Søren Hejnfelt: If you can’t handle set-backs, don’t try to conquer Poland
According to Søren Hejnfelt, Chief Business Development Officer, Poland is a big and prospective market for Estonian IT companies.
His advice to companies who are considering entering this vast land of opportunities is simple: if you are not strong enough to survive 2-3 years of experiments and possible fails, don’t even try.
“Getting ahead in Poland is an extremely difficult challenge to succeed in. Just like the country’s population, everything is over 30 times bigger and takes much longer than in Estonia. Once you get your foot in the door, money does not start pouring in 30 times faster. So one needs to learn how to be much more resilient, flexible and patient,” he said.
According to him, Finestmedia now has a fully operational development unit in Gdansk who has signed the first lucrative client contracts.
“It took us two years to make our first million. The lessons we learned have helped us accelerate our business growth and take full advantage of what the Polish market has to offer. I do not see any reason why we should not be able to make the next million in half the time and keep this level of continuous growth,” he added.
Finestmedia’s representative lists four key learnings from entering the Polish market:
Don’t expect anyone to welcome you with open arms. Polish businesses are rather sceptical when it comes to cooperation with foreign companies or starting companies. “This means that it is important to consider carefully how and where you start your business – we decided to avoid Warsaw and started off at the Tricity area around Gdansk. We feel the business landscape there is much closer to the Nordic style we have in Estonia and there are less barriers and business dogmas to break through,” Hejnfelt commented.
Be prepared to change your course. When entering the Polish market, one needs to demonstrate extreme adaptability. “We started our business headstrong about our price point, our value offer and competitive advantage. But after a year of banging our heads against the wall we realised we had been too stubborn and needed to adjust our approach to grasp the opportunities available. In order to get some reference projects, it might make sense to do things differently from how you work in your home market,” Hejnfelt explained.
Respect the cultural differences. Finestmedia’s representative points out that Polish people and Polish business culture is very different from what Estonians are used to. “Estonians believe in flat organisational structures, little red tape, quick working pace and open communication. This cannot be expected from possible cooperation partners in Poland where titles are of major importance, confirmation processes long and exhausting and the top management level impossible to reach. Also, in Poland, image is everything - in order to be taken seriously by partners and potential employees, Finestmedia needed to set up office in Olivia Star, one of the most prestigious office buildings in Poland outside Warsaw – such costs can be hugely risky when starting a business,” Hejnfelt stated.
Your biggest investment will be into people. Hejnfelt points out that finding the right people can be the biggest challenge – Finestmedia even established a separate HR company to get the best IT-talents on board. “Today, our HR unit serves other IT-companies in Poland and we just opened a second office in Krakow to expand this business. Without this investment, we would not have been able to find our best employees,” he said.
He also points out that the hiring cycle is much longer in Poland – it usually takes about a month to find a top-level expert and another 3 months for them to hand in their notice and leave the previous employer. “This means you need to be the best employer you possibly can to avoid people quitting. Luckily, we have mastered this – our employees are amazed by how well they are treated compared to the traditional organisation culture in Poland,” he added.