Beqom, Scaling for Success: Business Productivity

Fabio Ronga - CEO, Beqom

 

In 2007, while working at SAP (who had acquired our previous company – Outlooksoft), we (myself and my co-founders) realized SAP itself – despite having over 60 solutions – was not able to automate the definition, calculation, processing and communication of its own employees’ bonuses.

 

Considering the bonus programme was both a key management tool, aligning employee performance with company strategy, and a significant company cost, and that most SAP customers globally were just using spreadsheets (or a custom built tool), we realised that we were facing the biggest market opportunity we had ever seen during our 15+ years in business. Just as importantly most of the former Outlooksoft team was eager to get back together, so we had the perfect timing of market opportunity together with the availability of a proven team.

 

“We were facing the biggest market opportunity we had ever seen during our 15+ years in business”.

 

We now have approximately 100 large organizations using beqom across the globe - in individual terms that’s about 3 million people that have their compensation processes with beqom.

 

Prior to beqom, I’d worked for 2 companies – most of the time living in the US. The first was Hyperion (acquired by Oracle). It allowed me to learn everything about deploying great enterprise software in the largest companies in the world. In 1999 I became one of the first employees of Outlooksoft. As the only European, I was keen from the beginning to make Outlooksoft a global success, not just in the US. In 2003 I moved back to Europe to start all the company operations here and in Asia. By the time of its acquisition the “International” part of Outlooksoft (non-US), represented exactly half of the revenues. Outlooksoft allowed me to develop entrepreneurship and leadership.

 

Before we started we (the former Outlooksoft team) took two decisions based on our past experience, which I believe has helped us scale-up quickly: think globally from day 1 and manage the company as a 300+ people business from day 1. On a simple level this means, for example, everything is in English internally (even an email between 2 French-speaking employees).

 

At a business model level we can start a subsidiary in any country: the product can be localized in any language, the product complies with the local regulations of any country in the world and we comply with global data privacy regulations.

 

We chose Switzerland as our base because the “domestic” market is too small to sustain an enterprise software company, even at an early stage, this forced us to act globally from the start and Switzerland is a place where it’s easy to hire “global” people, or relocate them. A side of us also wanted to prove we could establish a global enterprise software leader in Europe without transferring the headquarters to North America.

 

As a result, we were able to quickly start in 12 countries (including the US) on the same global beqom model. The US now generates 50% of our revenues and we have nine different passports in the ten person management team. Defining the “why” of beqom early and then putting in place all the internal structure that derives from it has meant that our growth from 50 to 150 employees, while exciting, has been quite straightforward. And we’ve been able to manage growth over the last three years at 76% while maintaining a client retention rate of over 98%.

 

“Always act globally, even if you are only executing in your local market, it’s the best favour you can do yourself”

 

Thanks to our previous success we bootstrapped beqom for several years. This made us automatically smart about managing cash. As a result, we ensured a positive or at least neutral operational cash flow. This enabled us to get our priorities in the correct order and let the co-founders control the capital. When we did look for external investors we were able to handpick who we wanted to partner with, and just as importantly, push back on investor requests for exclusivity during the due diligence process.

 

When I’m asked about what I find the most satisfying about my job the answer is always: people – it’s the source, or the cause, of everything beqom is and does. Defining the people we want (the culture), finding and hiring these people, and then making them work happily together will always be the most challenging and most satisfying thing in beqom, at least for me. Although of course having Microsoft sign in 2012 as our first US customer, when they were looking at 13 alternatives (including some of the largest software companies in the world) was also fairly satisfying!

 

In 2018 we’ll increase the beqom presence in our existing markets, look to new regions such as Japan, Australia and Singapore and explore how we can use A.I. to reach full automation.

 

My advice would be to start with defining the “why” of your company and how to implement it. Always act globally, even if you are only executing in your local market, it’s the best favour you can do yourself in the mid-term. And of course persevere - don’t give up - but analyse what went wrong, adjust and go back at it. Again and again.

 

Image: Beqom