Interview with Alexander Lanin of Zfort Group

For anyone looking for a company that provides excellent IT and web development services I can only recommend Zfort Group. Below you will find an interview with Alexander Lanin, who is responsible for a variety of projects such as the rebuilding of english-test.net

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Alex Lanin, Nataly and Torsten Daerr, Dmitry Chekalin (Zfort Group CEO), Serge Andreyev (Project manager for English-Team), and Roman Shekin (Zfort Group COO)

Alex Lanin, Nataly and Torsten Daerr, Dmitry Chekalin (Zfort Group CEO), Serge Andreyev (Project manager on English-Test.net), and Roman Shekin (Zfort Group COO)

English-Team:

Alexander, what is your position at Zfort?

Alex Lanin:

Currently I work as Marketing Director.

English-Team:

You graduated from Kharkov State University. What did you study?

Alex Lanin:

Arts primarily: English and French languages, literature, sociology, psychology, history, economics, etc.

English-Team:

Please tell us more about the name Zfort. What does it mean?

Alex Lanin:

Back in 2000 when the company was started, we did a lot of 3D design projects. In the coordinates system there are 3 dimensions: X, Y and Z. So we added the letter ‘Z’ that stands for the 3rd dimension to the word ‘Fort’ which represents the stability and strength of our firm. The word ‘Group’ means that we value each and every member of our team – we are a group, everyone is equal, there are no super-stars at the front and a maintenance-team in the back, and everyone is getting full credit for their contribution to the company’s success.

English-Team:

How did you get your job at Zfort? What do you like most about working wih Zfort?

Alex Lanin:

I’ve always loved the Internet and the Web, especially web-design. I did the first simple website when I was back in high-school. Then I worked as a free-lance web designer and project manager, had a couple of friends who did the programming, so we created several projects for the local market: I was looking for the customers, did the whole ‘marketing’ stuff, business-cards, our own website’s design, online promotion, and so on. Apart from the money I was making from the free-lance activity, it became clear what exactly I’d like to do after university. So right after the finals in mid-Summer I composed my CV and sent it to several IT companies in my hometown, Kharkov. It didn’t take too long until Zfort responded to my job application – Zfort had the position of the Design Manager whose task it was to distribute and supervise the design and front-end, and manage small and mid-size web projects which was perfect for me to start a career in a proper IT firm. Zfort had about 25-30 people when I joined it.

English-Team:

How many people work at your company currently?

Alex Lanin:

Little bit over 140.

English-Team:

What exactly does Zfort do?

Alex Lanin:

Zfort Group is an IT Outsourcing company providing full-cycle web development, consulting and outstaffing solutions. By web development I mean the whole range of projects that are related to the web: websites and web applications, mobile apps, desktop apps with a web-interface, flash games and animation, and so on.

English-Team:

Who are your clients and where are they from?

Alex Lanin:

Our clients are mostly web studios, marketing agencies, or startups from the UK, Western Europe and the US. We help them to assemble dedicated teams of specialists (offshore development/dedicated teams) who work full-time on our clients’ projects.

Let’s say you are a webdesign or consulting agency based in London and you have sales, marketing, account managers and business analytics in the office who deal with your clients personally on a day-to-day basis. Then you need someone to handle the projects’ design and development, and preferably someone should also manage that technical team. Zfort can hire suitable people and manage them, and moreover take care of all organizational questions related to the hiring process, accounting, taxes, giving new people workspace, ensuring quality-control, data security, etc. We can discuss hiring and assembling teams for almost any kind of IT-related task: from Data Mining to Artificial Intelligence development.

English-Team:

Zfort is located in Kharkov, the eastern part of Ukraine, near Russia. How do you find clients from the USA, the UK and western Europe?

Alex Lanin:

8-10 years ago the biggest source of new projects were freelance websites where companies like ours could bid on projects that were put there by foreign customers.

Today such websites are mostly occupied by individual freelancers and customers with smaller low cost projects.

