You might have heard about the product called NordVPN, but do you know the company behind it, Nord Security? The company started its journey in 2012 inside the Tesonet accelerator, and it has rapidly grown ever since. Today, Nord Security is one of the largest tech-companies in Lithuania in its own right, with nearly 700 employees and 15 million users worldwide.
Only recently they stepped outside of Tesonet to separately start building their company culture and employer brand. We talked with Karina Dirvonskienė, Head of HR at Nord Security, about why they are doing this, how it is going and why should the talent care?
First of all, congratulations on starting your employer journey. Could you tell us a bit about how it came to life? Why did you choose to do it now, and what challenges did it bring?
Thanks! Starting Nord Security’s employer journey is indeed a big step for us.
It’s no secret that the story of our company began with the inception of NordVPN, which at the moment is one of the most popular VPN service providers worldwide. It was the 35th project developed inside the ecosystem of the Tesonet accelerator, and over time it grew beyond our expectations. Today we are a team of nearly 700 employees and have expanded our product family by adding four new cybersecurity tools (NordPass, NordLocker, NordVPN Teams, and NordWL). And it’s definitely not the end – we are still growing exponentially.
As it often happens, the new beginning brought us some challenges. In the past, we could rely on the Tesonet brand to fulfil our needs as an employer, but now we have to build our own employer brand from scratch. However, we’re optimistic about it since we’ve already made some progress.
Could you introduce your products to people not too familiar with the cybersecurity market? How are they received in the market so far?
At the moment, Nord Security has more than 15 million users worldwide that trust our products to ensure their privacy online. Basically, our goal is to provide true online privacy and security to as many people as we can. That also means building awareness around cybersecurity issues and their importance in the connected world.
As I’ve already mentioned, our story began with NordVPN – currently the fastest VPN on the planet, built to protect our users’ online presence from cybersecurity threats. To put it simply, you can secure your internet data and safely access personal information while browsing with NordVPN.
We also built the same solution for businesses to ensure their employee privacy online while working – NordVPNTeams. Then, there’s NordPass – an easy-to-use password manager used for storing and creating credentials. NordLocker helps to store and share confidential files securely. Finally, NordWL – a collection of tools, know-how, and infrastructure for building your own VPN products.
These five products form the Nord Security productfamily and have gained global recognition with high praise from major tech outlets and cybersec experts alike. However, we’re always looking for new opportunities to grow, so the product line-up is definitely not final.
In your first month as a separate entity, Nord Security already became the 4th most popular company on MeetFrank in Lithuania. Clearly, there’s a lot of interest from the jobseekers at the moment. What’s special about working for Nord Security? Why should people join your organization?
Where do I even begin 🙂 Well, first of all, we’re a fast-growing company with a very dynamic environment set up for professional growth. The essential thing is that every person joining our team gets to build global solutions that solve relevant problems. You can be sure that you’ll be working with top experts from all over the world and gain valuable experience.
Knowledge sharing is vastly promoted in our company and is, in fact, one of our key values – we have various initiatives, internal and external events, and even separate programs designed for personal and professional growth. Nord Security is also a very diverse company that gives people the freedom to act – you will find plenty of opportunities to express yourself and show initiative.
Could you list some of the perks that your employees enjoy?
Our colleagues enjoy numerous benefits focused on increasing their well-being, like private health insurance, mental health programs, bonus vacation days, in-house physiotherapists, flexible work hours, and more. Also, we’re famous for our workations and various celebrations.
However, in our opinion, all these perks are simply an addition to our main benefits – a great team, ambitious goals and exciting projects to work on.
What about employee dynamics – do you hire more local or global specialists, and does this put additional strain on your HR team?
As our company was founded in Lithuania, we currently have more local team members. However, we’re actively growing our international ranks and have colleagues working in Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, United Kingdom, The Netherlands, Romania, Turkey, South Korea, Japan, and Brazil.
Hiring worldwide and expanding our reach is certainly more demanding than hiring locally. It’s a challenge to extend a feeling of belonging to team members working remotely. However, the current pandemic situation benefited us in this regard: It accelerated our remote work practices, and now we feel that we’ve become stronger as a global employer.
How many vacancies do you have at the moment? Which departments of the company are you expanding the most rapidly?
At the moment, we have more than 80 vacancies waiting to be filled, and mostly we’re looking for professionals to join our teams of Frontend, Backend, Mobile, and Marketing. However, we’re actively expanding other teams as well – take a look at our Career page – I’m sure you’ll find several options, including challenging leadership roles.
What are the most important qualities when hiring new people to the Nord Security team? Do you have any tips for the applicants to be successful in your hiring process?
