An interview with Lidwien Heersink, Managing Director, Da Vinci International

Da Vinci International provides software solutions – ‘SMART’ for hairdressers to manage the salon and ‘BJOOTIFY’ for the consumers to book an appointment with salons. It is a family business and is a top software provider for hairdressers in the Netherlands. It is also the most longstanding relationship Aspire Systems Poland has with a customer based in Europe, where delivery happens in a full-ownership, nearshoring model. We had the pleasure of speaking to Lidwien Heersink, Managing Director – Da Vinci International about her impressions of working with us! 

Q: Hi Lidwien, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Could you please tell us how the cooperation with Aspire Systems Poland started and what convinced Da Vinci Group to start working with us?  

A: It was so many years ago… I can’t even remember how many exactly. Back then, we had a development team on-site in Holland and we were looking for new people to join this team. One of the developers knew that someone is starting a new company in Gdańsk, Poland and we decided to collaborate with a few developers in the Netherlands and with a few in Gdańsk. That was working for some time, and I asked my father (we’re a family company!) – What’s the plan? We had a desktop application back then and our developers were in one room, and they were talking to the guys in Poland. At some point, I started talking directly to the guys and it turned out to be a very fruitful conversation that made us realize that we can make the switch – we flipped the coin and we said: “Now, the team in Poland is in charge”. We scaled up the team in Gdańsk, and since then, we have plans, we have a perfectly working application, we have developers that think like us. It made me realize how the process could work if you have good software engineers.   

I am not a coder myself; my father who left the company also didn’t have that skill. Of course, we understand it a bit, but it’s not our area of expertise so we had to believe the developers. If the guys in Holland said, “it’s not possible”, we believed them and acted on the ‘don’t touch the software’ principle. But after we switched to Poland, we could actually build stuff again.   

The team in Poland feels like a part of our company. When I tell them what I want – they say “sure” and they think for us and together with us on how to do it. Thanks to this, we can think about the product as we want it and think about how to translate it to software. Aspire takes care of the technical part where we do not have the capability to deliver. 

Q: What were your concerns when you started working with Aspire in a nearshore model?  

A: Back then, we needed extra development power. Besides this, we knew that software ‘doesn’t go to sleep’. For example, if the appointment booking system doesn’t work on a Saturday, we can always send the guys at Aspire a message and they are always ready for us. Probably, they already know it and they are already working on it. That is a commitment to a product we, as the Da Vinci group, are creating. Earlier, we didn’t have this commitment as the guys over here would close the door at 5 pm and say “bye!”, and if something broke down at 5:30 pm, they did not rush to check and fix things. But with 1,700 salons using our system right now and 6,000,000 bookings made each year, even the shortest outage may make things hectic, so it has to work. Every second, someone is making an appointment somewhere. 

Q: What are the benefits of working with Aspire in a nearshoring model?  

A: For us, it’s very handy because they have the same working hours as our salons. The meetings that we have are in the same time zone. We have no issues related to a limited overlap between us and our development team. Also, before the pandemic, we would go and visit Gdańsk three or four times a year – it’s just an hour or two on a plane and you’re there. The Aspire team also used to visit us, and I think it’s really important for them to visit us since they can experience our business – to understand for whom they are making and what they make every working day. It is much easier than traveling 12 hours on a plane, also we can do a quick 2- or 3-day visit. Sometimes, it’s better to meet in person, look each other in the eye and talk about some bigger issues, draw it on a board, and so on.  

I can also tell you that it is good for one more reason, this is related to us as human beings and us being emotional. Sometimes, when our own client is not happy, we want to solve that problem immediately and the emotions are high. For that reason, it’s good that our development team is not in the building because they would constantly hear us saying, “We have a problem! Can you solve it right now?”. So sometimes it’s good that there’s one country in between and a process of opening bugs and tickets so that the whole development process is not disrupted. 

Q: I have heard many arguments for nearshoring, but not this. I mean that according to what you say – this ‘healthy remoteness’ creates some ‘healthy restraint’.  

A: You know, as a business owner, in the first moment you are the first point of contact for your customers, and you want to solve their problems quickly. But then one day later, it turns out it’s not that urgent anymore or you see the bigger picture. This prevents you from interrupting the guys who might be building a feature that you need badly. 

Q: How did the association with Aspire help Da Vinci International in growing the business? What do you consider to be the biggest achievement?  

A: The biggest thing was, of course, the switch that Aspire at some point started doing everything for us. You must imagine when you have this old desktop application and we started building an online application which initially wasn’t good enough. It had its bugs, and it was down once in a while. This, in connection with a subscription model we offer to our clients, saw the number of customers going down. Meanwhile, other competitors came up with their online applications, so we were late, but then Aspire made the switch for us. They helped us by forming a brand-new team for us with different kinds of people who knew about architecture, front-end, back-end, and other specialties and made sure that we have a system to sell. This was a turning point in the history of Da Vinci. The Aspire team honestly told us that what we did was not good enough and built a whole new thing and even now, they keep on helping us with items like DevOps and making sure that Azure works correctly. They help us with product ownership and know our business so well. We would trust them with a lot of decisions.   

One or two years ago, we started with a ‘BJOOTIFY’ platform and the guys in Gdańsk sat down and involved the biggest brains to think. It was not just one guy saying, “let’s do it this way”, but it was a group effort. They were thinking about the goals of the platform in the context of the goals of Da Vinci itself – what will be the lifecycle of that platform as a product. They basically designed and built the application from scratch, and it turned out to be what we need! 

Q: You mean our Advanced Technology Group – our biggest brains coming into one place, right?  

A: I don’t even know the exact name of that group, but probably yes. Because we completely trust the guys; we can just show them a picture of what we want not having a clue how to do this and Aspire decides the technology for us. They are up to date with the latest technology development so that they do propose the right thing to us and inform us what will be the consequences of that choice. This helps us since we do have a lot of ambitions on how to grow our business.  

We certainly will keep our fingers crossed for the success of Da Vinci. Lidwien, thank you very much for this interview. It’s been a pleasure to meet you and to hear all these good things about Aspire.   

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