Outsource smarter

Koobani x Arcanys: Fueling growth with a bold, motivated and perceptive software development team

March 14, 202224 min watch

Koobani is a full suite of B2B solutions developed in 2011 by Digital Earth Network, a leading digital, and web-based technology services provider. To date, it has already helped six companies bring their salespeople’s ROI to new heights. 

A few years ago, struggling to find transparency, dependability, and efficiency from several outsourcing partners, Geoff Robinsons, CEO of Koobani, decided to seek genuine problem solvers instead. In 2019, they found Arcanys and talked with Alan and me about a possibly rewarding collaboration. Here’s a glimpse of their outsourcing journey with us. You can also watch the full interview here.


Table of Contents

I. Out with the vendor-buyer type of relationship: Arcanys as a genuine tech & business partner

II. Zero attrition & a solid team to call Family

III. Clear-cut processes & sustainability without the menace of the “golden handcuffs”

IV. A seamless collaboration in a “no-ego” culture

  • Team composition and dynamics
  • Team attitude and communication
  • Achievements and performance

V. The secret sauce to a strategic outsourcing partnership: honestly, shared vision and passion

  • A two-way selection process: knowing what companies we best work with, treating client goals as ours, and daring to say “no”
  • Learning from past mistakes
  • First contact with Arcanys: not the typical ‘sign up and get on the treadmill’ approach
  • Rebuilding the platform with an agile, dependable, and solutions-oriented mindset

Wrapping up: a stress-free collaboration that makes Geoff Robinsons “proud”



[Geoff Robinsons]: I feel for entrepreneurs that are out there with a great idea and just need to find someone to help build it. I've probably spent almost a million dollars in the last ten years with outsourcing companies so I feel I’m uniquely positioned to say Arcanys is like no other. I found a genuine partner in you guys, and my Arcanys team challenges my ideas exactly the way I need them to. I could be a very good coach and help other entrepreneurs understand the complexities and the roadblocks they’re gonna hit in taking their project on.


Are you saying that we could refer entrepreneurs who are not sure about making the move to you so you can share your experience with them?

Absolutely!

I mean, I've been in technology all my life but I'm not a technologist. I'm an entrepreneur, a visionary. What is unique with you guys is that I found a partner and the team that I work with challenges my ideas. They would often say “Yeah but there is probably a better way to go. Why don't we rethink that? And if you do it like that, you should expect these consequences, so we recommend doing it this way.” That is the most refreshing thing in the world to have people that actually are not just looking at me as a customer, like in a restaurant where they would say “yes, sir” to anything you do or ask.

I find your approach, documentation, and the complete Scrum methodology so interesting. I didn't even know what Scrum was until you guys came in and taught me. We do reflection calls and stand-ups, I have to review everybody once a quarter, and it's just so structured that it's like you're forcing me to be a technologist. 



How is the attrition in your team? 

I've run into some entrepreneurs that have outsourced and they all experience the same thing when they go long-term: they have to account for a certain amount of attrition that they have no control over. The level of talent that you find out there in the outsourcing world can be so great, right? You can have a project manager that seems to know what's going on; the language is finally figured out so it's not a barrier… And then that person moves on because (s)he found a better paycheck somewhere else. You get someone new, and you're like, “Oh my gosh!” 

"I've been with you for over two years now, and we've not had any attrition at all. The same team. I literally feel like we're family. I wanna send birthday cards!"

That's awesome! That's what we want for you. I mean, you trusted us with your project at first and we told you that we’d build a team for you… and we did. As your partner, our job is to make sure that these guys stay with you for as long as possible, with the right skills, the right mindset. All that you're paying us for, basically… So it means good compensation, good growth in their jobs with learnings. Taking care of them in terms of health care, family health care, gym memberships, food. And the whole community, actually.

"I'm not just a customer, I’m a part of the team."

