Gurtam turned 15. From a small family business the company transformed into an international developer of GPS monitoring solutions. 130 countries where partners live and work, 180 employees, 5 offices and more than a million of vehicles all over the world controlled in real time by Belarusian software. Aliaksei Shchurko, one of Gurtam founders, recalls that no one was planning to go this far when it all began. For the record, Aliaksei was only 21 then.
– What were you like 15 years ago?
– I was 21 and I was like everybody else. Nothing has changed in fact because now I am also just like everybody else. Well, at that time I was younger and spent evenings playing Counter-Strike. I lived happily, was totally content with my life and didn’t dream about anything big. I was a BSUIR student then, not a very active one though, an idler so to say. But I started working pretty early and registered as a sole proprietor while studying in the third year of the university. I was also one of those few people who were driving to the classes. My car was Zhiguli. I was one of the first in my university group to get a mobile phone being a huge device. But it was probably due to my early career start. Yes, I am a workaholic. If a project is interesting I willingly work on it. If it is the other way around, it is very difficult to find the right motivation. Now I have irregular working hours: I can open my notebook at 11 pm, work all weekend or leave for a couple of days. For me, my work is inseparable from life as a whole. It is difficult to talk about it as something distinct.
– And what about the fleet management sphere? What was it like then?
– It was totally different. We can compare it to automakers till the arrival of the Chinese. Several brands were working slowly and clumsily, and then the Chinese came and offered a similar product but 2-3 times cheaper. The same was happening in our sector. There were 3-4 players working steadily but then we came and started making progress. We were one of those who changed the market. Now it’s at the other development stage but Gurtam keeps influencing it.
The first Telematics conference, Minsk, 2010
– So, what did Gurtam change on the market?
– First of all, we changed the price. We offered the solution nearly 10 times cheaper. When Wialon entered the market, a single vehicle tracking cost 200 euros. We offered 20. Secondly, Gurtam enabled its partners to make the profit and build businesses. Each Gurtam partner kept 80-90% of its income, not 10% as before. Thanks to this fact they were quickly developing. Gurtam was growing and developing together with them. Thirdly, we eliminated the correlation between brand and equipment. Before we came along, software and equipment worked as one. We offered partners to use Wialon for various projects with various equipment.
The list of innovations can be continued. We started renting out of equipment that also influenced the speed of our partners’ business development – upfront investments reduced and, thus, guys could devote themselves to the development of their companies. One more important step is that we were the first to come up with a web solution. No one used these technologies in that sphere before. On top of all, our competitors were highly displeased with what we did, but the market began to dictate its terms in some time. Web solutions turned out to be useful to every client, but we were the first to offer them.
CeBit, Hannover, 2010
– Gurtam is also renowned for its attitude towards partners. What is so peculiar about it?
– We created the community. Our company was the first and still remains one of those few companies who are not afraid to build partner relationships with their clients. Our annual Telematics conferences have become a famous platform for communication within the sphere. Hundreds of people come to Belarus from all over the world. I know that some companies try not to let clients meet each other, but our clients are our partners, and we treat them respectively.
– Gurtam works on different markets with different people. What are these differences?
– It is interesting to work with different people, and their diversity is obvious actually. What is the main purpose of fleet tracking in our countries? In ex-USSR countries and regions with a similar mentality like Africa, the Middle East, Latin America everybody tries to control drivers and reduce costs. As for developed markets of the US and Europe, they try to use their fleets in the most efficient way and gain as much profit as possible there. A simple real-life example: in our country, you can’t get on the subway without a ticket, in Germany they don’t check if you have a ticket at the entry, but everybody knows that they must have it since they can check it at any moment even though it happens not really often. As a result, people pay here and there but the approach itself is totally different. Belarus has always been somewhere in between but now we are moving towards the West.
Mount Kilimanjaro, 2014
– What are you proud of? What has Gurtam done for 15 years?
– We have implemented innovations and it is a matter of crucial importance. If you copy something, you will always lag behind. I never paid attention to the competitors, it is distracting. I will repeat myself and say that we were the first in our sector who developed a web solution and moved from client-server architecture to web direction. We were the first to rent out the software. Nowadays, the world has just started using such technologies as SaaS and PaaS.
We did everything and still do it all by ourselves. For example, Belarus map. There was no Google Maps at that time. We set up Gurtam maps project which in fact became the first web map of our country. In a couple of years, someone from Google called me and offered to buy our solution. I said that I didn’t trade my country and sent them to Belgeodesy.
People stand behind any innovation, they are the core value. Here we choose our own way also. Now they talk about such a trend as fresh blood for companies. Probably, they are right, but what I thought of while looking through the pictures of 2008 is that 8 people out of 10 are still working in our company. They joined us just after finishing the university when Gurtam hadn’t achieved much yet, so we were growing together.
I believe, our company is cool. It is interesting to work here and working conditions are good. There is little bureaucracy here and the products provide actual benefit. We have more than 1,000 partners. Each of them has from 10 to 100 of their own clients being both small businesses with no more than 10 vehicles and even major enterprises. There are a lot of big-name brands among our end-users – Coca-Cola, Lukoil, Mobil 1. The quantity of our partners all around the globe is constantly growing and it is great, it motivates to work even harder.
Miami exhibition, 2013
– What else motivates you in your work?
– Money doesn’t motivate. When I was making not that much money, it was still enough for me. When I started making more, it was also not bad. What motivates me is the fact that other people use the results of my work, and that I make the world change to some extent. 15 years ago I was not going to change the world though.
– Any company is the reflection of its leader. Aliaksei, what your traits do you see in Gurtam employees?
– Various traits, good and bad. It is like with kids – you look and understand that here is your problem, it is so obvious! So, I look at the employees and recognize myself in them. What else would I like to see in them? I’d like them to be multifunctional, they should be informed and should understand the range of issues that are to be solved. I don’t want them to work on the principle “this is my area of responsibility, the rest is not my business”. We need multifunctionality, the rest will follow.
We all have one more common trait – willingness to constant changes. We got used to quick changes, we work according to this principle. What are the disadvantages of big companies? They build business processes, make long-term plans, and if something goes wrong it is not that easy to change the working process. We strive to preserve a start-up spirit.
– Can you imagine the company in another 15 years? What will it be like?
– It is difficult for me to predict what will happen in 15 years. I got used to short-term two-year planning, and these plans come true very often. For example, I planned to get first flespi clients by the end of this year because this market is in its infancy, and we got the first contract. What I know for sure is that we develop the tools that represent the future. We are already changing this world and are not going to stop.
– What are your wishes to the employees?
– There is always a clear and simple way but there is also the way that leads to adventures. Gurtam differs from others because we choose adventures. I wish everyone to be happy and to do what they really enjoy.