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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Arne Roock and Fridtjof Detzner Discuss Organizational Culture at Jimdo

Arne Roock and Fridtjof Detzner Discuss Organizational Culture at Jimdo


2. You two are at the LeanUX conference and you are talking about basically the road of your company and how the culture comes into it, which is an interesting thing to see, I mean at a UX conference. So, what brought you, guys, to speak here?

Arne: I guess we met Will one year ago in Chicago at the Lean Kanban North America Conference and I am pretty involved in this community, in the Lean Kanban community, and I and Fridtjof gave a talk there and we met Will and he thought this stuff was interesting and he’s organizing the LeanUX conference and he invited us to talk about Jimdo.

Todd: Alright. Well, tell us a little bit about that.

Fridtjof: We’ve got a long history, we founded it over ten years ago, we’ve grown the company from three people to about 185 and what Jimdo does is probably the easiest way to create your own website, what we do is not only can you use it with browser, you can also use it with a tablet or a phone. We’re a product company, you can use it in 12 languages, we’re truly international, we just crossed 10 million users.

Todd: Congratulations. One of the interesting things we talked about earlier was this story of how you, and it kind of showed in your presentation too, the culture you have there today, at about 185 people, and how you came from three people. So, Fridtjof, maybe tell us a little bit about the origins.

Fridtjof: So, back in the day we had to, before we had the company, I met my two friends and we all moved to a farmhouse, it was really the countryside, really quite locally, we worked there every Monday to Friday, on the weekend we did other stuff, but we worked there all the time. And now looking back I see a lot of the initial values that we created, the company culture is always created when you work together with other people, but now looking back and seeing what we have done there, gave me a sense of how we created the culture. We never did things like a discussion or an argument where two people were leaning in one direction and the third one in a different one, we were always discussing it to the bitter end. That created a lot of understanding for us three, for business, design and development, different positions and we always created this consensus of how we wanted to shape our product. That helped a lot to grow the company because you really know how to work with the others, there was this trust you develop on that past and that helps us to address situations right now with 185 people.

Todd: There was a point in time where you took on some additional funding and things went a little differently.

Fridtjof: True. That had a funny turnaround. We were at that point 25 people, up to 30, we decided we needed a second round of venture capital and what we did was we partnered up with someone and it was strategic investing that we were doing, meaning they were using our product also for themselves and they also bought a 30% stake in us. Then the management shifted at one point and it was a point in time we were dealing with a huge corporation and I thought at that point we were more or less the only ones who knew what was going on, we were speaking with management board, with the product management, the design, the operations part, all parts of the product. And it was a completely different structure than we are, departments, hierarchical structure, I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just totally different than how we used to work.

The product was cool, we delivered on time, that was all really brilliant, but it wasn’t fun working so much anymore. So, we did a crazy shift, we decided we had to get out of that again and that was really a tough time for us, we learned a lot, and we managed to buy back the 30% shares of Jimdo and that was really important for us. I probably would not be sitting here speaking in front of that camera if we hadn’t done that. It felt really good to be completely on your own again, setting yourselves the goals and now looking back that was like burning your hand on a hot plate, to say so, and that lesson was so important because we learned what we had before, that’s why we stick so much to our culture, the way we set up Jimdo, that was really in a sense giving, I would say.


3. Arne, when did you join and how did you get involved?

Arne: I met Fridtjof and a couple of his colleagues three years ago and then we had informal conversations and we drank coffee every now and then, I really liked the guys, I really like the offices and I used to work as a consultant at that time and then, probably, two and a half years ago Fridtjof called me and asked for some consulting, I worked with them for two years as a consultant and at some point he urged me to sign a contract as an employee, and I refused for a long time, but at some point I said why not, it’s time to do something different and to work with a product company, so now I’m working for nearly five months with them as a full time employee and I am doing more internal coaching, consulting, organizational development.

Todd: Tell me a little bit about that, how that came in and how that affected the overall organization.

Fridtjof: For me, were setting up a complete coaching team to help people to grow inside the company, that’s probably something that I probably learned along the way, you grow, you set up teams, you’re doing more and you are not that present in the teams anymore and you have to have other people that are happy to develop the people and coach them, help them, understanding our processes and that’s really important to have this healthy organization that’s learning fast, that you can provide that. On the one hand we ask a lot from the people, we ask them to shape a great product, follow the vision or create their own vision, ship great software, be responsible for all that, and on the other hand you have to have some help to let the people do their job, therefore we decided to set up a coaching team. Some coaches are concentrating on the team dynamics, they are doing retrospectives, while some coaches are doing individual coaching for people. So it’s a different set of coaches working together, there is even one person just there for the company culture, paying attention to that, so at company level, what we can do to improve the cooperation of our colleagues, how to get to know and onboard new people, what we do, all that, so different levels- individual, team and company wise.