I'm not just a customer, I’m a part of the team. You got me on board, explained how you typically work, how we do the calls, etc. We've been following the Scrum methodology at the highest level of integrity in the process. And that’s just something you really need as an entrepreneur, especially the ones who are not from a technology company and just come to you with an idea to execute. No one ever talks about support.


In what sense?

In my outsourcing experience, no one usually talks about who is going to support your software or how it will be documented. That's where a lot of outsourcing companies really have what I call the ‘golden handcuffs’... because you're forced to stay with a company that could be inferior with codes not documented, that spaghetti code that someone jumps into. And you literally have this environment that is not sustainable. Now, what we’ve done with Arcanys is we wrote a documented stack that we could take anywhere. But quite honestly, to me, I've just put it into my budget, having your staff. What's also wonderful is as I’m working with clients, you have my email extension so my clients think you guys are me. They'll look at different people as they respond, and they’re like “Oh, this is your team.”


Yeah, because it is your team!

It is!




Team composition and dynamics

What is your current team composition? How many devs and QAs do you have in addition to Eric (CTO on-demand) and Ken (Senior UI/UX Designer)?

Right now we have three developers, one QA guy, to test everything, and then we have Geraldine, our project manager. That’s the limited team. We're talking of bringing on one more developer right now to speed up something we’re working on. It's just a matter of finishing one project to take that on. We've had them for over two years, I believe. I'm not sure when we started. Honestly, I don't see this relationship ever ending because I don't want to get into the management business. I mean, I'm a sales guy, I wanna sell the stuff and have you support it. That's right where we are right now. There's just no reason to change. It's a very good model we have because entrepreneurs basically wanna go and create stuff. You, on the other side, are on the back end of that, creating and supporting it.


Well, I’m glad to hear that! How often do you chat with them? Do you talk to the whole team every day? You’re in Florida, it’s twelve or thirteen hours apart from the team. How does this work? It's kind of unusual that we work with more than an eight hours time difference. Can you tell me a bit more?

It works wonderfully. We have a stand-up every single day, five days a week. And we have a time change here, so based on what time of the year, it could be 9 pm or 10 pm. Our stand-ups typically last ten to fifteen minutes. I’m doing it Sunday through Thursday.

Then we finish a sprinter. Our sprints can last up to three weeks. We’re not religious on the two weeks right now because of what we're doing, but typically it's two weeks. Then we’ll do a demo, where they review everything they’ve done in that sprint.

Every night, we’re going through the Jira tickets and what they’ve done, what they’ve completed, and what’s been tested. I really love the testing part because they'll point out that it wasn't quite working. I'm not finding it, but they're finding it. And that's unique also because the way I used to find out is it went live, and people started complaining.


Yeah, that’s not the right way to find bugs!

No, that’s not the right way! While here (at Arcanys), it's like, “No, that's not quite working. It’s delayed on that, so we speed it up.” So that's harmonious. Then we have a couple of other calls that we'll have during the sprint process, where we’d be looking at the road map, deciding what's going to go out. We want to look two or three sprints back, and say “Okay, what's gonna go under the sprint coming up? What's the sprint after that?” So they can start lining things up, and we need to be able to utilize your designer Ken. You want to have that stuff done at least a sprint and a half upfront, so we're not waiting.

It's all about efficiency, right? You guys are training me on this. So we want to have the design stuff all done at sprinting, at least one sprint in front of the current sprint. If we're two sprints back, we’d work on the design, and say “So that's done.” The guys will look over the mountain there and glance at it and know what's coming up, you know. Just to get the brains conditioned for it. That’s the way we go.

It's five days a week and it's just very, very efficient. I have some technologists that I’ll have them sit next to me. They're like “I love your team. These guys are really smart. Well, how did you find those guys? They’re pretty brilliant there.” It's kind of fun to brag.

“Whoever is orchestrating that type of management really has their act together. Because when you trust somebody with your vision and your road map, making sure things get delivered right and documented right, you can't have the friction that happens when natural things happen.”

