BY ELSE KALFAYAN
Amalya Yeghoyan was at a sidewalk café table in Glendale June 3, meeting with two IT business executives. Mihran Toumajan, a professional I interviewed more than a year ago, stood to greet me as I walked by and introduced me to her. Yeghoyan had traveled to Glendale from her home in Gyumri to find new business opportunities for GTech Solutions, a software development firm established by the Gyumri Information Technologies Center (GITC).
I knew the Glendale City Council had just voted to establish a sister city program with Gyumri, as I had just seen the meeting the previous day on GTV6. Yeghoyan said she had been there in the audience. I found out she wasn’t part of the official delegation: an acquaintance told her about it and invited her to come on the spur of the moment. It was a complete coincidence that her business development trip occurred at the same time, and fortunate as well that the Armenian-American community was ready to celebrate the new civic relationship at the same time GTech was seeking new business prospects.
We agreed to meet so I could learn more about her goals in Southern California. A few days later, I walked to the offices of Information Integration Group, Yeghoyan’s base of operations. It was a busy day for her: she was appearing on Horizon TV in the afternoon and was trying to book as many meetings as possible. She told me later that even in Armenia she logs long hours: “My work in Armenia finishes at 6pm, and then it starts again at 7pm when people in America wake up!” She’s pursuing an MBA through the British School of Business: “I have to finish my papers, so I stay up anyway!”
GTech currently has about 30 employees in Gyumri. It offers digital marketing, search engine optimization and web / mobile application development services. Its long-term business goals are to gain subcontracts and establish joint ventures with software companies here in the U.S. so that GTech can develop and sell its own digital products and continue to offer professional services.
Yeghoyan cited GTech’s selling points: high-quality work, personal service, and low cost. Although many of the firm’s contracts have been in the areas of outsourcing and staff augmentation, Yeghoyan is focusing on more stable, professionally-rewarding work that would allow GTech to claim intellectual property ownership and profits as well.
Its business structure and philosophy is current and “Western” in orientation, with policies and procedures based on best practices. “We try to be very flexible,” said Yeghoyan, “We ask a lot of questions, to understand the whole project life-cycle, and to be sure that our work is to the level of customer satisfaction. Our immediate goal with new customers is to build trust as they see how we work. Sometimes our proposals provide initial discounts to gain the work so that new customers can come to appreciate the high quality we are providing.” She paused. “I am not saying that this is easy: our workforce in Armenia needs work and needs experience to become more competitive. That’s why we are concentrating on Armenian-American business owners first.”
GTech employs two technical project managers: one focused on mobile applications, the other on web/software projects. They are the technical point people interacting with customers, typically through email and Skype. “There are also customers who prefer online reporting tools, and we can use those as well,” said Yeghoyan. She handles all the non-technical project management follow-up and high-level scheduling.
GITC, established in 2005, is supported by the Fund for Armenian Relief, and its for-profit incubator GTech was established in 2010. “The GITC Board decided it should keep the its graduates in Armenia, pay them salaries in Gyumri, and let profits flow back to GITC to help it become sustainable. We are succeeding because of belief, and hard work, and support from Armenian business owners on the East Coast and around the world, and we hope in the near future from Southern California as well!”
On outsourcing, Yeghoyan says that she is a voice for GTech as a high-quality alternative to the Indian market. Businesses are looking for programming and web design work, so “why not with programmers in Gyumri? If we cannot get the work, the people we’ve trained will have to leave.”
Alec Bagdasarian, through the Armenian Educational Foundation, invited Yeghoyan to Southern California, and the AEF paid for her trip to develop business leads for GTech and keep jobs in Gyumri. “We cannot compete at the very lowest price points,” Yeghoyan admitted. “Whatever is very cheap cannot be high quality. But we are less expensive: markets are different, cost of living is different, and the level of service we are providing is high. Our main job is to build trust so we can gain repeat customers.”
She said that GTech recently conducted a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) to assess its positioning relative to other offshore (and onshore) alternatives. “It is important for us to be honest, as people appreciate that when we explain it.”
I noted that at times here in the U.S., getting a programmer to pay attention and turn a job around in time is difficult. “Not at GTech!” Yeghoyan emphasized. “We have the right people to communicate, to negotiate with the customer, to keep an eye on the work, and to track deadlines. One more thing – in Armenia people are very hard working, for two reasons: one, there are not as many distracting entertainment options, so young people are satisfied to work hard for long hours; and two, they know very well that if they don’t work hard they will lose their job, and there aren’t many other opportunities! We are used to the feeling of responsibility in working on American contracts, and it shows in our work.”
Because of GITC and GTech, Gyumri has become a high-tech hub. “A high-tech company can now easily be established in Gyumri,” said Yeghoyan. And whereas in 2005, the city had hardly any reliable internet service, Yeghoyan told me now wi-fi availability throughout the city is better than anywhere in Glendale!
“It was hard for people to believe that we could succeed with an IT educational program at first,” said Yeghoyan. “20 young people decided to join GITC in its first year, and in 2006 the first IT company in Yerevan was encouraged to come to Gyumri and interview these students. They immediately opened a branch in Gyumri and hired all the students! Now, after 10 years, GITC has 300 graduates employed in Armenia by IT companies. Unfortunately right now the market is very slow, and we can’t pay salaries from local business contracts alone.”
Yeghoyan praised AEF for its great work in the border regions of Armenia, funding GITC training for teachers in Artsakh and Stepanakert. “Once they are trained, AEF provides computers and other tools for students to use.”
Her love of Armenia and Gyumri came through clearly: she was born, raised and educated in Gyumri. She said, “Sometimes people have the wrong impression of Armenia. Our young generation is changing things. Life is hard in Armenia, but if we only complain we will not solve any problems. Many positive changes are happening in Armenia and I want people to know that.”
As I write this column, two weeks after her trip, Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and City Council member Zareh Sinanyan are in Armenia with planned travel stops in Gyumri to conclude the sister city agreement on that side of the world. Yeghoyan is back in Gyumri, and posted recently to her Facebook friends “Special thanks to all the Armenian businesses and IT companies in Los Angeles and Glendale for immediate collaboration with GTech Solutions LLC . . . I have hardly arrived to Gyumri and several projects followed from the USA.”
Best wishes to GTech Solutions in building its business, to GITC in its mission to train Armenians in Gyumri and border regions for IT jobs, to AEF donors and board members who work to build education and job projects in Armenia, and to Yeghoyan in her capacity as a business development executive for a 21st century international business based in Gyumri. To contact Amalya Yeghoyan, GTech Solutions LLC, email Amalya@gtech-s.com or call 0037455750909