Alexander Yovchev, CEO and co-founder, on having real impact on clients' businesses
Any organisation can benefit from partnership with a dedicated company for software services and solutions that goes above and beyond to understand their clients' business and real needs, and to offer expertise that makes a difference. Plan A, a Bulgarian enterprise, is such a company.
Plan A offers a comprehensive stack of IT services from consulting to nearshore outsourcing. It competently builds complete tailor-made enterprise solutions in various business domains such as trading and finance, e-procurement, e-logistic.
Plan A is still young and relatively small, but for clients this is an advantage, as the company has found the golden mean between managerial, business and technological expertise and agility, flexibility and ambition.
Led by its founder and CEO, Alexander Yovchev, Plan A strives to be a dedicated partner to its clients, a reliable companion on the road to building complete solutions that increase profits.
Alexander Yovchev knows how to achieve this goal. He has worked in company management, service delivery, project management and technical consulting in IT, banking and microfinance, and is fluent in strategic business and operational processes and management of international projects and teams.
What did you aim to achieve when you created your own company, Plan A, in 2019?
In my work, it is hard to separate my roles as an entrepreneur and a manager. The manager has different challenges than the entrepreneur, who has to find money, pay the staff and deal with all sorts of things.
Plan A was a logical step in my professional growth. As a professional with 20 years of experience in this field and a manager of a company with 10 million euros of annual revenue, I wanted to do something on my own. After some consideration I decided to create a technological company that offers quality services but also actively participates in the products' development. I wanted Plan A to have real technological and product impact for its clients, not to be just another outsourcing company that is only interested in issuing invoices at the end of the month.
I knew that to achieve this goal I needed a technological partner and was actively seeking one. By the end of 2019 I already had onboard, as co-founders, Veselin Georgiev as CTO and Elizabet Dimitrova as HRM.
Together we went on the road towards creating a sustainable company with a stable business case that plays an active role in technological solutions and besides quality service, has a real impact on what it does.
And then came the Covid-19 pandemic.
This was the biggest challenge we had to deal with. When we started, we had our strategies, business plans and goals. We knew what we wanted to achieve and how to do it. We signed the contract for our first office on 12 March. On the next day, the lockdown was announced. The investments stopped, a couple of projects nosedived. Our plans and strategies suddenly felt redundant.
It was a crucial moment.
My partners and I sat down and discussed the situation. Should we stop everything and return to our old lives? Or should we persist and push forward? We decided to push forward.
We did not reach our planned business results for 2020, but this helped us to find and surround ourselves with people who liked us for who we were and were more flexible. We started working with more startups, although they are not as financially stable as established companies. This, for its part, forced us to learn the hard way some crucial dos and don'ts. However, this also helped us to meet new people who brought us new business and helped us to be more sustainable.
What is the biggest challenge to you as a manager now?
I still have to combine many functions. I am not only Plan A's CEO, but also a project manager, a finance manager, and a recruiter. I hope that in 2023 this will change as our team has grown from about 20 to over 50 people, including a dozen of full time contractors. Growth comes with a new set of challenges. A team of 20 people is really like a family, but one of 50 is very different. We also moved to a new office. I see a lot of things that can be improved in Plan A, but I am happy with the general outcome, as we are already thinking and behaving more as a company and less as a startup.
As a young company, how did Plan A win the trust of its clients?
I am grateful to everyone who believed in us. We knew many of our clients from before, they knew how we worked. We always try to establish a personal connection with our partners and to show them that we do not offer just services. We follow the philosophy to always think of our clients as partners. We always try to understand how we can make them more successful and profitable.
We have never wanted to work on client's project for couple of months and then to jump on the next one. Out target is to build long-term relationships. I and my partners have enough experience and the ability to understand the clients' business and its model, and the challenges they face, and to offer a solution that would help them. We are good consultants, as we are capable to hear what the clients say and to offer them a working solution. We are not afraid to point to the client processes in their organisation that are not properly functioning. Some clients do not like this approach, but others like us precisely because of it. This is how trust is built.
Who are your clients?
Our client portfolio is a healthy mixture of startups and established companies. Startups are important for us as they give us the excitement to work on something new. However, as they rarely are financially stable or have development power, we always carefully evaluate their ideas and business before deciding to work with them. We need to believe in their business case, as if we are investors. We have the responsibility to offer regular payment and stable projects to our staff, and with a startup-heavy portfolio this would be impossible.