We look for people who are passionate about tech and eager to learn new things quickly. The cybersecurity and IT markets are constantly changing. Breakthroughs are coming every day. As a team, we have to be ready for the shifting environment and the challenges it brings.
We place a high value on people, who challenge the status quo, look for better ways to do things, and do not agonize over decision making. There’s also a lot of focus on teamwork – we believe that magic happens in teams, so there are no individual agents here.
Cavai, founded in 2018, builds conversational advertising tools with a focus on protecting consumers’ privacy. Their approach seems to be gaining traction, at least judging by their client list, which includes global heavyweights like McDonald’s, Mercedes-Benz, and HBO. Last year they announced new hires to key senior positions and significant growth plans, accompanied by a funding round.
Cavai’s Chief Technology Officer is Mikko Kotila, a self-described “mad scientist”, who offered us a captivating look into the philosophy behind Cavai’s company culture. Find out what challenges can working in the ad-tech offer to developers, why the best thing a manager can do is to get out of the way of great talent, and what they are looking for in new hires.
Although some of the world’s most valuable brands use your product for advertising campaigns, regular people seldom hear about Cavai itself. How would you describe Cavai’s product to a non-marketing audience?
Cavai has created the first mainstream advertising technology platform that is built “people first.” Unlike thousands of other ad platforms, we never collect or do anything with people’s data. At Cavai, we build everything following strict privacy-by-design principles. I think that is something many people will be able to relate to. We have an undying commitment to making advertising better, and it starts with the fact that it can’t be dependent on exploiting people’s data.
On MeetFrank, you advertise Cavai’s positions with an ambitious tagline “The most wanted job in ad-tech”. Cavai’s excellent net promoter score 79 seems to confirm this. What makes your company culture unique?
Business is about people and only people. The company and its shareholder value is simply a collection of people and their activities and the results of those activities. I think it is easy to accept that love is a better experience than fear. We actively seek out fear placed approaches, which are rampant in modern corporate culture, and replace them with love based ones.
Everyone in Cavai has the exact same job description – “Do your best work”.
And everyone who works in leadership follows the same management principle – “Get out people’s way and make sure they have what they need and want.”
Although Cavai has many offices across Europe with HQ in Oslo, you also offer an option to work 100% remotely. Does Cavai have any rules at all concerning the working place and time? What about vacation time?
Our R&D HQ is in Helsinki. We are really thankful for having a strong employer brand in the area surrounding Helsinki. There is tremendous culture for advanced engineering work in that area.
We have 100% flexibility in terms of where and when you want to work. We are also experimenting with flexible holidays and other less conventional approaches.
Cavai’s stated management philosophy is that the team leaders should communicate the vision and then basically get out of the way of great talent. How did you arrive at this philosophy at Cavai? Have there been any particular experiences in the past that have shaped it?
I think great engineers are looking for mastery in their craft. As much as it is useful to have a relationship with someone looking after you and helping you make small corrections along the way, mastery is very much a personal experience. You will use an incredible amount of time by yourself working on something. It is useful to have guides, but it is there only because then you know you have that kind of support available when you need it and want it.
What can work in the ad-tech sector offer to software engineers that other sectors can’t? Maybe you can introduce a few key issues that Cavai’s development team is tackling right now?
The daily online advertising ecosystem footprint is roughly one trillion connections. Some of the most exciting computational advancements are taking place in advertising technology. There are a lot of technical challenges like concurrency that almost no other industry has.
Because Cavai focuses on creative technology, there is an opportunity for us to make advertising better. Because right now, advertising online is mostly awful and is completely disconnected from people. I prefer that the world is free from ads, but I think it is more realistic to make ads better. Let’s make ads more about people and less about whatever it is about now.
Last year, Cavai announced significant growth plans, and with that comes the need for additional team members. What qualities are you looking for when making a new hire?
Great cultural fit
Active contributor to the open-source community
Aspires to attain mastery.
I want to thank everyone who has applied for a job with Cavai or even thought about it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with such amazing people. Thank you.
kevin. is a fast-growing mobile payments fin-tech from Lithuania, founded in 2018 by CEO Tadas Tamošiūnas, a serial entrepreneur with over ten years of experience in the banking sector, and COO Pavel Sokolovas, whose background is in business development and consulting.
kevin.’s product, which enables merchants to accept payments directly from bank accounts via an API for services like parking, deliveries, and insurance, is the first time PSD2 has been used to compete with card networks for this type of payment. Currently operating in the Baltics, Poland, the Netherlands and Portugal, the company closed a €1.5 million seed round at the end of 2020 to scale into 15 new European markets this year, bringing its total funding raised to €3.4 million.
