Interview with Stephan Hoffman – North IT Group
The interview with Stephan Hoffmann, the CEO of the software development company North IT Group. We want to share the experience of various people around running startups, especially in IT.
Who is Stephan Hoffman?
- CEO and co-founder of North IT Group
- Originally a business consultant and veteran from German army who settled in Belarus to start IT company.
What is your company doing?
Our company has two business lines. The first one – is IT products which we are doing for our mainly German clients. We are doing apps and websites. The second one is the following: if I get to know some businessmen or business owners and they need long-time programmers, we can hire programmers for them on the Outstaffing model.
How it all started?
I was a consultant in Belarus in 2018. And in this field, I’ve got to know a lot of German and Western businessmen who said to me: ‘Mr. Hoffmann, we don’t need investments in Belarus, we need programmers, we need the talents who can do the job for us in IT.
What excites you most in your industry?
What excites me a lot, is that you have an idea. But to bring this idea to life, sometimes you need to choose an interesting path. So to say, sometimes you face problems, which you haven`t met before. And what I really like is to work with a very young staff.
I’m the oldest in my company — I am 35. But we have an average age of 20-24, I guess. And this is also a perspective: if I become older, I will keep my mind young.
Yeah. That’s actually very true. I agree with that. What is your distinction? Why are you different from other companies? What is your selling point?
As far as I see, we are the only German IT company who was founded out of Belarus. Our USP is that we understand our clients especially when we are hiring people for them or when we are building a product. So, we look at it from a business point of view. We want to get the best solution for our German clients.
Is there any strategy to keep talented people, so that they don’t leave?
Yes, it’s quite challenging but it’s a personal strategy. So, I’m speaking to them. I implemented SCRUM not only because it’s fancy or it’s like an IT company has to do this. No. I want that my people takes responsibilities and want to let them grow. And I think until they feel that they are growing in our company, they wouldn`t want to leave.
They have a path. Yeah, that’s cool. So, who’s your typical client?
Our clients are small and midsize German companies.
IT companies or generally companies?
As we are focusing on products, these are small midsize companies in Germany.
Okay. So it’s not just IT?
We have I would say 50/50. 50% of IT clients who are using us as a subcontractor and 50% of other companies.
How do you secure the quality of your implementation in projects?
Of course, as I mentioned we are using Scrum, during the daily scrum meetings, we appoint different guys for testing. It means that sometimes our Sysadmin or Designer, or even our marketing guys just try out the product. And each product is checked finally by me. For example, yesterday we finished one project, one website for a midsize business in Germany, and I went through each page with our Developers and solved the bugs.
Such a nice personal touch. Okay. So here is the question. How do you sell your product or your services? What’s your marketing strategy?
Our marketing is still a personal contact. Actually, this is something interesting because I’m doing business development like a consultant. I use old networks and build up new ones. It’s quite time-consuming because it’s not automated. We are doing not unique products and therefore only personal contact, from my point of view, will work.
To get a meeting, especially in IT, is quite easy because the market is hot in Germany. I would say, out of 10 meetings I get two to three new clients.
What are your future plans with the company?
Of course, I want to grow. I want to double the staff within the next 15 months. And I also want to meet up with our German business more. And I want to hire German guys, who are building the bridge between Belarus and Germany. Thus, I can concentrate more on strategic decisions and networking.
Do you have personal success philosophy or what is important for you to be successful?
Well it’s a hard question. And some German friends of mine are asking just the same. I’m among my friends, maybe 1 out of 10, who’s built up his own business. So, for each step you have two steps forward, then one step backwards. And it’s like a marathon — you have to keep running.
What is your hobby? How do you relax?
I like to do sports. Even though you cannot see it now, I like sports. I like running, going to the gym and relaxing in the sauna.
Do you have any favorite business books?
Oh, among business books, I like “The 4-Hour-Week”. Also “The Lean Startup”. And my idol is Warren Buffett. I’ve read his biography.
Peter Kudlacek is a CEO at Apro Software . He has been in software development business for the last 15 years. He succesfully built several IT companies.