Going global

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Created in 2007 by Ioan Iacob and Radu Constantinescu, Qualitance is today one of the major homegrown tech companies.

Working with the world’s biggest businesses, the company builds digital products and services using emerging technologies, such as machine learning, blockchain, or IoT. With 200 employees, an established presence on three continents (Bucharest, San Francisco and Sydney), Qualitance is looking to expand to another European location by next year.

Some of the company’s most recent projects include developing an e-sports platform for San Francisco-based startup Ready Up, developing an app for the Let’s Do It! World organisation, and building a solution for real-time tracking and visualization of equipment and people (patients and personnel) in hospital areas for US-based start-up Intelligent Locations. With an innovation-driven business model that has been fine-tuned over the past decade, Qualitance is one of the few Romanian companies that have managed to set a foothold in Silicon Valley and acquire a US company. According to co-founder Ioan Iacob, the idea to set up a technology business together with Radu Constantinescu started from the realisation that technology was going to change things irreversibly. “We knew we were about to witness a change in the way business is conducted,” he said in an interview with Business Review, “and we thought now is the moment to do something.”

For Qualitance, the path towards their current business model was a matter of trial and error. “As we started, our business model – one that later turned out to be wrong – was to do quality assurance”. Since their first idea didn’t go as well as they had imagined, they decided to go into development. “In the beginning we did outsourcing, and then we went into product development,” Iacob explains. Ioan Iacob says it was very difficult for them to find their first clients. “We made a website and waited around for clients to call us. But nobody did. Then we figured out it is us who have to go after the clients,” he recalls. They found a very original way to pitch their services to potential clients: “Back then, the only way knew how to do this was to answer job ads and show up at job interviews. And it worked; this is how we got our first clients. I simply told employers that I was not there as a potential employee, but as a consultant, and showed them what we could do for them.”

“Perhaps it was a desperate move,” the entrepreneur says, “but we were not going to give up on the idea of building a company. Because in reality, products, markets, clients don’t meet each other in a straightforward way, and not just in Romania,” he explains.

The key to unlocking success was meeting the right people along the way. “One of them was Radu Cautis, a Romanian-born American, whom we met in 2012 and who was our first major contact in Silicon Valley and the person who helped us enter that scene. Besides our clients, the most important resource we get from Silicon Valley is design and business knowhow,” Iacob says. Tom Chi, a co-founder of GoogleX, was also of major help as he led them to commit more deeply to innovation by adopting rapid prototyping as a way of work. This approach allows them to turn an idea into a prototype in two days, and then the prototype can become a minimum viable product (MVP) within 10 weeks. Later, Mike Parsons, former ad man and advisor for Fortune 500 companies, became the company’s Chief Innovation Officer and helped the company transition from software development to innovative thinking through design thinking, centred on user experience and serving the clients’ needs. Iacob thinks the company’s competitive advantage lies in the mix of services it offers, which is unlike that of any other company currently on the market. “What we do is work with our clients to build products. While it may seem that every tech company is doing this, in reality that’s not the case. We take on a strategic problem or opportunity on a certain market, transform a need into an idea and then turn that into a product. This is what innovation means,” he says.

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