25th - Oct - 2018

CLX 10th Birthday Part Five: Nurturing Company Culture

A large founding team, from the land of long and dark winters, giving people autonomy, eyeing the long term – and not shouting about any of it. These are some of the ingredients in the secret sauce that has helped CLX become the market leader in enterprise messaging and cloud communications. Kristian Männik reflects on the culture inside the business. 

Great company culture is an essential part of building a business, and the culture of a startup is to a large extent defined by its founders. We spent quite a lot of time together talking about the company we wanted to build before we launched CLX. It’s essential for every startup to ensure that the founders are aligned in the vision and company setup, even more so when you have a large founding team. 

We are six founders. I remember initially having some concerns about the size of our founding team, but quickly realized that we shared so many core values. We had identified a market opportunity and shared a vision that we could do it better. We were motivated to build something big, and we immediately began to inspire and push each other to aim even higher. We were prepared to work really hard to achieve our goals. I believe we all realized we had a great chance to build a great company, and that doing it together would be a lot more fun. 

I have since reflected that this was the perfect combination of what Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn’s CEO, shared in his famous Venn diagram. We had a team that could dream big, get shit done and that knew how to have fun. 

CLX was founded in Sweden, and we are obviously quite Swedish, culturally that is, but it was always our plan to build an international business. There are only so many Swedes, and by contrast the global opportunity is huge. We’re part of a strong digital startup community in Sweden with many successful international companies like Skype, iZettle, Klarna and Spotify. People ask how the tech startup scene became so strong here. Well, one reason is our long winters! 

We share many values with our compatriot companies. If we have one guiding principle, it’s a belief in delegating responsibilities, not tasks. This is partly based on basic Scandinavian values, like respect for the individual and high work ethics that enable a fundamental trust in other people. We strongly believe in empowering others and it’s great to see the creative talent from our team. 

This has also helped us achieve international success. Whenever we launched into a new territory, we did so by finding the right individual and giving him or her the freedom to build a business. We chose good people and would supply them with the platform and basic framework, and simply let them be an entrepreneur. The approach helped us launch successfully in many countries in our early years, including the UK, Australia, France, Spain and Singapore. 

Customer focus has been another of our core values since we started. It has meant immediate attention on new customer acquisition, and building a fit for purpose product to serve our customers better than the competition. 

Customer focus has also helped in setting clear business priorities. We bootstrapped CLX, i.e. started and grew without any external capital. It forced us to be smart and frugal, and despite growing only on the back of our own profits, we reached more than $100 M annual revenue by organic growth in seven years. How was that possible? Our customer focus is one important reason. It helped us to make smart investment decisions by ensuring we addressed real customer needs. 

Looking back, I would say that our great team of talented people was the biggest reason behind our success. It’s a bit of a cliché, but you really can’t underestimate how important it is to attract and retain the right talent. It’s essential for a startup, but equally important for a larger organization that is rapidly growing and evolving. People are everything, and great people make great companies. 

So far we have made nine acquisitions. Every organization has its own culture, and the differences become quite clear when you integrate two organizations into one. Good planning and communication are important to succeed when integrating cultures. It’s been fascinating to see how our company culture has evolved in these integration processes. We have maintained most of our early culture, but we have also adopted new values, so our company culture has evolved as a consequence. 

CLX is acting in a dynamic and competitive market that is constantly changing, therefore we as a company must continue to evolve to ensure we keep offering great value to our customers. Peter Drucket, the management guru, said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It’s true that strategy without culture is powerless, but company culture can also hinder the progress of a strategy that requires change. Culture that isn’t united with your strategy lacks purpose – when your strategy and culture are aligned, some really amazing things can happen. 

Cloud communications enable enterprises to provide a better customer experience, and the opportunity for us to help businesses to engage with customers and staff through mobile technology is massive. We have begun to significantly strengthen our leadership team with more relevant experience to meet the new and exciting opportunities that we are seeing in the market, and to allow us to scale to meet the demand. Rest assured our leadership team will continue to develop and nurture the fantastic company culture we have at CLX. 

For more on what’s coming next, check out the final post entitled ‘The Future’.

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