Marek Mrowiec, the founder of Prodio, tells us about its online manufacturing software.
First of all, how are you and your family doing?
Marek Mrowiec: Thank you, we are doing as well as we can in the present times.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Prodio.
Marek Mrowiec: It is not a rag to riches story, but it proves that hard work and patience pay off. Since I remember, I have been working as a consultant, but I originally had no plans to set up my own company, not to mention a software business. Instead, I got into consulting while studying, gaining hands-on experience in my father’s family manufacturing business. This was priceless, and I was praised for my job quality when auditors, who regularly visited the company, complimented us on the progress. They said that it took years to achieve the same level of organization in many businesses we managed to get just in the space of a few months between the audits.
There I was, at 23, having managed ¼ of the clients for Tuv Nord Poland, one of the best Polish certification units, where I shared my observations and expertise.
At first, I perfected the optimization processes improving life in small manufacturing companies to move slowly to larger and larger clients. My job involved mainly advisory services on organizing and managing quality in production processes, maintaining order, and improving staff productivity and effectiveness. My career is connected with machining, elastomers, and rubber goods production, but slowly I gained clients from different industries. I was trusted with more and more complex optimizations, ex. I helped move to new premises Polish innovative company (the production used to be in the garage, but it became too small). It was a pricey move and an organizational challenge.
In my daily practice, I heard many clients say that the most significant “wow” factor that improved their production planning and control over the manufacturing process was made by the simple tools I created for them on the spot. In the beginning, there were some printable Excel files, with an easy-to-access products database and list of orders ready to print. The next step was Google Docs, which could be shared online as a production plan apart from collecting the data. This, in turn, gave numerous possibilities: employees could mark the operations they were working on, and this solution became an essential ecosystem for many of my clients. These tools I created seemed irreplaceable, and many companies couldn’t imagine life without using them. However, as time passed, more and more problems appeared: obviously, neither Excel nor Google docs were designed to process such an amount of information simultaneously. So, naturally, the systems got stuck, and bottlenecks occurred.
Some of my clients asked me to quickly change Excel sheets to implement ERP systems. I was supposed to oversee the whole process as an independent consultant and ensure that the implementation went smoothly. There were at least three such projects, and each of them faced similar problems: the simple Excel tools I’d created proved to be far more helpful than the new ones, which cost the company 30-50 thousand dollars. It seemed impossible to achieve the same functionality using expensive ERP systems.
My clients became more and more stressed and frustrated because the companies which sold them new products weren’t keen on improved functionality or increased productivity. Production was an alien concept for them, the same as information flow between the managers and the shop floor. So the sales reps did their job, “flogged” the product, which was in most cases some complicated inventory and accounting system, and then forgot about the whole thing. The tools were instead a limitation for my customers in daily production scheduling. So they learned to avoid using them, returning to the old methods that proved successful, namely the tools I designed.
When another company, after about a year and a half, noticed that even though the ERP system had been introduced, they still carried on using “my” Excel sheets and Google Docs (although not everything worked perfectly because of the amount of data to process) I had a light bulb moment: why don’t we create a simple kind of software based on the same idea as Google Docs and Excel sheets?
I had known Paweł Kotarski (Prodio’s co-founder and CTO) for many years, so I jumped to pitch this idea to him: a simple, user-friendly software, without any accounting modules, designed to register work and schedule production in a small manufacturing company. At first, we encountered a lot of criticism, and everybody who heard of our idea tried to discourage us from doing it. Critics said that the software without integration with inventory (warehouse) and accounting modules does not make sense because companies would still want to buy ERP systems. Moreover, the project was viewed negatively because of the low pricing: we shouldn’t introduce such cheap solutions (from 97$ per month) where the clients can implement the whole system online without having a consultant present at the manufacturing company.
However, we were stubborn and carried on presenting our vision. In the beginning, there weren’t many people interested in a new product, so we offered to implement Prodio free of charge in my old clients’ companies. It was a hit – this was exactly what they had been looking for.
After a year, about 12 clients were using our software. Unfortunately, we made a mistake in enrolling in the European Union project, where one of the primary conditions stated that we couldn’t sell anything for nine months. It was an incubation period after which we were promised to get a grant. It slowed us down immensely because most of the time was spent preparing presentations, but we decided that it was a sacrifice worth making.
Thanks to our hard work, we managed to get about 100 new clients in a year. Prodio was complimented on its simplicity and efficiency. People said that it was exactly what they had been looking for. Many small companies were amazed by our software because it was the answer to their problems, and the fact that Prodio wasn’t integrated with an accounting module was a plus.
Finally, one of the best Polish investment funds decided to support us by investing in our growth. Currently, we are working as a team to enter foreign markets. It is another challenge, but we are not afraid to take it, so “fingers crossed.”
How does Prodio market its product/services online?
Marek Mrowiec: Our product is online manufacturing software. Naturally, we market it on the Internet, being its natural platform. We care about the excellent quality content on our website: knowledge base, product guides, blog posts, different comparisons, and reports. Instead of only producing sales materials, we try to answer real clients’ questions and help them with daily struggles. Organic traffic is significant because paid traffic (google ads) tends to come pricey in our keyword range and category.
We have profiles on various social media platforms, a YouTube channel, and presentation profiles on Software Advice, Capterra, G2, etc.
We try to vary the content: articles, videos, podcasts, free webinars, and newsletters. Sometimes, unusual situations call for different solutions. Recently, we carried out more than 100 surveys with various small and medium-sized manufacturing companies (mainly our clients) to prepare a lengthy report about the influence of the war in Ukraine on the situation of Polish manufacturing companies. The results were published online on different industry websites and our blog and sent as a downloadable pdf in a newsletter. As a result, not only do we source free links, but also a tremendous amount of organic traffic and PR, as the report was widely discussed.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how did you get through it?
Marek Mrowiec: Considering the current situation in Europe *the influence of the war in Ukraine, the inflation, and the shortage of raw materials many of our clients face, Covid is a bit forgotten case at the moment. Of course, many companies that use our software were affected by the pandemics, so in this sense, Prodio was involved too. We had planned to expand much faster than it was possible due to covid19; some of our plans had to be abandoned or put off (ex. imagine preparing a “happy go lucky” marketing campaign when everything around falls apart – it obviously wouldn’t work, so we changed the way of communication and the tone).
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to manage your online marketing?
Marek Mrowiec: Apart from the Excel spreadsheets, we use the platform Click up, where based on dashboards, spaces, and spreads, all tasks are allocated. This way, we can easily communicate inside the team, make updates on the fly and see the progress of each project.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Marek Mrowiec: Katana and MRPeasy are our biggest rivals. We try to stay on top of things by checking out their marketing actions, ads, social media profiles, and blog posts.