Meet the CxO – Marius PANĂ, CEO Spearhead
A nerd by definition, an american by philosophy, a Romanian by heart, Marius is a multicultural blend of ideas and values, partly because he lived in USA for half of his life. He sees opportunity where there is not, and has an relentless source of energy when it comes to successfully accomplishing an idea. He identifies himself with the concept of high-performance and lives by it. A gamer with a desire to change the face of the Romanian IT industry, he never actually passed over the line of being a soldier in the front lines. Even though he leads his own company, he still gets his ”hands dirty” every time he has the possibility, that’s how he created a feedback loop, a technology that made employees from Amazon and Google struck with awe.
Tell us a few words about how your company started.
In 2001 I came back to Romania from the United States and in 2004 I started my own IT company. My parents moved right after the fall of the communism and I spent my childhood in the USA. When I came back I had a sudden realization that IT services we’re not yet a professional service here. Back then the mentality was something like,” everyone has a neighbor that knows computers”. There wasn’t this proficiency that we like to brag about. So, I entered in this game because I realized my knowledge could mean something – infrastructure administration with more complex technologies that despite the fact that these technologies were being used, they didn’t have so much impact. So, in 2004 I started like many other IT firms – with a desire to do things as they should be, but with no straight direction.
Without any strategy but with a drive that made us feel we could accomplish everything, I managed to land some clients that could almost touch this energy. The biggest downside to this is that we did lots of things from a bunch of different fields and that soon became a difficult to manage. I soon came to the conclusion that it did not represent me anymore because over the years I started to develop as well, to become better on a certain type of technology, with more clearer concepts, methodologies and so on.
So we started fresh. In 2010 we took the decision, in 2011 we implemented the strategy. The company I had shut down, we made a screening over the clients and we reduced from 7-8 business lines to only 3 but very, very focused and we started to build. The concept was Spearhead, as the name of the actual company, and we wanted and we still do, to be on the front line with modern, advanced and open technologies.
- The most important thing is to be modern. Nowadays you have to be able to shift with ease from one technology to another, and the legacy ones do not allow you to have this mobility. At the same time, I’m extremely interested in how the methodology is applied and how it brings you the results you wanted.
- Advanced because the concepts are pretty complex. What is easy is already done by others. There is no place for us. We have to do the hard stuff.
- Last but not least, open source. Somewhere inside myself is a hippie that is very keen on things to be open source. I am very convinced about a single thing – in IT we managed to be where we are because of open source. How you see me right now and everything that is around you I managed to learn and do these things because some other fellows said “no, what I write, what I think, belongs to the community”. If they wouldn’t have been like that, I wouldn’t have been able to be here. So, I truly believe in this and I hope we can make some good with it.
What drives you each day?
The concept of high-performance. If you do a search on Google you will find a ton of materials on marketing, self-motivating, habits and what not. Some are very sad because you can see they are made only to make you feel better and to sell. I believe in another type of high performance that doesn’t have all this blabber – the one that I apply has ups and downs, it’s the real life as you feel it and how it actually is as a matter of fact. Its not like in the American movies where everything is going to be pretty in the end. There are days where you just watch the clock waiting to go home, and there are others when you do not know how to make the time stop. The whole concept of high performance means to know that life gives you lemons and honey and you must be prepared to manage everything, in one way or another but to always focus on getting things done.
This is especially something I learned while I was in the USA. While I lived there, we were fairly poor. All of us had to work hard to survive. That’s because their system is very well built –if you work, you are rewarded, if you work harder, you get bigger rewards, regardless if it means physical or intellectual work. I came back with this mind-set and this ambition to do things, to always get things done and we can feel it, as a company, that if we work hard results will come.
What do you believe are the 3 main accomplishments that brought you here today?
Probably, when we get older we remember more about our childhood and what formed us.
