Argentina’s inflation problems have made it common for large Argentinian software firms to pay newly hired junior developers higher salaries than the senior guys that were hired years ago.
“Given the macro problems that Argentina has, it’s not very common to have a culture of investing into employees or being transparent,” said Chris Cali, Managing Partner and Co-Founder of Spark Digital. “From day one, and from our previous company, we learned this very quickly, so we put together a transparent salary band system where everyone on the same level makes the same amount of money.”
Cali was unable to reveal specific details about this approach, due to it being a competitive differentiator for the company on the supply side However, he says it has worked wonders for growth and camaraderie, despite sometimes having to pass on development “rockstars” that come along and don’t fit into the salary band suited for them. “Even so, once you fit within our company, you know exactly where you’re going and how to get there, which is completely different to the established Argentinian work culture,” he said.
Headquartered in New York with Argentinian offices in Buenos Aires, Mar del Plata, and Tandil, Spark Digital is a 150-strong firm that does technology consulting, UX design, and nearshore application development for the communications, media, and entertainment sector.
Talent wise, Spark Digital likes to hire jacks-of-all-trades, but as the company grows it searches for more specific skills and experience in digital media programming. For the last three years, the company’s staff turnover rate has been within the 10% mark. “We haven’t had any major recruiting or defection problems in Argentina,” said Cali. “We do a lot of training, which is a selling point for a lot of other jobs in Argentina that never usually come to fruition. It’s pretty direct; we try to be as transparent as possible.”
From a company culture standpoint, Cali explained that Spark Digital’s engineers and UX designers in Argentina are all on committees for different aspects of the company, from office decoration to training programs. These are all controlled by the engineers who define the schedules and run the company, following approval or amendment from headquarters. “This culture and transparency is what keeps people engaged and is our best fight against the macro issues in the country,” he said.
While Argentina is now more open for business, Cali continues to see fiscal difficulties arise from the country’s inflation problem. “The macro problems are there, such as the floating peso, which hurt us this year more than any other year,” he said. “One of the upsides of the previous administration was that they tightly controlled the exchange rate, negating inflation issues. This year, there was a lot of inflation but the exchange rate didn’t change very much, so it’s been a little bit harder, but not hard enough to be business-killing.”
Spark Digital’s co-founders and partners are accomplished technologists and product people within media and entertainment from different sides of the table. Cali, for example, was an engineer at Sony Music and Yahoo, while Kevin Norris was head of digital and UX for American Express. Francisco Amadeo was CTO at a media company after a stint at IBM, and Chris White co-founded a media company in the U.K., after senior digital roles at EMI and Fremantle Media.
The company has no outside investment, but has been doubling in size each year thanks to the experience of its three founders. “We each brought a lot of personal relationships to the table, so our growth has been down to the trust people have in us,” said Cali. “As you stay in business in this industry, people will take you with them across jobs and provide referrals, resulting in sustained, organic growth.”
With its against-the-grain approach to staff culture and salaries, Spark Digital’s business model is proof that progressive, out-of-the-box thinking can help retain staff and even negate issues that arise from uncontrollable economic forces.