Building software in the friendliest country on Earth

by Jobbatical November 08, 2016

When it’s sunny, it’s great. When it’s not sunny, it’s also great.

Arcanys is a Swiss-founded software development outsourcing company with a delivery center in Cebu City, Philippines. The team of 120 is all about turning innovative ideas into smart solutions and raising the bar for software development in the region.

I chatted with Frederic Joye, Arcanys co-founder, about the company’s plans for leveling up the developer community in Cebu and beyond.

Frederic Joye, Arcanys co-founder

What’s your story? What is a Swiss company doing in the Philippines?

Before arriving here, my business partner and I were located in Hong Kong where we were working at an e-commerce company, handling sales of avatars in online games. In 2009 we had an opportunity to buy a business based in Cebu. After 4–5 months of going back and forth, we decided we’d close Hong Kong and move to the Philippines, for a few reasons. The first was, of course, the cost. Secondly, the English level was so much better than in Hong Kong. We could easily find people who could service our American clients. Then we started hiring our own engineers to maintain and further develop our platform.

And suddenly a bunch of our friends, also entrepreneurs, started asking us if we could help them out with their development. This is when we thought, “OK, this looks like an opportunity,” and that’s how we created Arcanys. Since we were happy to be in Cebu and we could find the skills, we decided to do it from here.

The primary mission of Arcanys is to serve clients from mostly Europe, Asia and Australia with software development services and other services around that. What we try to do here is to give the best possible value for money to our customers, so they can actually build more stuff with less money. I think we’re on our way to being able to deliver the same kind of quality as in Europe, at a fraction of the price. It’s a challenge because we need to train a lot of people. This is one of the reasons why we’re also posting jobs on Jobbatical: to have different kinds of skills coming to the Philippines and to be able to raise the bar for everyone.

Team Arcanys in action in Cebu

Let’s talk teams. What’s yours like?

Our team in Cebu is about 120 people. We have 85 developers and testers; the rest is composed of designers and business analysts, management, HR, and 24/7 support. Everyone is onsite. All of our clients are remote, so we need our guys not to be—to be sure we can deliver the best value in time and in quality. We have a few international people with us; maybe 5–10% of the company. That’s what we’re aiming for.

The future of work is connected and mobile. There are functions where people can work remotely from different places, and I think this is going to keep increasing with the power of mobile devices and the things they let you do. A lot of people will become entrepreneurs at an individual level, selling their skills left and right. Work as we know it today will still be here, but people will be encouraged to work on their own endeavors. Creating stuff has become so easy. But I believe that in some cases work has to remain a group effort and people need to meet once in a while to keep the contact.

What are the benefits of having an international team?

It’s about diversity and experience. In the Philippines, software development is a bit younger than in other, more advanced economies, because everything started a bit later. There aren’t so many people with 15–20 years’ exposure to that culture of technology. People here are eager to learn, but we have to bring this knowledge from outside.

Cebu City at night. Photo by joyfull via Shutterstock

Why is Arcanys a good place to work?

Because it’s awesome! First is the compensation, obviously. It has to be competitive; Cebu is a competitive place. If you don’t take care of your employees well, they’re going to look elsewhere. The second part is the benefits: insurance, healthcare, retirement, and things like that.

It’s also about the culture of the company. We put a lot of effort into cementing the family, if you will, with a lot of work around the culture. We have a pro-gaming team — a lot of the guys are nerds. It’s a pretty good team, and it’s bringing people together. We also have a very free work environment. There’s a lot of flexibility with working hours, as long as the client is happy.

I think it’s very important that people have interesting projects that they’re working on, so we make sure they’re always challenged. After a while, if the project is not interesting, people get bored, and that’s when they try to look elsewhere, right? When we see people are plateauing in a project, we transfer people between projects. I think people feel pretty happy here. We have less than 10% of turnover. Very few people leave for other companies in the Philippines; almost nobody. Some leave for a better life in Japan or the US or Singapore, which is absolutely normal and we’re happy we can participate in that.

What makes the Philippines an unmissable destination?

I think the Philippines is the country with the friendliest people on Earth. There’s nothing like the Philippines. The second important part is the weather. It’s almost always warm. Sometimes it’s raining, but most of the time it’s not. If it’s sunny, it’s great; if it’s not sunny, it’s still great. Coming from Switzerland, I really appreciate this part!

There are people from abroad who want to live in the Philippines because they think it’s like a holiday on a daily basis! Well, it’s not a holiday on a daily basis, but it’s mostly warm and sunny—I’d say that’s a perk!

It’s also a country where tourism is developing. There are a lot of beautiful places you can go to and it’s really easy. Gorgeous beaches, hiking places, touring around with a motorbike, diving… Cebu is becoming a big city, with close to three million people, and the expat community is growing. It has changed a lot in the seven years we’ve been here. It’s starting to become a good destination for expats. It’s nicer to live in than Manila, actually. It’s more laid-back.

A beach in the Philippines. Photo by And-One via Shutterstock

What is the tech scene like?

The Philippines started a bit late on the tech scene, even for Southeast Asia. But we can see that things have been moving in the right direction in the last four years. Everything is becoming pretty exciting. We can see a lot of startups coming out, mostly from Manila. I think the new government has created for the first time a department of information technology. They’ve noticed that it’s very important for the country to move in that direction. The banks are also moving into FinTech. There are a lot of initiatives, and it’s exciting in general.

How do you see Arcanys fitting into the future of tech in Asia?

We don’t see our role only in Asia. We’ve created a program called Arcanys Labs, a fund where we invest in startups. We’re thinking of investing in between 5 and 10 startups every year, with a global package of 200 000 dollars’ worth of tech and cash for each startup. We work on super interesting projects and we’re raising the skills levels of everyone. We’re working on new stuff with cutting-edge technology and helping startups get off the ground faster. We have a focus on Switzerland because that’s where we come from, but if an interesting startup comes from another place… for example, we invested in a company in Thailand that does SaaS for restaurants. So we’re not just targeting the Philippines, we’re targeting interesting startups wherever they are. In Cebu we make a difference not in the startup community, but in the developer community. We want to raise the bar and to be known as a company that trains people and makes them stronger.

Think you’ve got the kind of skills and experience that this team needs? Check out their openings on Jobbatical:

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