By Andy Slawetsky, Industry Analysts – I have been on quite a tear over the last six months or so, visiting Print Management companies around the world and recently I had the pleasure of finding out What’s Happenin’ in the The Czech Republic with technology company Y Soft. Being so proud of their country and culture that we began my visit with a walking tour of Brno, the city where their HQ is located. As I’ve never been to Brno or the Czech Republic, I couldn’t think of a better way to begin.
Brno is a beautiful city of nearly 375,000 people (according to my guide). There are also several universities in Brno and about 75,000 students, making this a somewhat ideal location for a tech company looking to recruit bright young minds. I felt like I was already learning about Y Soft’s background and my visit hadn’t even officially started yet.
The next day began bright and early at Y Soft HQ. Y Soft has several offices in Brno, including their HQ, a manufacturing facility and an R&D location; I would be visiting them all that day before heading to Prague the next morning to visit that location as well.
From the moment you drive up to HQ you know this is a different kind of company. The Czech Republic is known for their art (especially street art) and Y Soft took full advantage of the blank canvas at their disposal – namely, their building. Before I even entered I had to step back to get some photos. It definitely got my attention!
Upon entering I was met by Ondřej Pospíšil and Iveta Pári from Y Soft and after stowing some gear, we were walking the building. Ondřej went off to attend to some other business (I would see him later) and I was handed off to Jan Baláš, VP Sales for Europe for the duration of that brief tour.
There were all the typical departments you’d expect to see at a thriving software company like sales, marketing and customer support, but there were a few surprises as well. Perhaps the biggest was the fact that Y Soft has their own VC unit, or something of that sort, known as Y Soft Ventures. This group is in charge of identifying small, often local start-ups and funding them. I don’t know of many companies in our space with this kind of approach.
Being in a location where about 20% of the population are students, Y Soft felt that there were a lot of good ideas being developed around them and they selectively invest in a great number of them. What an amazing approach for a tech company. More on that in a bit.
I chatted with Jan for a while, discussing Y Soft, their approach, how they’re set up to handle global customers the way they do and then after a bit more coffee, I suddenly found myself in CEO and board chairman Václav Muchna’s office with him and Y Soft co-founder and CIO Martin de Martini for a nice chat. Looking around it’s clear that Václav is an avid skier, with a working min ski lift that sits in his window. Apparently, the lift was used as part of an automated testing protocol at one point (pictured below in front of the window).
Václav and Y Soft’s beginnings are a great story. If I remember correctly, he started the company in the 2000 while still a student, writing code and working a variety of projects, some of which were for a Kyocera reseller in the Czech Republic. None of these projects had anything to do with print.
At that same time, his parents found out he had started a company and decided, if he had time for running a company, he didn’t need to be a student, and they pulled his college funding! It was time to sink or swim for Václav. And swim he did.
Around this time, his Kyocera client (before the Mita merger/acquisition) came to him again with a project asking if Václav could help manage some devices. He scoped it out, hired a few friends like Martin and others and Y Soft was off and running. Like Martin, several people from the original gang are still with Y Soft today.
It struck me as quite amazing that he could have turned down that project, or failed at it, or sold the completed work to the reseller and none of us would have been sitting in that room that day.
A decade or two later and Y Soft is now a premier print management company focusing on Enterprise and Fortune 500 customers; about 40% of Fortune 500 customers currently use Y Soft’s SafeQ print management product. With about 11 offices in countries around the world, Y Soft now employs about 350, a far cry from their humble beginnings. They’re not only growing in terms of staff, their revenue grows by double digits every year. In fact, according to Václav, Y soft has grown by double digits every year since 2003 except for one.
After my tour and chat with Václav, the Y Softers gathered for my What’s Happenin’ presentation, broadcasting my discussion to all of their locations on the state of the A3 and A4 hardware industries. There’s nothing I enjoy more than standing in front of a group of people that want to hear me talk about office technology trends, what’ OEMs are doing, etc.