Developing an alternative payments network to credit cards offers unique challenges but also a chance to work in a versatile environment with lots of freedom to organise your time. Agnė Meškaitė, Chief People Officer at kevin., offered us a glimpse into their working culture.
Some people might be unfamiliar with kevin., as you focus on B2B customers. Please tell us service does kevin. provide exactly? Who are your customers?
kevin. is a payments fintech that provides a secure and developer-friendly payments infrastructure accessible via an API. In layman’s terms, we enable businesses to accept payments directly from banks, cutting out the card networks and making the payments process cheaper, faster, smoother and more convenient.
We are a team of 42 (and growing) passionate people driven by our expertise, ambition, trust and a sense of ownership. Last year, kevin. was named the best fintech in the Baltics at the prestigious Mastercard Lighthouse program, and one of the most promising startups of 2021 by EU-Startups.com.
2020 was a challenging and transformative year for any business. What did you learn as a company during the year?
For us, it happened to be the first year of growth and scaling as we have hired nearly 40 employees since March 2020. Remarkably, nearly all hiring processes were conducted online. The first challenge we faced was onboarding and integrating our newcomers. We developed a detailed onboarding plan, which included people who were responsible for clarifying our business goals, setting values and mindset for our new employees.
At the end of last year, we also welcomed a Community Manager to kevin., who takes care of our internal and external employer branding and communication. This step was crucial because many of our colleagues had never met each other in person during their time in kevin., so the roles and team structure had become unclear. Remote work challenges all HR professionals to be creative and support line managers in engaging their teams and sharing a sense of purpose and value.
kevin. has a somewhat unique working culture with minimal rules concerning working time. Could you tell us about your approach?
Our founders have been very clear from the start that the company’s focus should be on the results, not on hours spent working. We believe that if you hire promising talented people, give them the freedom to think and operate, they deliver the best results on time and find smart ways to overcome the obstacles along the way.
The key to this new way of managing working time is a state called “flow”. We believe that tasks that require a high level of intelligence and creative thinking can only be achieved if the employees are rested, engaged and focused. This is why we do not track hours or have set-in-stone rules regarding working hours. Everyone is free to complete their tasks on their own schedule, as long as deadlines are respected.
Our company is home to creative and bold achievers who want to build a sustainable payments infrastructure. To do so, they need to feel trusted by the founders, but even more importantly, by their peers as well.
“The company’s focus should be on the results, not on hours spent working.”
What reasons led you to make the shift? Was there scientific research behind it?
This mindset mainly came from the previous experience of our C-level team. With support from the founders, we develop company culture based on trust, efficiency and result-orientedness.
The team is everything for our company, so we do our best to help our people do great and feel proud of their work. In an industry like ours, strict working hours do more damage than create value. Thus, we communicate clear expectations and give freedom for everyone to find their own work-life balance.
From the employee’s standpoint, more free time certainly sounds nice. However, there might be concerns: removing organizational norms requires excellent time-management skills from employees, people working at different hours might make the team-work more difficult, etc. How did employees react to the change?
I would not describe this approach as giving more free time to employees, but rather as a benefit of managing your day according to your flow and individual peak productivity hours.
We analyze and evaluate every new hire, position and additional team resources. Based on a robust forecast, we create a plan to efficiently accomplish our goals and meet business targets. We also set clear expectations for each employee and measure their key performance indicators regularly.
Since we are an IT company, scrum and sprints guide us through the process. For example, our meetings focus on solving issues instead of updating and chatting. This is why the enrollment process is critical and boosts different teams to cooperate and contribute to each other’s success. In short, we empower employees to use our work environment to get the most for their professional growth and satisfaction at work.
Although it might be too early for definitive results, could you tell us how the change has worked out so far? Are the employees indeed happier?
Last summer, we asked our employees what they appreciated the most about working at kevin. The answers obviously varied, but the most common notion was a flexible work schedule and the freedom to create and express their opinion. The sense of ownership and the colleagues’ trust boost our employees to execute the boldest ideas and therefore exceed the expectations set by our clients and investors.
More and more companies experiment with remote work, flexible work hours, unlimited vacation time, etc. What would you recommend to companies which are looking to replicate kevin.’s approach?
I would recommend carefully assessing the value of a free working schedule for the company. Everything we do for our people and business aims to increase efficiency, simplify processes, and improve employee engagement. Not all companies, and certainly not all teams can work under such flexible conditions. And there are always certain activities that should be scheduled in advance.
