With a population around 1 million, Stockholm has become known as the “Unicorn Factory,” producing more billion-dollar companies per capita than any other city except Silicon Valley. So while there are plenty of attractive employers in Stockholm, recruiting and retaining the talent those employers need to grow can be incredibly competitive.
Ernst and Young invited CEOs, founders and HR professionals from four of Stockholm’s most exciting tech companies — Trustly, Fishbrain, Findify and MAG Interactive — to discuss the challenges they face when it comes to employee recruitment and retention and how their company structures can help.
Of the four companies, Trustly is the largest and fastest growing, with about 160 employees across 5 European offices. Findify, the smallest company, uses a distributed model where its 9 employees are scattered across the globe. MAG Interactive has an incredibly flat, co-located structure that lets its employees drive development, while Fishbrain has a flexible model focused on accountability. Each company takes a different approach to management and growth, but they face many similar challenges; namely, recruiting top talent in Stockholm.
“I think in Stockholm specifically, there is an amazing talent pool,” said Findify CEO and co-founder Meni Morim. “But on the flip side, there are a lot of amazing companies. So it’s very difficult to find the right people who are available at the right time.”
Even so, Fishbrain CEO Johan Attby, a serial entrepreneur who worked in Silicon Valley for many years, deliberately chose to start Fishbrain in Stockholm even though the majority of its users are in the US. Why? One reason is that employees are more loyal. “In Stockholm it’s competitive, but if you manage to hire someone, they will stick with you.” He also emphasized the importance of maintaining a strong employer brand. “It’s a small ecosystem and if you screw up your reputation as an employer, you’re doomed.”
So what’s Trustly’s trick to fast growth? “I think one important thing that we have managed to do is find the truly best talents for those early recruitments,” said Trustly’s Chief Human Resources Officer Ulrica Falkenberg. With key talents in place, she believes it’s much easier to hire additional employees because you can tap into their knowledgeable networks. “Good people know good people, and want to work with other competent people,” Falkenberg reiterated. And if the company has a strong and authentic culture, employee referrals will pour in. “A large portion of Trustly’s new hires come through internal referrals, which is the greatest compliment actually because it shows how happy our employees are,” she added.
Morim chimed in to ask: But what happens when you start to scale? Once those key players are hired and you’re faced with hiring 100 engineers, do you then have to compromise?
For Morim and Findify, there are several boxes a prospective employee needs to check: He or she needs to 1) be very good at what they do 2) fit your company culture and share your vision 3) live in the city where you’re based and 4) be available to work. “That’s statistically impossible!” he said. Well, maybe not impossible, but very tough. “At some point, you need to compromise on something,” he said. Once he and his co-founders decided to remove the “live in the same city” box, he found that applications from amazing people started to flood his inbox.
Ida Wate and her team at MAG Interactive took another approach to attracting talent. The company has a truly flat structure with no managers. Teams decide everything themselves, making face-to-face interaction vital. So rather than hiring remote talent, she has relocated employees to the Stockholm office.
While it can be tricky to relocate talent to Sweden, the process is not as expensive or lengthy as it is in other countries, like the Unites States. “The trickiest part is maybe not the actual relocation, but integrating them into Swedish society, especially if they come with a partner or kids,” Wate said.
Attby, who has tried many models at many different companies, has found tools like Skype and Slack to be incredibly helpful in leading distributed teams. But one challenge he has yet to overcome is traversing the time differences. For example, the 9-hour time difference from Stockholm to Silicon Valley basically means there’s not a single hour of overlap in a regular working day, Attby explained. “A 9-hour delay can really screw things up.”
Trustly doesn’t have a time machine that can overcome this common problem, but the company does offer flexible work hours. Some people arrive at the office in the afternoon and work through the night, Falkenberg explained. “It depends on the role, of course, but as long as you’re effective at your job, we won’t tell you how or when to do it,” she said.
What it boils down to, the speakers agreed, is finding the model that works for you. “I think that’s what tech is really about,” concluded Wates. “You do whatever works for you. There’s not a single solution; there are many solutions. It could be a technical one, a physical one or personal one. And that’s what I personally love about the tech world. Anything I’ve seen is possible to do, you just need to do it smart from the beginning.”