Founded in 2016, Vivasoft Limited is a Dhaka-based technology company that provides IT consulting and software development services to both local and international businesses.
Starting as a small operation with six people, Vivasoft has grown into a team of over 200 people within a span of seven years and has become one of the most prominent players in the burgeoning software industry in Bangladesh.
The company serves as an excellent case study of how the right culture can put a company on an extraordinary and sustainable growth trajectory.
Vivasoft has a fascinating founding story. In 2016, the international software company where Vivasoft’s founders, Shafiul Hasan Tareq and Shafqat Asif, were working, was undergoing a downsizing. By that time, each founder had accumulated over 12 years of experience in software development, having worked in various roles ranging from junior software developers to senior management. Consequently, they resolved to start their own company, founding Vivasoft the same year.
Initially, the company consisted of a small team of 6 individuals, working out of a one-room office on the rooftop of the house of their co-founder Shafiul Hasan Tareq. In the subsequent years, the company changed its office location multiple times before finally settling its headquarters on Kemal Ataturk Avenue in Banani, Dhaka.
Throughout its seven years of operation, Vivasoft has experienced consistent growth. Even in the current economic downturn, when many businesses are facing challenges, the company continues to report an average month-on-month growth of 10%.
It currently has two offices, including one in Rajshahi. It owns the largest HR software in Bangladesh, named PiHR, which currently has over 370 live clients. It has launched a new accounting solution called Financify, similar to Tally and QuickBooks, which is in alpha testing.
Vivasoft has an ambitious goal for the future: to develop its own technology products alongside its highly successful and rapidly growing software solutions business.
Today, Vivasoft is considered one of the most important players in Bangladesh’s growing technology industry, with an excellent reputation both domestically and among its international clients.
The source of its success? The company says its culture is the key.
Over the years, Vivasoft has created a unique company culture that has contributed significantly to its impressive rise. What are some of the key features of its culture?
The company says it makes “no distinction between customers, co-workers, and the people who run the business”. It focuses on creating products and solutions “to help businesses operate efficiently” while maintaining “the best possible relations with its customers and co-workers.”
Vivasoft sees creating a friendly work environment that “inspires its people, engages them, and ensures their personal and professional growth” as a prerequisite to building a leading global software development company. To that end, the company posits culture as the ultimate growth strategy.
A closer look makes it clearer why the company has done so stunningly well. Vivasoft has not only created a healthy culture that elevates efficiency and productivity, but it has also created a system where the same culture drives everything. In short, the company has built a culture that attracts, retains, and empowers the right talents to deliver high-quality services to its customers.
In this article, we take a deep dive into Vivasoft’s culture, break down its components to understand how the company has created such a fascinating culture, and try to glean some universal culture lessons for other organizations.
The Origin of Vivasoft Culture
You can generally find two types of companies. Companies with traditional corporate practices, where culture doesn’t get much attention. Leaders do not necessarily treat employees with sufficient care. People are treated as exchangeables. These companies are rarely intentional about culture.
And there are companies that operate from people-first principles. These companies put people at the center of their business. They think if they take care of their people, their business will do well. These companies are intentional about their culture. They start with an idea about the kind of organization they want to build.
These two types of companies operate differently and generate different performances and outcomes.
So, the first aspect of culture is that you have to be intentional about the culture you want to have.
The second aspect of culture is that it starts at the top. Culture is rarely about what is written down in core values and principles, vision and mission statements, or what is said. Rather, culture is what we do when no one is looking. More precisely, culture is what the leadership of an organization does when no one is looking.
And culture propagates through action. Humans are mimetic creatures. They learn by imitating. They do what other people do in the same environment.
Therefore, culture is often created when a company is a small team of 10-15 people, and the founders are working directly with everyone. David Velez, founder, and CEO of Latin America’s largest digital bank Nubank, puts it beautifully: “The culture of a company is built in the first six months by the first 10 to 15 people.”
The culture of Vivasoft had its genesis in the early experiences of its founders, who worked in the IT industry for many years before starting the company. When they started Vivasoft, they already had insights into the kind of company they wanted to build.
As we pointed out earlier, intentionally is one of the important aspects of building a healthy culture. And it has to come from the leadership. Vivasoft’s culture started with the intentionality of its founders as they wanted to create a specific kind of culture.
“We decided on day one that we wanted to build a developer-friendly, employee-friendly company with a flat hierarchy,” explains Vivasoft Co-founder Shafiul Hasan Tareq about the culture they wanted to create when asked about the origin of Vivasoft culture for this story. “When companies treat their people poorly, it negatively affects productivity. We wanted to build a company where we treat our people well, without a distinction between the owner and the employees.”
This is the crux of Vivasoft’s culture. As you will see, Vivasoft remains an employee-first company. And it has designed an organizational structure that is supremely horizontal.
