By Andy Slawetsky, Industry Analysts – I have been in tears for the past six months or so, visiting print management companies around the world and recently had the pleasure of discovering What is happening’ in the Czech Republic with the technology company Y Soft. Being so proud of their country and culture that we started my visit with a walking tour of Brno, the city where their headquarters are located. Since I have never been to Brno or the Czech Republic, I couldn’t think of a better way to start.
Brno is a beautiful city of almost 375,000 inhabitants (according to my guide). There are also several universities in Brno and around 75,000 students, which makes it a rather ideal location for a tech company looking to recruit bright young minds. I felt like I was already learning more about Y Soft’s background and my visit hadn’t even officially started yet.
The next day started early at Y Soft HQ. Y Soft has several offices in Brno, including their head office, a manufacturing plant and an R&D site; I would visit them all day before heading to Prague the next morning to visit this place as well.
From the moment you drive to headquarters, you know this is a different kind of business. The Czech Republic is known for its art (especially street art) and Y Soft has taken full advantage of the blank canvas at its disposal, namely its building. Before even entering, I had to step back to take some pictures. It definitely caught my eye!
Click here to see all my photos and videos!
Upon entering I was greeted by OndÅej PospÃÅ¡il and Iveta PÃ¡ri from Y Soft and after putting away some gear we walked into the building. OndÅej left to take care of other business (I’ll see that later) and I was assigned to Jan BalÃ¡Å¡, Vice President of Sales for Europe for the duration of this brief tour.
It had all the typical departments you would expect to see in a successful software business like sales, marketing, and customer support, but there were a few surprises as well. Perhaps most important was the fact that Y Soft has its own VC unit, or something like that, known as Y Soft Ventures. This group is responsible for identifying small start-ups, often local, and financing them. I don’t know a lot of companies in our space with this kind of approach.
Being in a place where around 20% of the population are students, Y Soft felt that there were a lot of great ideas being developed around them and they are selectively investing in a lot of them. . What an incredible 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 clients the way they do, and then after some more coffee I suddenly found myself in the office of CEO and Chairman of the Board VÃ¡clav Muchna with him and the co-founder and CIO of Y Soft Martin de Martini for a nice conversation. Looking around it is clear that VÃ¡clav is an avid skier, with a working ski lift that sits in his window. Apparently the elevator was used as part of an automated test protocol at one point (pictured below in front of the window).
The beginnings of VÃ¡clav and Y Soft are a great story. If I remember correctly, he started the company in 2000 when he was still a student, writing code and working on various projects, some for a Kyocera reseller in the Czech Republic. None of these projects had anything to do with print.
At the same time, his parents found out he had started a business and decided that if he had the time to run a business he didn’t need to be a student, and they withdrew his college funding! It was time to sink or swim for VÃ¡clav. And he swam.
Around this time, his client Kyocera (before the Mita merger / acquisition) came back to him with a project asking if VÃ¡clav could help manage some devices. He studied it, hired a few friends like Martin and others, and Y Soft got underway. Like Martin, several people from the original gang are still with Y Soft today.
It seemed pretty amazing to me that he could have turned down this project, or failed at it, or sold the finished job to the dealer and neither of us would have been sitting in that room that day.
A decade or two later, Y Soft is now a leading print management company focused on Enterprise and Fortune 500 customers; approximately 40% of Fortune 500 customers currently use Y Soft’s SafeQ print management product. With around 11 offices in countries around the world, Y Soft today employs around 350, far from its humble beginnings. They are not only growing in terms of staff, their incomes are increasing by double digits every year. In fact, according to VÃ¡clav, Y soft has seen double-digit growth every year since 2003, except one.
After my visit and my discussion with VÃ¡clav, the Y Softers got together for my What is happening’ presentation, broadcasting my discussion to all their locations on the state of the A3 and A4 hardware industries. There is nothing I enjoy more than standing in front of a group of people who want to hear me talk about trends in office technology, what OEMs are doing, etc.
