In the near future, people will increasingly use mobile devices to read messages, shop, and manage bank accounts. In 2010, Jiří Horyna, the co-founder of eMan, a software start-up, addressed those words to the directors of insurance companies, banks, and other top managers. The iPhone had only been in the market for three years, and the iPad was a fresh novelty. The world was using traditional push-button phones which were obliterated by smartphones only three years later.
It is hard to imagine this today, however, Jiří Horyna and his colleagues showed a visionary attitude at the beginning of the last decade. And this attitude has stayed with eMan ever since. Its pioneering ideas included SMS tickets, a mobile version of a discount portal called mKupony, and mParkování, mapping vacancies in P+R car parks in Prague. It is hardly surprising that eMan has won a number of awards for its originality or innovation.
Initially focusing on mobile applications, the company has grown into a medium-sized software house over the decade. It provides comprehensive solutions to energy companies, industrial companies, banks and car manufacturers. It employs more than 100 people, and its turnover reached CZK 168 million last year. The Czech developers have ventured out of their country too. One of their international clients are, for example, Eurostat and the car manufacturer Seat. Two years ago, eMan opened its first foreign branch in Houston, USA.
We were always brimming over with ideas, and it seemed to us that technology offered a very interesting opportunity for the future.
In a conundrum
The story of the company, which ranks among the three largest Czech software developers for mobile devices, began in 2004. At that time, two marketing employees of Czech Radio, Jiří Horyna and Tomáš Čermák, decided to start an IT business. “We thought that technologies offered a very interesting opportunity for the future, so we were attracted to them,” recalls Mr. Čermák, who is in charge of marketing.
At that time, ringtones for mobile phones were immensely popular. However, the founders of eMan knew there was more to IT. So, they came up with an SMS ticket project. Even though they involved a large Czech software company, Unicorn, the idea failed to take root. Ironically, the Prague public transport company launched the service three years later, however, with a different supplier.
Horyna and Čermák, meanwhile, joined Unicorn. They spent five years there, but in 2010 they were, once again, tempted to open their own business. With more experience under their belt, they revived eMan and lured their colleagues from Unicorn, the developer Michal Košek and Jiří Horyna’s brother Jan. At that time, Apple ushered in a new era in mobile technology with its iPhone. eMan wanted to jump on the bandwagon and bring its own product. It launched mKupony, a mobile equivalent of the American discount portal Groupon, in the same year as Slevomat was launched. The financial crisis began and it was too costly to expand the project. “We were in a conundrum: you need many users to make the application attractive for businesses, however, at the same time you need many businesses to attract users,” recalls Michal Košek, currently the technological development guru at eMan.
Jiří Horyna and Tomáš Čermák established the eMan company and came up with the idea of SMS tickets. Three years later, the Prague public transport company offered them to customers, however, with a different supplier.
Jiří Horyna and Tomáš Čermák became employees of the large Czech software company Unicorn.
After leaving Unicorn, they revived eMan and attracted some of their colleagues from their previous job: IT specialist Michal Košek and Jiří Horyna’s brother Jan.
eMan launched the Pojišťovna application developed for Česká pojišťovna. It was worth CZK 200,000, and it was the first major contract. It was followed by a mobile shop for Datart and an application for the Mountain Rescue Service.
eMan digitized Bohemia Energy’s sales process and became a major supplier for energy companies. Its customers included MND, Pražská plynárenská and E.ON.
A mobile solution was delivered to Škoda Auto which later became the largest customer in terms of turnover.
Jablotron, a manufacturer of security equipment, acquired a share in the company.
For the first time, eMan reported sales of CZK 139 million, thus exceeding CZK 100 million for the first time.
The original four shareholders bought back the share sold to Jablotron two years earlier.
eMan is about to enter the PX Start market of the Prague Stock Exchange as a medium-sized Czech software house that provides comprehensive solutions to energy companies, industrial companies, and banks.
The first big deal for CZK 200,000
The partners decided to change the strategy, and instead of their own products, they focused on the delivery of customized mobile solutions, primarily for the corporate sector. Since they lacked references, they came up with two applications to showcase their skills to potential customers. The applications were Kytkomat, a flower shop for mobile phones, and the aforementioned mParkování, which makes it easier for drivers to find a parking space in Prague. Those applications did not bring significant commercial success; however, they were innovative and opened the door to further business.
In the spring of 2011, eMan launched the Pojišťovna application developed for Česká pojišťovna. Clients could use it to report an accident or buy travel insurance. “It was our first big contract; we earned CZK 200 thousand,” smiles Tomáš Čermák. This was followed by a mobile shop for Datart, the Čtyřlístek mobile comic, and an application for the Mountain Rescue Service which was able to locate its users and call for help.
The sales process at Bohemia Energy originally lasted two weeks. By digitizing it in 2014, we shortened it to a single day.
Core supplier of Škoda Auto
The turning point came with energy customers, for whom eMan began developing key business solutions. Bohemia Energy was among the first customers. Its traders went from house to house, trying to acquire new energy consumers. When they concluded a contract, the head of the business team forwarded it to the company’s headquarters for checking and entry into the information system. “That process originally took two weeks. By digitizing it in 2014, we shortened it to two days. The sales staff received tablets with an integrated biometric signature, and everything was handled electronically,” says Jiří Horyna, CEO of eMan. Subsequently, the company received orders from MND, Pražská plynárenská, and E.ON.
At that time, the company adjusted its strategy once again, focusing on larger projects that would address the core business needs in selected fields. “We came to understand that we did not want hundreds of clients for whom we would develop small things because we were not able to handle it efficiently,” explains Jiří Horyna. Besides the energy sector the company expanded into the industry sector with Honeywell as a prominent client. eMan has also entered the finance sector, where eMan achieved a success by developing mobile e-banking for ČSOB, and, last but not least, the automotive sector. In the last two years, Škoda Auto has become the largest customer in the terms of turnover.
Frequently, we meet managers who has already had a positive experience with our services in the past.
Unceasing creativity led to Minialarm
Between 2016 and 2018, the company tested a partnership with Jablotron, a manufacturer of security systems, which acquired a share in eMan. This partnership provided a better access to operational financing and improved dealings with banks. However, the merger failed to yield the intended synergies, so the founders of eMan bought back Jablotron’s share after two years.
At present, the company sees a great opportunity in the changes that the energy sectors, car production, and industry are facing in general. They will necessarily be accompanied by a significant digital transformation.
“For example, cars generate more and more data that can be used and processed in a myriad of ways. The trends of autonomous driving and sharing will deepen this development,” says Michal Košek. There are more and more foreign clients, and the U.S. branch is bidding in large tenders after working on the first small-scale projects.
In the hectic development activities, eMan is not losing its imagination. One of the latest achievements is Minialarm, a portable security device that can guard an apartment and a cottage alike, without requiring electricity or the Internet. It can be installed by a mobile phone within a few minutes. “Among other things, we show that today we can develop software as well as hardware,” concludes Jiří Horyna.