One brand (Roweb), 5 stories with and about IT. The evolution of Roweb seen from 5 different perspectives (but not without complementarity).
Gabi Rosu, Managing Partner at Roweb, shares his journey: his entry into the team, the initiation of the first projects, a glimpse into the online landscape two decades ago, the backstage complexity of one of Roweb’s enduring projects (Tourpaq), and his transformative shift from software development to software architecture, business development, training, and technical consulting.
For you, how did the Roweb story begin?
In high school, Viorel was my computer science teacher. After I graduated, we met by chance during the summer vacation. Among other things, he told me that he had started working on a software project. He invited me to join this project. Since it was about software programming, the field that remained my focus, it was very tempting, even if the timing wasn’t so great (at that moment, I had just started my first year at Faculty).
This happened in 2000 when the Internet become a buzzword for the entire world. Many technologies used then were at their “early ages”, just like us. Though there were many things we had to discover and learn, sometimes on the go, we managed to independently create our first online platform (ITTradeOnline) that worked for many years and was, in the beginning, a source of income. As you can notice, we still refer to it as our point of reference today.
How different is the first project you worked on compared to the ones you are developing today with the team?
I joined the Roweb team when there were only 3 people: Razvan, Viorel and Cristi. That’s how I started working at ITTradeOnline – an online trading platform for IT equipment. This was the project where I learned, as I said above, what this online era of the Internet means.
The tools used then, classic ASP, HTML and CSS, were the ancestors of those that are still used now. Things are so different now when any application is online (including applications established as desktop, such as Microsoft Office applications).
The projects we are currently developing for clients have almost nothing in common with those back then. The technologies used now are built specifically for the cloud, scalability and speed. Their goal is to make this digitization process easier and the result more user-friendly. Today, digital transformation is the subject that owners are primarily interested in because it helps them not only to differentiate themselves in the market but, above all, to adapt to changes quickly.
Let’s place a pin-point on the map of Roweb’s evolution. When (do you consider) was the moment the company really became visible in the market?
In 2006-2008, I remember a growth boom for us. Practically, a few years later, we created the Roweb company. We switched to .NET technologies and started working with larger clients.
An example of a client I worked with: First American (developing banking systems based on payment processing). Then, I learned a lot about large databases, applications with millions of transactions and modern software architectures – for example, web services. Practically, we had the opportunity to work with people from outside the company, thus seeing how they approach things. I would say this was a turning point for me as well, from a technical perspective.
Developing projects on-site (at the client) is also a practice in Roweb. Have you worked on any project that involved this approach?
Yes, at Whise (an ongoing project started in 2006). We had been working with them for about a year then, and at some point, they needed a developer from the team to come and work with them directly from their office in Brussels, Belgium. For me, it was a beautiful experience. I was able to stay in another country for almost 2 months, meet face to face the people from the client’s team and work with them. And visiting Brussels during my spare time was also a great bonus.
From programmer to project manager at Tourpaq – the client from the Roweb portfolio you have worked with since 2008-2009. In what context did you make this transition?
The previous projects I worked for prepared me for a more complex one, also doing project management for some of them. I managed these projects 2 years before starting the development of Tourpaq. But that was a part-time activity. So I was doing both roles: programmer and project manager. So, before Tourpaq, I had yet to take on any larger project from scratch to develop fully.
Therefore, the Tourpaq project appeared at the right time. After a few weeks in Denmark, working in the client’s office, he decided to develop the platform with us and use the platform for the tour operator company he had just founded.
I was practically a project manager, software architect, and business consultant simultaneously for several years, sometimes also a programmer, tester… I put a lot of effort into this project because it was a great challenge and also a great opportunity. And now Tourpaq relies on a successful software product (the company is the 3rd in Denmark, and another one, acquired in the meantime, is 1st in Scandinavia).
The Tourpaq project relied on a complex and accelerated development. As a result, we reached 15 developers in the project team in 2020. With more roles in our team, we adopted new Agile approaches and many elements of modern programming.
The development of business applications is a field in which the evolution is quite dynamic, so the learning stage never ends. What challenges do you meet in projects from this point of view, and what helped you face them?
As expected, at the beginning of the project, we needed to have all the data from a technical point of view to develop the solution. Even if I had developed applications before, here was a new approach that included learning on the go. The Tourpaq frame was indeed a start from scratch from many points of view.