Team attitude and communication

I do remember we had a project manager, who was already told he’d just be temporary and we would be moving someone in—and about six months later we moved Geraldine in. I've been in management most of my life and watching the process for that transition was so wonderful. They shadowed each other for like a month. It was like “Wow!” It wasn't like “Here you go. Good luck!” The transition was seamless.

When Geraldine jumped on, she was a hundred percent already part of the team because she’d been on so many calls. Whoever is orchestrating that type of management really has their act together. Because when you trust in somebody with your vision and your road map, making sure things get delivered right and documented right, you can't have the friction that happens when natural things happen. 

I was just so impressed. By the time we said “Bye.” to the temporary project manager, it was hugs and kisses. But I'm like “Man, get in the seat, Geraldine! I'm just happy to have you onboard.” It's fun because life is mundane, you’ve got to go through life. And I look forward to our stand-up calls. I get to chat with my friends, and we get to find out what we were doing in our project. It's like a relationship. It's not just purely business. That’s just wonderful.

 

I think you were also lucky. I mean, I've worked with Geraldine in the past and she's lovely to work with, super switched on.

Absolutely!


I understand what you're saying.

And the responses that I have because of the hour changes... I think the most important thing for anybody taking on outsourcing is communication, and I can't stress that enough. 

With you and your team, everything is so clear. I’ll have one of the team members write a response to something that I might need, and they send me a documented email worded perfectly in perfect English. I mean there's no language barrier. It's like we're in the same town chatting every day. In most companies, unfortunately, you don't get that, you know. And that's the problem.

 

In the Philippines, we already have fewer language issues than in other countries. We're just in the right place for at least English communication. We do what we call these cultural trainings as well to teach our guys how to communicate effectively with Western clients because that's the most type of clients we have - from the U.S. Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. So we have to train our teams to understand how they have to communicate with the client.

What I think is brilliant and you don't see enough in the U.S. is (the absence of) egos. I've worked for some pretty big teams in the US in my past, and you get everyone claiming their turf, and they got egos.

When I watch the way they (Arcanys devs) share ideas or review code together, there's no ego about it. It's like they're more than happy to say “Yeah, we reviewed it with one of the teammates. He made a suggestion, so I’m gonna make that modification. It’s a better way to go.” I don’t know if we’re just egotistical over here in the U.S., but no one would be that humble to go “Yeah, he had a better idea than me.” It's like they're all on the same page as “Let's make this the best we can.” That's the objective, not “Make me look better than you.” Is it your culture? I don’t know, but it's refreshing. It's just refreshing.

 

I think it's a bit of both: the Philippines culture of working in groups, and also the fact that in our company, we have a flat organization so no one is someone's boss… It's about people being technically good, and they are being evaluated on their technical knowledge. So I don't think there's any incentive for them to steal from each other, which fosters collaboration and sharing of ideas. No finger-pointing and things like that. We just try to improve whatever we’re doing with each other. 

“We have some folks that you put together that are more than happy to be part of a team, that are delighted in seeing a project continue to grow. My company has adopted your culture. I’m following your culture and I’m in it.  And I feel like I'm really the extension of your company.”

Achievements and performance

 

Another question Geoff, you think you would have been able to do the same thing with a team of in-house developers? What is your take on that?  

There is no way! There's no way for a variety of reasons. First of all, if you don't have the experience in hiring and managing, you need to bring on the right CTO that can bring on the right team. And they've got to have the discipline in management in being able to build the right team and follow the Scrum methodology exactly the way it needs to be to pull it off. Then we have the incredible amount of costs involved. And then, nothing wrong with the U.S. They're constantly being recruited and bombarded by recruiters, so maintaining an integrated team is challenging for a start-up.

If we're an established company, and we’ve got great stock options and then we can play the game and you can put the golden handcuffs on us, that's great. But as a start-up, you're constantly looking at cash flow. You're really at the mercy of the team. I've met some really strong developers and they find themselves better being in outsourcing and doing projects than working for a company. They'd rather jump around and go make as much as they can per movie and go do that one, that one, that one. That's a better model for them, they have the freedom. And that's kind of the U.S. Here, we have some folks that you put together that are more than happy to be part of a team, that are delighted in seeing a project continue to grow. My company has adopted your culture. I’m following your culture and I’m in it.  And I feel like I'm really the extension of your company. And that's kind of fun.


