To create digital hubs in Portugal for corporate clients who have not yet made the leap to digital transformation. This is the goal of JAy!, the new project of Alexandre Vaz, the former general director of Mercedes-Benz.io.
After five years leading a hub, the entrepreneur now puts his know-how at the service of clients interested in installing digital hubs in the national market through a BOT model (Build, Operate, Transfer): he creates, hires, manages team, provides service and, later, the hub is transferred to the client.
Alexandre Vaz is currently negotiating with several clients, and he expects to announce the first contracts and launch the first hubs after this summer. But he is already receiving CVs: he wants to receive 1.500 and the first 1.000 will be ‘rewarded’ with a physical coin – JAy! weighs as much as a 1 euro coin – that, should the employee come to work with the company, he may exchange for 1.500 euros.
“The idea is to value people’s talent and CVs. It’s saying: ‘Your CV has value, if you are interested in sending your CV in return we give you this coin – minted for this purpose – but actually the person is not applying for anything. But if you come to work with us in the next few years, because you had the audacity to send us your CV, you are given an entry prize of €1,500,” he explains. “We thought the idea of creating a physical currency – nowadays we only talk about tokens – was funny, to make this tribute to talent.”
After leading the Mercedes-Benz.io hub you now move forward with JAy!, a company to “create, accelerate and manage digital hubs in Portugal”. How does it propose to do that?
JAy! will create other companies (digital hubs) from scratch, where we agree with a client what the objective is – in three years to build a hub with this kind of profile, number of people. We work exclusively for that client, we make it grow, recruiting the best talent and, after a predefined time, the client is left with the option of acquiring that hub or operating as usual. The goal is to build a digital hub to help the digital transformation of a company, outside the company so that it has its own culture and is not influenced by the culture that sometimes resists change. By the time of acquisition, the hub should be so integrated into working with the client that it is itself the influence for that client.
In practice, JAy! is a holding company and underneath, you have several hubs, with a CEO, CTO, CFO, where all the work you do is for that client in the predefined areas.
You guys want to get 1,500 CVs for the first hubs. I assume you already have clients in the pipeline.
We are negotiating with several international clients. We haven’t closed yet, so we can’t announce, but we’ve inverted the normal recruitment rules a bit here. The idea is to value people’s talent and CVs. It’s saying: ‘Your CV has value, if you are interested in sending your CV in exchange we give you this coin – minted for this purpose – but, in fact, the person is not applying for anything. But if you come to work with us in the next few years, because you had the audacity to send us your CV, you are given an entry bonus of €1,500.
Everyone tries to recruit when they have open opportunities. We have time, we are setting up and we will value people’s CVs. We think the idea of creating a physical currency – nowadays we only talk about tokens – is funny, to make this tribute to talent.
So when do you expect to have the first clients confirmed, to start with the hubs?
I hope that in October we will be announcing the first clients.
After last year the startup ecosystem experienced record investment rounds, witnessed the birth of several unicorns, this year we are hearing about structure reductions and there is talk of winter in tech. Could it not affect the expansionist desires of tech, the will to open hubs?
You said the right word: startups, where everything is a bit radical, they both grow fast and then they have to release people. We deal more with corporate clients who have not yet managed to take that step of digital transformation, they still lack many people to reach that level.
When someone knows (about the project) a new opportunity arises, because there is still a lot of this need to know how to create a hub. Even the idea of coming to Portugal, ‘how do I do it, I don’t know anyone, and if it goes wrong how will I get out?’ This is what JAy! solves: it takes away the risk, it has local people and, as a last resort, we keep the people. There’s always a shortage of talent. This is the part we’re sure we can do it well.
Doesn’t remote working, the possibility of recruiting in the global village, invalidate a bit the concept of opening hubs in third countries, when they can almost open a virtual centre?
Hybrid is here to stay. I don’t have the slightest doubt. Full remote doesn’t suit everyone and remote has some serious problems. From Tesla (which called workers to the office)…
Then you didn’t have space in the office to receive them.
Maybe they were a bit radical. But the problem with full remote – and this is based on experience, talking to people – is that it is very difficult to create culture, to make people grow. When we work in one place we are also growing on a personal level, in full remote that is very difficult and innovation, problem solving, is another problem. One thing is to be in the office and turn to the next door neighbour and ask ‘what about this’, another is when I have to schedule a call to talk to someone.
