“The best thing is to be an employee of a good employer. And that’s exactly what IXTENT is. We try to be that good employer. It’s hard work, because that’s a lot of responsibility for the managers and owners.”
What led you to set up your own company, were you tired of working for someone else?
Quite the opposite, it was them who didn’t want to employ us any more! 🙂 Our boss came in from Switzerland, told us that the Prague office was shutting down, handed out our termination notices and left. Vítek was head of sales, I was in services and neither of us wanted to drop everything and give up. We had projects we were working on, Vítek was having success in sales… the only way to save several years’ worth of work was to start up a completely new company. We didn’t have much time to think about it and to be honest we had no idea what we were doing and how things would end up.
How long had you knownbest each other before founding IXTENT?
We started IXTENT in 2003 and before that we were colleagues at IXOS, where Vítek started work in 1999, so we’ve know each other since the end of the century. 🙂
How does one choose a business partner?
You can use any criteria you want and yet still not be sure it was a good or a bad choice. Success depends on how you communicate and work together to resolve the problems that crop up, it’s about building trust. Me and Vítek aren’t the same, our opinions diverge quite significantly and we often don’t agree, he can do things I can’t and I hope that’s also true for me. 🙂 When you each own a 50% share, some decisions are not easy to make at all! It’s like in marriage. Things worked out for us, we managed to build up a partnership which works amazingly. Come to think of it I didn’t really choose Vítek as a partner, but in 16 years I’ve never once regretted it. In all those years I haven’t met another person I could imagine building IXTENT with.
Didn’t you experience a bit of cabin fever after working so closely together for 16 years?
We prefer plain sailing on the open seas, we might see that cabin off in the distance, but it’s not something that happens often.
You’re both completely different… what do you do when you each hold the opposite opinion?
We have a reasonable division of competencies so for any given topic the person who knows it better or has more experience with it just gets to decide. We try to establish who that will be beforehand, so as not to give our team conflicting instructions, but of course the company does end up behaving like a little child and if mummy won’t, they’ll ask daddy to let them do it. We try to be parents who display a united front and I trust the rest of the company appreciates that.
Looking back – which side of the barricades is it better to be on – as employee or employer? (And why…)
The best thing is to be an employee of a good employer. And that’s exactly what IXTENT is. We try to be that good employer. It’s hard work, because that’s a lot of responsibility for the managers and owners. Our employees are very well protected. I don’t want to get into politics here, but protecting one’s employees while having a rigid termination and severance policy doesn’t properly reflect the state of the IT labour market. One wrongly-accepted and fired employee costs us a lot of money, while our employees can bounce about the labour market with minimum waiting times, enviable benefits and no worry for the profitability or sustainability of the company.
Are you willing and capable of self-reflection? Do you sometimes think what it would be like to work under yourself as boss? 🙂
In practice we actually do have it set up so that in certain positions/situations (such as financial manager), Vítek is my superior and vice versa. So we don’t really think about it too much, despite really living it sometimes. 🙂 Each of us has a different managerial style and I think I do practice self-reflection by trying to learn from Vítek as well as the other company managers, anything I like about their style and things I’m not good at myself.
You have a friendly relationship with your employees (we can appreciate that :-)), has that ever cost you?
It’s not easy to make friendships and professionality work together. A good company has to act as professionals while remaining friendly. Discussing difficult issues with someone you have a good relationship with can be hard. And that’s putting departures to one side. Of course it’s normal for our colleagues to leave for other callings, but if it’s a person whose been sitting here for 10 years, someone who was a cornerstone of the company, it’s difficult to accept it without feeling betrayed. You have to gather the strength to look for replacements. But that’s something we’ve already learnt. We also have a few people here who left and came back again, that’s really heart-warming. 🙂
Now there are 40 of us, how large was the initial or founding team (the two of you and how many more employees + what positions)?
The founding team, that sounds terrible. I’m relying on Vítek answering this question for me, he has a great memory for exactly how things went down. Counting the initial team as the people who came on board in roughly the first year of our business – well apart from us we still have Majka, Viktor (with a short break) and Lída with Terka (counting people on maternity leave). For our business we need a good sales manager, project manager and consultants. At the beginning we managed without developers, they came along later.
How did you come up with the name of the company?
We wanted to follow up on our work for the IXOS company, so the first 2 letters were obvious and then we just looked for something with a free .com and .cz domain name. It wasn’t complicated.
If you could go back in time before the founding of IXTENT, knowing everything that’s happened over the years – would you still start up the same company?
Here I think a short answer is best. YES.
How well are you managing your work-life balance? Do you bring your work home with you?
Don’t forget the company’s been around for 16 years and so the answer to this question has changed over time. When we started the company we had small children and their needs also changed over the years. Today we’re pretty good at balancing things out, but I couldn’t say if I figured out a formula for that or if my company and family moved to a place where it eventually became possible.
