I had the pleasure of interviewing Andres Angelani, CEO of Softvision, the design and technology company that helps global brands create better, more meaningful digital experiences for their customers, employees and stakeholders. Andres has spoken at many leadership, strategy, and tech conferences and co-authored the book The Never-Ending Digital Journey: Creating New Consumer Experiences Through Technology. Originally from Argentina, he speaks English, Spanish and Italian. Andres holds a Bachelor’s of Science in Business from the University of Belgrano in Buenos Aires, and enjoys cross-fit training, skiing with his wife, Laura, and their four kids, running and playing classical piano.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was born and raised in a small agricultural town in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. My family ran a provincial Italian charcuterie business with a good reputation for providing high-quality products. Early on, everyone assumed I would simply take over the family business. However, growing up I always wanted to be a concert pianist, but I did not have the finances or overall support from my family. So, I took a different path and became a junior programmer at an IT firm in Buenos Aires, and it was there that my journey began.
In 2004, I left Argentina with my wife and my then 1-year-old daughter to work at a software development startup in the UK. I slowly worked my way through the operation, and we were fortunate to land Google as a major client. Then, about four years later, I moved my family again, but now with two children in tow. We went from London to California to help build the gaming division of the company. I also added airlines, like Southwest, and created the foundation for a new methodology called “Agile Pods” (about which I co-authored a book in 2016, “The Never Ending Digital Journey”).
Our family continued to expand: we had two more children, and they obtained three citizenships as we lived in different places. In 2014, a couple of years after my fourth child was born, I went public for the first time, eventually helping to consolidate it as the company with the highest valuation multiple in the space.
Three short years later, I had a new and tremendous opportunity to take all these great experiences to a new level that would impact across customers, processes, talent and, above all else, vision. And that’s how I became CEO of Softvision in 2017.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Softvision is a global company with more than 2,500 employees, so we live and breathe cultural diversity every minute of every day. I found it particularly interesting, and funny, was the reaction that I received from different global markets around the world when news broke that I was the new CEO. For example, in India, my family and I were treated to a pretty ceremony with flowers, almost as if we were royalty. Meanwhile, Romania was charming and seductive, very tech savvy with a strong engineering expertise. Still, the office had a fun side and engaged in various activities to help break the ice.
Canada, on the other hand, was a bit more skeptical. They sort of asked, ‘who’s this dude?’, but at the same time in a laid back and approachable way. In the U.S., it’s fair to say that depending on where I was, I was either a threat or a god-send. And to make things more interesting, I had my own cultural expectations when I went to different places. I’m an Italian by heritage, but born and raised in Argentina. The entire experience made my even more curious about how people think, what drives them and how to connect.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The differentiation is seen in the products and digital experience we design, build, run and evolve, and the agile culture we bring to our clients. We were born in Silicon Valley and preserve that culture of venture and innovation. For over 20 years we’ve learned to scale this innovation. In short, we’ve helped for many years our non-tech native clients become tech companies.
Whether it’s product design or engineering or QA automation, Softvision not only creates and improves digital products, but also advises our partners and clients on the best approach to a superior experience. We have excellent delivery capability for both consumer products and complex, scalable digital platforms.
On the organizational front, we have embraced a model that provides our clients with Guilds and Pods, encouraging a cross-pollination of talent, skills and perspectives. This structure also enables our clients to see and take advantage of opportunities for business and experiences, vs. relying on short-term surface technology enhancements and applications. These days, we are moving quickly to enjoy fully consolidated global communities, enabling our clients to more fully leverage the benefits of innovation, an agile mindset and customizable solutions that accelerate go-to-market strategies and lead to digital and business transformation.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
There are four new things we’re focusing on today:
- Deeper Relationships — Softvision has always benefited from a strong client roster. These days, we’re looking to develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with our existing clients. With a roster that includes Estee Lauder, Goldman Sachs, Macy’s, Mozilla and many others, we’re getting more comfortable asking difficult questions and helping to guide and lead our clients vs. always being in reactive mode. These deeper relationships benefit our clients as much as they do us, and they appreciate our working shoulder to shoulder with them to solve complex business transformation issues.
- Education Around New Technologies — The digital world is moving at lightning speed, and if you don’t stay on top of all the developments and new technologies you’ll quickly be left behind. We’re making it a point to identify subject matter experts within our organization, and have them take the lead in staying up to speed on issues that will be most helpful to our clients but also our staff. A good example is what is taking place in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. More and more, we’re being asked to provide our perspective on where this is all going. Oftentimes, we’ll recommend a small “proof of concept” project, to test out a new feature or new technology or simply a new idea. This is translating into all of our staff being well versed and confident that they’re ready for whatever comes next.
- Global Expansion — We have built a strong company with twenty-three offices, and talent in this space is hard to come by and frankly to keep. We’re specifically expanding our presence in two markets — Buenos Aires and Australia — because we know the space, we have several local client opportunities in those respective markets, and there is a great deal of talent that is untapped. Additionally, we’re expanding our Romanian offices to include a design studio. The design studio will likely service the UK and other markets, and because we have a great team already in Romania we’re confident we can add to it.