We are talking about day one at Vivasoft. The founders had a clear idea about the company culture they wanted to create.
When you are a six-person company and you wear your values on your sleeves and put them into action with your team every day, it becomes a ritual for your company. That’s how culture is created. Vivasoft’s founders did that in the early days and built the foundation for the company.
To summarize, the Vivasoft founders put a set of values into practice from day one:
In the next part of the article, we take a look into how Vivasoft does it in practice.
Getting the Right People on the Bus
Cultures are about people. Culture happens in part when you hire people. If you have the right people, the rest is easy. If you don’t, nothing is easy.
Jim Collins, in his management classic Good to Great, calls this principle — “First Who, Then What”. He writes: “Those who build great organizations make sure they have the right people on the bus and the right people in the key seats before they figure out where to drive the bus.”
But how do you ensure you hire the right people? By prioritizing the right hires.
Vivasoft prioritizes hiring the right people, instead of the best people. The company often leaves out extraordinary resources during the recruitment process. It hires team players. You are good at technical skills but not a team player and tend to be a ‘know-it-all and I’m better than others’, Vivasoft will not hire you. The highest importance is paid to culture and team fit. The idea is that skills can be taught but attitude can’t.
Vivasoft enjoys additional benefits in attracting the right talent due to its reputation. People who love the kind of culture Vivasoft has — love music and sports — usually apply more. As a result, the company attracts a lot of the right people from the beginning.
People-first Approach — ‘Care’ is a Verb
However, Vivasoft doesn’t stop at merely hiring the right people. It invests in materializing its values through actions.
You can easily tell someone that you care about them. They might even believe you the first time. But if you don’t respond when they are in trouble and seek your help, they won’t believe you the next time you claim to care. Actions make our words real.
This applies to organizations as well. When Vivasoft says that it deeply cares about its people, you may naturally ask, “What does that look like in action?”
In action, Vivasoft empowers its people, more on that in a moment, provides entertainment options, and serves excellent food. Vivasoft is almost famous for its food. It has a dedicated canteen for its people. It believes that employee health is important for productivity. In a place like Banani, a good meal could be expensive. It can also be a mental hassle. Bringing food from home can be an inconvenience for many.
When you provide this support from the office, people have one less worry and they are more productive. Moreover, how you serve food in the office has other second-order effects. In Vivasoft, everyone, from the office boy to the CEO, is served the same meals. It creates a communal feeling. It also shows the company truly cares about its people. Often food is the road to one’s heart.
The central idea of the Vivasoft culture is ‘people-centric’. The company prefers ‘co-worker’ to ‘employee’, which eliminates any connotation of hierarchy and indicates cultural differences. The thesis is that if you have the right people, take care of them, train and empower them, and give them an opportunity to perform and grow, they will deliver the best services to your customers and take care of the growth of the company.
Despite having grown into a fairly large operation, Vivasoft does not have a traditional HR department. Instead, the company has a ‘Culture Department’, which primarily focuses on employee well-being. The company says it wants to have happier employees and cultivate an employee-friendly work environment.
One of the ways Vivasoft demonstrates its commitment to its people is by assisting with medical expenses and granting paid leave when necessary. For instance, towards the end of January, one of its software engineers had an accident and couldn’t work for several months. The company covered all his medical expenses, and provided him with a salary and bonuses for the five months he couldn’t work.
This approach has resulted in an excellent employee retention rate and greater employee productivity. The strong bond leads to a low turnover rate.
Many companies complain about employee retention, especially in the software and tech sectors, due to the surge in remote work and the increasing demand for Bangladeshi talent across various markets. However, Vivasoft has yet to face this challenge. Despite being a relatively young company, retention has not been an issue for the company. Its cultural reputation has also helped the company in attracting people who align with its values.
People want to work for companies where they feel cared for, empowered, and heard. After certain financial incentive benchmarks, meaningful work, and other intrinsic values like fulfillment and bonding play an important role in job satisfaction.
This strategy aligns with research findings. In the aforementioned book “Good to Great,” Collins writes, “We found no systematic pattern linking executive compensation to the process of going from good to great.”
Making Office and Work Enjoyable
Another important aspect of Vivasoft’s culture is that the company has put effort into making the office enjoyable and productive. Deliberate attention has been paid to bring people together and encourage interaction among colleagues. Both office spaces and events are designed to facilitate these interactions.
Interactions in the office foster camaraderie and create bonding among colleagues, making work more enjoyable. These interactions enable the exchange of ideas and knowledge, accelerating learning and serendipitous innovation.
In a large office setting like Vivasoft, where people work in various separate teams, formal encounters with everyone are rare. Instead, interactions typically occur in communal areas like the cafeteria during meals, smoking zones, music rooms, and sports facilities.
