I thought this interview would be about a web survey tool – instead we talked mostly about EFM, Enterprise Feedback Management. I thought I would meet a strict and formal CEO, watching his tongue and providing me only with the usual politically correct answers on reasons for success and plans for the future. I met a warm and modest man, portraying his company in very humble words, caring a lot for his employees. Welcome to one of the most and least known MR companies in Scandinavia.
Many companies succeed in one way or another, but extremely few manage to find their way into everyday language. ”Let’s make a QuestBack”, is a frequently used expression in Norway for conducting a quick and simple survey among clients, staff or other stakeholders. Regardless of this ultimate fame, I believe few people know much about the company behind the tool. One reason for this is that they are good at not wasting time with the wrong tasks or the wrong people. I have been trying to get in touch with the marketing department and the management of QuestBack for two years and it was not until very recently that I was able to meet the CEO, Ivar Kroghrud. As for the marketing people, I am still waiting for that handshake.
Ivar has been with the company all along since the start in 2000, an amazing feat given the growth from zero to 90 employees in three countries, plus 15 dedicated reseller offices outside Scandinavia. Common knowledge has it that the same CEO should not be fit to lead a company through all the different phases that QuestBack has passed through the years. The reason why it has worked so well is as simple as it is sadly uncommon among companies in general: Ivar is not the founder/inventor! Stole Lövbukten, who came up with the idea and found the money to start the company, wisely decided not to lead his own baby, but recruited a professional CEO, Ivar, right from the start. My guess is that Ivar was not the perfect manager at the very start, but because he is the right person to lead a larger company and because he didn’t have any emotional ties to the original idea, he had the reasons, ambition and knowledge required to grow the company quickly.
- When the inventor leads a company, development is often stalled because he has a clear idea how everything should be done and wants to be involved in every part of the company, explains Ivar. I didn’t have the emotional ties to the original idea, which meant I could work more efficiently with it. It wasn’t my baby, rather a foster child!
Finding the right niche is a key parameter when it comes to growing and QuestBack has found theirs in EFM, rather than in traditional web surveys, although the tool works equally well for both. They didn’t know this was the term for what they were doing when they started nine years ago, but when Gartner coined the term Enterprise Feedback Management somewhere around 2005, Ivar instantly felt: ”Yes, this is the name for what we are doing!”
QuestBack is perhaps not the most sofisticated software on the market, rather somewhere in the middle between solutions given away for free and expensive luxury products. But what does the level of sofistication mean if the tool is not used?
- Garner made a survey where most companies claimed to be collecting data in one way or another from its clients, says Ivar, but where only 10% of those doing so, actually used the data collected for some kind of action. Among our clients the figure is 50%, but we want to bring it up to at least 90%. We like to use the phrase ”Ask & Act” and to put equal emphasis on both A’s!
This is of course also a reason why it has not been their top priority to meet with me – they are busy meeting their customers, showing them how to use the data they have collected. Smart move!
This is also where EFM departs from traditional market research. EFM is often, as Ivar puts it, event driven, which means questions are asked when something has happened, for instance a purchase, and not when the calender tells you it is time for the annual survey. For this reason, replies to EFM questions are often not treated confidentially, simply because the company wants to be able to act directly towards individual clients at the right moment.
- When the sales manager hears that 5% of the clients are discontent, he doesn’t think: how exciting to hear in a year from now if we have managed to reduce this figure to 4%. He wants to know who is discontent, so he can call him or her right away and win the client back.
Ivar says that client and provider often share a common interest in improving products and services and that respondents therefore are not interested in hiding behind anonymity. But he also stresses the importance of being clear about confidentiality issues. The QuestBack platform can be finetuned to allow different levels of non-anonymity and they are clear towards their clients that they shall inform their respondents as to what level is used. If there is no anonymity – tell it straight out that this is the case!
On the wall in their meeting room is a photo from a Mount Everst expedition, carried out in 2007, and a company flag that has actually been on top of the worlds highest mountain. No one from QuestBack was up there in person, but the company sponsored the expedition and followed it closely with great pride. Ivar says a mountain-climbing expedition is a good metaphore for a young, growing company: striving to reach the top.
I wouldn’t have been surprised to also find a ”we-are-best-and-always-strive-for-the-very-top” kind of attitude for the company itself, but Ivar is surprisingly humble. Many CEOs I have met have laid out fantastic plans for the conquering of the world – although few of them have had as much foundation to back up such a claim as QuestBack would have – but Ivar lays out no such fantasies for the future. They acquired Swedish Easyresearch not long ago and have been able to complete a very succesful merging of the two companies, but this gives them no reason to be overly self-assured about future acquisitions. There are still lots of potential clients to reach out to in Norway, Sweden and Denmark and further international expansion depends to a great extent on the internet maturity of each market.
The humbleness is also reflected in the way Ivar talks about his staff. Himself a father of three, claims convincingly that it is very important to find a good balance in life. It is definitely not a company ambition that the employees should work 70 hours a week. Instead, it is very much ”liberty based on responsibility”, further boosted by the fact that many of the employees are part-owners in the firm.
- Owning a share of the company you work for is a sound incentive. It makes you pay attention to both the top and bottom line. It also makes the staff stay longer with our company. And when they leave work early in the afternoon for some reason, I notice that they often are committed enough to finish the days job at home in the evening.
Serious mountain climbing involves not leaving anything to chance in your preparations. When it comes to server redundancy, QuestBack has embarked on an Everest expedition. They have invested heavily in server capacity, leading to an up-time of 99.99%. They use one of the best server host providers available for money in Norway, but this plant could burn down without the clients even noticing it. QuestBack has the exact same server capacity in Stockholm, mirroring operations continuously, thus constantly standing by to take over from the Oslo facility.
So, Ivar Kroghrud has enough reasons to be happy and content with his company and his family life, or? Well, his formula for a good work/life balance, at least for CEOs, is:
- Maybe you know you've struck an OK balance when you are a little bit dissatisfied with your work effort and a little bit dissatisfied with what you accomplish at home.