4. Now I’m going to ask the tough question, how does this lead to the Spice Girls?

Arne: In 2011 I met a really great guy, he’s called Stephen Bungay, and his main area of interest is military strategy especially in the Prussian army and he gave a talk at the Lean Kanban Central Europe Conference which I organize, and it’s quite funny because you think what does this have to do with Lean Kanban, but he works now as a consultant and he uses the learning from Prussian army to improve business. Sounds really crazy, but in fact it’s not, because the Prussian army, as almost every army, had to deal with high level of complexity and uncertainty and still achieve their goals.

So, they developed this technique called Auftragstaktik- mission command- which is a really great thing, and we tried to apply this in our company at Jimdo, and one important reason is the Spice Girls question, that’s tell me what you want, what you really, really want. So, the leaders, the managers have to answer this question what’s the single most important thing and it can only be one. Of course, they want everything at the same time, but that leads to a lot of problems, so we try to force our leaders to answer this question every now and then and the single most important thing, we call it goal number one, and this is our means to align all the teams we have in order to achieve great things in our company.

Todd: Maybe tell us a little bit about how that team goal number one work, how does it affect the rest of the teams in the organization?

Fridtjof: At the beginning, the center of our product teams, it’s about product teams shaping the vision, something cool is coming up and we realize “oh, we really should go for that one”. I mentioned we all go along a bit like a train, you get something that it’s really quite cool, these guys are already on the train. Then you see “oh, I need some more guys” and the train is stopping, some more guys are getting on the train and that helps to solve the problems they have, they all agree on what goal number one is and that this team can’t get blocked, they are getting all the resources that they need. So step by step we are adding more people on that, so from really shaping the product to also how are we going to promote it, what kind of video we’re doing, we’re going to do the press releases in all the countries and how are we going to get product people involved, people that know already the product, we put the product out there with a big bang, so more and more people are getting on the train. So that's the cool thing, because in the end, because at the end of the day all the people are on the train, we are moving quite fast with this train towards reaching our goal, and I like a lot, step by step it’s building up, we have to make sure everybody is on board at the end of the day.

Todd: You also mentioned there was some risk in doing that.

Fridtjof: Totally, like I realized when we did it the first time. Wow, we decided on mobile, that was a big thing for us, this transformation from a browser-based company to cross-platform and it was definitely the right decision to do that. But I realized, wow are we really going to commit the whole company on one topic, I better make the right decision, then I realized it’s a huge instrument, you can achieve great things, but you have to make sure you pick the right battles.


5. You mentioned a lot about how important that culture was to the company, one thing you also mentioned is you have locations in many cities around the world. How do you make sure that the culture is embraced by all of those?

Fridtjof: First of all, I have to say we can’t insure it’s the same culture in different spots, you can influence a trajectory, help things from the outside to what might be a good culture and at the end of the day it’s about the people and how they work together, you might have coaches that help them with problems sure, all the crazy stuff, but you should be aware you can’t construct a culture and apply it to a company. So what we do is, and we can’t set conditions of what a good culture is, we will have leaders or have people that are living it and what we do in order to insure that there is a good culture in all these points is we do regulate exchanges with our offices in Tokyo, San Francisco, Shanghai. For example, we have the office in San Francisco, there is the office and there’s an apartment we encourage all people to fly over, spend some time there, work from there, meet other cool companies there, so there is a constant exchange of people all the time that helps them to understand.


6. What’s next for the product?

Fridtjof: This is a really exciting time for us, we are really investing in the core of what we are doing so, we are reinventing what brought us to 10 million websites, so I can’t say exactly right now, because we’re reshaping the company and the product. Basically we're concentrating on making building a website even easier, even faster, making it look super cool and that makes me personally excited because ten years ago I was working on these things initially and now it’s a big step forward, really cool stuff is coming.


7. Thanks. So, where can they get it, is there any way they can find out more about how you guys work and the culture and the things you’ve got going on?

Fridtjof: You can get it for free, that’s a good news, just go to or you can go to the iTunes store and search for Jimdo and find our apps, that’s quite easy. We are going to speak at some conferences, they can hear us, there is also the book, you probably know the URL.

Arne: It’s kind of obfuscated, but there is a free eBook we both wrote, you can find it on the Internet, just google doing things differently jimdo and you’ll find it and then there is also the 3founders blog. Fridtjof Detzner We’ve obviously three founders, we’ve been working together for a long time, and what we do is we share some of our learnings of the world, some were tough learnings like how it was to get your investor out again and these things are on

Todd: Well, thank you very much for joining us.

Fridtjof: Thank you.

Arne: Thanks for having us.

May 22, 2014