The story of HEITS.digital: A tech start-up with a team of 70 engineers and an attrition rate under 5%

Mihai-Alexandru Cristea 21/03/2022 | 10:00

They just didn’t identify themselves with the corporate culture, so they decided to embark on a new journey. Three entrepreneurs from Cluj created HEITS digital, a tech start-up that managed, in little over a year, to attract a team of 70 engineers with a passion for the tech field, who are now working on software development and Machine Learning projects for clients in the USA.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a wave of resignations worldwide. In Romania, more and more employees are starting to feel a lack of motivation and suffer from burnout symptoms. Thus, they’re on the lookout for companies with a healthier culture that can offer them a better balance between work and time off.

This is exactly what determined Sorin Buiga, Andrei Dumitrescu and Marius Baghiu to leave the company they worked for. In 2019 they created HEITS.digital, a tech consultancy start-up that specializes in AI & Machine Learning projects. To find out more about their story, we sat down with the three co-founders for a new BR Exclusive Interview.

 

Business Review: How was this idea born and how were you planning to make a difference in a very crowded market?

Sorin Buiga: We’ve had this idea way earlier, while all three of us were working in one of the biggest outsourcing companies in Cluj at that time. It all started from an internal need of allocating more seniors on certain high-end projects. My proposal, at that time, was to create an internal excellency center that would gather the best talent for the most advanced projects. The context was not appropriate at that time, because, short after, the company entered an acquisition process. But the idea stayed with us and it was specifically that acquisition process that convinced us once more that we don’t identify ourselves with the accelerated growth rhythm specific to corporations.

Marius Baghiu: We were starting to feel that what we were doing was no longer what we liked and what we were best at. We were distancing ourselves from the team, there were new management layers appearing. The way things were going just didn’t feel right to us anymore.

Andrei Dumitrescu: We immediately started talking about the possibility of doing something together. We thought we cannot be the only ones that were feeling the need to work and live differently. Soon after, I made the decision to leave the company.

SB: This is how the idea began to take shape for each of us. We started thinking about creating a workplace that has the best of both worlds: that start-up feeling and high-end projects. It all came a few months later, while we were on a skiing vacation with our families.

 

BR: This is how your story began in 2019, when you’ve created HEITS knowing you wanted to create a totally different workplace culture and work with top tech clients. But how did the months that followed looked like? Were there a lot of brainstorming sessions, how much did you study the market or the technologies, and did you start discussing with potential clients straight away?

SB: Short after, Marius and I left for the USA. We wanted to get to know the market, the clients and figure out what it is that we wanted to do. We’ve had meetings with several technology-driven companies and investment funds. Most of them were talking about Machine Learning – whether they were managing high volumes of data that they wanted to capitalize on, or they wanted to differentiate themselves on the market. We were starting to feel like Machine

Learning was no longer a buzzword, but a set of advanced democratized technologies. So immediately after returning home we decided to invest to become a consulting tech start-up focused on high-end product engineering and AI solutions. Our biggest hurdle was the fact that, at that time, we didn’t know much about the life cycle of a Machine Learning product and the way it can be managed remotely. We were feeling a certain reluctance from some of the clients to outsource their data, often considered a vital piece of intellectual property.

So we gathered some local Machine Learning specialists that helped us outline the strategy and understand the execution of these projects.

We really started from the bottom up, from the math behind the ML algorithms – matrices and derivatives – to the message, positioning and the first version of our website.

 

BR: How did you manage to attract projects and talent?

SB: We didn’t think for one second that we would not be able to attract the engineers we needed. We already knew that engineers who were really passionate about their work will always choose to work with technology companies specializing in niche and current technologies. The real challenge for us was to find those customers that would fit our profile, namely: technology company – late stage startup – whose product is already established in the market. It was harder in the beginning because we were a small team, lacking an existing portfolio of clients, trying to get into the “heart” of some very large companies. We quickly realized that it will be quite difficult to sign a Machine Learning project up-front. Around that time we started our first collaborations, with Taycor and Ecrée, on product development.

After almost two years, although most of our products are product development ones, we have also managed to implement Machine Learning projects with some of our clients. The key here was the fact that we know, right from the beginning, who we want to work with and how we want to do things, so we chose to work only with those clients with whom we share the same vision.

MB: We soon realized that we need to grow our team, so we started to have discussions with more and more specialists, very passionate and technology-driven people who were somehow finding themselves in the same context as we’ve been. We explained to them how we want to do things here at HEITS and they took the challenge to join our team. That’s how we managed to reach a team of 70 engineers in just a little over a year.

 

BR: What were the challenges you faced along the way and how did you grow from a handful of people and two projects to a team of 70 engineers and 6 projects by the end of 2021?

AD: One of our biggest challenges was choosing the right collaborations, so that we could keep our promise to our colleagues, but also to be able to build what we set out to do with HEITS. We were put in situations where we realized that we were not on the same wavelength as a future client, so we simply left the room. Which was a big challenge, in the short term, but also a sign that we were heading in the right direction, in the long term. HEITS is not for everyone – whether we are talking about new clients or colleagues.

SB: 2021 was a good year for us. We’ve exceeded estimates, both financially and in terms of the number of projects, but only because of the team we managed to gather here. The pandemic allowed us to expand our recruitment horizons, so that, along the way, we were joined by colleagues from Iași, Baia Mare, Brașov, Târgu-Mureș, Jibou, Bistrița, Alba-Iulia and the USA.

 

BR: In pandemic times, mass resignations and companies looking for new ways to strengthen their organizational culture, how did you manage to keep people on the team?

MB: I would say that we have turned this concept of “organizational culture” into a few common sense principles: people need to be paid fairly, work on very good equipment and find here the motivation and support to grow – both professionally as well as personally.

In addition, we place great emphasis on the balance between what we do at HEITS and our personal lives. We respect and support the passions of the team – some of them have even become annual HEITS projects. Regarding the passions related to technology, we have developed a series of internal initiatives – some of which will be launched publicly this year. And then, in general, every day, we try not to forget that the magic of the team lies in those moments when we drink coffee on the balcony or gather in an online meeting just to discuss what everyone else is doing. That keeps us together, even if we don’t see each other at the office every day.

The things that have helped us to develop as a team are what define each of us: Professional and personal ethics. The personal satisfaction that a job well done gives you. We are all free-thinking people who, in one way or another, have decided to run away from a system that was eroding us and try to do things differently. We don’t like it to be easy (laughs).

 

BR: What are your plans and objectives for 2022?

MB: We want to provide the team with the necessary tools and equipment through which to express themselves. There are people in our team who have a lot of relevant things to say, we all have work to do to (self) educate ourselves to express ourselves as openly as possible, to make mistakes, to learn from them, to evolve.

SB: We have started this year with four main objectives: Keeping the unbelievable attrition rate we have had so far, growing our customer portfolio by 30% and creating Machine Learning working streams within each company we are working with. We also want to spawn up internal Machine Learning trainings – our mission is to create this Machine Learning community, not only with scientists, but also with people working in data engineering or ML ops.

AD: And, of course, we want more people who are passionate about technology to join our team and find themselves in our vision.

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Mihai-Alexandru Cristea | 29/11/2022 | 10:17

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