ALEXANDRE CUVA is the CEO of SmartDev LLC, an offshore development center based in Da Nang, Vietnam. We discuss why the focus on community is so important, Management 3.0, and the culture of doing business in Vietnam.
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Graphic design by Alfred Boland
Lisette: Great. And we’re live everybody. Welcome to this remote interview. My name is Lisette and I’m interviewing people and companies doing great things remotely and today on the line I have Alexandre Cuva who is currently in Vietnam but that’s not what you’re from. Right Alexandre?
Alexandre: Yeah I’m from Switzerland, Geneva.
Lisette: Originally, okay.
Alexandre: Yeah I’m originally from Geneva.
Lisette: Okay. So I’ll just say to people, if you have questions for us now or in the future, you can tweet them the hashtag remote interview and we’ll always get those answered. So Alexandre I want to start with asking what does your anywhere office look like? What is it that you need to get your work done?
Alexandre: So the office here…to mean to work on here, we make an office that is where we put in place a trust investment, a firm investment, mostly on what we expect an increment investment. So the developers are saying…they’re doing Java Development. Say they’re doing that for the end of the intuition they will provide these functionalities. And so we’d expect they provide this and they can make it at a maximum, it would be transparent. So with using…because we’re working with remote customers, we’re using tools for having older boards on internet so both part can see it. So they need to say okay I’m working on that today, it remained two hours here, etc., etc., and things like this. So it follow us for maximum transparency between the customers and the people here.
Lisette: Okay. And I should say you are the CEO of a company called Smart Dev. Is that correct?
Alexandre: Yes that’s correct, yes.
Lisette: And also an Agile coach? And also a…
Alexandre: Yes and that’s…
Lisette: [inaudible – 0:02:10.1]
Alexandre: Yes it’s exact, it’s exact. So Smart Dev, it’soffshore company. What we do in offshore, we’re doing to agile coaching and training, agile training here and in South East Asia. We’re going to open the management trial training in Vietnam too. People are starting to ask so that’s a good news for us.
Lisette: [Inaudible – 0:02:40.1]
Alexandre: Yes for management for [inaudible – 0:02:42.1], super code, it’s a good news, I know it is. We created two at the same time so the company that we said that’s a very oriented community, so we really like the communities here, we now just sponsor them, we [inaudible – 0:02:59.5], we provide them the marketing staff, we provide maybe speakers, we add them to [inaudible – 0:03:08.3] event and things like this. So we like old communities here in their city so we stayed in [inaudible – 0:03:14.6]. it’s in the center of Vietnam and like for example we did…in that way we open the first exped days of Asia…and opened the first exped day in Asia, in Vietnam, in [inaudible – 0:03:31.6] and we have people coming from Australia, Singapore, Japan, from all Asia came here and we had the person, we had Paskal from Exped Day Belgium. That’s the one that created the first Exped Day. Came to visit us so it was great. It was a great event.
Lisette: Wow! Sounds like a great opportunity and I’ve heard this a lot from people that it’s important to have a focus on the community that you’re participating in and I think it’s lovely but do you get out if then from the community or I should say why did you decide to do this? Why did you decide this was so important?
Alexandre: I think helping the community here, it may…so we have more easy access to expert developers, to good developers, that’s one thing. So for sure it’s for us. And the certain part is we give opportunity to all developers that are working in the company to be able to speak in the event, to be some…coming some famous developers in the world and we feel it’s important to give the developers to have the right to act to be always enter thing in the market. And if they stay to work with us, they stay interesting in the market and that was one of the big buyer we had here when I tried to put this in place. We had the human resources and all these people say, no, no you should not do this, then the other company will stall all developers and they’ll say, okay the developer leave a company to work for another company. So must probably didn’t like the culture of the old company.
Lisette: For sure. Yeah because when they do not…
Alexandre: Yes or maybe we have a problem because of culture or way managing the company was not good. So maybe we need to improve.
Lisette: Right. So then it really ends up being a really good networking and learning opportunity for your developers when you’re helping to sponsor things in the community or helping people meet each other and grow it can only be good. And then if you got the culture in your company that’s attractive, you’ll get the best developers.
Alexandre: Yes of course.
Lisette: Of course. And so you have a pretty unique, I mean, the reason why I know you is because you’re a management trio facilitator. So I would say I would love to hear a little bit about how you’re running your company and before we are talking about because of the way that you run your company, you’re getting people coming to you or clients coming to you to work with you. So I want to talk a little but about that.
