Gapstars: Bridging Europe’s tech talent crunch from Sri Lanka

“Gapstars Harver Team visiting the Amsterdam office”

The company is aiming for 50% revenue growth annually by nurturing and leveraging Sri Lanka’s tech talent.

Gapstars, a software developer based in Amsterdam and Colombo, started in 2015, after its founders saw potential in Sri Lanka’s tech scene, especially the high quality and sheer size of its talent pool.

The company provides B2B software development services for start-ups and scale-ups based in the Netherlands and boosts a subscription model. Currently, Gapstars has a workforce of one hundred software engineers based in Colombo.

“When we first came here, we did our research and found out that Sri Lanka was among the top destinations for tech talent,” says Hugo Hemmen, Co-founder and Chief Executive at Gapstars. Alongside Hemmen, the founding team includes Barend Raaff, David Bijker and Matthijs Metzemaekers.

“We decided Sri Lanka would be a great place to build a hub with strong tech talent to work with global tech companies,” he said. Over the next three years, Hemmen wants to grow revenue by 50% annually. And to do this, he must expand the Colombo team to 300.

“We are not an outsourcing company with a pool of shared resources that take up common tasks for a range of clients, but rather, we are integrated into the companies of our clients,” Hemmen says. “This is in fact a key differentiator of Gapstars. We recruit team members on behalf of our clients who will essentially work as one of their employees, and understand and share a client’s culture, objectives and vision”.

The company is fastidious about who it wants to onboard as a client. The culture has to fit with Gapstars for starters. Prospective clients must also have a proven product or tech solution, which means they have secured angel or venture capital funding and demonstrate rapid growth.

One of Gapstars clients is Otrium, a fast-growing tech company and a fashion e-commerce platform that enables the World’s leading fashion brands to find buyers for clothing unsold at stores. Otrium has secured over $30 million in funding, including $24 million Series B funding in mid-2020 at the height of the global pandemic.

It is already working on its 5-year plan to become an industry leader and an agile software development powerhouse dominant in the Netherlands.

Harver is another company served by Gapstars. An AI-powered pre-employment assessment solution platform, Harver had also raised over $30 million in funds in 2019 and boasts an impressive clientele including Zappos, Netflix, Booking.com, Uber, Vodafone, WeWork, and Casper.

For Gapstars to expand, bolstering its Sri Lankan team will be critical. Gapstars employs an effective recruitment model. It focuses on hiring and building a highly qualified and dedicated team comprising post-graduates in mathematics or IT and have had mentors, with work experience from the other topnotch tech companies in the country such as Virtusa, Sysco, and 99x.

Hemmen explained that his team’s journey so far has been to find top talent in Sri Lanka who loves to take on challenges, have a globalist perspective and can challenge conventional thinking. “Our vision is to help our employees become global citizens, so we make sure they visit the clients we serve at their offices in the Netherlands at least once a year. We also encourage our clients to get to know their developers based in Colombo by visiting this beautiful island. This strategy works to deepen bonds and build trust on both sides,” Hemmen insists.

Gapstars is working for 15 of the Netherlands’ fastest-growing tech companies at the moment and caters to a wide array of clientele from recruitment solver platforms, fleet management, damage management, fintech, and fashion-retail, all single-product fast-growing companies that have already secured funding for market expansion and growth.

“Its new office has a large leisure area including a pool table”

The Netherlands is an emerging technology hub for Europe and finding talent is challenging, and Hemmen believes the Sri Lanka connection gives Gapstars an edge

It is already working on its 5-year plan to become an industry leader and an agile software development powerhouse dominant in the Netherlands. Gapstars has a Dream 100 list of clients it wishes to engage to grow the business. “There is still a lot more opportunity in the Netherlands, but we are also keeping our options open to venture into the rest of Europe over the next few years,” Hemmen says.

The Netherlands is an emerging technology hub for Europe and finding talent is challenging, and Hemmen believes the Sri Lankan connection gives Gapstars an edge. “The advantage is not about the cost arbitrage of labour but purely on the quality of IT skills available in Sri Lanka,” he avows.

For over a decade, a global shortage of software developers and skilled tech professionals has been building up, and Hemmen is convinced that Sri Lanka can play a role to bridge the gap.

According to available research, the shortage of highly skilled workers amounts to around 40 million worldwide: In tech, the U.S. will lose $162 billion worth of revenue annually due to the tech skills shortage, according to one study. Since 2015, more than half of CIO surveyed by global audit firm KPMG reported a lack of developers prevented their companies from keeping up with the technological changes. The pandemic-induced digitalisation has only sent the demand for tech professionals skyrocketing.

“The Gapstars Support Team working in its new state of the art technology centre in Rajagiriya”

Gapstars is ready to meet the pent up demand and help companies to grow and expand their businesses. It sees itself as an ‘Innovator for Innovators’, providing the critical talent and technology for companies to grow.

Gapstars recruitment process is intense. It interviews at least 50 candidates for a job post before recruiting the best fit. And it has been interviewing hundreds of candidates week-on-week to constantly find that perfect blend for its projects. Developers are also sent to the Netherlands for training.

From the beginning, Hemmen and his team have been working hard to create a unique culture. “If you join Gapstars you will not only be schooled as a developer but also groomed as a human and nurtured as a global citizen. All our employees will be part of the global technology ecosystem. That is particularly important for us,” Hemmen says.

Gapstars recruitment process is intense. It interviews at least 50 candidates for a job post before recruiting the best fit. And it has been interviewing hundreds of candidates week-onweek to constantly find that perfect blend for its projects.

Before Covid-19, most companies were wary of out-shoring their tech development needs, especially to this part of the world. But the pandemic has been a great leveller. Today, tech professionals in the Netherlands and Sri Lanka compete for jobs on an even footing.

“Now if more investment were to go into grooming Sri Lankan developers and to give them more exposure, there is no doubt in my mind that this country will emerge as the talent hub for the global tech industry over the next five to ten years,” Hemmen says. “Gapstars, of course, has taken an early lead in this regard, so we are pleased with that”.