Outsourcing story of Koobani - platform




A two-way selection process: knowing what companies we best work with, treating client goals as ours, and daring to say “no”


Why did you pick Arcanys?

Your business model is very unique. You really kind of cherry-pick who you want to work with. I've actually referred someone over to you that was needing a technologist, and Alan told me “Thank you so much but it wasn’t a good fit.” And I think that’s really neat for you to be in a position where you're not desperate for business.

“You’re handpicking who you want to work with - people that are going to fit your business model. Many other outsourcing companies are just dollar bills.”

Sign them up, keep them paying money... That's not the way you guys operate. You look at the project and the company’s objectives. It's almost like we had to audition for you to find if we could make the cut. 


Well, it goes both ways, right? It's a mistake we were making at the beginning when we started twelve years ago. We just tried to get business and had some failures, so we refined the way we would start collaborating with clients until we knew both the client and ourselves were happy with the relationship. I think it just helps us be better with the clients we chose to work with, and it helps us be a better company for whoever we’re going to work with in the future. So you're right, thanks for noticing that.

Right. I feel for entrepreneurs that are on the journey right now of trying to find a company.


Learning from past mistakes

I spent seven years and at least three-quarters of a million dollars with two other outsourcing companies before. My objective was to build this ERP product so it would be a multi-tenant platform. That was the criteria. I wanted one deck that can bring on thousands of customers. I want to compete with Hubspot, Salesforce. I want to be one of those companies. But I’ve had nothing but vaporware, just dust. I'll tell you what, college is expensive and that was my college. I basically learned how not to develop. I got a master’s degree in how not to do it, and that's called being an entrepreneur.

Too frequently, we might just go with the cheapest provider but that’s not a good strategy. In my past, when I go “Oh  crap, what did you guys do?” Every time they’d say “Oh, we don't know.” So it’s such a peace of mind to just hear my Arcanys team say “let’s go build the vision. Let's go bring your customers on. Let's do what the purpose of this project is.” And with Arcanys we now have that.

“We now have a multi-tenant platform that's rock-solid, that's not a custom deck for one company, that can literally board hundreds and hundreds of companies.”

We also do this because you don't have a CTO on your end because if you had a CTO, he would be playing that role with you… In your case, because you have Eric, the senior architect, and then Ken, our senior designer, they both have [considerable] experience… The reason why they're there is to actually guarantee that your project is not going in the wrong direction. They keep in contact with you to make sure that everything you ask as a business guy is being considered, thought about, and then smartly implemented if it really makes sense for the business to implement it after review.

Virtually, every time we have an issue. “Oh yeah, you messed up on your export, and you put a little caret there now. You didn’t mean to and we didn't expect it.” But the software is rock solid. “If you change the criteria and don't tell us, yeah, things are going to happen. But that doesn't affect the quality of our platform.”


First contact with Arcanys: not the typical ‘sign up and get on the treadmill’ approach

I brought in a CTO and we worked with a company in Chicago to prove our model and they pointed out some criteria for our outsourcing partner. From looking at the criteria, we ended up finding you through research on Google. 

Once we had the initial phone calls, I was instantly intrigued by your business model. You're different. The way you spoke was different. It wasn't just your typical ‘sign up and get on the treadmill’.

“I've been looking for a relationship with someone that could be a partner. And I call you that, in every respect, because you challenge what I'm saying, you challenge us, and that's what we needed.”

The other companies were more like “What do you want? We'll build it.” Well, I'm not an architect, I can't build a house, I don't understand engineering, right? If I say “I want a pool on the second floor, can you figure that out? I'm not going to tell you how to support it.” Whereas in your environment, they're like “Well, if you wanna put a pool on the second floor, we gotta do this, this, and this. And if you want more than one tenant, then you gotta be doing this and this. And we gotta document it like this.” 

