Takeoff Academy – People and company culture as keys to a successful startup

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Takeoff Partners was enthusiastic to host Takeoff Academy workshop in Helsinki on December 18th 2018. The event was packed with experts’ speeches and interesting topics concerning the factors that determine startup success. Combining corporate culture, modern recruiting and how to stay healthy made for one thought-provoking afternoon.

The latest installment of the Takeoff Academy took place on December 18th and this time the topic was “People and company culture as keys to a successful startup”. Takeoff Academy had three amazing speakers giving presentations about corporate culture, modern recruiting and how to stay healthy. Each of these topics is vital for a successful startup.

The event was kicked off by Jasmiina Niitamo from Vala Group, followed by Henri Nordström from Jobilla and Joni Jaakkola,  the author of “Väkevä elämä: Viisaampi mieli, vahvempi keho” (Stronger life: A Wiser Mind, a Stronger Body), closed the show.

The significance of corporate culture and employee experience as competitive factors

The first speaker of the day was culture hacker Jasmiina Niitamo from Vala Group, an IT-consulting company with 82 employees. Niitamo’s main interest and focus is on wellbeing at work and making sure that employees enjoy working for the company.  The very first point Jasmiina Niitamo made, was that corporate culture exists from day one. This is due to the fact that when starting a business, the founders reflect the culture in their company.

In 2016 Vala Group faced a problem: a shortage of good job candidates. Naturally, they could’ve just hired a recruiter and hoped to find the perfect match. However, instead of going down that path, they actually took a slightly different approach and decided to develop their operations internally. This meant figuring out who the employees of the company actually are, what they stand for and what Vala Group’s corporate culture is. These are all issues that a company needs to resolve before they are able to attract the best candidates to join them.

“In order for a company to be viewed (by candidates) as an attractive workplace they first need to improve their own culture and identity so that it matches the image the company wants to display. The foundations of the corporate culture need to be solid and if they are not good enough, a few after works and bowling sessions will not be enough to accomplish a good employee experience.” This is very important, because if the company and its culture don’t match expectations, the newly hired person will not just leave, but also spread the word.

Niitamo managed to improve employee experience and company culture at Vala Group by interviewing every employee individually in order to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. Based on the results they started to focus on wellbeing at the work place and made that their top priority. Niitamo states that after focusing on wellbeing and happiness in 2016 the revenue of the company has grown substantially.

Vala strives for a workplace culture of self-directed employees. This means that they basically have no managers and that the company lets their employees decide which projects they join. Additionally, Vala wants to include their whole workforce in the strategy and decision making processes. Allowing employees to have certain freedoms and letting them be self-directed also means that you can’t be afraid of mistakes. When an error occurs, you just need to learn from it and quickly move on.

Modern recruitment: How to find the right talent for a company

The second speaker of Takeoff Academy, Henri Nordström, is the CEO of Jobilla, a digital recruitment company. Jobilla concentrates on finding the best possible candidates for the jobs and their vision is to be more than just another regular recruitment company. They utilize data collection to enable them to analyze their processes and efficiently find out if something is not working.

The very first thing Henri wanted to point out is that candidates’ expectations have changed. “Especially young people at the age of 18-27 feel that the processes around recruitment are outdated and unnecessarily complicated. Earlier the recruitment market had a surplus of great applicants, but now there is a problem in finding the most suitable good candidates.”

In the old days people used to scroll through newspapers to search for jobs, then apply via letter. The process is still very similar, digitalization being the biggest difference.  Nowadays, the job posts are collected into places like Glassdoor and Duunitori, and consequently people don’t just happen to casually browse job posts while drinking their Sunday morning coffee. 

A study done by LinkedIn found that as much as 75 % of candidates are passive and only 25 % are active. Based on a study conducted by Glassdoor you need 14-18 different contact points in order to reach a passive candidate and that takes a lot of work and ends up being a very confusing process to execute.

Why traditional recruiting doesn’t work with passive candidates – Henri Nordström’s three bottlenecks

  • The candidates that you want don’t browse traditional job hunting websites
  • When doing targeted marketing to direct applicants to your website, people end up spending a very short time looking at the advert and typically don’t care what the company says about itself
  • People don’t end up applying – even if they find the job interesting

According to Nordström, applying for a job is a very big psychological decision which is one huge reason for that people tend not to apply. That’s why you should make the process extremely easy.

Steps to activate and make a connection with the passive candidate

  • Reach them – via Google, Facebook or Instagram
  • Get them interested – for example via a video
  • Contact (use something else than “apply for a job with us”) – try curating a short test on how well a person would fit into the job and company.

Nordström offers three tips to successful recruitment process within a startup:

  • Use targeted marketing
  • Make opening the connection very easy: It should take less than 5 minutes and be easy to use with a mobile device
  • Combine recruitment advertising with the development of the image of employee experience at the company.

How a startup-entrepreneur stays healthy

Takeoff Academy closed with a presentation from Joni Jaakkola, an author and an entrepreneur. He is the founder and owner of Optimal Performance and Optimal Performance Center. He also wrote the book “Väkevä elämä: Viisaampi mieli, vahvempi keho” (Stronger Life: Wiser Mind, Stronger Body).

Jaakkola states, that you should consider your health and wellbeing at least in the top 3-5 most important things in your life. Think about your wellbeing and health as an investment that helps you cope with a lot of problems in life without your body breaking down.

Key points for your health and wellbeing

  • Your values – Have you learned how to be healthy as a child or do you have to make it a new priority now?
  • Controlling your day to day life – If your schedule is overflowing you won’t last for long. Find a slot in every week to rest and exercise
  • Sleep 7-9 hours a night. This is very important since it impacts almost every aspect of your life
  • Nutrition – Keep energy levels balanced and eat within regular intervals
  • Resistance training
  • Endurance exercise – Aerobic and day to day activity
  • Recovery – 95 % of an adults recovery happens during sleeping

Be selfish in a healthy way: focus on yourself. If you are in a poor physical state, it will not benefit anyone. So, with everyone’s best interest at heart, make time in your schedule to be active and fill in your calendar before someone else will.

Jaakkola says that you should “take care of yourself the same way that you take care of brushing your teeth”. Don’t just be active and exercise when you feel good about doing it: Rather, take a similar approach to it as to brushing your teeth, you just do it. This will help you stay active even if you don’t always feel like exercising.

Make a clear action plan about your wellbeing. Often people tend to think about these issues at a general level and not follow through action wise, that’s why you should make a specific plan to actually achieve something.

Learn how to live in continuum. Balance is important in everything you do, including eating, sleeping and everything. Don’t be too strict on yourself; remember to keep the bigger picture in mind.