How Smartly.io's open company culture drives success

by Liz Warren
February 20, 2018
Smartly.io-nyc
Image via Smartly.io

At a startup, individual success is often synonymous with company success. That’s something marketing tech startup Smartly.io takes seriously — we’re talking company-wide-trip-to-Gran-Canaria seriously. Earlier this year, the company flew employees from all nine of its global offices to the Spanish island for a strategy session and to celebrate managing $1 billion in ad spend.

Such a milestone can be attributed to employee talent and product innovation, for starters. But according to co-founder and CEO Kristo Ovaska, there were many additional factors at play.

“In our culture, everyone takes ownership. We integrate the idea of having the freedom to organize your work how you think best with the idea of being responsible for the success of the entire company,” he explained. “If we get this right, we don’t need bureaucracy or heavy processes to guide or control our work.”

We have a flat hierarchy, with easygoing and straightforward communication between people regardless of seniority, tenure or position."

Individual ownership is just one of the defining aspects of the company’s culture. Management also encourages taking time away from the office to refresh — hence the island getaway, which was as much a celebration as it was a strategy session complete with hackathons and team bonding. Plus, with headquarters in Helsinki, the startup embraces a Nordic working culture, which opens communication and takes away some of the office politics that can exist in other organizations.

“We have a flat hierarchy, with easygoing and straightforward communication between people regardless of seniority, tenure or position,” Ovaska said.

Founded in 2013, the SaaS startup provides Facebook and Instagram advertising automation for global advertisers. While its list of clients is large and notable — think major global brands like eBay and BarkBox — it wasn’t always that way. Ever-changing social media algorithms and the saturation of marketing tech made it challenging to find immediate success in the industry.

“We got beat up pretty badly in the beginning and lost many of our prospects,” said Ovaska. “It was essential not to back down after a loss, but to learn from it, fix things fast and go for an even more challenging customer next.”

The online marketing industry develops at warp speed. Traditional companies need to adapt to this change to succeed in the future."

And it worked. Smartly.io currently has more than 180 employees in New York, Singapore, San Francisco, Helsinki, Berlin, Dubai, Sydney, Shanghai and Buenos Aires. It’s grown profitably at an average of five times year-over-year globally, and closed a $20 million funding round in September.

“Businesses are growing online. We see that acquiring and growing customers through online advertising is a competitive advantage for modern companies,” said Ovaska. “The online marketing industry develops at warp speed. Traditional companies need to adapt to this change to succeed in the future.”

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