I finished my session, only going long by about 15 minutes and we had a quick lunch before I was whisked off to the Y Soft manufacturing facility. That’s right, Y Soft is also a manufacturer. I knew about the terminals Y Soft uses in some instances, but I had assumed they would just buy components they needed to manufacture their hardware. Wrong. Y Soft has invested heavily in building the ability to manufacture highly customized circuit boards for use in their hardware.
This saves them time, speeds up the turnaround for new development and allows them to manufacture just what they need, when they need it (reducing bloated and obsolete inventory) and even becoming a bit of a profit center in some cases.
Remember those start-ups I mentioned earlier that Y Soft funds? Well guess what…some of them are now building customized circuit boards and guess where they’re doing it. You got it…at Y Soft. They’re filling manufacturing capacity with projects from their investments. Genius! I had no idea Y soft did any of this.
There were also a great number of 3D printers stacked in areas throughout this building (as well in the others I visited). Y soft acquired an education 3D manufacturer a few years ago and their 3BEE 3D printers are a huge hit with education customers.
Schools are buying them to help children as young as 5 start learning how to use 3D printing technology. The 3D printers are perfect for this vertical and their SafeQ print management software manages these devices just like they manage traditional printers. 3D apparently does not have a lot of available management software and the SafeQ product offers a perfect fit for 3D customers.
Next, I headed over to R&D where saw some pretty cool stuff, including a demonstration on robotics. I had read many articles about Y Soft and their use of robotics in their testing and QA processes, but I didn’t realize they weren’t just using robotics, they were developing their own!
It’s very challenging for Y Soft to attract good talent. Although they are located in an area with a large number of students, they are competing with global giants such as Oracle and others who have set up shop in Brno because of their great numbers of technically proficient students.
To compete, Y Soft has to stand out, offering students the ability to work on pet projects like robotics, foosball tables, IoT projects, fun company events and more. While many students want to work for large global entities, others like to work at the smaller, fast moving and fiercely Czech (local) technology company – the home town hero.
The robotics amazed me. I wasn’t sure which was being tested; the MFP that the robot was being used to evaluate or the robot itself. It may have been both.
Today, Y Softs robotics are made in-house for their own internal use. Tomorrow, who knows. We may see Y Soft selling any number of technologies they’re investing in, both from a student/internship standpoint and their Y Soft Ventures.
If did make me chuckle when I walked through this R&D facility. If you weren’t wearing leather sandals, you were clearly a suit (like me) and didn’t belong there. Everyone was wearing them! Indeed, we were chased away from our conference area because the researchers needed to get in game of foosball (these tables were in every building). They were supposedly testing the cameras on the soccer table.
What an amazing day I had with so many interesting and hospitable people!
The following morning, I made my way over to Prague about 3 hours away to see their other office. At this point I was met by Jan Hrabovský who showed me around the offices. Although they’re much smaller than the Brno offices with respect to overall number of people working there, Prague employs sales people, marketing, R&D and a variety of other functions. Being in a major city, it’s to Y Soft’s advantage to set up shop here as well…they’re always fishing for talent.
One of the things I thought was cool was how there were banks of 3D printers set up throughout the offices that anyone could use. Call it a perk of working for a 3D printer company. If the printer is free and someone has an idea, they’re able to use it. Don’t confuse the free printers with the ones they’re testing, like these seen below in Prague.
This was an amazing trip that provided a great inside look into Y Soft. Their Y Soft Venture program, the 3D for education customers and their manufacturing facility were all incredibly impressive and I didn’t know much, if anything about them until this trip. Looking down the road, it seems Václav envisions a campus for his company, one with multiple buildings right near each other, or possibly one large facility that could house everyone in Brno under one roof.
I greatly appreciate the time Y Soft spent providing me with a glimpse into what they do, who they are and how they got there. Y Soft is an exciting company with an impressive leader who is still heavily involved in running his company. This is an organization that is on the move and is definitely worth taking a hard look at, for print management and beyond.
SOURCE Industry Analysts Inc.