With a mindset toward the ownership of individual tasks should come a certain level of maturity from the team members. Finally, a free working schedule requires explicit internal rules and interpersonal cooperation setup. So, before initiating and implementing this approach, I would think of the purpose and probabilities to make things work better.
On a different subject: what channels/methods does kevin. use to find candidates to hire?
Our best friend is MeetFrank, by all means :). We also use LinkedIn, various local and international job portals and… headhunting.
As kevin. operates in the finance and payment processing industry, you are often competing with established international corporations for employees. What are your secrets for attracting talent from corporates?
The market is oversaturated with great employers and competitive job packages. To the best of my belief, there is no secret ingredient that would work every time.
The common mistake I notice is employers trying to mimic ideas from other successful employers, hoping to get the same results. At kevin., we are very consistent in revealing our unique selling points and thus do not try to fill someone’s shoes. This helps us select the best people that fit our culture and mindset. So it doesn’t necessarily have to be a battle between big old corporations and small restless startups for the same candidates. We know what we can offer our talents, and if it is a match, no unnecessary promises have to be made to attract smart people.
“There is no secret ingredient that would work every time.”
What kind of mindset are you looking for when recruiting new people to kevin.?
That’s a great question! I prefer the right mindset over skills and years of experience. In short, everyone, who prioritizes logical reasoning, possesses grit and excels in their area of expertise, has a great chance to thrive at kevin.
What advice would you give to people looking to get hired in a fast-growing tech company like kevin.?
I would recommend assessing your level of resilience for uncertainty and willingness to work in an agile environment. Also, if you seek to work in a tech company, it is crucial that you are genuinely interested in the product or service the company is developing.
Founded in 2003, Sievo is a global leader in procurement analytics. The company now manages over 350 billion euros in spendings yearly. They have also succeeded in building an incredibly diverse organisation with people from over 30 different countries working in their Finnish and USA offices.
To find out how they did it, we interviewed Janina Kurki, Head of Nerd Attraction & People Development Partner at Sievo. In the interview, we talk about challenges that recruiting internationally presents, finding the best talent from abroad, and tips to the companies planning to start hiring globally.
In addition to the company’s take on the matter, we also asked some questions from Sievo’s employee Aleksandr Shevelev. The Senior Software Engineer is originally from Russia, but in 2019 decided to move to Finland to work at Sievo. How was his relocation experience and how smoothly did he settle in? Let’s jump into the interview to find out!
People from over 30 different countries are working in Sievo. It might not seem outrageous for a tech-company in 2020, but Sievo has been hiring international talent since its establishment. Why did you choose to focus on hiring internationally from the beginning?
When Sievo was founded in 2003, the founders Matti Sillanpää and Sammeli Sammalkorpi built a procurement solution to help big companies globally. Our first client was a Danish company LEGO, and already the third hire was a non-Finnish speaking specialist. So our focus is not on hiring internationally, but on always having the best talent.
“Our focus is not on hiring internationally, but on always having the best talent.”
What are some of the greatest mistakes Sievo has made on this journey of hiring and relocating foreigners? Maybe you could share a specific story?
Hiring international people requires that the company has a working culture that fits for people from different backgrounds. I think Sievo has been exceptionally successful in that, but it might have made us assume it would be an easy thing to do and that relocated people would fit in Finland organically.
There has not been a crisis that I could think of, but it helps if things are well prepared in advance. There have been surprises on how many daily activities in Finland rely on e-bank credentials. Also, the taxation might hit hard when you see your first payslip. There cannot ever be too much information shared beforehand, and we should share even more information about the local ways of working. When you have a relationship of trust with people going through relocation, they will also trust your advice on managing the Migration Bureaucracy Jungle.
Aleksandr: Between companies, there are quite a lot of differences in management and working style. I am glad to say that Sievo’s values were quite helpful in making the transition between companies and countries. I was extremely happy to see that within Sievo I get a lot of opportunities to grow, which was one of my concerns during the relocation process.
How does Sievo find the best talent from abroad to relocate in the first place?
We do use different channels to promote ourselves; LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Meetfrank, etc. We take part in meet-ups and events, and our developers have good networks where they promote their work and teams. We have always been able to attract international talent, so it has helped a lot when we have much more diverse candidate pool potential.
We do not settle for the basic ways, instead, we are always looking for new ways and channels, e.g. we were also one of the first companies in Finland using Meetfrank too.
Aleksandr: When I started looking for a job in Finland, I visited a job fair organized by Helsinki Business Hub in the Consulate General of Finland in Saint Petersburg. At the event, I had the first interview round with Sievo and some other companies. A couple of rounds of interviews later I chose to accept Sievo’s offer.
