Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Henri Nordström, CEO of Jobilla talked about his experience of growing company from 15 to 150 people.
Finnish startup Jobilla has created a unique solution of recruitment software that is designed from the candidates’ point of view, to create an optimal experience when applying for a job or otherwise getting to know the employer. In the beginning of 2022 they raised €8.25 million and have been growing extremely fast.
Jobilla CEO Henri Nordström gave .Cocoon PR & Marketing manager Riin Lisett Rei interview about his company and personal growth during the scaling phase.
You started with 15 people in the team, and have now grown into almost 150 people team.
When I took the CEO position I first downsized the team a little bit, and then we started coming up from 15 people. We were 141 a month ago and we have been hiring like crazy. We hired 35 new people in January. And then we had 20 last month.
How do you see your job as CEO or your responsibilities has changed with this growth?
Yes, a hundred per cent! When I started as a CEO, I was executing all sorts of tasks myself and it was more about being a good individual than being a leader of the company. I think that leading such a small 15-20 people company should not be a full-time job, because everybody still needs to be executing tasks.
Because of my sales background, I was doing a lot of sales and was among the top 3 salespeople in the team. Looking back, I was rather a full-time salesperson and CEO in the evenings and weekends, it was more like a side hustle.
When we started growing and had about 40-50 people in the team, it started becoming clear to me that now the company needs full-time leadership. But this transition was not the easiest one for me, because until then I had always measured myself based on what I personally delivered. And then it changed to what my team delivers and can I create the right environment for them to succeed - resources, processes and the right people in the leadership team.
Today I think my most important job is making sure that my leadership team knows what their focus is and feel supported. As a leader, you are in service for others, not the other way around.
And serving doesn't always mean that you are nice because this is what used to be for me. Now I am making sure that people do the right thing which sometimes means having difficult conversations. This is something that I've learned a lot from .Cocoon program - the importance of confronting people.
If for example, some people in your management team are not working well together, the negative symptoms go down all around the organisation. But if they work well, it has the same but positive effect. So I have noticed that a lot of my work nowadays is also making sure that every single person in the leadership team not just works well with their organization, but works well with each other.
Another thing that was my responsibility up until recently was to get funding. This is also something you personally do, like sales. I think the final funding round helped me in this transition to becoming a leader.
In the .Cocoon team, the leader of the company or project chooses the direction but at the same time listens and takes into account the input from the team. What would be some of the most vital skills for a successful CEO from your own experience? What were the learning moments for you?
You should be quite good at that field and understand how different roles work. Although you should not be the one executing all the tasks, but in order to make wise decisions you need to have an understanding of what is going on.
If you don't understand what is going on in the organization or what people are going through, then you might end up making stupid decisions for these people. And this is something I learned in my previous life when I was building a franchise business for a lot bigger organization. It’s important to understand the business from the point of view of the people actually doing the work.
The franchise parent company was constantly making very stupid decisions, that did not support the business because they didn’t understand what was really going on in the everyday business. They were making the decisions based on their of point of view, which many times had disastrous outcomes for us and also ended up hurting the parent company.
In addition you also need to be able to have difficult conversations with people and for that, you need to have pure values yourself. If you don't have pure values or behaviours you cannot demand them from others.
As CEO I believe you need to take responsibility for yourself and your actions. The opposite of that is the victim mindset - blaming others, finding excuses. But taking responsibility doesn't always come naturally to everyone. So how would you describe your experience in taking responsibility and understanding your responsibility as a CEO?
It's very hard. I think it's something that you can be very good in one aspect of your life but very bad in the other aspects of your life. For example, taking responsibility for your own happiness is very different from taking responsibility for a company. Because in taking responsibility for a company, you can do it even in this sacrificing mentality because you're sacrificing for the company. But taking responsibility for enjoying life - this is something I'm not so good at.
I am still learning it every day. It is better for the company also if a person doesn't do any decisions based on other people. But to actually be true to yourself, and put yourself and your joy first is very hard. And I'm not the person to give advice on that to anybody because I feel I'm very much just learning it. But .Cocoon has been helping me a lot to understand this. You can be super successful with a completely wrong type of approach. You will be successful, but you will not be happy.
In .Cocoon a lot of the program is built on the belief that personal and business challenges are linked. For example, if you are very bad at your personal finances, always broke by the end of the month, that means your company finances cannot also be in order. Have you experienced it?
If we take finances example to me, then I have been always pretty good at my personal finance. I have always had money and I have always been good at making money. But when I joined the company, it was in a terrible financial situation.
Our bank accound was €50 000 in minus (we had limit loan, so the account could go to negative euros) and we had over €100 000 worth of unpaid bills. The previous founder accepted the fact that our bank account was constantly in negative numbers. For me, this was beyond being bankrupt, even though we were not bankrupt.
After I took the CEO role the financial health of the company started to recover very quickly. It comes down to what you tolerate. For example, if I would have less than 50,000 euros in my personal bank account I would feel broke. And it's the same for the company but, it also depends on the level of the company.
I immediately set a goal that we should have 100,000 euros on bank account all the time. If we go under that, then we feel like we are broke. Now I have taken the limit to 2 million. But it is exactly the same with your personal finances - if you tolerate that your bank account is always empty, then it will be always empty. But if you believe there needs to be at least 50,000 euros, then you will create a situation where 50,000 euros will always be there.
Looking at personal and business challenges - you cannot separate them. If you have personal challenges, you will have business challenges. If you struggle with confronting people in your team, you also do it in your personal life.
I've noticed that the exact same things that I go through in business, I also have them in my personal life - with my wife, mother, or friends. When I tried to become better at confronting people and solving problems, I noticed similar situations in my business and personal life. After some work, I noticed the growth also works for both business and personal. It's very exciting.
You cannot separate by saying that the business is suddenly a different thing. It is still part of your life and you are not a different person. You can play a different role, but personally, I don't want to. I want to be myself. It's a good skill that you can use consciously for a purpose - I can decide to behave differently in a meeting, for example, if I see the role has a purpose. But I don't want to be constantly playing a role. It's very draining. I want to be more me.
How do you look into the future? I know that you want to now focus more on machine learning and AI but where do you take this self-confidence or certainty that you know where you're going? And you know, that this is the right way? How do you come to the feeling?
You'll never know for sure if you're choosing the right way but I think the most important thing is not to be afraid. It's also in the personal and business challenges. Let's say you're going through a deeper problem - it takes away the fear. Because going through difficult phases, creates courage. You have experienced that you can come through the difficulties and now have the skills to work in these situations.
The financial intelligence rules I mentioned before that we have created for ourselves - it doesn't matter if we bet wrong because we don't take uncalculated risks or do something that might kill the company. But if you don't do any bets you'll fail for sure. It’s like with board games - the more you play, the more confident you become with the decisions. You cannot always describe why you make a certain move in a board game but when you have played the game 1000 times you know what feels like a good move and the gut instinct becomes better and better.
How do you connect with your gut feeling?
For example, I just bought a new apartment and when I was looking at different options I asked myself if this is the right apartment for our family. And then I checked if this feeling stays with me for the next few days and then I knew that it is the right apartment. If there is something wrong, I can feel it inside.
I do it all the time. I go a lot inwards with meditation, yoga, and in everyday life listening to my feelings. I think it's a very important habit to have as a leader. This advice I would give to all the leaders - learn to listen to yourself. And not the voices in your head, this is not listening to yourself. It's listening to your true feelings. There is so much noise inside you and it is hard at first to really understand the true instincts.