From Colombo to Amsterdam: The resilient story of Gapstars

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In the past decade, the Sri Lankan IT-BPM industry has expanded by 300% to reach $1.2 Billion in export revenue. This is largely due to affordable high-quality services paired with a talented workforce. But the industry isn’t without its share of challenges. These range from skilled migration, talent crunch, stop-start economic policies, increased competition from neighboring countries and now security.

Yet one company is taking positive steps through tough times to strengthen its operations. Gapstars has had its share of challenges but its relentless and positive approach is reaping rewards.

Gapstars is on a mission

Gapstars is a B2B service provider to Dutch tech companies. “We developed a method to help fast-growing tech companies in the Netherlands with high performing agile offshore development teams” explains Hugo Hemmen, CEO of Gapstars.

Over the past two years, Gapstars has seen rapid growth and now employs 80+ professionals in two offices in Colombo. The company powers fast-growing tech companies to build dedicated software development teams. The company also assists its clients in selecting the right technologies, conducting code reviews, agile coaching and providing other value-added services.

Hugo Hemmen - CEO of Gapstars describing the company in their new office
Hugo Hemmen – CEO of Gapstars describing the company in their new office

“It’s an exciting time to be CEO of Gapstars. With talent and time-to-market critical for success in a fast-growing and constantly evolving marketplace, companies often need dedicated development teams that can deliver in a short time frame. That’s when we step in and work shoulder-to-shoulder with these highly ambitious companies that are looking for new ways to grow.” says Hugo.

An overview of the IT landscape in Netherlands

Considered one of the most wired countries in the world, The Netherlands is gaining international traction for tech companies across the world. Global players such as Google, Netflix, Salesforce, Cisco, Microsoft, RedHat, LinkedIn, Apple and Infosys have already set up shop.

The Netherlands has robust IT infrastructure making it home to many data centers. But it’s IT industry is hungry for talent (Image credits: Dutch Data Center Association)
The Netherlands has robust IT infrastructure making it home to many data centers. But it’s IT industry is hungry for talent (Image credits: Dutch Data Center Association)

In fact, Amsterdam is the fourth best tech city in the world and is in an excellent position to accomplish digital leadership. Hugo goes on to describe his home town saying, “Famously the ‘Silicon Canals’ is what it’s called. The old city with canals is making way for the new high-tech city with lots of tech companies moving in. However, this acceleration has its challenges. The demand for smart tech talent is increasing with companies wanting to scale leaner and faster.”

With 60% of all Forbes 2000 companies active in the IT industry already establishing operations in the Netherlands, the war for talent is intense. This only means, early stage or even mid-market companies must compete against these larger organizations with deeper pockets to attract and hire great talent.

Gapstars
Gapstars has its teams travel over to their client Headquarters periodically creating better engaged culture (Image credits: Gapstars)

With demand for tech talent growing considerably faster than the offer, Gapstars sees other opportunities. This is where they have built a value proposition for tech companies looking to scale up faster and leaner.

Elaborating on these opportunities, Hugo stated, “We build the bridge between Amsterdam and Colombo. Our clients are successful award-winning Dutch tech companies looking to scale their business rapidly. So we facilitate them with high performing development teams in scrum format. Which is a proven success and I’m immensely proud of the value our clients see in our people and services”.

The origins of Gapstars

But why did Gapstars decide to set up its operations in Sri Lanka? To answer that question, we need to explore the origins of the company itself.  Gapstars was founded by four people. Alongside Hugo, there was David Bijker – COO of Gapstars, Matthijs Metzemaekers – a partner at Gapstars, and Barend Raaff – CEO of Harver.

Barend Raaff - CEO of Haver came to Sri Lanka and built a team of PHP developers. This small team is what evolved into Gapstars (Image credits: Melles People)
Barend Raaff – CEO of Haver came to Sri Lanka and built a team of PHP developers. This small team is what evolved into Gapstars (Image credits: Melles People)

The journey began almost 10 years ago when Barend and his wife began traveling to Sri Lanka to help manage an orphanage in Kandy. While managing this charity project, Barend noticed Sri Lanka’s IT talent. So he decided to create a company and built a team of PHP developers. This team created software solutions for a single company in the Netherlands.

Then, when Hugo met Barend, things escalated. Hugo describes his initial days setting up Gapstars, “The people and potential of this country is immense and we believed that we could create real value for businesses if we added up the right ingredients.”

How Gapstars convinced its clients to invest in Sri Lanka

Of course, Gapstars wasn’t built overnight. “Once we realized the immense value we were adding to our first customer’s business, we picked up the phone and started calling other similar companies,” says Hugo describing the early days of the company. The purpose was to find ambitious companies that would be adventurous enough to set up their development operations in Sri Lanka.  

These companies have multiple options to choose from. When it comes to outsourcing, Sri Lanka faces stiff competition globally. There are regional nations like India, Thailand, and Vietnam. Additionally, many Dutch companies also look towards Eastern Europe and Latin America. So how did Gapstars convince its clients to invest in Sri Lanka?

 Gapstars builds dedicated software development teams as part of its clients extended family (Image credits: Gapstars)
Gapstars builds dedicated software development teams as part of its clients extended family (Image credits: Gapstars)

It started by creating a strong value proposition for ambitious tech businesses looking to scale-up. The company looked at the emerging needs to build successful development teams that facilitate businesses to scale faster. These teams would then get their own space and work exclusively for a single client of Gapstars.

Elaborating on this Hugo states, “What we offer you is fully integrated software development teams dedicated to the success of your business. You’re not going to just throw a project at us and hope that it works. It’s beyond that, our teams are an extension of your company’s DNA and our methodology will facilitate finding the right talent. Sri Lanka just turned out to be the best place to do just this.”

The future of Gapstars

Gapstars facilitates a number of its people to visit their client headquarters in the Netherlands each year. This drives better engagement and integration with clients. The company’s commitment to harness a high-performance culture sits alongside the responsibility to create an environment where people can bring their whole selves to work and flourish.

Gapstars is built on its people and culture, which is at the heart of everything they do (Image credits: Gapstars)
Gapstars is built on its people and culture, which is at the heart of everything they do (Image credits: Gapstars)

Hugo states that “Whether it is great technical expertise, the timely delivery or simply the assurance that comes from a trusted developer relationship, in the end, it is our people who make a difference. That’s why have a stringent process to recruit the right people from the beginning.”

Over the past year, Gapstars has achieved strong growth and is investing in important areas, including our people, culture and operations to support the delivery of world-class software development. Sharing with ReadMe, Hugo adds that “The next few years will be the most exciting and transformational for Gapstars. We are well positioned more than ever to deliver real results to our clients.”

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