To remedy the limitation, Vivasoft has created an environment conducive to such interactions. Despite its office being situated in an upscale area of the city, it has kept ample open interaction spaces, which provides greater opportunities for people to come together and connect. The company has a long list of cultural activities to facilitate the same, a distinctive aspect of Vivasoft’s culture.
The company boasts a designated smoking zone, a nap room for resting, a dedicated music area, a designated gaming room, and an annual calendar of sports, music, and cultural events.
The company also encourages its people to travel and take deliberate time off from work. People are encouraged to take on sporting and exploration challenges such as marathons, half marathons, trekking, etc., and extra paid leaves are allowed to attend these pursuits.
These events keep the culture vibrant, enhance employee engagement and well-being, bring people together, and help forge lasting connections. People who might not cross paths due to working in separate teams come together during events like cricket matches or music evenings, building life-long friendships. We mentioned “Good to Great” at the outset of this article. Collins observes in the book that colleagues at great companies typically enjoy one another’s company. They cultivate lifelong relationships and eagerly look forward to their interactions.
Learning and Development — Opportunities for Growth
Opportunities for learning and personal growth are crucial aspects of a healthy culture. Learning and development of people hold importance for organizations for two primary reasons.
Firstly, the growth of an organization is intricately linked to the quality and mastery of its people. Without the right people, growth is unattainable.
Secondly, people highly value opportunities for learning and development. Numerous studies underscore that contemporary employees expect opportunities for personal growth from their employers, and the availability of such prospects influences their loyalty.
Vivasoft has an internal framework to ensure the continuous learning and development of its people. It sends its people to company-paid training sessions and online courses. It has an internal culture that encourages learning and mastery. The company establishes ‘Clans’ based on skills, such as the Java Clan, GoLang Clan, and so forth. Each clan has a clan chief, who assumes responsibility for the learning needs of every member of the clan and coordinates learning opportunities.
Vivasoft has also established an academy to teach technology skills to individuals beyond its team. It runs skill boot camps and has created a deep repository of content on tech skills in Bangla for young people and students. The company expects that these efforts will help it reach aspiring programmers, making future recruitment easy.
A Decentralized Operation — Empowering People in Practice
Empowering people is a common corporate trope these days. However, the value often remains rhetorical. Contrarily, the way Vivasoft empowers its people is a fascinating experiment in management.
Decentralization is central to Vivasoft’s culture.
Teams are empowered to run their shows. Individuals are empowered to leverage their skills and decision-making abilities. Decisions rarely require central approval. People are given appropriate authority with responsibilities.
Each team adopts its own approach and structure. Some teams follow the Scrum framework, while others utilize tools like Trello or Jira. Teams directly work with clients and operate based on client requirements. The company doesn’t impose any rigid guidelines regarding tools or processes, as long as there are no complaints from the clients.
This approach creates a dynamic of speed, ownership, and high-quality client experience while enhancing employee job satisfaction.
Various studies suggest that our job satisfaction is closely tied to our ability to apply and demonstrate mastery in our work. However, without the freedom and space to perform, it is hard to develop and show mastery. In a horizontally structured culture like Vivasoft, where people are entrusted with responsibilities with authority, mastery is easier to cultivate.
Overall, Vivasoft operates with limited rules. The company says it believes in flexible rules and operates with as few rules as possible, an important trait of Vivasoft culture, which emphasizes individual freedom and agency.
Rules can be double-edged swords. A rule created to counter certain bad behavior can also stifle creativity and agency. The company addresses challenges case by case. If someone makes mistakes, it corrects them. If they don’t change, additional measures are taken. The company discourages creating wholesale rigid rules.
Vivasoft has a flexible office timing policy, allowing people to have adaptable work hours as long as they meet their deadlines. The company says it wants to transform the office into a place where everyone loves coming and staying. This sentiment makes sense. When people enjoy their work, productivity naturally goes up. Similarly, when people don’t enjoy staying in the office, it hampers their productivity.
This willingness to operate with minimum rules also comes from the understanding that creative people usually prefer independence. Moreover, empowering people is useful for management as well as for the personal growth and creativity of employees. Instead of rules, Vivasoft has created a culture of intention on the back of consistent practice and tacit knowledge.
Working with Clients — Delivering Consistently High-quality Service
Vivasoft applies the same unorthodox cultural ideas and principles to its external collaborations. What you are inside is what you ultimately reflect outside.
The company has a unique approach to working with clients, where it empowers its people, particularly developers, to collaborate directly with clients. The approach provides clients the freedom and flexibility to set the tone and direction of a project. By engaging developers in direct communication with clients rather than intermediaries like project managers, clients can communicate their requirements effectively, while developers can get a clearer understanding of clients’ needs. It allows effective collaboration with the client and thus delivers high-quality services.
The second advantage of this model is its speed. Bureaucratic obstacles are nearly nonexistent. Developers have the authority to make decisions related to their assigned projects. The direct interaction between clients and developers expedites decision-making, feedback, problem-solving, and ultimately, project delivery.