Alexandre: Yes. So people know me…mostly I was a management trio facilitator in France. Yes once I did in Switzerland too, I did in Italy too. I was in Italy too in Milano. So people know me around the management trio but in Vietnam they know me to or that run this [inaudible – 0:06:43.3] three years in doing Agile event here. I came in Vietnam because of the [inaudible – 0:06:51.9] because he was not able to come to an event and he asked me to come there.
Lisette: Wow, interesting.
Alexandre: [inaudible – 0:06:57.5] I will say thank you to you again for this. And yes the customer that come to me is they know me but some of them they know me because I was Agile coach and [inaudible – 0:07:12.6] on this so they know that…yes if we have a good team to your company, we know that they’re going to do Agile then we know that you’re going to do everything [inaudible – 0:07:24.8] and have fun from the staff. Because they feed the same way of me. Somewhere my ex-students of management trio [inaudible – 0:07:40.1] one. One was a student of me. That he contact me and ask me to work with me here so let’s do this. So most of the customers that come to us are the customer that wish to have a flat management elements. That kind of elements.
Lisette: I see. So they know one, that you’re going to work with Agile methodology, Two you’re going to have a flat hierarchy and using management trio principles so that you’re employees…you’re focussed on happiness so who doesn’t want to work with that?
Lisette: Interesting. So…oh go ahead.
Alexandre: No, no go ahead.
Lisette: I was going to ask…so you have people that you’re working with from all over the world.
Alexandre: So currently, the Vietnam is quite a close country. You have mostly on…Vietnam is coming from old Vietnam. So you have different culture of Vietnam that’s the North, the Center and Southare I would say treat can be different to kind of their people. They have different way of thinking and different way of working…
Lisette: Somewhat similar with your limits. Right? With all the different Cantons in Switzerland?
Alexandre: Yes, yes, yes. It’s a multi-cultural country. We have one foreigner…we hire one foreigner here too but starting next year, as you know I opened the border to all the countries from the Southeast Asia. They’re creating…like the Europe. We work unions, they’re creating here so it was going to open and we can maybe have different cultures coming from Laos, from Singapore, from Cambodia. It will be a good mixed so it would be interesting. But it’s still that culture that you have, you have only one kind culture and mostly Asian cultures. The Asian cultures has…because of the way they’re speaking, the work they’re using, it’s quite…and the way they’re talking, they have that idea or Eureka System.
Lisette: Okay. Interesting…
[Cross Talking – 0:09:53.3]
Alexandre: Yes it’s on their language and they are on the Eureka System already. Like when you talk with someone, so I will say to you back because you’re maybe a little older than me, so I will say back to you and then you’re going to say to me and because I’m younger so it’s like, madam, younger, so sometimes I hear that talk to one of the facilitator, the developer, they say [inaudible – 0:10:25.4]. They say, the man, the higher man…they have called [inaudible -0:10:31.2]. So they have Eureka System and so it means that if you are higher, if you’re older you should listen to older and don’t say what you say, it’s maybe not good.
Lisette: Oh wow! Interesting.
Alexandre: Yes. So you need to break these idea and by using the English, English doesn’t have this or this Eureka System. So if they speak in English, they don’t add anymore of that to Eureka System once they’re talking. So they can talk like this, they can write and don’t say that you’re younger or you’re older and send them this.
Lisette: Now that’s an interesting way of breaking that deep down. So let’s talk a little bit more about culture because this comes up and it’s something I’m trying to wrap my head around and in terms of…so this is on fabulous example about how you’re breaking down the differences in culture and this is even within just the Asian culture. So many different cultures but what other kinds of things do you see that come up? If there are any. I mean, this is already are a fabulous example.
Alexandre: Yeah but that’s the most…most people that I’ve worked at the [inaudible – 0:11:50.2] they notice India has the same problems. That’s really with the Asia problems and then the project that we have in Vietnam is that I don’t know if you the [inaudible – 0:12:04.6].
Alexandre: No. So yes, so the people that were listening, they should go to look at the [inaudible – 0:12:11.2]. It’s a model that’s been created for the offshore company to understand which culture will be best culture to work their cultures.
Lisette: Okay wow.
Alexandre: And so it’s a trend, yes one guy that present it for there in 2013. [inaudible – 0:12:32.9]. It was…we need to think your ideas and it’s a trend and the people try to be more linear. So working project management if you know this, or these Germany people are mostly like here and you have to fit the list there and the Vietnam is under extremes or we need good listener. People that are really…they fast committed to your product. So you come, you start your project, end of the iterations are already committed to your project and they are looking weird to fan everything to make your product the best product. Because they want to be proud of that product. Very fast. And I see this like for compare to some friend that talked to me about…they have offshore in Lithuania and they say that maybe they need to have one to three months, maybe more. Before the team feel that they’re part of that product.
