Decisions — The decision-making process should be as decentralized as possible. The speed of making decisions in business is critical to survival. You have to look at the processes in the organization and make them as smooth as possible. When people feel the responsibility they act better, faster and at their best knowledge. An effective leader knows who to trust with what and can share responsibility.
As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Radosław Bułat.
Radosław Bułat is the CEO & Co-Founder of Applover, a technology enthusiast and amateur triathlete. He helps companies build & scale their digital products. In 2019 ranked with Applover in Deloitte Technology Fast 50 CEE.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My history with new technologies started over 10 years ago when as a young student together with a group of friends we developed our first startup projects — Loca and Artion. Both of them were not a success, but we really enjoyed working together on a new technology — develop and scale digital products. I knew that this is what I want to do. I am a huge enthusiast of new technologies, especially in combination with HR. In 2016 with my friends we founded Applover — a full-stack digital agency. It is a company in the IT sector, already recognized by Deloitte as one of the 50 fastest growing in the CEE region. In my spare time, I jog, swim and cycle training to finish my first Ironman in 2021 — preferably in a sunny Tuscany.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
It’s hard for me to remember any funny mistake. At the beginning of my adventure, I treated all of them very seriously. I certainly learned a lot from my first startup project, “Loca”. After 6 months of developing a mobile application and hardware, exposing the product to customers — it turned out that nobody really needs it. It was then that I learned how important it is to be agile and collect feedback at every stage. Currently, I try to get feedback before any work is done with every new business decision.
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? Can you share a story?
Most of my past projects I started with my friends. Before we hit 1 million dollars in sales with Applover, I had blown up a couple of companies along the way. Lack of profit and budget deficit is the moment when you can argue and end your relationship with people for good. These failures showed, however, that it does not have to be this way, and even the worst moments are the bread and butter of business and we should get used to it. Now that I am running a company I am well aware that it is like riding a roller coaster. After a wave of successes, a worse period will always come, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise or cause a lot of distress. But I am lucky to manage Applover with my friends — our board members — Piotr, Jan and Piotr always have my back and we can rely on each other. Each of us is different and I think it helps us to see things from different perspectives, permitting us to make the best decisions we can at any given time.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
We started as Applover in early 2016 and this year we celebrated our 4th birthday. From the very beginning, we wanted to digitize companies helping them on their way to success. Our vision has not changed since then. We are currently working very hard on our own product — Bench by Applover. We offer the best-suited candidates for IT projects through machine learning algorithms and soft skills analysis. Companies on 3 different continents are already using our resources. IT is a dynamically growing market and we noticed that it lacks the right tools for talent management. We believe that our approach to people in IT will become more and more popular.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Transparency is a very important aspect in difficult times. It is essential for employees to see what the company’s situation is like — it allows you to eliminate any doubts or rumors that could induce fear. Our way gives us control and allows our employees to have a sense of security, which was incredibly important when the global pandemic started. At the very beginning of it, we communicated with our team about the matters we are involved in that our cash flow is safe, our contracts are secure and everyone has a product to work on. We pointed out everything so the team would worry less in the uncertain times. As Applover, we have set ourselves the goal of not firing anyone during the COVID-19 crisis. We managed to achieve this, and transparency in our activities will pay off in the future with the team’s motivation and dedication.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Yes, I had thoughts like that in the past when the moment of doubt came. The IT market is a very dynamic sector, customers, employees and projects highly dynamic and a large number of important decisions must be made every day within a limited time. To avoid such thoughts, I decided to start training for a triathlon in which, to achieve anything, you need dedication, commitment and… patience. I have learned patience through the triathlon and this is how I see Applover today. We have long-term goals that we want to achieve — I know the road will not be easy, and this is what’s helping me overcome further obstacles.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Fast decision-making and honestly, humbly preparing for the worst scenarios. After the lockdown in Poland was introduced, my first decision was to ensure all contracts and secure the company with emergency capital. It was not really necessary, but if bad days came we would be ready and able to continue to function.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
The best way is to play open cards with the entire team. We currently employ over 50 people and it is important for everyone to feel stable and feel that we have a plan how to survive these bad moments. Empathy also plays an essential role. You need to commit to your team, and they have to see it and feel it so the team’s morale doesn’t go down.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
The only right way is to forward it quickly, without unnecessary delay. Any information is better than none. The best scenario, of course, is to provide everyone with as much information as we can and set up the next steps so everyone knows what to do.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Nowadays, we should revise our plans as often as possible. Decisions should be made swiftly and based on fresh data. It is very important that the company is agile and open to feedback in its DNA.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
The basis of economics is economic cycles. Someday the sun will come up, and if we can make it through the bad times it will only get better. In these bad moments, I try to remember that.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
Well, there are a lot of them. I can say that the most common is dismissing people to save the budget. Effective recruitment involves costs and time. I noticed that at the beginning of the lockdown in Europe, many companies were dismissing entire departments without undue delay, only to recruit again after 2 months. It doesn’t make sense. If you invest in your team — make it a long-term investment, and seek savings in different areas — maybe you can swap some paid tools your organization is using to free utilities, negotiate lower subscription fees, or maybe you can cut back on some benefits that people will not use anyway while working remotely.
Another common mistake that businesses often do in uncertain times is a lack of transparency in messages and situations causing fear instead of employee motivation. You need your team to trust you, you need to be honest with them. You have to tell them the truth so they know you trust them and count on them. Only thanks to this, they can still feel committed and safe and be engaged in what they do.
The third mistake that I often saw was a slow decision-making process. As a leader, you need to be agile so your company can survive no matter what.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
I think it is crucial to still plan ahead strategically. Think of your clients and what they need in difficult times. For us, the right move was to launch a new product during the pandemic.Bench by Applover — offering remote development teams. Until now, most of our specialists have worked onsite in Poland. With the new product, we have opened up to remote employees. The pandemic has changed the model of work in the world and more and more companies are allowing full remote employees. In such a model, we can compete for top talents not only in our country but also use the resources from all over the world.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Decisions — The decision-making process should be as decentralized as possible. The speed of making decisions in business is critical to survival. You have to look at the processes in the organization and make them as smooth as possible. When people feel the responsibility they act better, faster and at their best knowledge. An effective leader knows who to trust with what and can share responsibility.
- People — You have to guarantee the stability and comfort of work for your people. Securing their jobs in these difficult times should be a priority. When your team sees your engagement in doing so, they feel engaged as well and can work even harder for joint success.
- Communication — Transparency in communication both to employees and clients about the company’s situation at any given moment is crucial. Without it, you cannot be an effective leader who they can trust, and it is an invaluable quality.
- Searching for new business models — any turbulence in the markets creates new business models. You cannot dig yourself in, you should look for new business opportunities that will allow you to secure your operations and shift to these opportunities which are more profitable at the moment.
- Support for smaller companies — We should help smaller entities from our environment as much as possible. Economics is a system of connected dishes, helping a local bakery, for example, make a website to collect orders, we are actually helping ourselves to keep the financial system stable. Give some, get some — it is that simple.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
― Albert Einstein
We cannot be afraid of making decisions and taking risks, especially in hard times. There will always be mistakes, but without them, we will not be able to develop and learn as people or as an organization.
How can our readers further follow your work?
I share some important news on my LinkedIn profile, I love to exchange thoughts and experiences so if you want to discuss something — just reach out to me.
Most of our work we show off on our blog. Aside from business-related matters, we also write about our team and our office life. Moreover, we create space for our team to share their knowledge, experiences and insights — and all of it you can find on our blog.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!