That was the kind of stuff I couldn't find anywhere else. And that's where these entrepreneurs out here are trying, they've got to be thinking about it like this simple Word documentation. It's so vital. I mean, it doesn't seem important to an entrepreneur. You know, you're a tech personality like “Let's just go build it.” You gotta stop and slow down, and go “Hey, I’ve got to document the code right.” It's kind of boring but…


It has to be done.

It has to. It costs a little bit of money to do that but you want something sustainable that you can grow. And you have to have that.

We ended up pulling the CTO that I had, he was adamant about this particular database engine that we ended up moving away from. We had your CTO Eric on the phone; we had our team on the phone. We debated it, we analyzed. You guys helped me analyze costs and performance going forward. And together we made the decision to do this.


Rebuilding the platform with an agile, dependable, and solutions-oriented mindset

We went to this offline-first database engine that my CTO picked. What ended up happening is the cost per client made it that there's no way to be able to generate a profit when you're paying this kind of money annually for their engine. The engine was very unique and had many complexities to it. The whole platform was really designed for an offline-first environment. And we don't need that. We're not driving cars down the road. We needed something that's more robust, more cost-effective. So the cost of running a business could be minimal, so we get our profit.

This model was around six thousand bucks per client per year just to have an engine that was not robust. We paid for the team to get trained on it. We were able to make it work. Infinite scroll and stuff would not work right. And they’re like “Oh yeah, they haven't got a bug fix for that yet.” And finally, we had the best minds you guys have, help us pick the best way to go, the most cost-effective, the most robust. We’re almost finished with it. What was interesting though is we basically rebuilt the back-end. And watching the logic, they didn't just go “We’re rebuilding it.” They were like “What did we learn from the first one? How can we make it better?” It was like 2.0. That's just kind of cool to think like “Remember we couldn't do that? Now we can.” 

“When people see what we’ve built, they are blown away. This product is so robust, they’re like ‘You've literally taken all the key components by following my team, with following how they prospect with digital assets and giving them the tools they need that we can follow, which ones work the best—all in one environment.’”

My objective is simple: I love building things, I love seeing people benefit from the ideas. Money always comes if you do a good job. My sort of process is: Can we look down on the ground and say “Hey, there's clearly a problem with these things not linking together? Can we fix that problem?” And you make that solution. There's a benefit to the person that needs the feature.

So we found a clear solution where these ERP platforms that are so big and heavy take development teams to run reports and give data to people that need mission-critical data. Now, we have a simple universal desktop(-mobile) app, however you want to access it, that regardless of where you are or how you want to do it, you can get the data you need to do your job more effectively. And managers can now manage their team with metrics they can see that are so robust. The solution is wonderful.

When people see what we’ve built… When I get to go to trade shows, which I'm actually going to one this weekend in Las Vegas, and I need to meet with these CEOs, they are blown away by what we have. They are like “We did not know this existed. This is not a CRM product.” This product is so robust… they're like “You've literally taken all the key components by following my team, following how they prospect with digital assets and giving them the tools they need that we can follow, which ones work the best—all in one environment.”



"You guys cause me no stress and it just makes me proud. I feel like I'm delivering… I've got a little baby that’s growing to be a rocket scientist. This software is just so beautiful. It's like art. You know, I showed you a consonance, it's just so stable and it always works.”

It's like damn, holy crap! This is the vision. Now, it runs down the track a hundred miles an hour. It’s like wow! That's the collaboration. What's the guy's name? Steve Jobs. You know, he wasn't a coder, but he found people. And I remember he said, “It's not about finding coders, it’s about finding artists.”

I feel like you guys are artists. And I just got the vision.


I'm so happy you are so happy. It's awesome. Thank you so much for your time, Geoff!

Frederic Joye

Frederic Joye

Arcanys co-founder

Frederic Joye

Arcanys co-founder

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. 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.

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