So it’s different thinking and when the…[inaudible – 0:13:34.4] in Vietnam are they…nice people, they really nice people. I always want to help you, they listen to you. So it’s very different. So I had a customer and he said that…he currently have this…they have across working in China and he says he want to run away from China because the people are really too proud of themselves and not respect the other people or the foreigners. And they come here in Vietnam and say wow, people are just super nice with us, they listen. It’s another one. So that’s a really different…they are really between China and Vietnam. I went to Thailand, I feel the people, they’re nice too. Very nice and [inaudible – 0:14:20.8]. So I never work with them so I will not say anything about their cultures. But you have already these different cultures between China and Vietnam.
Lisette: Right. I must say even when I went to Brazil I notice how friendly everybody was. I mean, very willing to help, are you lost, do you need something or overly friendly, oh my gosh, I felt…it was so different than what I was used to. So I can see that there’s definitely are differences like that. Interesting. So then what are the benefits that these differences bring you when you’re working with all these different cultures even within the same country? And I know what you have to say and I mean, if you go from one onto the Netherlands to the other it’s a totally…it’s like a different country.
Alexandre: Yeah. But in Vietnam you have the node people. The node people are the people that came with the communist. So our people are very proud…I would say that is more people like in London, English people are very proud of themselves and like this. And the south it’s like more…like you’re telling Spain are more a little lazy. Of course it’s…
Lisette: More like that.
Alexandre: Yeah more like that. And in Vietnam given more like that and everything because we have the senior. I can see the sea from my window on the office. We have a working element that’s just amazing. That bring the developers to work to Vietnam because in the morning they can go to the beach and stream and then go to the office. You are really at 5 – 20 minutes from the office from everywhere from the city. So it’s a great [inaudible – 0:16:10.1]
Lisette: So then do you have most of your people working in an office there?
Alexandre: Yes I’m sure. Plenty older people are working in the office. Some people are really starting to me or asking to me if they can do some…we load their broadband and they and kind of this and I say, yes it’s a [inaudible – 0:16:30.4] no problem, we can do it. Okay fine, I have no issue. I have one customer, his food company are all in New York. There’s no office. They have developers all around the world and they’re working remote. It’s a great company though.
Lisette: And if they’re using developer from your team, they’re of course perfectly fine. So it’s really up to the customer and the developer to decide how they want to work then?
Lisette: I see. In unusual office.
Lisette: So if we want to get back…how about let’s talk then about some of the tools that you used that’s always a good one. Because you say that you have a lot of online tools because of where the customers are.
Alexandre: Yes so when the customer are in remote or not in the office…because we have one team where the customer is in the office, full-time with that so there’s no need. So mostly we use online tools. We use all the tools from [inaudible – 0:17:40.2], we have the Wiki, we’re using the ones that continues the triangulation. Some team are DVD, the tester of writing old acceptant tests and the street and the automation code for the acceptant tests. So everything is linked to all, together like this so it really continues because when you’re working remote, what’s very important was to provide the transparency. The best and must transparency to the customer in remote so if you’re confident with the team.
So continued intuition is a must to have for every team so they know exactly what’s happening, what is the quality is this issue of [inaudible – 0:18:27.5] and they should have a continuous delivery so with yourself a piece of their software maybe once a week or each iteration so the customer can claim with their product and not waiting 6 months to see the product coming. So you need to have all these tools, the Wiki, the Web Tools because it can write with all the documentation, put their report of their…how was that iteration, is there an issue, can it communicate with the customer of Tudo Wiki. It’s a really good exchange tools and of course you need to order tool for communication, so we must say we use Skype in the office for talking between the customers and the developers. But then some companies they’re not choosing Skype, they’re using another tools for communication. So it’s up to the customer.
Lisette: Okay. Now, you’re lucky in that and you’re working with a lot of developers to people who use tools quite a bit and are very comfortable with using the technologies and I see a lot of teams struggle though when it’s not a team of developers, when you have teams of other people that are really struggling with the tools and I call it Technical Illiteracy. It’s the people that, oh no not one more tool, I mean I can understand…I’m a tool Junkie so for me I love tools. I’ve been way too many tools on the table but yeah do you see this at all with your customer?