I finished my session, only lasting about 15 minutes, and we had a quick lunch before being taken to the Y Soft manufacturing facility. It’s true, Y Soft is also a manufacturer. I was familiar with the terminals that Y Soft used in some cases, but had assumed that they would just buy the components they needed to make their hardware. Wrong. Y Soft has invested heavily in building the ability to manufacture highly custom printed circuit boards for use in their hardware.
This saves them time, speeds up turnaround time for new developments, and allows them to manufacture exactly what they need, when they need it (reducing bloated and obsolete inventory) and even become a bit of a center of profit in some cases.
Do you remember those start-ups I mentioned above and that Y Soft funds? Well guess whatâ¦ some of them are making custom PCBs now and guess where they are doing it. You got itâ¦ at Y Soft. They fill the manufacturing capacity with projects resulting from their investments. Genius! I didn’t know Y soft had done all of this.
There were also a large number of 3D printers stacked in areas of this building (as well as others I visited). Y soft acquired an education 3D manufacturer a few years ago and its 3BEE 3D printers are a huge hit with education customers.
Schools buy them to help children from the age of 5 start learning to use 3D printing technology. 3D printers are perfect for this vertical and their SafeQ print management software manages these devices like they manage traditional printers. 3D apparently doesn’t have a lot of management software available, and the SafeQ product is ideal for 3D customers.
Then I headed to R&D where I saw some pretty cool stuff including a robotics demo. I had read many articles about Y Soft and their use of robotics in their testing and quality assurance processes, but had no idea that they weren’t just using robotics, they were developing theirs!
It is very difficult for Y Soft to attract good talent. Although they are located in an area with a large number of students, they compete with global giants such as Oracle and others who have moved to Brno due to their large number of technically competent students. .
To compete, Y Soft must stand out by offering students the opportunity to work on pet projects such as robotics, foosball tables, IoT projects, fun corporate events and more. While many students want to work for large global entities, others like to work in a smaller, fast-paced, fiercely Czech (local) tech company – the hometown hero.
Robotics amazed me. I was not sure what was tested; the MFP that the robot was used to evaluate or the robot itself. Maybe it was both.
Today, Y Softs robotics are manufactured in-house for their own internal use. Tomorrow, who knows. We can see Y Soft selling a number of technologies that they invest in, both from a student / internship perspective and from their Y Soft Ventures.
If that made me laugh when I walked into this R&D facility. If you weren’t wearing leather sandals, you were clearly a costume (like me) and didn’t belong in it. Everyone wore them! Indeed, we were kicked out of our conference space because the researchers needed to get down to table football (these tables were in each building). They were supposed to test the cameras on the foosball table.
What an amazing day I had with so many interesting and hospitable people!
The next morning I drove to Prague about a 3 hour drive to see their other office. At this point, I met Jan HrabovskÃ½ who showed me around the offices. Although they are much smaller than the Brno office in terms of the total number of people working there, Prague employs sales people, marketing, R&D and a variety of other functions. Being in a big city, Y Soft has an advantage to settle here tooâ¦ they are always looking for talent.
One of the things I found interesting was that there were banks of 3D printers set up in offices that anyone could use. Call it an advantage of working for a 3D printing company. If the printer is free and someone has an idea, they can use it. Don’t confuse free printers with the ones they test, like the ones seen below in Prague.
It was an amazing trip which provided great insight into Y Soft. Their Y Soft Venture program, the 3D education clients, and their manufacturing plant were all incredibly impressive and I didn’t know much, if anything, about them until this trip. Looking down the road, it looks like VÃ¡clav is considering a campus for his business, one with several buildings right next to each other, or perhaps a large facility that could house everyone in Brno under one roof.
I really appreciate the time Y Soft spent giving me an overview of 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 their business. This is an organization on the move and definitely deserves a close look, for print management and beyond.
SOURCE Industry Analysts Inc.
Y Soft BE3D Educational VIDEO printers