"In this business, there is no shortcut around the product"
Efecte’s new CEO Niilo Fredrikson, coming from Nokia, describes his reasons for moving, elaborates on what is a good leadership culture and explains why you must first consider the nature of the product in the software industry.
Why did I decide to leave a promising career in the largest company in Finland to become a smallish software company's CEO?
It was easy to say yes to Efecte, but at the same time, Nokia is a great company and leaving it was a tough decision. After more than ten years working for giant corporations, the opportunity to grow and internationalize a Finnish software business in an entrepreneurial role was so close to my heart that I couldn’t refuse.
I first became familiar with the software industry during my time in school when I coded demos and games. From there, it was a short jump to my first commercial projects. My love for programming has not faded, even though finding a girlfriend (now my wife) and setting up my own company, pushed it to the background. The scalability of software products and cloud services still appeals to me.
Finnish products and know-how are held in high regard throughout the world. I will be able to apply my learning experiences from five years in the USA and two years spent mainly on airplanes to help grow this currently small, but promising Finnish company.
What did I learn from my years travelling and working around the world? I am familiar with different cultures and learned to appreciate the level of know-how outside Finland. At the same time, I noticed the huge strengths we have in Finland and the differences in leadership.
When travelling the world, you notice that when the leader speaks, others listen. In Finland, although someone may want to argue differently, the focus on listening is much stronger in leadership. There is a tradition of leading the troops from the front, and this can be a great strength. However, specialists need to be given the room to manage their own areas with their own expertise.
In North America, organizations think big; they see the opportunities and "what could be". In Finland, too often, we’re stuck on the numbers. Startups in Silicon Valley have a tradition of first focusing on the product and service, and then wondering about the resulting figures. These leadership philosophies should be combined, as I personally think they both have great importance.
Focus on the product
When building a scalable SaaS business, everything starts with product quality. You need to be able to see your product, its relevance, and make it interesting and competitive. Being product oriented is widely considered to be a bad thing, however, there is no shortcut around the product in this business.
Appreciating the product and service expertise is one part of this. Many of the greatest technological advances in recent years are based on programming done by very small teams or even one individual. At Efecte, technical and design work is highly appreciated.
Place people in the center
When working in several countries, the role of communication and culture becomes increasingly important. Brainstorming no longer happens naturally at the coffee table. However, cooperation is just as important. Skype, Slack, Teams and other technological advances can be emphasized here, but none of them are substitutes for face-to-face encounters. Maintaining close cooperation and a mutual understanding are of particular importance in the pursuit of internationalization and growth.
Listen to customers
As companies grow and become international, the general tendency is to start thinking about internal processes and looking inward. However, customers must always be listened to with a sensitive ear. Customer feedback and demands are the most important inputs for systematic product management processes.
Organizational processes must remain transparent and the importance of customer input must be shown to increase mutual trust. Everything does not need to happen “yesterday”, when schedules and priorities are known by everyone.
Currently there are only a few internationally interesting B2B SaaS companies in Finland. Efecte is one of them.
Last year Efecte became listed on Nasdaq First North, and it is in an interesting phase. It is internationalizing at a fast pace, while simultaneously continuing to grow and invest in Finland. Growing a business has always interested me: taking something that is small and making it really big. Efecte has enormous potential and is the perfect company for this.
It is important for a CEO to be able to rely on the backbone of their company, the board of directors and owners, and for Efecte this is strong. The Board of Directors is full of heavyweight talent, which I have worked with as a member of the Board of Efecte over the past year. Efecte also has a number of key owners that know the industry and provide good backing to the company's operations.
Based on all these thoughts, I am looking forward to leading Efecte – its products, people and customer relationships – during the next legs of the journey.