The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it massive changes to the both the local and global economy, from cost-cuts and travel restrictions, to staff shortages and other factors.
However, this presented an opportunity to entrepreneur Matthew Narusevicius, who decided to open WFDM Ltd, a recruitment agency that today employs around 220 people in Malta, through its 14-person team. Since its launch, the company has greatly diversified its operations and has established a presence in multiple industries.
This was discussed on Monday’s episode of The Boardroom, hosted by business writer Jo Caruana with Mr Narusevicius, who is WFDM Managing Director. During the interview, he shed light on the company’s origins and what inspired him to delve into recruitment, as well as the company’s plans for 2023.
He moved to London from Lithuania when completing his studies, with the aim of attending a university. Before this could happen, he found a job in hospitality and worked there for almost six years until he started his course, where he completed an Accounting and Finance degree, as well as Economics as a part time degree.
“I was looking for a job in London and decided to go to Malta for a holiday and ended up really liking it here due to the Mediterranean climate. I went back to London and graduated from university, and then I was looking for a job to get out of the London madness, the rush and everything,” he said.
“One day I just packed my luggage and moved to Malta,” he said, before adding that he started working at Apex Fund Services (Malta) Limited as a Fund Accountant, yet he felt that “enough is enough” as he noticed that he could not “handle working Monday to Friday” as he really wanted to work extra. “I worked till around seven or eight in the evening, always wanting to achieve more and more, trying to meet the targets as well. It was always about more,” he explained.
After stints in food photography and social media marketing, he delved into real estate, and after he closed a deal in Marsaskala one day, the owner of a shop he was drinking a coffee at approached him and said he “looked like a businessman”. The owner offered Mr Narusevicius the opportunity to open Foam & Fork. He accepted, and after a fantastic performance, he opted to sell the company.
This was tied to the start of WFDM’s story, as had it not been for Foam & Fork, which opened a second location in Gzira, they would not have been approached by food delivery company Wolt. The company wanted Foam & Fork to become one of the restaurants to be put on the platform as they were preparing to launch in Malta, and when they started speaking, he proposed joining Wolt’s logistical side instead.
“When I was having meetings with them – and this happened in my life before – my age would always be the thing stopping me. I pitched ideas to several businesses before and every single time people would accept the fact that I was young. It was like the age was always coming in,” he explained.
“The meeting with Wolt was similar, as they were constantly asking whether I had enough connections in Malta and enough capital. All my capital at the time was invested into Foam & Fork for the marketing side to grow more and we had just opened the second outlet,” he said.
He managed to connect with “one of the big players in Malta” that has the power and connections in the country, to eventually start Wolt.
Consequently, WFDM was incorporated, and when he was spending his honeymoon in Mexico, he got stuck there due to the COVID-19 pandemic and was forced to work remotely.
“I got a call at five o’clock in the morning in Mexico, and Wolt’s Managing Director told me that we needed to have a meeting on Zoom. The whole Board was there, and they basically told me that they are launching,” he explained. As a result, WFDM’s first project was managing the logistics for Wolt, and he was doing so from Mexico, constantly calling people on the phone.
The idea of food delivery services was still relatively new, and initially he didn’t think that it would be such a success, as previous cases showed that people eventually gave up on delivery services. However, the pandemic hit and everything changed, as “Malta really needed Wolt and Bolt to come and change the way we do things”, including daily shopping, eating out and other activities.
“You fail a thousand times, and when it works once you get hooked. Business is like an addiction, especially if you like diversifying the risks,” Mr Narusevicius said, before adding that if a company has the “right management and team”, then they can do it, especially since there are people that are “really passionate” about certain industries.
As an example, he said that there is a real estate business that is coming to Malta “very soon”, with a website already being prepared and branding all done, that came to fruition after he was discussing the property market with one of his business partners, who happened to be into real estate. “There is a capital investment towards it, and we both are coming to this joint venture as partners, because I’m not a jack of all trades. I’m finding key people and then the industry itself to see where we can do better,” he added.
Turning to how WFDM actually started, he said that it had commenced operations from a garage, and he “really liked it”, calling it his own “little bunker”. While the company now employs a large number of people, he still feels that it is still “very difficult to find talent”, with this being the primary reason as to why WFDM is looking for people from abroad. Additionally, it is also working with authorities as in certain cases, the company had to wait “around two-and-a-half years” to get the foreign nationals to Malta.
WFDM eventually moved to its office in Ta’ Xbiex, and while it seemed like an extra expense to Mr Narusevicius, not helped by his background in accountancy, he felt that “it was time” to do so. Consequently, the business opted to diversify its operations and move from logistical matters to hospitality.
“I’m a micromanager, and I want to be involved and know absolutely everything, just because I think that a CEO and Managing Director’s presence is very important in a company. In WFDM, the way I manage the company train our heads of departments is to treat our staff through a method that I never got treated by, which is to consider them as family,” he added.
“We now have 14 people, most of them come to my birthday, my son’s birthday, and we have lunches together. This is something that you don’t get at this level of a corporate office. People do appreciate it, as family is where you feel safe,” he remarked.
When asked about what surprises him the most at WFDM, he said that everything initially started because of his wife, as she pushed him to believe in the food delivery industry. “I always include her when I say that we did so much, as she encouraged me to pursue it. Family gives you sanity and makes you feel happy and ready to work the next day,” he explained.
He also made reference to WFDM’s launch of Doup yesterday (Sunday), a new way of presenting business cards through NFC technology and QR codes. “I was looking for a solution to avoid having to print business cards all the time,” he said, before adding that this is a sustainable and more efficient way to share details with others.
While WFDM still utilises petrol and diesel cars, Mr Narusevicius said that it is aiming to bring in more hybrid cars, as “every contribution will make a change”, and “Doup is a good start”.
Speaking about what’s next for WFDM, he remarked that he took a small step back last year as he wanted to spend more time with his family.
However, “the biggest focus now goes towards recruitment as every single industry is suffering from this aspect”. “Genuine recruiters suffer due to rejections and delays, and that’s where my focus for the year is going to be, going into that next level,” he added.
He also revealed that WFDM plans to delve into the pharmaceutical industry, which he said is “very difficult” to get into as it is a “very closed market”. However, due to the support shown towards recreational medicine, he feels that there is an opportunity.
“We want to create jobs for locals, employing more local people, and basically having the first owned local product, which will mostly be sold to foreign countries. It is a very big project, and there’s a huge need for capital investment. If I am successful in this, then I think that I did well,” he said.
He concluded by saying that he aims to continue growing WFDM and delving into more markets, as that is “what most businesses do, make something and sell it”.
WFDM Ltd Managing Director Matthew Narusevicius