Wise Pirates office with workers

It’s called Wise Pirates, it’s based in Porto and works in digital marketing. The company run by Pedro Barbosa had an accelerated growth during the pandemic, something that led the CEO to reveal that, without the pandemic, they would only reach the values they have today in 2024. With the increase in activity came the need to recruit, something they have done in the last two years and will continue to do, he revealed to Human Resources.

Wise Pirates ended last year with 100 employees and a little over four million in turnover. Pedro Barbosa identified the challenges that they had to face and on which foundations they base their activity in order to make a difference in the market.

I would like to start by asking how the idea of the name came about, which is actually quite curious?

The name Wise Pirates is based on two aspects that are based on the differentiation and disruption principle that we brought to the Portuguese market – one aspect of knowledge and another of attitude. In knowledge, we know that nowadays the only possibility to really add value is to have great digital maturity and deep knowledge that mixes business, marketing, and engineering parts. It is in this fusion that we add value. In attitude, because we come to bring an approach to the market of risk-sharing and total transparency, mixed with great proximity to clients and extreme agility. The cohesion of our team is a central element of all this strategic positioning and the fact that we are independent is critical to have fun, while we contribute decisively to the greater maturity of the digital ecosystem in Portugal.

When was the company born and what led to its creation?

Wise Pirates was born in 2017, to respond to a market gap. At the time it emerged, marketing agencies mostly worked the same way and offered the same to all clients, and we wanted to emerge with a unique and disruptive value proposition, with a special focus on performance, inspired by the best global teams in this specialty. On the other hand, we wanted to bring to the market a different form of remuneration model. We have the retribution indexed to results, and this makes the focus and collaboration joint because everyone wins with performance and results and everyone feels the pressure of failure equally. The sharing of risk and total transparency were and are flags of differentiation, along with the orientation towards results and the close proximity of the partners, as an extension of the respective teams. The combination of these differentiating elements continues to be an integral part of a unique value proposition in Portugal and beyond, and this is the only way we were elected “Top 10 Digital Marketing Agencies in Europe”, a position recently awarded by Martech Outlook.

What exactly is your activity based on?

The core of our activity is performance marketing. We design, operationalize and execute multichannel digital communication strategies, which include, apart from leading expertise in areas such as social networks and Google, areas such as marketing automation, end-to-end e-commerce, Marketplaces (Amazon, Worten, etc.), Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Customer Data Platform (CDP), Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM), data projects and production of e-commerce sites in Shopify, as well as a wide GMP and Cloud offer. In practice, rather than just helping companies with digital, we use the best of digital to help companies across all areas of their business.

For many sectors, the pandemic was a bad thing, but if we look at your results we can’t draw the same conclusion, correct?

The pandemic brought uncertainty for people and companies, and it uncovered the risk that companies are not prepared for digital. There had to be a change of mindset, efforts, and budgets, more directed towards digital and this brought a rapid evolution, especially for SMEs, which would otherwise happen later. Even so, it is a process that is still starting, as Portuguese SMEs are still far behind and there are countless opportunities, with the right partners. I am proud of Wise Pirates for having given its small contribution to the evolution of this ecosystem, helping companies in various sectors, from jewelry, restaurants, clothing, cosmetics, decoration, banking, insurance, industry, and health among others, to start this digital transformation and to have contributed for their businesses to continue their growth, some in an incredibly fast way.

While we are on the subject of values, would you like to reveal some of the numbers achieved by Wise Pirates between 2020 and 2021?

In 2020, Wise Pirates reached 2 million in turnover. In 2021, we maintained the growth trend, closing the year at slightly over 5 million.

Regarding your structure, how many employees do you currently have?

At the moment we have 100 employees, a number we expect to increase next year, estimating that we will hire around 60 new people. And with the increase in work, came an increase in our team. We had the need to grow quickly, in order to respond to the challenges that were thrown at us. In the middle of the pandemic, we increased our team from just over 20 to around 100 people and managed to ensure sustained growth of customers from 50 to around 200.

Do you intend to continue recruiting? If so, in which areas?

Yes, the expectation for 2022 is to significantly grow the team, which implies recruiting around 60 people, to reinforce our areas of expertise, being the areas of analytics, creativity, and frontend programming the main ones. Knowledge of Google, Salesforce, Amazon, and Shopify technologies will be valued, but hiring senior consultants in the area of digital maturity will also be a focus.

Like so many other companies, do you also experience a shortage of talent?

The areas we work in, especially performance, data analytics, and everything that is more tech-related, are areas that have experienced accelerated growth and where there is a gap in supply. At Wise Pirates, we also feel this talent gap, although less critically than most players in the market, because we invest in retention, training, and accelerated learning. In fact, talent retention has been very positive in the level of service we guarantee to customers. On the other hand, with the democratization of the remote concept in some functions, I believe that the talent gap will increase and become unsustainable in Portugal, compared to the demand from other European countries. The only way to counteract this trend is massive training and capacity building. However, there are not enough courses or preparation mindsets in many of the professionals in this ecosystem. Therefore, for 2022, we have already thought out and structured a training development project for the entire Wise Pirates team three times more intense than the market average, designed individually for each one, which will not only give them the possibility to evolve and grow within the company but also in their own individual career. There is something in which we believe 100% and that is crucial for Wise Pirates: companies do not grow if their members do not grow at the same time. It is in this context that Wise Pirates has started the WIT Academy, the first digital training platform that mixes digital, marketing, maturity, and tech in Portugal, and where we expect to provide more than 20 thousand hours of training in 2022.

