Tomasz Michalik: Let’s begin at the very start. Why the IT industry? What sparked this journey?
Brian Stout: When I studied ICT back in the eighties, I became aware of how IT is in the centre of everything, connecting people, machines, ideas. Later in business it was clear to me that translating business processes with powerful IT-tools was the key to the success of the companies I was part of. I worked with many IT/software development companies, where some of them became to large to still have the agility we as customer needed. It certainly helped me developing a clear interest in becoming an investor and participant in PeopleMore.
T: You’re an exceptionally communicative person, which contrasts with the prevalent stereotype of introverted IT professionals. How does your outgoing personality align with the dynamics of the IT sector?
B: I’m not sure I agree with this stereotype of the IT-industry, certainly not its leadership. I have met many people in leadership of the IT-industry which I came to respect for their vision and leadership over the years. I hope to contribute to this part of the IT-sector by providing a clear vision and attracting people to work with PeopleMore on interesting and inspiring pan-European clients that buy into the vision of developing highly skilled teams delivering fantastic results in projects.
T: Were you always drawn to leadership, or is this a facet of your personality that you discovered along the way?
B: I don’t believe I was always drawn to leadership. I may have been the person that asked many questions or came up with ideas. My leaderships aspirations became something I discovered during my career with KPN I believe. That company gave me the opportunity to learn and make mistakes.
T: You’ve held top-level management positions at KPN, T-Mobile, and British Telecom. What was the greatest challenge you encountered during these experiences?
B: I don’t believe a single thing has stood out when I was at one of the companies I was with you mentioned. I rather believe it has been a series of learning experiences during the years. During my last years at KPN, I have had several serious challenges on IT-projects and especially finding the right people to lead and develop solutions we then faced. It is certainly examples like that, that have inspired me to help set up PeopleMore.
T: How does managing a small IT business differ from steering a large one?
B: In general the differences between managing smaller or larger companies is not so big. The stakes my be higher with larger companies, but then the diversity of topics within smaller companies is larger. Smaller teams tend to be more closely knit, more personal, better direct relationships with clients. I personally enjoy that a lot, hence my involvement with startups and scale-ups nowadays.
T: Would you say that there are certain challenges that are universally common? (particularly concerning having the right people?)
B: In todays labor market in Europe finding and keeping the right level of skilled people is an increasing challenge. Especially in western-Europe the labor shortages lead to difficult business decisions over many industries. It is simply not enough anymore to provide the right compensation package to people. Many soft attributes like opportunities, fun, inspiration, international environment play a key role in attracting skilled professionals. PeopleMore with its base in one of the key technical university centers of Poland and close to Ukrainian skilled labor is certainly well positioned to help provide some help European companies looking for these skills.
T: Is this why you decided to invest in People More?
B: When the PeopleMore team approached me with the idea behind it, it immediately triggered my interest. I have had very good experiences with the highly skilled IT-developers and near-shore mentality from Poland in the companies I worked with over the last 15 years. The prospect of being able to provide European companies with a choice of near-shoring their IT-projects or augmenting their teams for short term projects is exciting. The business mentality in Poland is very similar to Western Europe, while working mentality is one of working hard and being proud of the quality and creativity of work delivered. The talent available from technical universities in Poland and Ukraine is almost an anomaly in Europe and provides for a stable basis of providing resources in other EU-countries. PeopleMore as a team is not just providing jobs to people, but rather an inspiring environment, a fun place to work, stability and a place to grow. This all, in a nutshell, excited me to in invest in and support PeopleMore.
T: You’re an active investor in the Dutch startup scene. What advice could you offer to entrepreneurs building their startups? What are the three most crucial aspects they should focus on?
B: I advise many startups in the tech scene. I see a lot of brilliant ideas which are looking for the problem they need to solve. My main advise would be to start with the question, “what problem are you actually solving with your solution”. “Is there a market for this you could tap into”, is a second question. And thirdly, “where do you want to be in 3-5 years”. The latter providing clear focus to you as entrepreneur. Invite a critical advisor to help you look into the mirror sometimes. The rest is hard work and a little bit of luck.