Simultaneously with developing the Tourpaq project, the teams at WHISE and nGage started to grow. And that was a great plus for us. Through cross-teams, we learned what works and doesn’t, how to organize ourselves better, etc. On this occasion, a more precise division into roles (PM, Dev, QA, support, etc.) also began.
What does it mean to assign a dedicated team to a client?
A series of challenges came, in particular, from the client’s needs. The owner, practically, had no technical team. In the past, he had a tourism agency in the ski area. Over time, he decided to break away from his business partner and start something independently, with a new focus: summer vacations.
He needed one customized software system for his needs to develop things much faster and control the process much more quickly. However, from previous experience, he knew that investing in a fully custom solution is necessary to avoid becoming much more complex, and they will have limited control over the process and results.
We developed much closer to what he needed because we developed specific functionalities depending on what appeared at certain moments.
By 2010, although the online boom had begun and people started to access the Internet, there needed to be more interest in digitization. E-commerce was at the top of the domains that were gaining more and more ground, but things were still in their infancy.
Reservation and sales systems were very poorly represented online then, almost non-existent. So, it involved some effort to take a step toward digitalization (to give you an example, it was quite a challenge to put the offers on the website. Their system needed to be designed that way).
The owner of Tourpaq saw an opportunity here (online sales are an essential business component – about 20-25%). Beyond the sales area, which had excellent growth potential, he realized that much effort and resources would be saved for both the end customer and the travel agencies. With everything available online, people select offers based on filters, fast booking, simple and fast payment, etc. Very rarely do online customers end up calling the office.
The system allows intelligent and custom automation that integrates notifications for both the customer and the hotels and airlines.
What determines a client’s stay with us in ongoing/long-term collaboration? What differentiates us?
First of all, trust.
When developing a product, people want to know that the provider is reliable and can solve the problems that may arise. So, trust from both a moral and a technical point of view.
Then secondly, the fact that we do not limit ourselves to punctually delivering some technical things. Instead, we look at the business as a whole and see how things can evolve in the medium and long term.
The client needs to see that you realize how important the product is for him. The client’s business is often based on the software product we developed, so he needs to see that you care clearly. This implies a very good system security and reliability. In addition, we had to consider that many users access the platform simultaneously.
We need to develop a more technical approach to the project. From the perspective of business maturity and expertise, we can think of a platform from at least 3 perspectives: as a business, as software architecture, and, last but not least, as a development process so that the implementation of back-end functionalities and systems happens at the right time.
Career programs, new generations of developers, mentorship for students…
For over 10 years, I coordinated internship programs for .Net. A pleasant activity, having the opportunity to offer support to young people on their path to development as professionals in a field that offers many opportunities.
Business management, project management, team management, product owner. Which of these roles did you find the most difficult?
For me, it was a challenge, as a whole, everything related to Tourpaq because I got involved at all levels, seeing every stage as part of the product development team.
A significant challenge was team management. Here, it is a challenge that will persist because the dynamics of the IT employment market are very high. A software product needs a real team to succeed, not just people who do their job. And the team must rely on communication, cohesion and a vision concerning what they want to do.
The pandemic reflected its impact on our projects, on Tourpaq in particular, by reducing the requests from the client regarding new developments. However, things somehow balanced out because there were also a few departures from the team.
From the business management and business development perspective, I focused more on managing the technical area and dev teams. In top management, we divided the roles naturally – everyone went in a direction that suited them better.
I know you have a motorcycle. Let’s draw a parallel between the role of a project manager and riding a motorcycle. What was/is more difficult?
The motorcycle came because, in my 20s, I had dreamed about it for some time. And that’s because, being very young, I didn’t have money for it, but I didn’t see buying it as a priority either.
I got the driver’s license for my motorcycle recently – somewhere at the beginning of October 2021.
Returning to the parallel:
On the motorcycle, I am alone. me and the road ahead. I’m in control of choosing a path I know by heart or a new one. But this decision is only up to me, and I’m entirely responsible.
Things change in a project or company, and the path is unpredictable. Many things and more people are involved. Programmers, testers, sales, technical, sales, etc.
I think the difference between “wish” and passion comes into play. It’s harder in business, but being something I’m passionate about was also great. It’s something that came naturally to me. On the motorcycle, it’s more about having fun once in a while…