The model not only facilitates superior quality but also enables exceptional customer service. Clients experience minimal delays. When any specific needs emerge, they can directly engage with someone capable of promptly addressing their problems, instead of communicating through a project manager. The model has significantly improved client satisfaction for Vivasoft, resulting in an enviable retention rate. At the same time, it offers an accelerated learning curve for the developers.
Vivasoft has built an excellent culture over the years. The company continues to thrive. However, culture is easy when you are a small team of six people. At this scale, everyone knows everyone. All the team members have daily interactions with the founders. As a result, founders have more control over disseminating their ideas and values.
However, as a company expands, the challenge of scaling the culture arises. Teams grow large. People come from diverse backgrounds. Everyone has their ideas. Founders no longer have the time and opportunity to personally connect and guide each individual. As a result, many companies stumble when they try to scale their culture, especially during periods of rapid growth.
Today, Vivasoft stands at such a juncture where it needs a strategy to scale its culture. To tackle the challenge, the company is training its second layer of leaders. A central ingredient of Vivasoft’s culture is the interpersonal connections among its people. As the Vivasoft founders look to scale the culture, they are actively preparing the second tier of leadership to foster strong relationships with their respective teams. The company says it plans to scale its culture by scaling interpersonal relationships.
The focus lies entirely on the actions, practices, and individual and collective behaviors.
Vivasoft’s culture can be summed up in two crucial aspects: firstly, an employee-first approach, and secondly, a flat organizational structure. While there are other elements, these two fundamental values establish the foundation for the remainder of the culture.
For instance, its friendly environment arises from its employee-first approach. Similarly, the absence of a hierarchical “boss” culture is a direct consequence of its flat organizational structure.
This tacit approach to culture makes the spreading of the culture easier. It is like socio-cultural knowledge that is passed down from one generation to another through practice and rituals. Combined with its deliberate second-layer leadership development, the company should succeed at scaling its culture.
Culture Drives Result
We have discussed Vivasoft culture a fair bit. We have seen how the company operates and the advantages it enjoys due to its culture. But why is culture so important for an organization?
The simple answer is that culture empowers you to consistently do your best work. Culture is the ultimate lasting competitive advantage. Your competitors can copy your product, ideas, and strategy, but culture, they will find it hard to replicate.
Historian Will Durant famously wrote: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Culture is the habit of an organization. You create a culture and then your culture creates you.
It is hard to overstate the importance of culture in deciding the performance and eventually fate of an organization.
For Vivasoft, the company never had a traditional sales team. Despite this, it has experienced phenomenal growth, primarily through word of mouth and referrals. This has happened because of its culture, which is it has taken care of its people and they have delivered excellent service to its clients, resulting in excellent outcomes.
Lessons in Building Culture
If culture is at the heart of how you build extraordinary organizations, then it is an important question to ponder: How do we build an optimal culture that delivers?
“The first step I think is to listen to your people and take care of them,” advises Vivasoft Co-founder Shafqat Asif. He explains why some companies struggle to empower people. “The challenge is with trust. I have seen that people start with trusting people and then they experience something challenging where someone breaks their trust and then onward they stop trusting anyone.”
There can’t be a more potent explanation for why some companies struggle to create a healthy culture. Trust is at the center of any healthy culture. When people in an organization fail to trust each other, it creates all kinds of challenges and inauthenticities.
“I don’t think this is a good approach,” adds Mr. Shafqat. “Regardless of our past experience, we have to start with trust. We can create systems and processes to safeguard trust but trust is the beginning. If you want to grow, you have to trust, delegate, and grow other people. You have to leave responsibilities and must not micromanage. Otherwise, growth is impossible.”
Creating an environment where people trust each other can be the start of creating a great culture. Low-trust environments are unproductive, unhealthy, and produce anxiety. Contrarily, when people trust each other freely, people are happier and more productive.
Vivasoft’s firm focus on culture is understandable. The company recognizes that it is in the business of talent. While this principle holds for every business, it carries undeniable importance, particularly for enterprises like Vivasoft, as they essentially operate in the knowledge economy where people are everything.
If you can hire talented people, empower them with the right culture, and put together effective incentives and systems, you have a potent recipe for success.
Vivasoft has done an excellent job of crafting a culture that not only draws the right people but also fosters an environment that empowers people and facilitates their growth.
In recent years, Vivasoft has displayed relentless determination. It has emerged as one of the most important technology solutions providers in Bangladesh, working with both local and international clients. The company now aims higher.
There is a lot more to Vivasoft than what meets the eye. Its distinctive culture stands as one of these layers, which has been a driving force behind the impressive growth of the company. Tech companies in Dhaka would be wise to pay attention to the way this emerging powerhouse operates and scales its unique culture.