Alexandre: Yes. And not with the customers. We have a part of the people that I’m working that are not developers. The staff, the Human Resource, my assistant, the [inaudible – 0:20:17.7] and all these people and when we create a company we say, okay we’re going to choose the cheapest [inaudible – 0:20:24.4] Linux using Google for [inaudible – 0:20:31.0] and stuffs like this. It’s cheap, it’s free, it’s better for us but for them they want to use Word, Excel, thing like this and they’re really…was really lost. So when ask to a team you need to share something, it was a big big mess. So for many of us they’ll say okay I’ll buy the office for this group of people then we can’t talk anymore.
Lisette: So that’s your way of solving it. You bought them Microsoft Office because that’s what they were used to.
Alexandre: Yes because between us they send…because the girls they have a MAC or MAC Book so they have the tools for MAC Book and they were sending to the customer a doc page file to the customers and of course the others have a PC so they cannot open the file and…
Lisette: Great, yeah okay. Yeah I mean people have different ways of solving this. Some people do one on one training, some people allow their staff just to be lost so I’m always very curious. It is an issue…
Alexandre: Yeah we try to training…we train them, we explain to them but forget. That was always the problem. So they’ll say okay, okay. So anyway it’s enough so much so we pay the license and I finished.
Lisette: Right. And then they have the tools that they needed and then they’re off and running.
Lisette: Yeah it is an issue on almost every team that I’ve talked to. What about personality traits on your team when you’re hiring developers or when you’re hiring people, what do you look for in your staff?
Alexandre: Okay so when we hire the developers, already we have a [inaudible – 0:22:17.8] step for the interview because we really think that’s…when we hire someone is we hire for the life so we bring someone else in the family or new family so we need to have a very straight interview to be sure that developers are fin in the company. So what we’re doing is at first we go see their CV, we filter the CV, we see if someone is interested in their CV and then we have a first interview…just a formal interview to talk with the person, see how is that person…very informal interview. It could on the phone or directly here. Mostly from my facilitator so he’s a kind of Agile coach that we have here.
They talk with these people and see if the person fit already the virtues. He’s a team oriented person, he’s a passionate person on his work and so on. And then we ask that person to do a work. They have one week to provide their own work. For the developers it would be to show that how they are in software development. The other day we have…we’re going to hire a new person for the market team. So I ask her to write something about how it would be to the market team but not for outside customers but for the company. For the inquiries are two customer for the market team. So I ask her how she will do the market team to make happiness in the company.
Lisette: Oh I love it.
Alexandre: [inaudible – 0:23:58.6] and everything and I tried to…I want to give them an assessment that is a little outside of their comfort zone to see if whether they’re looking in, they are passionate on what they’re doing. So this then have like a pair interview with one of the experts to see if…one thing is to see if the code they build, it works themselves of course and then see if it obviously going to work or was in working on a computer [inaudible – 0:24:32.6] and then if you’re done interviewing with me, if I failed you and then it’s the Human Resource that do the interview for the money. So they really are the ends, the human resource. Most of the companies they put a beginning at the end the human resource for making the features. No, we do the other thing and human resource are working at the other ends.
Lisette: So they did the logistics like okay you’ve been hired, now let’s talk about all the logistics that are going to…so it’s of on boarding really is what they have. Okay interesting. So I know we’re getting near to the top of the hour but one thing I saw on your LinkedIn profile which I might say you’re LinkedIn profile is the longest one I’ve ever seen and it was awesome. I would just kept reading through and it was great. So it’s great to finally talk to you but it also said that you were a volunteer fireman.
Alexandre: Yes I was a volunteer fireman for 11 years in Switzerland. Yeah a lot of fun. It was really cool that you’re going to work as a team and you have teammate and friend and anything like this. In Switzerland you can be volunteer for the fireman. You act only when there’s no risk of men. When there’s a risk of men, it’s the professional that work. But everything else, it’s the volunteer. So you have your walk in life and during the night and the weekend you play the firefighter.
Lisette: Did you save a lot of kittens?
Alexandre: I’ve never saved any human but I saved once a rabbit. The little girl was crying downstairs and [inaudible – 0:26:18.1] rabbit and didn’t know what’s happening with his rabbit in the house that was burning and I find this rabbit, I think somewhere…it was not anymore white but mostly black but he was a cute rabbit.
Lisette: I bet, I bet. So back to remote working though which is…do you have advice for people who are maybe just starting out maybe with outsourcing or what would you tell people?