What are the characteristics of your ideal employee?

In addition to people who are experts in their field, there are some crucial attitudinal elements in hiring and evolution: restless, energetic, digital natives, with drive and “pirate attitude”: who are not afraid to take risks and make mistakes, learn from those mistakes and do better. We want people who are resilient, who go for it, and who take initiative. Who has a critical and analytical spirit, and who truly work as a team, but also who are generous with their peers and contribute to the evolution of everyone, from clients to colleagues. The team has defined the elements of the culture for you and now you pursue them, every day. It’s not always easy, sometimes it’s too intense and some people can’t handle the pressure that clients put on them. But resilience is something you learn to conquer and our culture is exactly that: to conquer, to evolve, to overcome.

With the pandemic came teleworking. Was it a novelty for your company or not?

Flexibility has always been in our DNA as a company. For us, the important thing is the results and not the hours that people work. Obviously, with this pandemic, we had to accelerate a system that was clearer for the whole team. Our hybrid working model, allows everyone, depending on their seniority in the company, to work remotely part of the week. We also have more flexibility for top performers and also the possibility of digital nomadism, when the pandemic facilitates mobility. We believe in freedom and responsibility in all angles of our business and working model.

And today what is the working model you have implemented?

We have defined a hybrid model, which allows our team to work from home or any other location part of the time and another from one of our offices. We believe that this flexibility allows people to organize their personal and professional lives in a different way, to get better focus and collaboration, but at the same time promotes social moments between colleagues when they are in the office, which is also very important in many levels, and especially in onboarding processes.

What best practices have you implemented since the beginning of 2020 to not only cement the company’s values with employees but also to help them in this complicated phase?

In addition to the hybrid working method, we have set up some programs that aim at the greater well-being of the people who are part of the Wise Pirates team. One of these programs aims to give parents who are part of the team the opportunity to enjoy up to 6 months of part-time or full-time work, while receiving a full salary, with the cost fully supported by the company, and to enjoy more time with their baby.

We also give each of our employees the opportunity to develop their entrepreneurial spirit, providing them with a context-rich in challenges and promoting the creation and implementation of new ideas and businesses. In addition to creating the context and providing the necessary tools to make it happen, we give each pirate the ownership of each project, materialized in the attribution of stock options and stock offers. In fact, by 2022 we will have around 20 people from Wise Pirates with share rights, and including the people who contribute the most and who have been with the company for some time in the company is an inclusion award that we believe to be fair. It is a pity that this is an almost unique case in Portugal. We understand Wise Pirates, more than a talent and value creation factory for clients, as a unit that produces entrepreneurs, an area where Portugal still needs to improve.

Besides, we have improved the office conditions, we offer coffee, snacks, and fruit, we encourage and sponsor physical activity, we develop recreational activities, we provide health insurance to all and we will have a training and individual skills development program, which no other agency offers because we want to have better and better talent, more qualified and with the will to learn and grow, inside and outside the company.

The balance between personal and professional life is a concern of Wise Pirates?

It is fundamental. We are still not in the balance that we need and not always the client’s respect, fully the team’s moments of rest, but we have been improving every quarter. With a better internal organization in which we work at the end of the year, this balance is one of the major objectives for 2022, in which the intensity should be balanced and the anxiety eliminated. As I mentioned, we promote a hybrid working model, precisely to ensure that each employee manages their day in the most balanced and productive way. We believe in accountability and focus on results – this is the formula that has allowed us to grow and maintain high levels of employee retention.

You were on the cover of the international magazine Martech Outlook. What did this distinction mean to you?

Being selected as one of the 10 best agencies in Europe was a huge surprise, but an even bigger honor. The information we have is that the ranking was built through a pool of surveys, conducted at the European level, followed by a set of interviews and conversations. From this resulted in the invitation to be called to the cover, representing the ten best agencies of the year. It is of course an honor, but also an enormous responsibility – we are the first Portuguese company to deserve such a distinction in this area. We are aware that we are, among all the nominees, the one that grew the most in 2020 and 2021 and that we represent, symbolically, a digital ecosystem in Portugal in full accelerated development. The challenge now is to ensure the sustainability of this growth.

Looking into the future, where do you see Wise Pirates in 10 years’ time?

It is difficult to make this exercise and to think in Wise Pirates in 10 years, and also is not something that we want to do, there are too many variables in digital, so nobody thinks in such a long term. What we want to do is grow internationally, solidify the level of service, position ourselves in the area of high-end consulting in digital maturity, and have very happy people within the team. We work every day to ensure the logic of “people first”: integrate them as much as possible within the teams, give them freedom and context to test new techniques, strategies, technologies, and businesses, making them overcome everything they believed possible.

Article by Human Resources