Tiago Catarino is the CEO and Co-Founder of Lisbon Nearshore, a technology company based in Lisbon, Portugal which offers customised software development and IT staffing services to clients worldwide. We spoke with Tiago about his company, the attractions of Lisbon as a sourcing delivery location, the ongoing war for talent, and what makes a true leader...
Tiago, thank you for joining us today. Let’s get a bit of background: can you tell us a little about yourself and your career thus far?
Tiago Catarino: Over the last 11 years my main focus has been to develop and implement processes which drive and improve outsourcing agreements. I lead a team of professionals, responsible for developing, selling and delivering differentiated, innovative, and operationally excellent services to clients seeking outsourcing or nearshoring solutions to help them achieve high performance. As a senior leader, I help clients experiment with new structures, incentives, and processes in order to meet their strategic goals. My day-to-day job involves consulting and helping clients to address complex challenges related to innovation. It was the complexity of these challenges that led me to obtain a Certified GSA-UK Diploma in Strategic Outsourcing.
Innovation is one of the biggest problems we have in the outsourcing industry. I am passionate about how technology and people combine and drive organisational changes. From 2007 onwards, I developed a “people first” leadership approach to merge technology and processes, helping clients to unlock the potential of innovation in new outsourcing service models.
What does “people first” mean specifically for you?
TC: For me, a "people first" approach entails the developing of a company culture that puts the employees' well-being at the core of the business processes.
Lisbon Nearshore is a relatively young company: what was your thinking behind its foundation? Why was this a good time to set up such a venture?
TC: Nearshore has boomed in Portugal over the last two years. Before that, it was a relatively small market on this side of Europe for mainly one reason: companies pursuing nearshore models were only focused on price and cost-cutting. Now the focus has shifted towards the quality of the work produced, keeping in mind that it must still be affordable.
Portugal is a country which boasts a highly qualified workforce - I believe our best developers and engineers do not lag behind their counterparts in Central and Northern Europe - and significantly lower labour costs than the EU average; however, it cannot compete in price with Eastern European countries such as Bulgaria or Poland. As Portuguese, we have always strived to push our boundaries further and that still stays true today. We are pushing the boundaries of technology to new frontiers, and that is exactly our value proposition, what’s in our DNA: the desire to excel, the quality of our talent and our willingness to discover the new.
Can you give us a little insight into the kind of work you typically carry out for your clients?
TC: Our setup implies a true business partnership: we don’t do individual project deliveries. We set up a development centre with our clients, in Lisbon, that can be scalable according to their needs and which includes software engineers, web developers, project managers, software architects, etc. Our aim is to develop our client’s Lisbon tech hub. We are not just a service provider: we are your partner in Lisbon.
So without giving us any confidential details, what would that entail – what kind of work do your clients send over to you that they don’t or can’t do in-house?
TC: Our clients reach out to us, not just because they have a need to outsource parts of their business processes, but also because they simply are not able to find and attract quality talent. In this industry the talent gap, the gap between the available talent and the industry's needs, is widening every year. It is becoming increasingly difficult to attract and maintain qualified IT professionals; the turn-over rates are increasing. A client comes to us because they know they will get a highly qualified, highly motivated team without needing to worry if they will be able to scale the team or if it will be cut in half due to its members going to find work somewhere else.
Answering your question more directly, we can do several kinds of work with our clients, from applications, front and back-end development, to ERP development (SAP and Oracle, for example) and IT infrastructure management.
Lisbon’s got a pretty interesting value proposition: what makes it a good place to do business right now? And how does it differentiate itself from other service delivery locations?
TC: To be honest, we as Lisboetas have always seen that value proposition and felt the world was just mistakenly looking at other places [laughter]. As I stated before, Portugal boasts a high-quality education which translates into highly skilled professionals. Not only that, but the country possesses a world-class telecommunications infrastructure, a mature market economy and several government incentives to companies wanting to invest in the country. Couple all that with a positive relationship of quality/price/talent and you can’t get a better bang for your buck.
How are you working to stay at the cutting edge of technology at a time of such great change in the industry? Do you find yourselves having to work with a broader spread of partners, for example?
TC: I believe that the key requirement for anyone working in tech, whether as a developer or in management, is to never stop learning. This is a fast-paced always-changing industry and you need to get your feet on the ground and be aware of its global dynamics if you want to stay relevant. At Lisbon Nearshore we are technology-agnostic and, therefore, we work with a broad spectrum of tools. We always look for the best tech to fit a specific project and try to be on the lookout for new tools that can help us improve our work. We also have a Learning Centre where our developers can further improve their skills. Besides that, we also offer them the possibility of attending international conferences and events related with technologies they are working with. Just last month, we had a few of our developers in Paris for the ng-Europe Angular Conference.
What are the key skill-sets and characteristics you look for when hiring?
TC: At Lisbon Nearshore we only hire experienced and seasoned IT professionals. Even though the self-taught engineer has been glamorised in this industry, the first thing we look at when we evaluate potential candidates is their education. Did the candidate continue to hone their skills after getting into the job market? Is the candidate from a reputable university? We believe that a quality education and a willingness to keep improving are the cornerstones of good developers.
The second thing we look for is their soft skills: are they team workers, honest and able to work in a fast-paced environment?
Are you finding yourself in a “war for talent” in a fast-growing market such as Lisbon?
TC: Yes and no. In this industry, no matter what, you are always competing for talent. However, when you have interesting international projects, you provide full benefits and a dynamic company culture, the fight for talent becomes an easier one. We are able to differentiate ourselves from our competition by the amount of energy we place in making sure our staff is happy and well taken care of, finding meaning in the work they do.
Conversely, what do you think are the most important characteristics of leadership in this space right now?
TC: I believe in a leadership approach that puts the well-being of your employees at the core of everything you do. I strongly believe that if you treat your employees well, they in turn will take care of your business. In a space as challenging and competitive as this one, if you push your employees to the limit of their physical abilities, you’ll end up with poorly executed work and a turnover rate that will go through the roof. Leaders shouldn’t be authoritative, but cooperative and point the way. Leaders should inspire and protect.
Finally, what’s the secret to the perfect sourcing arrangement?
TC: To be honest, there is no secret to sourcing arrangements. It is actually more straightforward than most people think, but it has to be supported on a few key principles: honesty, transparency and cooperativeness. If these key principles hold, then, for an agreement to be optimal, it is only a matter of specifying correctly a few technical aspects: well-defined needs by the organisation pursuing nearshoring services; well-communicated scaling abilities and challenges by the nearshore service provider; tried and true communication and work methods; and so on.
I believe that, at the end of the day, if there is an alignment of both organisations’ cultures and ethical principles, the technical challenges of each sourcing arrangement are more easily overcome, and both organisations are able grow and develop together.