Alexandre: If the people want to start with outsourcing, it’s not…is it going just for I think cheapest people, yes they’re going to have a lot of problem and maybe cost more than anything else. I just say that the model that I told you before the [inaudible – 0:27:08.2]they know exactly which country would be more fit to work with them. Then we provide something that would be interesting for them. And then you need to really understand what you want, why you want to work in the off shore team. You need to understand the features, you need to participate, it’s not…you have a team far and you come to see them maybe once a year and if it’s not working you need to try to have an ambassador that come to the team and then work with the team fulltime or maybe 1 month he’s there and one month he’s not there but more than just two times per year. So the feel that he’s part of the other company. That’s really important.
The other team had to proceed to the customers. I have some friend working in other company that sometimes they go to Japan to see the customer in Japan because they have a lot to travel. That’s great, it’s really great for the people. So it depends on what you want. You want an efficient team so provide an efficient investment. If you don’t want an efficient team because you want to have maximum control and watching an [inaudible – 0:28:33.6] of event. You’re going to have a cheapest price but the people will not be efficient so [inaudible – 0:28:39.5] is going to cost more than anything else.
Lisette: I see. So if you’re really monitoring every move and you’re trying to get the cheapest price, people are going to feel that and they won’t be loyal back as sort of the…and it’s true. I mean, when I think of the…the more I learn about off shore and outsourcing, the more I start to understand that it’s not…I mean price is an issue. Price is that…that’s why people are looking outside but actually people are looking outside more because they need the talent and they’re trying to scale their team and they can’t find the talent locally. So they need to go off shore and they need to outsource and in order to get the staff that they need and there’s quite a lot of talented staff that is being underutilized in many of these countries. So I assume Vietnam is the same. There must be very talented developers there.
Alexandre: Yes, yes, yes there are. There are a lot of talented people on all these countries where people are doing off shore. In Vietnam for example, the talented people and once they stay in Vietnam, they don’t want to go out like in India. In India, most of their talented people went in other country. In US, in Europe and things and this and the non-talented people stay in India. That’s the bad things, that’s a bad thing. You should stay and work in your own country.
Lisette: I see. So in Vietnam people want to stay there. They don’t want to go out and work in a different country. They want to stay home where…
Alexandre: Yeah maybe they will go abroad for maybe one or two years but then they will come back.
Lisette: Right. Interesting. Yeah I hear that a lot and so now it’s just a question of how do we make it work with companies when we’re outsourcing and I really am going to take a look at this model because I like the idea that there’s compatibility between certain countries and certain things based on the culture and I think that’s a very interesting concept. So I look forward into looking into that more. And I guess one final question would be, if people want to learn more about you and what you’re doing in your company, what’s the best place to get in touch with? Where should they go?
Alexandre: If they want to know me and everything, I’m like you. Everything, so if you want to contact me, you have the contact, address, the phone numbers, my email address, it’s here. Sorry I have to do a thing like this. Everything, that’s my private phone numbers, you can call me too if you want but otherwise you send me the email address and I think…yeah that’s all. Otherwise yeah you come to the…if you wish to come to the Agile Event in Vietnam, you’re most welcome. In November we have the Agile Tour in tourist city, the Ho Chi Min, Danan and Hanoi. So for the speaker it’s a big opportunity because they meet a lot of people. There are opportunity, like, in Danan we do Agile separate that are able to meet different company going Agile in the city. That’s quite interesting. Ho Chi Min too we do the same for the speakers is they wish to meet other companies.
Lisette: Wow! Plus you’re seeing three very different cities all within…
Alexandre: Yes but Ho Chi Min is a 12 or 13 million population so it’s mostly like the city of New York I would say. Hanoi it’s around 10 or 11 million people too. Most likely Boston I would say and Danan, it’s smaller. It’s 1 million…the population is 1 million but it’s mostly like San Diego or Miami. We have a beach near…it’s[inaudible – 0:32:32.5] which you hear and just you never want to go away.
Lisette: I can see the sky reflecting in the mirrors behind you that looks really beautiful over there.
Lisette: Well great. I really appreciate your time today. I have so many things that I want to ask but let’s keep this to 30 minutes, it’s a good time box. Is there anything else maybe that you would want to say that we didn’t cover before we head out.
Alexandre: No. No I don’t think so. I wish success to the way we want that we try to do off shore, in off shore company. It’s not an easy things to do this in a country that’s not…who are not part of that country. It’s a big challenge but if people like the challenge, it’s interesting.
Lisette: Wow! I think that’s a good advice. Alright everybody, thanks for listening and until next time. Be powerful.
Alexandre: Thank you. Bye, bye.