This is why the other part of our client portfolio is of large companies. They help us to be sustainable, to build excellent references, to work on big projects and have predictability.
Which of your products and services make you proud?
I am a person who always finds imperfections in his work, but I can say that I am the proudest with our team.
You can build service in two ways: with processes and with the big added value that people in IT bring. The people are the ones that help us offer outstanding services.
As for particular products and services, I am proud that we are building the so-called internal technological leadership and products that we develop on our own.
The first project that we did at Plan A was exactly that. We built Kamenitza's data warehouse system. It collects sales data from even the smallest shop selling Kamenitza products and provides information on what was sold. We love this project and are still a part of it.
What are Plan A's latest offers?
The ability to offer to our clients strong technological expertise is crucial for us. Currently, we are shifting our focus on a couple of technologies, particularly Java that cover the whole spectrum of business software. We are going to push in this direction in 2023.
By implementing a new technological stack at Plan A, we aim to extend it and to sell services around it. It is suitable for fin-tech markets and companies and will allow us to become a more wholesome service company.
Currently, we are working on a product partnership with a German company and we plan to continue in this direction in 2023. We would like to expand in this direction as well, with more focus on working with bigger product companies. Our goal for next year is 20% of our business to come from development of custom software solutions, to have a fixed scope and bigger responsibilities.
How do you manage to provide flexibility to your clients and to adapt to their highly individual needs?
Our managerial team has about 50-60 years of experience in management, team management, product and project development, expertise in different business domains. This helps us to easily step in our clients' shoes, to understand their business and to decide what will really work for them. We hear what our clients say and we tailor our services to fit their needs. As a small company we are faster to make decisions and to change course, which also benefits our clients.
Our clients are also an active part of the process. We need to see that they are as invested in our partnership as we are. This is the only way in which we can really help them.
On which markets is your current focus?
We have reduced the number of our clients in Bulgaria to three big companies. Our main focus now are logistic and fin-tech companies in Wester Europe primarily Germany and France. However, we already have clients in other business domains that discovered us independently, so we are open to extend the expertise.
How do you convince talents to join Plan A's team?
Our focus is on having a good culture and offering unique value proposition to talents. We are small and cannot compete with American, German, French or Ukrainian giants, but we focus on our unique culture and will stay in this line.
We are very transparent with our team. We always explain our managerial decisions to them and every team member is aware of their personal impact on a project. I encourage the people to share with us constant feedback about their work – what they like, what they do not like and would like to improve, whether they want any new challenges etc. Communication is crucial for our culture and flows in both directions – top to bottom and bottom to top. We do not want our talents to leave because of lack of communication. They have to know that we are open and eager to listen to them.
Currently, we are also implementing proper HR systems and practices that will correspond to our growth.
How do you select the talents who will be a part of Plan A?
The ability to do one's job is always important as we strive to hire technologically competent people who have mastered the required hard skills.
But first and foremost, we need the right people for Plan A. On each interview I ask about the applicant's hobbies, what they do in their free time. Skills are skills, but a team is built of people who enjoy their work and fit well in the group. My experience has shown that if someone joins your company because of the money, they will leave it because someone else has offered more money than you. This is why I am trying to weed out such applicants as early as possible.
What does Bulgarian IT industry need in order to be better and continue its growth?
Education, education, education. The IT industry in Bulgaria needs well trained people to continue its progress. We provide high added value to our clients and the economy, but we need trained people to do this, and the Bulgarian system of education has to provide them.
Besides education, the other solution for the lack of talent is a mechanical one. The government should make Bulgaria an attractive country for foreign workers. I am not talking about legislature and red tape, but about the wholesome experience of living and working in Bulgaria. The conditions in the country should help us to convince a German IT professional, for example, to move to Sofia.
Of course, there are already foreign talents working here; in Plan A, for example, we have French colleagues. But Bulgaria should do more to attract professionals.
Stability is the other thing that we need. The government should keep the stable taxes as the macro stability is an important competitive advantage for Bulgaria and its IT sector. Unpredictability and constant tax increase would have massive negative impact to the industry. Moreover, the Bulgarian governments tend to make sudden high-impact changes in the eleventh hour. The IT sector needs predictability in order to work and succeed, thus benefiting the whole society.
Sofia, 31 Macedonia Blvd
+359 2 488 75 86