January 31, 2024

Esko Mertsalmi

Unikie's journey from 0 to 350 employees: culture & leadership

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Introduction to Esko Mertsalmi and Unikie

Esko's Background and Career Journey

  • Rally Driving Experience: Esko started as a rally car driver, then transitioned to software product development around the early 2000s.
  • Diverse Industry Experience: Worked in development and service provider companies, focusing on software product engineering.
  • Roles in Business Development: Enjoys working with clients and sales, but not limited to sales, includes general management and business development.

Unikie: Company Overview

  • Pronunciation and Identity: Initially intended to be pronounced as "Unique", but commonly known as "Unikie".
  • Focus on Software and International Business: Emphasizes product engineering and navigating international business challenges, particularly in Finland.

Challenges in Finland's Business Landscape

  • International Business Bottlenecks: Insights into the difficulties of going international from Finland.
  • Comparative Analysis: Esko discusses Finland's position relative to tech hubs like Silicon Valley, Israel, South Korea, and Japan.
  • Learning and Growth: Reflects on the learning journey and understanding societal and business dynamics in Finland.

Talent Acquisition and Industry Insights

  • Recruiting Senior Tech Talent: Observations on the current favorable market for recruiting senior tech professionals.
  • Challenges During Growth Years: Difficulty in acquiring talent when the demand was high and the supply limited.

Strategy and Market Positioning

  • From Auto Industry to Software: Esko's transition from automotive to software, emphasizing the constant need for great talent.
  • Unique's Early Focus: Started with enterprise applications before shifting to embedded systems.
  • Market Positioning: Instead of competing in saturated markets, Unikie carved a niche in embedded systems.

Talent Research and Recruitment

  • Importance of Talent Research: Esko and Samuli discuss the lack of talent research in companies and its significance.
  • Building a Workplace Based on Talent Needs: TalentBee's approach to creating an appealing workplace by understanding the desires of talent acquisition professionals.

Software Development and Management

  • Leadership in Software Development: Discusses the gap between traditional management and software development.
  • Recruitment Challenges: The need for management to be deeply involved in key recruitments, especially in technical fields.

Company Growth and Culture

  • Rapid Expansion: Esko led Unikie from zero to 350 employees and significant revenue growth.
  • Founders' Strategy: Detailed planning and leveraging their collective experience for strategic growth.
  • Emphasis on Lean Methodology: Focused on system design and tools that align with company values and customer satisfaction.

Implementing Lean Methodology

  • Operational Efficiency: Using a uniform tool for all functions except financial accounting.
  • Customer-Centric System Design: Lean methodology was applied to ensure customer value and optimize employee experience.
  • Challenges in Lean Application: Difficulties in scaling and maintaining control within a lean system.

Leadership and Organizational Control

  • Balancing Control and Empowerment: The need for founders to let go of control as the company grows.
  • Microstructures in Lean: Establishing control points and protocols for consistency in customer service processes.
  • Evolution of Management Practices: Adapting management styles to suit the company’s growth and international expansion.

Key Learnings and Reflections

  • Adaptability in Leadership: Recognizing the need to evolve leadership and management practices with company growth.
  • Empowering Teams: The importance of empowering teams while maintaining necessary controls and structures.
  • Value-Based Leadership: Stressing the importance of company values in guiding decisions and company culture.

Actionable Tips for Listeners:

  1. Understand Your Talent Pool: Conduct thorough talent research to create a workplace that meets the needs and aspirations of your employees.
  2. Adapt and Evolve: Be prepared to evolve your leadership style and management practices as your company grows.
  3. Embrace Lean Methodology: Consider implementing lean methodology to enhance operational efficiency, but be aware of its challenges and limitations.
  4. Empower, Don't Micromanage: As your company grows, learn to empower your team members, giving them the freedom to make decisions while maintaining necessary oversight.
  5. Value-Driven Culture: Build a strong company culture based on core values to guide both everyday decisions and long-term strategy.

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