THE QUALITY OF PEOPLE IS IMPORTANT. BUT THE FUNDAMENTAL ISSUE IS THAT TEAM MEMBERS ALL PULL TOGETHER
Creative Dock appointed a new head of IT in May 2018. Four months have passed since then, so now it’s time to ask Martin Matula his opinion on joining the startup scene.
Before, you worked for companies such as SUN and Oracle.
What brought you to startup firms?
I need to constantly learn, and I love getting stuck into meaningful work. I started at Unicorn just before going to university. Five years later, I moved to Sun Microsystems, which at that time had bought a small Czech startup, NetBeans, and had established a new development centre in Prague. Five years after that, I was successfully recruited as a leader for another division of the same company, with the task of building a new development team. However, in 2010, Oracle bought us, and the environment started getting more corporate. I missed the challenges. Meanwhile, NetBeans founder Roman Staněk asked me if I wanted to work for his next startup, GoodData. In the end, I accepted his offer because I wanted the chance to try a job in a real startup at last. To work in a small business, away from the corporate culture, and the opportunity to connect with motivated people full of energy and enthusiasm. I took on the role of chief architect. I learned a lot, but when I joined the environment was already not much that different from that of a corporation.
Five years passed and meanwhile you were thinking about the next step?
Yes. I was considering what the work could still offer. At that time, Mirka Hrivňáková from Creative Dock got in touch with me about having a look at what this firm was working on and how it did so. I had a look at a few company videos on the website and it made me curious. When I saw for myself the environment there and chatted with people, I realised that it was just what I was looking for. An innovative, dynamic environment where everyone is trying to find solutions to problems, and not trying to find reasons for why something isn’t working.
What did the job involve?
Until this year, Creative Dock was outsourcing IT product development, and my job and vision were to establish a stable technology team internally. My idea was that I would begin to recruit people for a few projects and gradually expand the team. However, right after I started, Creative Dock acquired some more big clients, so the process of hiring new people took on a much bigger significance than I had expected. Selecting new staff to work with and integrating so many people into a company that didn’t yet have a formal organisational structure isn’t easy.
So, you were faced with a challenge right at the beginning. How did you deal with it?
In combination with my colleagues from recruitment, who did great work, every month we took on over 10 people. We managed to find a couple of technical leaders to help me build several teams for our fintech projects, and to create three teams providing solutions for E.ON in Germany. We’re still looking for experienced developers, based on whom the Creative Dock IT department will grow. We’re also striving to embrace development best practices from scratch. A lot of people come from different backgrounds, and we can get the best out of everyone. But we need to harmonise all these styles and approaches to work.
It looks like you devote at least as much time to HR as you do to IT.
I’ve a lot of experience in people management. I also have the advantage of being able to talk with “technical” people in “their language”. It’s often the case that communication between the client, the business team, and the IT department isn’t easy, because they simply don’t understand each other.
Does IT technology bring something completely new to finance, or are both equally attractive user interfaces for traditional products?
Both. Essentially, we’re working with established financial products, but technology adds another dimension. Take property insurance, for instance. The user can have a transparent and reliable insurance policy for specific items. You take pictures of them with a mobile phone and that’s it. Insurance itself isn’t new, and the insurance company provides the cover. However, the process of concluding the contract is completely new. Other phenomena, such as crowdfunding or peer-to-peer lending, are fundamentally changing banking. They’re decentralising it and setting up processes for the interaction of many people. None of that was here before.
Is there any technology that hasn’t arrived and that will move us a little further on?
I’m interested in the development of blockchain technology. We’re using this technology in a couple of emerging products, and we hope that there will be more of them. Blockchain will bring more confidence and decentralisation to the online environment by ensuring that data and transactions registered in it can’t be falsified or altered. Unfortunately, not all the barriers to the wider applicability of this technology have been removed.
Always, when we’re talking about phenomena like blockchain, I must ask if IT has already shifted into a completely different sphere? Does the end user know how to apply everything that you’re developing?
At Creative Dock, I like that we place great emphasis on product definition. Whatever we develop here, it must be first and foremost user-friendly, clear, and understandable. Our job is to present and package all these sophisticated technologies so that they work in the background and the customer can rely on them without having to worry about them in any way.
Are you achieving this?
Zonka, for example, is a very successful application, which is already being used by hundreds of people. Now we’re focusing on the insurance industry, in which we want to change the way life insurance policies are being implemented, through Mutumutu. Instead of a contract with many pages of incomprehensible conditions and exclusions, we’ll offer a brief and clear guide. To do this, however, we want life insurance not only to provide cover but also offer policyholders incentives to make improvements to their lives. So, we include lifestyle monitoring, data collection from sports trackers, and if the system detects that the user is taking care of his or herself, a bonus will be sent to his or her account.
Do you have a personal favourite? An application that you like the most?
I have great expectations from the new fintech startup we’re building now. But I can’t say more about it. I also like Contacto. It’s a better and more reliable version of LinkedIn. With LinkedIn, you can find out who is connected to whom, but in practice that doesn’t help you much. But when you want to connect with a company director linked to your colleague, you often find that the two have never met or even know each other. The Contacto interconnection is based on data mining from different systems, applications, e-mail, social networks, and so on. It evaluates if and how often people interact, and automatically sorts their contacts based on their actual relevance. So, the company truly has a working directory of real contacts.
You joined the company in May this year. Has the work fulfilled your expectations so far?
Definitely. The energy with which we’re all trying to create something new here is really giving me a boost. The biggest challenge is to cope with urgently finding many new people. Over three months, we took on over 50 members of staff, from among hundreds of candidates. And that’s still just the beginning.
Do you still have any time for hobbies or family pursuits?
I like to ride my bike. I use it to commute to work, so that gives me time for this hobby. With my family I’m not doing so well. I should devote more time to them. But now I regard this as a bridging period, when the big job is really over – the company is growing frantically, and we’re trying to stabilise the foundations while running. I believe that within a few months I’ll stop going home “in debt”.