Running a pro basketball team and a top software development firm are very similar endeavors, says Darwin Romero, co-founder of Applaudo Studios, a tech company headquartered in El Salvador. Romero first noticed the parallel in 2018, when Applaudo began its ongoing collaboration with the NBA team Miami Heat.
“We really take care of the onboarding of our talent and the way we recruit, train and retain our talent,” Romero said. The executive added the that he likes to joke with Miami Heat by saying: “We actually do a lot of what you guys do – we are looking for the great talent out there. We are looking for the best players that we can bring to the team.”
The collaboration began when Miami Heat hired Applaudo to improve its mobile app. The team had just become the first in the NBA to move to a “mobile-only entry” model for games, meaning fans no longer require a paper ticket to enter the arena.
“The app was important before from a content perspective, but now it became the thing you needed to get into the building,” said Dennis Garayalde, the director of product strategy at Miami Heat. “Adoption and growth for the app exploded once we went mobile-only.”
Revamping the App
Miami Heat brought in Applaudo to deliver on the feedback they had received when surveying fans. A team of mobile developers and UX/UI designers in El Salvador set to work on the app. The project included re-designing screens for the members section, sign-in flow, wallet, user profile, main menu and parking.
Unlike most clients, Miami Heat has its own product team, which was involved in the process from the outset. “Applaudo was very quick to adjust to our methodology of working. They essentially gave us full control of the road map,” Garayalde said.
The designers created mockups and received feedback and approval during twice-weekly review meetings with Miami Heat. Applaudo used Paste, the collaborative presentation tool, to showcase its work. The final designs were passed on to Heat’s development team.
Garayalde said the relationship with Applaudo flourished thanks to their stellar delivery on the first project. In January 2019, the company hired them again to develop an internal application for invoicing on the web. After researching a range of existing invoicing tools, Applaudo began work on the design. A month later, the development planning began and Applaudo organized Scrum ceremonies to refine the final products. The first version of the tool was completed in April 2019 and a second version was ready three months later.
Applaudo’s Agile Teamwork
Romero and José Giammattei founded Applaudo in 2013. The company now operates out of a former Walmart in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. Applaudo employs more than 250 developers, project managers, UX/UI designers, QA analysts, sales and marketing personnel and others. In recent years, they have worked for some high-profile partners, including Coca-Cola and the television networks NBC and CBS.
Romero said Scott Kenyon, an Applaudo board member based in Austin, Texas, was a fundamental part of the company’s success. “Having board members based out of the United States [attests to] the validity of the service that we actually give,” he said. The fact that Applaudo also runs an office in Austin helps instill confidence in clients who may be Nearshoring for the first time.
Garayalde said he had been impressed with the level of flexibility at the company.
“Most of the shops are pretty set in their ways.” he said. “But with Applaudo it’s been more they’re adopting to our needs. Sometimes our needs change, but they have always been able to respond and adapt accordingly.”
Sometimes that process of adaption involves hiring new staff, Romero said. If for example, a customer requires development in a more obscure programming language, Applaudo can build its workforce around that need.
“We actually go and hire, train and do a whole process of ramping up from zero to whatever resources are needed in that particular account.” Romero said. “We do it not only with the consent of the customer but actually at the request of the customer.”
Applaudo’s focus on agile methodology has served it well in recent months. Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the company has moved its workforce to work-from-home. Romero said they have also hired 65 new staff members – recruiting and training them remotely.
Garayalde said response times had increased since the pandemic hit and compared favorably to his previous experience outsourcing development to India. “We had a 12.5-hour time difference so sometimes it took a day to turn things around,” he said.
The director said another factor behind the success of the relationship was Applaudo’s low employee turnover.
“We have been dealing with the same people for a year-and-a-half now,” Garayalde said. “The projects we are working on are not simple things. There is a learning curve and if we had to go through that learning curve every time because of rotation or a developer leaving… it would delay things.”
Just as a basketball team takes time to gel, software developers need time to reach peak performance. Romero said Applaudo’s attrition rate was close to zero this year, and retaining those resources was as important as finding them in the first place.
Partnering with a glamourous brand such as Miami Heat also helps attract enthusiastic employees.
“Whenever they’re planning to apply, they say Applaudo is a company that works for the Miami Heat,” Romero said. “That becomes a really amazing hiring and retention tool.”
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