10 questions for our co-founders as we celebrate Arcanys' first 10 years

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2020 has been a year of great challenges for Arcanys. Despite all the hurdles, though, we have not only survived but continue to grow and strive to improve as a company. And as the title suggests, we have also officially turned 10 this year! As a way to mark this awesome event, we posed 10 questions to our co-founders—about how they started, unforgettable moments from previous years, and some advice their present selves would like to give their younger selves ten years ago.


What did you do before you started Arcanys?

Fred: I had been working in Switzerland for about 10 years in the insurance and banking industry in Switzerland as a corporate buyer and project manager. I was also overseeing outsourcing relationships with external providers. In 2009, I moved to Hong Kong and started working with Alan on an e-commerce venture, which we moved to the Philippines in early 2010. This move has shown us that we could find great software developers in the Philippines and has been the igniter for the Arcanys adventure about 10 years ago. I am now in charge of the sales and marketing efforts of the company.

Alan: I quit university in 2002, to start an e-commerce company. Luckily, that business was started at the right time and right place in a new industry, and we were able to grow the business to several hundred employees in Hong Kong. With the money I’ve earned from that business, I started an education company and another e-commerce business, where Fred joined me. We then moved to Cebu and this led us to start Arcanys.

How did you meet each other and how did the idea of building a software development company come about?

Fred: We met in the late 1990s through a common group of friends in high school, and we’ve remained friends ever since. When Alan had been living in Asia since 2003, we kept in touch now and then, especially when he came back yearly to visit his family. In 2008, I decided to pay him a long overdue visit in Hong Kong. It was then that he asked me if I wanted to work with him on his e-commerce venture.

We came about the idea of building Arcanys a few months after we moved our Hong Kong operations to Cebu. After moving the customer care operations, we wanted to move our development capabilities internally as well. We had a team in India before, but discovering that developers were great in the Philippines, we decided to build a team internally. Then some friends started asking us if we could help them out, find developers for them. That gave us the idea and opportunity to focus on building a world-class software development company for Western clients.

How did you pick out the name?

Alan: It comes from the word “arcane”, which means mysterious and understood by few. But it’s also often used in games and fantasy films to refer to something magical. So, yeah, nerdy background. Adding the “YS” to Arcanys allowed us to choose a somewhat unique name and the domain name to go with it.

When you started Arcanys 10 years ago, did you think you’d be here 10 years later?

Alan: Most startups don't know where they will be one year from when they’ve launched, so we certainly had no idea where we would end up five or ten years when we started. Over the first years, we were wondering if Arcanys would be the company we’d focus on for the long term or if we’d end up starting other projects along the way (it can be easily tempting to do so when you have access to developers). I’m glad to say it’s been a few years now that Arcanys is really the company where I want to apply the majority of my energy.

Fred: Not really. Time has gone by at such speed! When we started building Arcanys, we didn’t really know to which extent we’d be successful or not. We for sure had in mind that whatever business we’d try building, we’d build it to last. But I wasn’t looking at what it will be in 10 years. We just kept pushing and tried to do our best. So one day you wake up and you’re like, wow, it’s been 10 years already!

What has been the most exciting about the journey so far?

Fred: It’s to look back and see what has been built. Consistency pays off. We’ve got a fantastic team and all our combined efforts have allowed us to be where we are today. We know we still want to become even better at what we do, help many more companies with their projects, and see our team grow in terms of skills, knowledge, and experience.

Arcanys grew from a small team to a company of 223 employees as we speak. What’s the biggest difference?

Alan: We’ve become a lot more professional in all aspects. Being bigger has allowed us to hire many strong technical leaders across all fields, who, in turn, can interview, train, and develop new hires. So our confidence level in everyone in the company has greatly increased over time, which has allowed us, in turn, to trust people more and more and give them a lot of autonomy.

Is there anything you miss about being smaller?

Fred: Being able to greet everyone by their first name.

Alan: We used to have our “Friday Team Lunch” when we’d take the whole company to various restaurants around Cebu. Once we passed the 60 or 70 people mark, it was starting to become quite inconvenient when we’d fill up the whole restaurant. It was a pretty fun opportunity to get to see everyone once a week. Now we’ve had to operate our own kitchen instead because no restaurant could fit us anymore.

What would you like to say to those early hires who are still with you 10 years down the road?

Fred: I’m happy you guys are still with us, being part of the adventure and sticking around while we have been working hard to make the company better for everyone over the years… and still trying.

What is the Arcanys culture and how did it come to be?

Alan: It has evolved quite a bit over time. For the first few years, we used to have issues with politics and cliques that you often get in companies with too much management and control. Over time, we have removed layers of management and simply entrusted our team members with their tasks, to answer directly to the companies they work for and being totally in control of their success in Arcanys. That increase in autonomy has somehow made everyone more responsible and caring for both their client and the company itself.

With the “self-motivation” kind of taking care of itself, now we focus more on life-enhancing improvements, like incentivizing people to exercise and encouraging them to eat healthier (and delivering meals to those close enough to the office during Covid), get more rest, spend more time with family. We really believe that if people take good care of themselves outside of work, then they will simply shine at work as well.

If you could go back in time, what’s one piece of advice you would give yourself 10 years ago?

Alan: Should’ve started back then with everything we did related to culture.

Fred: Not that I haven’t been doing this already... but to never stop trying, innovating, and being ahead of what’s being done.

How do you see Arcanys at its 20th anniversary?

Fred: I can’t really see that far. Looking at what we’ve built, we have to keep on trying to be a better version of ourselves tomorrow than today. I think that’s what we’ve been consistently striving to achieve over the years and it’s part of our DNA.

Alan: Kind of a bigger and more advanced version of the current Arcanys. Protected and developed by its people (which is already quite the case) where everyone finds challenge, interest, and continuous growth in their work. More progress in health and overall work-life balance, and increased earnings to further remunerate people at the top end of the industry. Client-wise, there is a pretty good chance by 2030, we would have a significant portion of our workforce, contributing to startups in exchange for equity stakes.

The COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t give us much opportunity to celebrate this big milestone, but if you could take all employees for a special treat, what would it be?

Fred: A place the team has missed, a nice day out at the beach, playing games, listening to music with good food and good laughs.

Alan: Couldn’t have said it any better!

What an interesting 10 years it has been for Arcanys. And we're definitely equal parts challenged and excited to see what Arcanys will look like 10 more years down the road.

About the author

With an extensive background in start-ups and innovation, Alan is co-founder and CEO of Arcanys, a software outsourcing company and startup incubator based in Cebu, Philippines. Deeply passionate about innovations and new ventures related to software, e-commerce, gaming, education, and recently the non-profit field, Alan is always looking to partner up and help entrepreneurs to turn their business ideas into reality. View on Linkedin

About the author

Fred had been working on IT and operational projects in the finance and software industry in Switzerland for 10 years before co-founding Arcanys in 2010. He carefully negotiated with and managed outsourcing suppliers as a corporate buyer on the one hand, and led delivery teams as an internal provider to operational departments at an executive level of listed companies in Switzerland, on the other. With nearly 20 years of experience in the industry in Switzerland, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, Fred is now leading the worldwide sales and marketing efforts of Arcanys. View on Linkedin

About the author

Pauline is the Head of the Marketing team at Arcanys. She's a lover of beautiful sunsets, a talented self-taught designer, and a passionate traveler of the world. When not busy brainstorming with her team, she loves to bake healthy, organic, but yummy goodies and relax with daily yoga sessions.