To us the keystone of new businesses are recommendations. We care a lot about our customers and they are happy to recommend our services to their friends and partners. And of course we use all possible methods of traditional marketing and sales: visiting exhibitions, promoting our website www.zfort.com so potential clients come and contact us through it, putting up online ads, and so on. But again – the keystone is good relationships with our clients who recommend our services – and it’s one of the hardest ‘marketing methods’ (if you may call it that) because it’s not about doing our job at an ‘OK’ level – it’s about doing our job at the ‘Wow!’ level, at the ‘I-will-not-be-embarrassed-if-I-recommend-these-guys-to-my-friends’ level.

English-Team:

What languages does the Zfort staff speak?

Alex Lanin:

English is used for work mostly. For internal communication almost everyone speaks Russian, though many people know Ukrainian. Apart from that some people know French, German, Polish and a number of other languages – but I’m just now aware of that. I should ask our HR people to do a survey and send you an update later on.

English-Team:

What awards and certificates has Zfort earned?

Alex Lanin:

A lot of awards won by the projects we’ve worked on don’t belong to us directly – because we are an outsourcing company lots of awards can be seen on our clients’ websites. Some of the awards can be seen on our ‘About Us’ page http://www.zfort.com/about-us – it includes FWA, IW Best of the show, and some other famous ones. But we do have received several awards and certificates as Zfort Group as well: 1st place in the competition ‘Best Employer 2011′ held by nation-wide organization of Ukrainian developers made us the best IT company you can work at in our city. We also have certificates for our charity activity, got the prize as one of the friendliest IT companies towards bicycle riders (we got parking spaces for bikes and a shower). There are more, but I don’t want to brag too much :) .

English-Team:

What is the average age of the Zfort team?

Alex Lanin:

Most are 20-30 years old, some are 30-40, there are a few who are younger or older. 

English-Team:

Speaking of teams. You told me that Zfort even has their own football team. Do you play in any league?

Alex Lanin:

Correct, there is a city wide mini football championship ‘IT-League’ among other IT companies that has been going on for several years. We got the 1st place in it once, and let other companies to win several times so they can taste the champagne from the prize cup as well. One of our Delivery Directors – Denis Bratchuk – is our team’s captain, and our CEO, – Dmitry Chekalin – won several awards as the best forward player.

English-Team:

And what about the Zfort rock band? How did you start it?

Alex Lanin:

It started long ago, when I joined Zfort in 2007 it already existed. Since then new members came, old ones left. A couple of years ago we picked the name ‘ZZ-fort’ (by ZZ Top) for the band, and we even have our own logo. Now there are 6 regular members: drums (Vladimir Borei, Project manager), keys (me), base (Michael Adamenko, front-end developer), acoustic guitar (Konstantin Samorodov, back-end developer), lead guitar (Denis Bratchuk, delivery director), and lead vocals (Igor Kochergin, back-end developer). We play for fun (you can call it team building exercises) and sometimes at the famous Zfort’s parties. In our new office there is a whole room for us where we keep all instruments and rehearse.

English-Team:

Let’s talk about business again. As far as I know Zfort was founded in 2000 by one person. Now you have more than 140 staff. How have you been able to grow so fast?

Alex Lanin:

You can see the graph below: up until 2007-2008 the growth was stable, but you wouldn’t call it ‘fast’. Starting from 2008 we began to grow much faster. You know, that sometimes businesses don’t have a lack of contracts, but a lack of resources to work on them. This issue is very common in the IT world: new employees are being hunted by HRs maybe even harder than new customers by Sales. We also realized, that without certain organizational company wide changes, the potential of our business development was very limited. I remember declining very nice contacts because there were periods we couldn’t take any single project or hire anyone for 3-4 months. One result of those organizational changes was the launch of our HR Brand campaign. HR Brand is simply the reputation (or the “brand” in its full meaning) of the company as Employer on the local market. Companies with good HR brand attract new employees easier compared to companies without HR brand. HR-branding includes a lot of different components, internal changes in the company and external activities, all aimed at turning the company into the place where people want to work at. Our optimistic goal is to double in size in a couple of years.

zfort team growth

zfort team growth

Please also read How googley is Zfort Group?