- Softvision Labs — At Softvision Labs, we identify opportunities to define innovation goals that enable our clients to realize their digital future. Oftentimes, our labs teams look at how customers can be given engaging experiences, enabling them to discover and explore through the mix of digital and physical experiences. We make sure that a strategy is in place to ensure innovations actually impact business, and not sit in silos with limited impact. To do this, we prototype and learn, running multiple experiments at a lower cost. We have four main design studios in Vancouver, Austin, Cluj and Buenos Aires and offer design led enterprise assessments. We host regular internal competitions where we challenge our employees to dream up experiences and new technology that could have an impact on their client’s business on techs such as AI, Blockchain, Voice, AR, VR. The goal is to co-invest with our clients on this innovation opportunities and build them first as ‘proof of concepts’ and after validation move into a production pod. Lab innovations are meant for scale, rooted in our client business and customer reality, focused on impact.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I would encourage other CEOs to train for diversity, and to not train people in mass quantities like other traditional companies. Instead, expose young people to different emerging technologies, new design trends and agile mindsets. Set aside some budget to give each employee a unique learning experience, including working with different types of customers and collaborating with different managers. Providing employees with access to unfamiliar experiences and cultures will not only help them become more well-rounded employees, but also help them develop personal and leadership skills that they can apply to benefit themselves and the organization.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?
Of course, the team at Softvision, particularly my leadership team, is really operating on all cylinders to help the business grow and continue to achieve success. But my wife, Laura, has been my absolute anchor throughout our journey together. We started this adventure when we were very young. We moved quite a bit in the early years, and were able to raise four kids. My wife and children have been all the support I’ve needed, helping me through it all.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I believe that talent should be nurtured and grown through education, and that if done right, that talent can be sustainable and translate into creating goodness in the world.
While we’re living in an era of AI and automation, I believe the world needs more human intelligence. At Softvision, we have created “guilds,” which are thriving communities of talent that extend outside of the company and reach out to train, mentor and coach up and coming talent. Through these guilds, people and talent connect globally. In addition, they incentivize local and cultural diversity throughout our studios, while also nurturing our people so they can reach their full potential.
We don’t try to replicate with the larger traditional IT players do, in terms of training talent in mass quantities. Our belief is that type of standardization tends to kill individuality. Instead, we encourage and leverage our diversity, exposing young people to different emerging technologies, new design trends, agile as a mindset, and the workplace — teaching, grooming and exposing them to a whole array of customers, products, projects and brands around the world and, in many cases, giving them the opportunity to travel and live in other geographies.
Can you share the top five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Six ways that diversity can help a company’s bottom line:
- Inspire Diversity Through Innovation — I’m a strong believer that innovation can come from anywhere, at any level, at any time. Having a diverse staff can help foster innovation and provide different ways to solve problems. At Softvision, we held a Pod Challenge, where teams came together to present new innovations. Each team presented their idea, and the best three ideas would get to have their concept developed into a real solution that would be marketed to clients. The challenge was a big success, and largely because different people from different backgrounds came together to develop ideas. Everyone felt the exercise was eye opening and people who had never really spoken are now brainstorming additional ways to help each other and their respective clients.
- Showcase Diversity — A great deal of diversity happens within companies, but there isn’t a forum to share or showcase it. Luckily, at Softvision, we have a variety of channels to showcase our diversity. Our most popular these days is Facebook Workplace. It is not only a strong internal communications channel for all our employees, but it connects our offices and employees often in real time so they can share moments as well as work issues. Getting to know a developer in India brings or a designer in Oakland better, understanding what motivates them, helps all our employees stay connected and care for one another in a more meaningful way. And this leads to happier employees and a better work product.
- Geographic and Language Diversity — It’s one thing to see it on the computer, but it’s another thing to actually physically go to our studios, work out of them, and really embrace the diverse culture. We encourage all our staff, whether traveling for a client or for leisure, to spend time in each of our offices. This helps build a comfort level and familiarity that helps with retention and ultimately creates stronger teams and bonds. We have +2500 employees, in 23 studios located in 10 countries, and often speaking five different languages.
- Organizational Diversity — Again, because we’re organized by Pods and Guilds, we believe this enhances our diversity and puts it to work in favor of our clients. We consider this approach our “locally represented/globally connected” strategy. People are able to learn from each other in their respective communities, while at the same time experiencing and tapping into diversity within another community to help solve complex business transformation problems. This strategy plays well with our Agile project management, and eliminates the silos that can get in the way due to dated structures that are more finance and less client-focused.
- Gender Diversity — We have a strong female representation within our company, including many of our key leadership positions. At Softvision you’ll also find talented women who are leveraging their engineering backgrounds to lead teams and client engagements. We have been and continue to be a progressive and forward-thinking company, and we recognize that our clients and prospects today want to see a reflection of themselves in the partners they choose to work with. We recruit women heavily, and want to see them succeed as much as possible within our organization. If we do that, we know our business will grow and be a positive reflection of this strategy.
- One Company — On top of the diversity we foster, we embrace a ‘one company’ strategy. For Softvision, this means a strong, singular and consistent corporate culture, one that truly begins with ensuring that we train the same way around the world. By this we mean we train for diversity, as opposed to training people in mass quantities like big, traditional companies. We believe in exposing young people to emerging technologies, new design trends and agile mindsets. We try to give each employee a unique learning experience, and have him or her work with different types of customers and with different managers. This unfamiliarity helps both the trainee and the manager, giving everyone new perspectives to consider. This variety of experiences helps people develop new and diverse ways of thinking, making them that much more prepared for any situation that arises.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
I tend to gravitate toward Fail fast, cheap and often. This lesson sometimes gets a bad rap, but in my opinion it means move quick. If you fail, don’t spend a great deal of time or money failing, and be bold enough to try new things all the time. Needless to say, business failure can be a benefit, as long as there are valuable lessons learned and those lessons are applied to your overall strategy for growth and success.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
The person I would most like to have a private meeting with is Warren Buffett. To me, Mr. Buffett is more of a real person than many other successful businesspersons. Not only is arguably the smartest financier in history, but also a person who inspires trust, has solid and realistic core values, and he also thinks long term. This is particularly inspiring, considering his sector tends to worry more about short-term gains and doesn’t necessarily prioritize sustainability or value creation.
Originally published at medium.com