In this series, we talk innovation and tech with our CEO Simon De Baene. Get under the hood to find out what’s really going on. Let’s chat!
In 2017, we decided to put an end to our services division entirely, and become a 100% product-centered company. That same year, we created the Innovation Lab: an arm of the organization that’s separate from our other activities, and which now has a single (albeit challenging) mission – to build GSoft’s future products.
What’s an Innovation Lab to you?
S.D.B: Success is a double-edged sword. When you start from scratch, you’ll do anything to succeed for the first time. After that, it becomes your entire world. You go from seeking a small victory, to a medium one, to a great-big one. It’s neverending. It becomes problematic, though, when that need to succeed takes up all your time – because how do you pump energy into the next project? The Lab lets us assemble those next steps.
“Having an Innovation Lab means creating a dedicated space to explore and build the next big thing.”
Simon De Baene,
Co-founder and CEO, GSoft
It couldn’t be more relevant for an organization like GSoft: we want to do a lot of things, like create a family of products, diversify our offering, elevate our industry, continue to grow, seize opportunities and prepare for the future. Our Lab is essentially our experimentation arm.
How does ours work?
S.D.B: The GSoft Lab is focused solely on building new products that can be marketed for sale. It’s a very hands-on process – there’s not a whole lot of theory involved. It all starts with an idea, we identify the market and we execute. That’s it.
Our latest product, Softstart, is a good example of that. We identified a need within many organizations, GSoft included: to onboard new employees in a more “human” way. We tested the market with an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and the response was great. From that point on, we were all in.
It’s pretty cool to be able to solve a problem that we’re facing ourselves. During the pandemic, it was that much more challenging, too.
How did the Lab go from promoting innovation within the company to building new products?
S.D.B: The Lab has definitely evolved over the years. It’s promoted innovation within the organization, we’ve organized hackathons, experimented tons, improved on existing products… We’ve done everything through the Lab and each adventure has played a part in GSoft’s growth. But we want more. Today, the Lab has one main focus: to create GSoft’s future products.
Our light bulb moment came when we realized who we really are at GSoft. We’ve always wanted to fix concrete problems; academia isn’t our jam, we like things cut and dried. The Lab is actually an extension of our most authentic selves.
“The Lab is actually an extension of our most authentic selves.”
What challenges is the Lab up against?
- Creating products that are both simple and powerful. In this day and age, creativity and design have to be taken to the next level.
- Creating good technology, in other words, not getting caught up in the fanfare. It’s tempting to want to test all sorts of new tech, but if you’re not solving a concrete problem, you’re really just playing around.
- Delivering new value weekly. We don’t have the luxury of a long development cycle. We work to create value within a short cycle and we don’t waste months trying to manage innumerable cases.
- Building products that meet market needs. Sometimes a light bulb will go off, but it’s not every day that we’ll stumble upon the best solution right off the bat. That’s when the phrase “the devil is in the details” really hits home.
- Creating a start-up culture in a company like GSoft, which has been around for more than 15 years. We’re always looking for the right people in that sense.
At GSoft, building good products, requires good people
S.D.B: Working at GSoft, and more specifically in our Innovation Lab, is not for everybody. We’re well aware of that. Uncertainty is something we experience daily. We create things without previous versions to refer back to. The road is often bumpy and we have to really trust our instincts.
“You have to be at ease knitting your own parachute as you free fall.”
Some of the qualities we really value at GSoft and, more specifically, on a team like the Lab:
- The ability to find your own way without needing a list of predetermined tasks.
- Being able to manage your time in an environment that requires a lot of autonomy.
- To make risky decisions regularly. Put yourself out there and hope for the best.
- At GSoft, we tell it like it is, so you have to be able to put your ego aside sometimes.
- Risk tolerance. We start from scratch, everything needs doing. And yeah, sometimes there’s risk involved.
- Building a product is kind of wild. When you think things can’t get any worse, that’s when you really have to dig in.
- The Lab is a small team, so there’s no choice but to wear a few hats and help each other out.
How do we address failure at GSoft?
S.D.B: Failure is not something we go looking for, but it’s also inevitable in some respects. At GSoft, you won’t hear the word ‘failure’ come out of our mouths very often – we prefer to refer to it as experimentation. The idea is to quickly come up with potential solutions and to either implement them or to move on altogether.
We make our fair share of mistakes, and I think it’s important to be able to admit that, yeah, we mess up. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the folks who can openly acknowledge their mistakes that make the best leaders of the Lab.
We’ve tried to launch more than 20 products in the history of GSoft, and only two have really stuck. That’s what experimenting is all about. We try, we stumble, we start over. ShareGate and Officevibe have been there. And we’re super proud of our latest addition, Softstart. But we’re pretty sure it, too, will face its share of obstacles.
“We’ve tried to launch more than 20 products in the history of GSoft, and only two have really stuck. That’s what experimenting is all about.”
If I were to tell you to grab uncertainty by the hand and go somewhere, where would you go?
S.D.B: Uncertainty and I go way back. So probably straight to the Lab!
Any advice for staying afloat?
S.D.B: Surround yourself with good people who understand and respect the process of building new products from scratch. Seeing eye to eye will always make weathering the different storms a little easier.
What would you say to someone who’s on the fence about working in the Lab?
It’s not for everyone, but if you feel like:
- Learning how to build a product
- Living the startup experience
- Growing faster than you’ve ever grown before
- Wearing many hats
- Being right in the thick of it