“Technical parts of SEO are as important as Content Strategy”
Medellin, May 3rd, 2018
Starting as a small digital agency in Colombia, Parrolabs has become to be one of the best web development companies in Latin America. The agency groups a skilled team of developers and designers and has been nominated for several web development awards, including reached the Top Web Developers and Best Design Firms on Clutch.co for Latin America in 2017.
After working in the tech consulting industry, Niels Siskens moved to Colombia and started Parrolabs. Despite the complex start, he is now proud of what he has accomplished and his team at the office. Siskens spoke to TIA and gave some insights on what it means to be a leader and how to motivate talent, while describing his daily work life at the agency.
How did you get started in the industry?
In 2014, after working several years in the tech consulting industry, I came to Colombia and started a digital agency, following some Spanish and programming lessons. At first, it was not so easy as it is difficult to start a business in Colombia and to focus on US clients is even harder.
The first year was complex but after some curves in the road, Parrolabs was born. It might be different from most in the industry, but I have always had a passion for serving clients.
Can you describe your agency in a few words?
We focus on Web and Mobile Development. While our focus is of a fairly technical nature in comparison to some other agencies, we feel that this is the core of what any digital agency should offer.
Our main pillars are human driven design and technical SEO. Technical SEO is oftentimes misunderstood and even hard-core SEO agencies not always get it right. While we don’t argue against a good content strategy, we would argue that the technical parts of SEO are as important if not more important.
How do you know that you are leading, and leading well?
Leading in a foreign country with a very distinct business culture brings with it its challenges. For example, most Colombian managers micromanage and have a leadership style that can be best described as dictatorial. That is very different from the management style that I was used to in Holland.
There a company can be best described as a democracy and it is much more goal oriented than micromanagement. So, I had to adapt a management style that is somewhere in the middle. In the end what matters is that the work gets done and done right.
What is your approach to motivate and develop talent?
I would always argue that we are the cooler agency in town. We try to mimic a few of the things that Silicon Valley businesses have. At the moment, we are still in a co-office space, so making the options to change furniture and to make the office really cool are limited, but that is our dream. An obstacle at the moment is the real estate boom here in Medellin.
How much time do you spend with customers?
Never enough! I am usually in the US about twice to 4-times per year and try to visit each client. However, our clients range from Vancouver to Miami, so geography is an issue. Luckily, modern tools like Slack, Skype, Hangouts and others help a lot in bridging the communication gap.
Not everyone in the office speaks English, so those who do, tend to take care of client communications.
Do you focus more on problem-solving or opportunity creation?
Interesting question, I do feel that we focus more on solving our client’s problems. This should create any opportunity that we want.
How does your agency treat people involved in failed projects?
Well, I do think that each developer has had at least worked on a project that ended up going badly. The trick is to learn from it and make sure that these things don’t happen next time. As we work in a team, we expect people to fill in if they can contribute to turn a failing project into a winner. In general, Colombian firms are ruthless towards their employees. We tend to focus on the learning opportunity that lies within failure.
What upcoming initiatives at your agency do you find particularly exciting?
We are in the process of opening an office in Barranquilla or Bogota. The thing is we are growing, and a growing business in terms of staffing and work is very exciting.
What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader?
There are some great books, but in 2018, I would argue there are more resources on Youtube. The advice that I have for every leader would be to have a mentor. The mentor is the best resource you can think of. Someone who has an interest in your success is pretty much the best resource you can have, even if it is just the fact that you will be a great reference for their work if you are successful.