from home, as she has all necessary tools available there too.
The next day she comes and does the work we’ve discussed and I really think it helps get things done much faster. During our work day we prepare tasks for Tetiana’s next day. It’s really very efficient because it gives her solid time to work on her own. It also gives us some time to sort through everything that she’s done and see if we have any questions. There’s no interfering in each other’s work or getting in each other’s way. It actually works really well. Every person we hire is able to work independently, so location doesn’t matter. Of course, we’d like to go out and have a happy hour with her, but we haven’t mastered it yet—we’re working on it.
During our work day we prepare tasks for Tetiana’s next day. It’s really very efficient because it gives her solid time to work on her own. It also gives us some time to sort through everything that she’s done and see if we have any questions. There’s no interfering in each other’s work or getting in each other’s way. It actually works really well.
Q: Can you tell us more about the project Tetiana works on and its business value?
What goals has this cooperation with a remote developer helped you reach?
Drew: The product Tetiana is working on is almost finished. She came into the project when we thought it was done, but we soon discovered it was full of bugs. A freelancer who had worked on it dropped it and said he was done with it. There’s an Android version, an iOS version, and a huge web database. She cleaned it all up and made it work, which has been wonderful! Then, the client needed the data to come out of the app to put into their own system. All the documentation from the API was a mess and the developer from the client’s side needed something much cleaner.
Tetiana went back through it and rewrote it, adding instructions. It was fabulous! We also have a custom app that our clients use at trade shows. Customers enter their information when they want to email themselves a brochure or a technical data sheet. They put their information in and send it off. In her spare time, Tetiana rebuilt the whole database with a more beautiful interface. We have about seven more projects for her on the back burner. The two big ones were two very complicated projects that she had to undo and then redo, and I couldn’t be happier with the results. It has made a huge difference.
All the documentation from the API was a mess and the developer from the client’s side needed something much cleaner. Tetiana went back through it and rewrote it, adding instructions. It was fabulous!
Q: What would you advise business owners who are going to start their offshore development teams with Grid Dynamics?
Drew: If you’re looking to start cooperation with Grid Dynamics —don’t hesitate, just do it. I think my own company would have been so much further along at this point if I had started cooperation with Grid Dynamics from the beginning. It makes a huge difference: it makes difference in your profitability, it makes a difference in the quality of your product, and it makes a difference in how fast you can deliver. It’s just a win for your client and it’s a win for you. I’d say when you’re looking at it and you’re not sure—call, talk to them, and try it because it makes a huge difference.
I think my own company would have been so much further along at this point if I had started cooperation with Grid Dynamics from the beginning.