I remember my first job, as a newspaper delivery boy. At 5AM the pile of newspapers would come, I had to pack them up, put them in a bag and I started to deliver. I remember that I would get quite consistent tips. Let’s be straight – my salary was next to nothing, but there were some pensionaries that were very nice and they would tip me. I remember that each one of them had some special method of how they wanted their newspaper delivered. Thanks to this experience, I could figure out that if I take into consideration the personal needs of those to whom I deliver the newspapers I will have that human touch and appreciation of the client and this is a universal truth applicable even now with all the technology and a much higher scale of doing business.
Persistence – you must be persistent and always have to work hard. I always wanted a business that will explode and I would be a billionaire overnight. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen but who knows. What we are now doing is applying ideas we had in 2005-2006, we are only now able to put them into practice. I’m not a superstitious person, but it seems that everything happens at its time, there is an element of luck to this as well.
I have a huge thirst and I like to believe that the company has it as well, for technologies, methodologies and the concepts of high performance. We are a company that delivers services in IT – this means that if I don’t know the latest technologies, I can’t serve your needs. And if you don’t have a methodology that can be efficient, you can’t scale the business. And this became a huge passion. I’m always up to date with ideas, models, agile and non-agile ways, you name it. Im trying to be part of those conversations so I could find what can be more appropriate for our clients.
What do you believe are the 3 main failures that brought you here today?
As you can imagine, there are a lot. There are so many different failures from which you can learn. Some force you to learn faster, others you need to be repeated. I can’t put my finger on something specific. I know that I can learn better from a mistake than from a win, and when I have a failure I put myself under scrutiny – what went wrong, what not, why did it come to this etc. Thomas Edison said – “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”.
Do you ever disconnect from the office? How?
Like a real nerd – I’m playing. I am gamer; thus, I play on my PlayStation and some on PC. I also like to drive a lot. There are many times I jump in my car and start driving through Bucharest while listening to Bob Dylan. Traveling is also fun but only for short periods, I get home sick quite easily.
Do you have any books you wish you could forget just so you can read it again?
I wouldn’t say this, because I never want to forget. But I have books that I would like to read every time I am reminded of them. “The God Delusion” by Richard Dawkings, “The Phoenix Project” by Gene Kim, Henry Mintzberg about managing and last but not least “The Grand Design” by Steven Hawking and Leonard Mlodinaw.
I also read the user’s guide – systems manuals, apps and others.
Questions about the company you are running
Now tells us more about the business you are running. Let’s start with the number of clients you currently work on (name them if possible)
We are a IT services supplier. My number 1 product is my know-how and the methodology to implement it.
We love technology and we put it at the basis of our business activity. We are permanently updated with industry innovations and we consider IT as the essential tool for any modern company. Our main focus is to help organizations understand and use technology in order to raise efficiency and the quality of their activities.
We have 2 distinct lines of business:
- IT systems and applications monitoring. We are that company that gives you unprecedented visibility into your whole infrastructure. You want to know what happens with your server, with a certain app, some metrics inside an app, name it. We take all the data, chew it, prepare it, and present it in a single pane so the client can see from one dashboard the whole infrastructure’s status. If you know how to read it and you pay attention, you can see where there will be problems, where you have problems now and so on.
- The Cloud. We cover many big projects regarding public and private clouds and we have a fairly advanced understanding of these hyperscale type of solutions. We have to either draw an architecture, or to offer consultancy on projects. With them we work especially for building private clouds. We work with Joyent, Microsoft, Google to name a few, but with the last Joyent we have constant projects. In this area of cloud, you need maximum agility because there aren’t 2 identical clouds. We automate and we have a work metholody with tools from the open source community. Through automation we can save time which is by far one of the most important things nowadays. I can install an application in 5 minutes versus others that do it in 3 hours. Our biggest accomplishment in 2017 is building our own cloud that we are launching in the first quarter of 2018 which delivers high performance and a simplified experience. We want to get out of your way and let you run your business, not become an expert in cloud technologies.
All of our services are tightly coupled with our professional services.
We have somewhere around 60 permanent clients. Many of our projects are based on a subscription model. The number fluctuates from one month to another, but one thing is clear – their number is growing. The total number of clients for which we delivered projects is somewhere around 1,000, since 2011, from all around the globe and now with our public cloud taking shape, we are growing a bit more quickly.