I believe that at home people work well, I don’t believe that they have a notion of everything that is going on in a company, they can grow so much. So, I think the world is going down a hybrid path.
Not that there aren’t companies that can’t work well in remote mode, but when we talk to these corporations, if they already want to do a full remote transformation, they believe even less than I do. There has to be a balance between remote and going to the office. Obviously, you shouldn’t force people to go to the office – that’s what I was criticising in the way Tesla did it – but you have to find ways that they want to go. To do that, you can’t have people in each of their countries. And we’re not proposing to do that at all.
We have to be very competitive in terms of salaries: we cannot look at Portugal as a cheap country and I never sell this idea: ‘come to Portugal because it is cheaper’.
The tech sector complains a lot about talent shortages. Is the current momentum in any way easing that pressure?
The market is not easier or harder, it’s increasingly global. More and more people in this area are working directly for clients in the US. The lack of talent is a global problem, it’s not only Portuguese, and it’s not only in technologies, it’s in aeronautics, in hotels, in restaurants… In order to change, I have to guarantee a healthy environment and growth for people, we have to be very competitive in terms of wages: We have to be very competitive in terms of salaries: we cannot look at Portugal as a cheap country and I never sell this idea: ‘come to Portugal because it is cheaper’. Wages will increasingly converge worldwide in this area, I have no doubt.
So, even with some news of companies that had to reduce people, the market remains hot and will always continue. What companies have to do – and what JAy! proposes to do – is to give a spectacular culture and to be very competitive at a wage level so that, if the person is satisfied with his wage, if he likes the place where he is, where he is growing and if he sees himself in the values of the company, he will not change. Companies have to review what they are giving to their workers.
Portugal has more talent than people imagine. Sometimes the problem of the Portuguese market is that there may be technology niches – and they really are niches – where we don’t have enough people. And in these cases, we obviously have to attract people from elsewhere.
But given the shortage of people, are you thinking of developing policies to attract digital nomads, talent to settle here?
Portugal’s advantage is that, despite everything, foreigners like to work here. Portugal has more talent than people imagine. Sometimes the problem of the Portuguese market is that there may be technology niches – and they really are niches – where we don’t have enough people. And in these cases, we obviously have to attract people from elsewhere, in much larger markets. But I also don’t like to attract foreign talent and then give different conditions, that can’t be like that. We have to have a balance. At the moment, I’m not feeling the need to fetch people from abroad, but naturally it will happen because it is a movement that is happening in the country.
The Government has already announced new work visas, including for digital nomads. Will it be enough to attract talent with this profile?
I don’t know details, but anything that can help is good. If you’re interested in someone from abroad, if the process takes six months or three, it makes all the difference whether it’s possible (to recruit) or the person gets fed up and goes somewhere else to work.
We are at a stage where companies don’t know very well how to deal with the remote, people also don’t know if they really want that, I think what they want is flexibility. And the companies themselves are trying to figure out how they can have legislation that protects workers, but gives them the possibility to move forward in this system.
You believe that people want flexibility. In the future hubs, what will the working model be like?
It will always have to be agreed with the client. It should be a hybrid model, but as a policy it has to be to give autonomy and accountability to the person and teams, creating all the incentives for them to want to go to the office. Which will have to be a different place: not a space full of desks, but where people go to meet and discuss. And then there will have to be the rituals and events that make people want to go, things as simple as offering a lunch where someone will speak. Ideally, you should go because you want to, not because the company forces you to. We have to plan. There can’t be an expectation of saying the day before ‘you’ll be here tomorrow at 8am’.
Being hubs for different clients, will each one have a unique space? And how do you combat the lack of spaces?
Before the pandemic I even thought so, now I don’t. I’m looking at several spaces and there are several hypotheses. A few years ago it wasn’t like this, they always showed me the same buildings. It was a concern 2.5 years ago, but not now. But I think the requirements have changed.
What we are planning, right at the beginning, is that the hubs can coexist in the same space, as they reach a certain size it makes sense to gain that autonomy.