How much do you have to convince people to choose Finland as a place to work? What are the country’s main attractions for potential employees, a wage level, culture or something else?
Actually, mentioning Finland makes it easier. Mainly people are worried about the climate, location and taxation. However, people are usually pretty positively stunned, after sharing the tips about surviving the cold and darkness, and what great things the high taxation rate brings (safety, clean environment, free schooling and health care). Also, the current situation with Covid-19 is just a concrete example of how well things work in Finland.
Sometimes it seems that Finland is the best-kept secret for IT professionals. It would help if Finland would be promoted as one of the best countries for developers as it is confirmed already by the latest research.
“Sometimes it seems that Finland is the best-kept secret for IT professionals.”
Aleksandr: I started to look for a job abroad due to general political, social, and economic problems in Russia. Finland became my first choice because of several factors, including being a well-managed country and its closeness to Russia. It is relatively easy to get to Saint-Petersburg via train without long queues at customs (if there wasn’t a raging pandemic).
What are the biggest challenges for foreigners while relocating to Finland based on your experience?
You cannot get things done without e-bank credentials and to have them, it takes multiple visits and a lot of bureaucracy. Also, getting rental accommodation as a foreigner (without bank credentials) takes longer than it should. Sievo provides accommodation to get started and helps with recommendations, references and even sets-up appointments with the long term renters, but it still might be time-consuming to get things sorted.
The Finnish bureaucracy has its ways, and it definitely might cause issues at some point. But we promise every new team-member assistance with any matters because moving to a new country is quite stressful already by itself.
Aleksandr: The main problem was the thinning or breaking of almost all the social and personal network connections. From the technical or bureaucratic standpoint relocation with Sievo’s support was quite a smooth process. There were some delays in getting the Finnish ID Card and renting a place to live, but it was mostly due to my inexperience with the local market.
When looking back, there were several means of support provided by Sievo:
Help with the paperwork
Financing the moving expenses
First accommodation in Finland
Lots of help and information in general about living and working in Finland.
Currently, European countries have closed their borders already for a second time this year, which makes relocation more challenging. On the other hand, people are working remotely more than ever. How has this year changed your views on recruiting?
As we have always recruited internationally, the remote tools have been used for years already. We are also very fortunate in a way because businesswise it is one of the best years in Sievo’s history – and we are recruiting probably more than ever. It has shown me that we have been able to recruit people that have a high tolerance for change and uncertainty.
I have not felt the need to make huge adjustments on our side, but candidate behaviour has changed. People think thoroughly if now is a good time to change jobs, so they check information about the company very carefully, including the financial data.
“People think thoroughly if now is a good time to change jobs.”
From a growth company point of view: we have been able to bring people stability in very unstable situation and been agile to adjust with the ‘new reality’ while enabling Sievo’s hockey stick growth.
How do you see the impact long-term? Are people likely to look for new challenges internationally?
International migration has already started. It is not just Covid-19 that makes people search for brighter futures. Climate change, political uncertainty and even warfare will make people leave their current homes. I personally hope we can globally make an impact for a better future for all, so migration wouldn’t be the only way to provide safety and prosperity to everyone.
Let’s look at the bigger picture for a moment. Hiring international talent to Finnish companies has been a hot topic over the summer. Why do you think the issue has gained so much attention this year?
I have been very surprised about the fact indeed, but it is definitely a good discussion and an important topic. I have been talking about the issue since 2017, but it hasn’t raised that big headlines until now. I believe the increasing need for talent and the shortage of experienced professionals are finally coming to a critical state where IT companies in Finland need to become more accepting of international talent.
When it becomes a business-critical issue, the change will happen. I believe it is inevitable. The difficult question is how well the companies can make that change – changing your work language and company culture is not a recruitment decision, it is a strategic decision to the core. And that takes time.
What would you suggest to companies that are only now making their first steps to attract talent from different backgrounds?
Before anything, I would recommend companies to think about why they are making the transition, what it means to them and what are the objectives. Also, the team has to be involved in the process as early as possible.
There are some cruel rumours about “international companies” where a couple of international developers are kept in a separate room “so they would have someone to talk to” as in the cafeteria the only spoken language is Finnish. Or similar cases where the official slide decks are in English, but the rest of the documentation is in Finnish.
In these kinds of cases, I would recommend the company to re-evaluate whether they are ready for international talents, and how they can help with the integration to the team. There are lot of companies that have done it already, the knowledge and information is available, it never hurts to ask help to have a better starting point for the change.