Name a few of the biggest clients you work for (if possible)
Heineken Romania, Orange Romania, Orkla Foods, Ericsson to name a few. Depends on what you see as big.
What is your most beloved project you worked on?
There are plenty, but one took us over the seas. In 2015 I decided to show the world a small part of our methodology and we created something that we in the industry call a feedback loop. Inside the loop, each component output becomes the entry for the next component and so on. It is a methodology we created for our monitoring software and some automation tools we use. We basically built self-installing, self-configuring and self-healing architectures, that can heal, repair and scale themselves according to some specific needs and it was very well received by the international community. Some employees from Amazon and some architects from Google wrote to us and told us they are quite impressed. And this touched a nerve that made us realize we need to invest more time. Since then we are working to make it better. There are plenty of people that still write to me after all these years because they find me on social media or read some article about what we built, but there are very few people that actually manage to implement it and especially to keep it alive. We only have three clients in Romania that use this particular concept.
What project forced you to be creative and innovative (if possible)
Each and every one. Most of the clients come to us because they have no other solution on the market or the solutions are vendor lock-in and expensive. And when something comes to me it is because it needs a powerful dose of creativity and innovation – and has something extra – it had to be done yesterday.
What was the biggest struggle?
There is not one but many. I can’t put my finger on something and say – this is it. As a personal philosophy, for me to be high performant, I need to be able to move past things quickly. If I stay and dwell on a failure I enter a very damaging and negative loop. But instead, I do an analysis, see where it went wrong and afterwards I say ‘’okay, move on’’. Now my struggle is because we try to be unique on something very specific and is very hard because you ask yourself – if your idea was so good, why didn’t the others do it? While you implement it, you overthink and second guess your every step.
What I can say is the biggest struggle is that I try to convince my clients of our value, because I never liked the idea to regurgitate another company’s solution without adding something of our own.
What makes your company different from others in your field of expertise
We have advanced knowledge, experience and methodologies built around IT service delivery. We are specialized in certain key technologies and this helps us be real allies to those who utilize IT as a tool. At the same time we are almost entirely dedicated to open technologies by design and this opens many opportunities for us.
We are also well positioned in regards to modern technologies and methodologies for service delivery. The cloud is one such area where our IT automation skills, tools and methodologies have proven extremely useful to a large portion of our clients and partners.
What advice do you have for a young entrepreneur?
Be patient and dedicated. Be prepared to lose some sleep.
What do you want to accomplish this year?
We are considering expanding to Eastern Europe and Africa with our IT monitoring solution. And there it is a different approach in almost everything, thus we need a lot of strength.
What would you like to achieve in the next 5 years?
We are launching a public cloud. We will present it in detail during this year, but is quite a unique thing in Romania. In our country we don’t have something that is as easy to use like in other countries. We hope that in the next 5 years this will be our core business. We want to become one of the main supplier for cloud services in Romania.
Why did you join Smart Alliance – Innovation Technology Cluster?
When I understood the vision Gabi (Gabriel Munteanu, president of Smart Alliance -Innovation Technology Cluster) and what he wants to accomplish through this cluster, especially because we cannot compare ourselves with the giants, I felt that it can come naturally. If we can bring companies that can add value. That ‘’if’’ is very important. There are a lots of companies in Romania that do the same thing. You can change the provider anytime and you really won’t feel the difference. I pointed out that we need to bring in companies that bring a change, not do what 50 other companies can do, that have unique methodologies for their service delivery and are generally modern and great at what they indifferent of their size. I believe we need to bring in companies that can create synergies within the existing ranks and minimalize the cannibalization.
How does it benefit you?
For the moment I can’t really say, it may be too early. In the idea of networking and how we can meet for business opportunities it is OK and we still have room to grow. Long term however we need to champion someHow do you see your company as being part of the cluster?
I have some ideas for Smart Alliance Academy. Specifically we can build a platform to empower the next generation of systems engineers that are so sorely needed at the moment.