I carry my work with me in my head, so in that sense I do take it home. I tend to have my best ideas outside the office. It’s impossible to distinguish between the two, so I don’t even try. I’m only one person with only one head after all.
Do you consult any large steps or decisions with your wives?
Yes and they’re often tougher opponents than the people at work. There’s nothing better than trying to explain your problem to an independent observer, you’ll get a more objective view on the whole thing and uncover a lot of related issues.
What is your hardest challenge as part of company management?
To be able to say no. To take someone’s hard work and pour it down the drain if it looks like trouble, have someone rewrite the whole thing over and over again until it’s perfect. My colleagues take it personally, but I have the experience or the intuition that if you don’t do something properly, it’ll lead to disaster.
What’s the most annoying thing… what are you struggling with the most?
The most annoying is Marketing, they always give me a task to do and I have to sit up long past midnight. Try answering the question of how to maintain a work-life balance at 1:16am! 🙂 Of course I’m kidding, the worst thing are the gremlins in the machinery.
What makes life hard for businessmen today? All the pointless bureaucracy…
Bureaucracy has always been here and always will be. We’re good at paper-pushing, 🙂 we can manage those kinds of things. What really makes life hard for me is not enough quality people on the labour market.
What has been your greatest success over your working life at IXTENT? What are you proud of?
We’ve succeeded in setting up a lot of well-known companies with a system that’s become crucial to their business and something they use every day. I’m proud to notice the logos of our customers everywhere around me in my daily life and I can tell my children and others that there’s a bit of my work in this or that product or service.
At the moment we’re seeing the strongest growth of the company (with our most financially successful year behind us, 25 running projects a day, a record number of employees…), did you also have any critical moments (such as the past economic crisis), what helped you keep the company afloat at the time – what was your survival strategy?
Our people. Customers with long-term contracts, so-called maintenance jobs. The ability to quickly manage cheaper technologies. The rotating cycle of monitoring our expenses and cashflow. The ability to admit when it’s sometimes necessary to take a step back and wait. As well as a pinch of luck as they say. It just occurs to me now, that perhaps the most important factor was not overdoing things and listening to common sense during our growth period in particular. Our competitors filled their companies up with all these expensive experts, being sure they’d find enough work for them to do, and it ended up breaking their backs.
Where do you see your company in five years?
It will be better, more capable, more effective. Perhaps not larger, I don’t think the economy will allow for that because we’re not set up for perpetual growth and we’re even able to shrink if things get bad. One thing that we keep working on over and over again is improving processes, workflows, internal systems, estimates, reporting, relationships, products, the environment around us – these kind of improvements make sense.
Why did you choose Document Management Systems (DMS) as your area of business?
We both like having things well-organised and DMSes help companies do exactly that. Every company regardless of the area they do business in needs a DMS, something which can be used across various departments. So you get a look other fields of interest and get to see how other companies are organised under the hood. There’s no time to be bored!
What does IXTENT bring customers – that the competition doesn’t?
Focus. We are narrowly focussed on the DMS area and don’t waste time implementing other solutions. Our competitors will send their consultants to work on other projects when there’s no DMS work to do and they end up losing their competence. Our people focus solely on DMSes and our customers appreciate that.
How large does a company have to be for a DMS (from OpenText) to be worth it?
That doesn’t depend on the size of the company at all, instead it’s the number of documents and the need to have these well-organised, as well as the price you pay for having things disorganised. You can include the project price on one side of the profitability equation, but for the other side we have to find out what is important to the customer, how much they care about their employee’s time, how much they pay in legal fees and fines. A DMS can provide a return on investment in a company with as few as 10 employees.
How large does a company have to be to make a DMS unavoidable?
When onboarding beginners I explain to them that the most primitive form of a DMS is the hard disk drive in each computer, anywhere someone stores files. Our DMS is just a luxury version of that basic concept of document organisation. Every company without exception needs some form of DMS, whether it’s at the level of a kid’s tricycle or a powerful car. That question is along the lines of asking if a company needs company culture. Well a company can’t decide not to, it’ll always have some form of culture and by the way a DMS is something that pretty significantly changes that company culture, suddenly everything in the company is well organised, you can see all your documents, what’s been approved and what hasn’t.
Why choose the OpenText DMS? What are its advantages? (Apart from its dominant position, good name and reliability as a tech provider on the market, references/experiences, service and update guarantees, compatibility with other systems…?)
That’s easy, because we’re the people implementing the OpenText DMS!!! 🙂 No seriously, do you know anything about Gartner quadrants? Take a look at them. Or just ask us and we’ll show you.
How would you answer (in a single sentence) the following question by the manager of company XY: “Why should I have a DMS in my firm?”
Because you want to be able to check on every invoice, every contract and the documentation for every order that your subordinates are working on and that’s not something you need every day, but when you can do that you’ll see the quality of work of your people skyrocket.
Thank you for the interview, I’d like to end with a final question: If you caught a golden fish, what would you wish for the next 16 years of your company?
For us to be a vigorous pike rather than a lazy tench.