“As a company emerging from a university environment, we learned everything about running a business on the go. People connected to JIC helped us make a solid start and shared invaluable experience with us. I’d be glad if more companies like us were established in the South Moravian Region. For this reason we try, through JIC, to help other start-ups that have the potential to influence the world.”
"At the beginning we were just three blokes sitting in a single overheated room who wanted their products to compete with Cisco. It was certainly an ambitious idea, but perhaps not the very brightest," says Jiří Tobola, one of the founders, about the 'garage' beginnings of a company whose current turnover exceeds 200 million Czech crowns. "We had to start from scratch and find our own way."
And their way hasn't been easy. It started simply enough, however: back sometime around 2001, a group of scientists involved in the association CESNET (Czech Education and Scientific NETwork) concluded that Cisco's solution was too expensive, and that they could deliver a similar product many times cheaper. So these Czech scientists created a programmable router based on FPGA technology which did indeed compete Cisco. However, they were unable to keep up with the world leader. So, they began to focus on monitoring and security for computer networks instead. Their unique prototypes even excited the European Commission, which suggested they commercialise the product.
In 2007, after two years of negotiations with CESNET and the universities, they established a joint stock company with a 4% interest owned by BUT and Masaryk University. "At that time Czech universities had hardly any experience with commercialisation, and we had to convince them that it made sense to establish a university spin-off," says Jiří Tobola. "The technology transfer from CESNET was not easy either, but thanks to the endurance of everyone involved, a key contract was signed and the new company was established," says Rostislav Vocilka, who as CEO was in charge of establishing the company and linking the commercial and academic spheres.
From university campus to the world of business
Scientists more used to a stable academic environment suddenly found themselves at sea in the dynamic world of business, without the foggiest idea how that world actually worked. "There were three of us starting the company. The CTO, one programmer and the CEO, who had some experience in the Czech distribution business. After a few months, however, we realised that we also needed someone who could sell the product. We were learning everything about doing business on the fly," says Jiří Tobola, who was CTO at that time. "At the beginning, everything seemed to us absolutely crucial. However, with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see those moments that really were, in fact, decisive for the company's course of development," adds Rostislav Vocilka. "First, we were fortunate in our choice of technology, and we caught the wave at the right time. The second factor was having the right people," he explains. "Last but not least, we were guided along the correct path thanks to cooperation with the best incubator for academic start-ups in the country – the South Moravian Innovation Centre," says Rostislav Vocilka.
Knowledge transfer within an ecosystem is key
Flowmon set up its first offices at the premises of the South Moravian Innovation Centre, and the company also drew a lot of inspiration from their neighbour. "We soon realised that cooperation with JIC was not just a matter of sharing space, but that its value lay somewhere else," says Jiří Tobola. "What I see as being most important is having a developed ecosystem, where business people transfer their knowledge to younger entrepreneurs. A lot of start-ups have a huge problem putting their ideas into practice and don't know where to start. In this field, I think, JIC has an irreplaceable role!"
In addition to a number of other services, Flowmon made good use of consultations within the JIC PLATINN programme, where they discussed expansion abroad with the expert Richard Brulík, at that time Sales Director of Y Soft. "We gained experience from a company that was 5 years ahead of us in development and had a lot to offer. It was very valuable to us," says Jiří Tobola. The expert himself also regards the consultations as beneficial: "we managed to get the company to perceive itself as a global company, with all that entails, and to act accordingly in external relations," says JIC expert Richard Brulík.
Rocket growth and expansion into foreign markets
The first customers were quick to arrive, so the initial team of three started to grow. "The team grew to five, and then to twelve, until we gradually reached a workforce of one hundred and twenty, which is the current number," comments Jiří Tobola on the company's development. In 2012, Flowmon had partners and customers on five continents, and a year later it was included for the first time in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50, the list of fastest-growing technology companies.
Global ambitions of Flowmon 2.0
"When I look at Flowmon today, the change is incredible," says Jiří Tobola, evaluating more than ten years of the company's existence. "Flowmon has become a well-established brand in the market, we're a partner of the greatest IT companies in the world and have a comprehensive portfolio of products." Former CEO Rostislav Vocilka is excited that the company is going through such a lively time: "we've got long-standing, satisfied customers, but new ones keep coming to us as well, which means not only growing turnover, but also new challenges. We're definitely not stagnating. We want to continue growing." Jiří Tobola assumed the function of CEO after Rostislav Vocilka left the role early in 2018.
Under new management, the company has been planning global expansion. In the next three years it wants to enter the American market, expand outward from its Japanese stronghold to other countries of Asia-Pacific, and strengthen its position in Europe. "In 2020 we plan to double the company's turnover and number of employees, just to make sure we can serve customers continuously all over the world," says Jiří Tobola, outlining the future course of the so-called Flowmon 2.0 strategy. "Our long-term vision is to build a global technology company that will provide attractive jobs to over 800 people and be a world leader. The fact that we're already a European leader indicates that we're on the right track."
company’s turnover in 2017
in 35 countries around the world
of monitoring capacity delivered by Flowmon to customers in 2017
“Our greatest challenge has been coping with rapid growth. At present we have almost a thousand employees in the Czech Republic, and if we add in our colleagues from our outsource centres around the world, the number comes to almost 2000.”
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Oliver Dlouhý has been keen on doing business since childhood. He sold blueberries at the Czech-Austrian border and collected cheap jukeboxes for pub owners in his home town. In 2012 he founded Skypicker (called Kiwi.com today) and started to develop a unique algorithm that has helped increase sales by 7000 % over the last four years.