I recently sat down with Marko Kovac, co-founder and CEO of Repsly Inc., to discuss the company’s unique operational structure. Repsly is a B2B SaaS company in the mobile workforce management space. Presently, it is headquartered in Boston, MA and maintains a software development team in Zagreb, Croatia. My conversation with Marko shed some light on the decision to split the company’s operations between two continents, as well as the challenges and benefits associated with doing so.
The Birth of Repsly
Repsly was born out of a need for a service combined with an opportunity for expansion. Kovac owned a custom software agency in Croatia prior to establishing Repsly, formerly known as Salespod. He was approached by L’oreal Cosmetics in 2008 with a request for a solution that could keep track of its outsourced distribution. Kovac and co-founder Marko Linke recognized that there was a huge potential market with similar needs to L’oreal. Armed with this knowledge, they spent time developing a multi-purpose, adaptable product which today is known as Repsly.
Word spread like wildfire about the new company in Europe, as several other cosmetics companies adopted the software soon after its introduction. After acquiring customers in the cosmetics and haircare domain, Kovac and Linke moved on to cracking the beverage industry. Kovac attributes some of this early success to the time period when the company launched, which he describes as “the dawn of cloud solutions for business and SaaS [software-as-a-service], when mobile devices were becoming ubiquitous.” After entering a ‘bootstrapping’ phase from 2008 to 2013, Kovac and Linke decided that they wanted to start selling their product internationally. In order for this dream to become a reality, they knew that they would need an investment. Unfortunately, fiscal resources in Europe for startups were scarce, leading the duo to look across the Atlantic for capital.
One Company, Two Countries
In addition to having access to funding, Kovac and Linke had their sights set on the United States because of the size of potential markets. “In central and eastern Europe”, Kovac explains, “customers still wanted to buy software using the old school method of sit-down meetings.” In the United States, however, customers were looking for software solutions that they could purchase and implement immediately, which made it a very attractive choice for Repsly’s co-founders.
Somewhere during the process of searching for investors, Kovac was introduced to Mat Brogie (COO, Repsly), who at the time was a consultant with experience in the mobility space. The two “clicked both personally and professionally”, Kovac recalls. Not long after, the two began pitching to several groups of investors, and ultimately secured a deal.
After its first round of funding in May 2014, Salespod changed its name to Repsly. At this time, Kovac made the decision to headquarter the company in Boston, where there would be a sales and marketing team, and to leave the research and development team intact in Croatia. When I asked him what prompted this decision, he indicated several reasons. “In central Europe, we have a pretty decent pool of talent coming right out of school who know how to program and architect solutions.” In regards to selling and marketing a SaaS product, Kovac says that he was learning the most about these areas stateside. “Once we were here, the pace at which we were able to learn increased significantly simply because we were in touch with experienced professionals.” Another reason for choosing Boston? “The startup scene is wonderful”, Kovac remarked. “We have access to a lot of resources that are actually teaching us how to scale the company.” Such resources include seminars for entrepreneurs led by industry experts, networking events, conferences, coworking spaces, among others.
Roadblocks and Rewards
In Kovac’s words, “the objective of the Croatian team is to build the product...it needs to be the best in the world in its domain. Our goal here [in the U.S.] is to sell that product.” Initially, Kovac was the only bridge between the two teams. More recently, the company has been able to “connect the dots” between the two countries in other ways. “Marketing needs to be in touch with product development in order to drive priorities and then determine how we communicate new features to the end-user.” He adds, “when the product is being built, our customer success team members in Boston are in daily touch with support people from Croatia.” In this way, the team members in Boston provide first-line support, whereas the Croatian team provides second-line support. He goes on to say, “Beyond daily online communication, it’s important for us to see each other’s faces in person.” As it stands now, every few months engineers from Croatia come to Boston to work alongside the sales and marketing team. Kovac hopes to have members of the Boston team visit Croatia in the future.
Kovac noted communication as his biggest challenge of managing a company with teams divided amongst two countries. “A big part of our daily communication is not planned or conscious, and a lot of information exchange happens at the coffee table or somewhere very informal. Sometimes we are not aware of how much information we don’t communicate through formal channels.” Communication between the two teams occurs regularly through meetings, messaging platforms, hangouts, etc., yet Kovac stresses the need for the American team to be vocal about its informal exchanges that happen on the day-to-day with its Croatian counterparts. Another communication problem takes place when deadlines and delivery dates are imposed upon the Croatian team by leaders in the U.S. Kovac fears that putting too much pressure on either of the two teams can create an “us vs. them” situation, which should be avoided at all costs since both teams ultimately have the same end goal. Another minor communication issue is the need to schedule meetings and shifts appropriately despite being located in two time zones.
Aside from these challenges, having a dual-continental presence gives Repsly some strategic advantages. Repsly currently has customers in 43 countries;Some customers are using Repsly to support operations that span across 10 countries or more. According to Kovac, “simply being in two continents and working with resellers in additional continents, we are learning about business culture differences in different countries, as well as buying habits of respective customers, which helps us to build a product with international importance.” Being a global enterprise positions Repsly to grow much more rapidly by addressing the needs of customers around the world.
Looking Towards the Future
Although Repsly has experienced great success thus far, Kovac is excited about the untapped potential market that could utilize its product. “We are trying to be the best tool in our domain globally.” Kovac points out that there are many companies in need of a mobile workforce management solution, and Repsly provides a simple, adaptable solution that can support the field work of various industries. Repsly’s key differentiating factor is that its software is extremely easy to use and can be implemented in minutes. Kovac hopes to continue moving in this direction by supporting business that have also adopted this lean, agile approach to their processes. A great tool for small and mid-sized businesses, Kovac also sees an opportunity to attract large clients as well, and has already achieved some success at adding big industry players to Repsly’s clientele.
Victoria is a Marketing Associate at Repsly, where she leads the company's P.R. and social media efforts. You can also catch her prepping for slew of exciting industry events. A New England native, Victoria has spent time living in Italy and traveling throughout Europe before settling back in Boston. When she's not planning her next trip, V is probably tasting wine or brushing up on her Italian.