It is now 10 years ago that I founded Vacuumlabs, together with two friends in my dorm room in Bratislava. Software development was our focus then, and still is. However, we have always known we want to go further. We wanted to build our own things, and build new products and businesses.
So while we are still doing software development primarily, we have always kept our eyes open for other opportunities. As a result, we now have a set of projects and independent companies that were born and incubated at Vacuumlabs.
Each of these spin-offs offers great opportunities for skill-learning and personal development as well as honing one’s business skills. Many projects also present complex technical challenges and options for innovation and using modern technology that excite both juniors and very senior engineers.
Today, I want to introduce you to a few of them, as well as the amazing teams that work on them. It will give you an idea of what these companies do, and also what it feels like inside the teams that have started these spin-offs. Get to know the other companies that make up Vacuumlabs.
Let me start off with our most profitable and successful spin-off: AdaLite. AdaLite is a wallet for the Cardano cryptocurrency, Ada. Cardano is currently the 4th largest cryptocurrency by market cap, but at the time we started building AdaLite, Cardano was just a young niche cryptocurrency betting on proof-of-stake technology after many proof-of-stake currencies before it had already gone bust.
Building a wallet for such a relatively new blockchain presented all sorts of technical challenges. But that is exactly what senior developers in the team liked about it. For over two years, we allowed this project to serve as a training camp for junior engineers and ‘crypto virgins’, despite the fact that the project didn’t bring in any significant revenue. The reason though was simple: people in the team loved working on this product, and we were bullish on where the crypto space — and Cardano in particular — could go.
Here’s how one of the team members, Miso Petro, described the experience:
“This project helped me to engage with Cardano (and cryptocurrencies in general) professionally. Until I took over the AdaLite project, crypto was just a hobby for me. But this project lifted me to the pro league. It also allowed me to learn and get a pretty deep technical understanding of various crypto areas.”
Building of AdaLite did good things for Vacuumlabs as well: it helped us win many more projects from both the Cardano Foundation as well as Emurgo, such as developing the now-popular Yoroi wallet.
We started ReactiveConf in 2015, when the React.js framework was still in its early days. Obviously things are temporarily on hold now, given the coronavirus situation. But for the upcoming 6th edition we expect to host 3 different stages with over 1200 attendants. That way we bring together React developers — as well as developers working on many other technological stacks — from across all continents to meet, talk, laugh, and make friends.
Soon after the success of the first edition, we spun ReactiveConf into its own company, headed by someone who embodies everything ReactiveConf stands for: Miki.
“I was hired as the 23rd person in the company. I was the first person who the board put in charge of our very first spin-off, ReactiveConf. My goal was simple: to take it to another level, to make it from a local conference to a worldwide one. And that’s exactly what I did.
The only thing Matej, our CXO, told me, was: ‘Miki, work, so everything is good.’ And I do that till this day and say the same thing to my team members all the time. I love the courage and trust the board has given me that day, because it has transformed me as a person.”
Through Miki’s relentless energy and spirit of hard work, as well as the hard work of the entire ReactiveConf team, it’s now one of the leading front-end development conferences.
Sparring, Trama™ and Verdicto
Who would have thought that our legal team would be the most entrepreneurial types within the company? Yet Sparring, Trama™ and Verdicto are all spin-off companies created by our legal team. Each of these projects are now independent companies that help entrepreneurs and business owners deal with legal issues more efficiently.
Here’s what Majo Porvaznik (CLO) said, when I asked him about his personal perspective on spinning out these projects while working at Vacuumlabs:
“It is always thrilling to witness the birth of a new life, whether that’s human or business. Thanks to the fact that these spin-offs operate in highly-regulated industries that are close to our core competencies in markets like legaltech or fintech, Vacuumlabs can provide a huge amount of support, in the form of design, development, network, resources and full infrastructure. Better yet: by growing the number of Vacuumlabs spin-offs, we not only increase their chances of success, but it also makes the entire group stronger and more impactful.
On a more personal level, I believe that ‘growing projects’ is the greatest skill one can earn when scaling Vacuum spin-offs. This skill runs deep into team culture, management, strategy and more”
With Daylight we took all the experience we had gained from building challenger banks for our clients, and used it to launch our very own challenger bank. Matej Ftacnik, board member here at Vacuumlabs, is an experienced venture builder as well as an LGBT+ activist. He suggested we build a queer bank, and — to add some challenge to it — to do all the engineering and development for it in under 3 months. Four engineers got to work, and in the end it took a little over 4 months to build and launch the entire product.
Daylight launched successfully, as the first digital bank in the US that is specifically catering to the LGBT+ community. It shows how engineers in Slovakia can work efficiently for delivering excellent products that are used on the other side of the globe.
Below is Matej, with some further comments on what the process of kickstarting Daylight was like:
“Startup DNA runs through my blood, and I love to support everyone who has the passion to create something new and meaningful, delightful and innovative that empowers people. I returned to building something from scratch recently, when I was behind the idea of Daylight.
As a member of the LGBT+ community, I face unequal conditions every day. Although we live in a very modern and progressive society, specific communities are still disadvantaged in different kinds of situations, which affects personal and professional lives of their members and too often does not lead to happy endings. For me, this project is the first big step in the fight for the rights of individual communities.”
We’re proud that all companies within the Vacuumlabs foster a culture where great people feel included, no matter their background, religious beliefs, skin color or sexual orientation.
All these diverse perspectives lead to new ideas, which in turn lead to new concepts and opportunities like these.
Finally, let me introduce you to a different sort of initiative we undertook, to help our own local community better cope with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. Rychlotest-covid is a spin-off dedicated to making COVID-19 testing readily available to everyone in Slovakia.
We started this project based on a single phone call: Ivan Kulich, the brother of one of Vacuumlabs’ founders, is a prominent biologist in Germany. When I spoke with him in March 2020 — very early in the pandemic — he told me that our communities were not doing testing at a rate anywhere near the capacity that would be needed to have a chance of keeping the virus under control. He convinced me that more testing was essential.
Within days we assembled a team of enthusiasts, while Ivan connected me with the scientific community here in Slovakia. We started off, in summer 2020, by regularly testing our own team members. Once we had that covered, we encouraged other companies to come and use our testing facilities as well. Since then, we’ve been leading the charge in bringing faster, cheaper and more widespread testing to Slovakia, with now 20+ testing facilities in operation all over the country, and over 100.000+ tests conducted in total.
While we increased our capacity for testing and operations, we also saw some opportunities to innovate on the way PRC tests are conducted. Those innovations enable us to now produce PCR tests for as little as €10 per test. How that works however, is a separate story, for another article.
The role you can play
When I started Vacuumlabs a decade ago, I had a vision that we would some day be building our own products, besides doing work for clients.
Today, that is a reality. It is also something that really motivates many people within the company. These spin-off companies are the things that everyone — from new hires, to long-time colleagues — get excited about.
Many of our spin-offs are now successful, profitable, standalone projects. But above that, they have been the drivers for many people within our team to push themselves to their limits, and become stronger in the process.
If you would like to work in an environment where people:
- have the freedom to play around
- try new technology and
- build new products from scratch, I encourage you to visit our hiring page. We are always looking for energetic, passionate, and enthusiastic people to join our teams.