Author: Martin Seppala
Excedea early days. Building a home. Creating a culture.
Excedea was founded by a very optimistic, young duo, Mikael Orkomies and myself in late 2007, with the proper launch of activities in 2008. From the beginning there was a crystal clear vision of what Excedea would become; a nice family-like place to work, for both junior and senior colleagues alike. The company wouldn’t track working hours or holiday’s of employees, we would have a strict “no assholes” policy in recruitment (we still do), we would travel, party and have fun. And any sales or project work would be done together, without any strict roles or e.g. sales quotas. One of the key points in the early strategy guidelines was “It’s always better to make 100 KEUR and have fun than to make 200 KEUR and hate it”.
On some level, the founding of Excedea was a protest movement. On one hand against the global American consulting giant, we had both started our careers in, which said it was a nice place to work, but often forgot this part in the corporate bureaucracy. And on the other hand towards our previous company, where our business partners also emphasized a family-like atmosphere but forgot that part as soon as there would be any personal gains and money to be made. We were determined to make Excedea different.
The rough start
Boxer Mike Tyson has famously said that everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face. Excedea was founded during one of the worst possible economic times during 2007-2009. Key stock markets indices dropped by half. The global financial system was about to fail. Most of our previous clients stopped buying consulting. We ended up not taking out any salaries for two years. But we did our best to stick with our principles and culture. We organized small, cheap outings, parties and trips. We tried to enjoy nice lunches and there was always jokes flying around the office. We were very lucky in early recruitment, we found amazing people who understood the situation and stuck with us. Maybe the genuine belief by the founders of our company culture had something to do with it.
The biggest change we did to the early guidelines was to define more personal roles and goals for each person each year. It turns out that even among friends, e.g. sales work better if you have personal, not shared goals. And we narrowed down our focus strongly, from general growth consulting to pure internationalization, a niche we knew we could be leading in. But we didn’t stop emphasizing the importance of company culture, the family feeling of the team and really also investing in it, not just talking about it. Even when profits were small, we always allocated a good part of it to the fun.
“Team first” results to happier customers
People often ask us why we are emphasizing team first, not customers. We believe there is actually no contradiction. Putting the team first will always result in better customer quality and create happier customers. We are very meticulous concerning the quality of our work.
Now years later the team has during our “incentive trips” gambled in Macau, partied on the 50th floor of skyscrapers in Shanghai, raced rikshaws in Mumbai, and got lost in bazaars in Istanbul and Jerusalem. We do a lot to encourage people to be independent and happy. We still don’t track working time or vacations. We trust each other.
Excedea strongly agrees with Professor Peter Drucker, who famously said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. We feel we have done something right. We are doing well. But culture is water, not stone. It should evolve and it constantly needs nurturing and attention or it will die. We all know stressful projects, deadlines and delivering services in a market-leading manner puts a strain on softer, cultural elements of life. But we keep working hard in defending the key thing which has got us so far.
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