An interview with Jonas Rinde - Huddly CEO, entrepreneur and adventurer.
This is the third in a series of interviews with the team who brought the Huddly GO to life. We hope to explore the thinking behind the software, hardware and AI that makes GO so special. You can check out our previous interviews with CTO Casey King here and co-founder and CPO Stein Ove Eriksen here.
Jonas Rinde was born in Sweden but has called Norway his home since 2007, drawn here by the mountains, the skiing and positive, can-do spirit of the Norwegian people.
He joined Huddly in 2016 and became CEO in June 2017 and brought with him over 20 years experience in the collaboration industry. Jonas was previously co-founder of Cisco Spark Board and VP Products at Acano amongst many other roles.
We sat down to talk to him about his passion for technology and design, the Huddly cultural values and what he sees as the most important part of his job here at Huddly.
Could you begin by telling us what your proudest moments are since you became Huddly CEO?
– I’ve had several proud moments or milestones in my first year now in Huddly. Of course, our announcement this week that we are part of the Google Hangouts Meet hardware kit is a big one but I have to say we are just as proud to be working with them as we are with all our partners.
But in general, my most proud moments in Huddly are when we get all the boys and girls on deck to solve something challenging together. Usually when we do that, the end result is really, really good. Most of the time it’s even better than we expected in the beginning.
For me, it’s that process that gives me pride but also knowing that the team get to experience that feeling, that sense of achievement is always a great moment. Whenever we hit a big milestone, and there have been quite a lot in the last year, there are lots of small wins that get us there and that’s really satisfying for us all.
Another thing that makes me proud is just to be a part of Huddly and build on the legacy of what the guys have created over the last few years and contribute to that story.
In May this year, we reached our target of raising 10 million dollars and we managed to do it in a record breaking short time. We were all very, very proud of that. To have investors be so interested in being a part of what we are doing, for them take that leap of faith and risk their own money was something really special. It has enabled us to take the next step in the journey of Huddly, so I’m humbled by and grateful for that as much as I am proud. Today, almost 6 months later we have been able to deliver more than we promised to our investors and that has been fantastic for all of us.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Growing up, what were you passionate about?
– I always loved sailboats, that was a huge part of growing up. My father was the skipper and the man in charge, so that had a big effect on me.
(Skipper Lars Rinde aboard his handbuilt boat “Bellona” having won the Round Gotland Race, Boat Class in 1979) Photo: Courtesy of the Rinde family
I learned a lot about teamwork on the boat – being able to sail and win, and technology was a very important in that. You could argue that the technology was pretty basic, but still, you constantly had to be very analytical about trimming, doing the calibration and configuring settings in the boat.
That ended up creating a very big interest for me in terms of what you can do with technology. In the sailboat, of course, it was all about speed and winning, but there were other, more complex challenges in overtaking the other competitors in a pretty strategic and challenging environment out on the ocean.
Photo: Courtesy of the Rinde family
I can also say the combination of influences from my two grandfathers was huge. They were both deeply interested and experienced in technology. One was a petrolhead and built a very successful car dealership in Sweden, so I got my passion for entrepreneurship from him as well as my obsession with cars. The other was a fighter pilot in the second World War and I’d say I took a piece of his risk-taking.
I try to take the inspiration from all of those three into what I do today at Huddly where I can combine the adventure of building something and being an entrepreneur and I also get a lot of joy from all the action we get here working with such an extremely talented team.
Technology and design are an important part of your background. When did you start becoming interested in that?
– That goes back to my love for cars in my adolescence. It was pretty interesting phase for the car industry looking back at it. They’re complex machines – they were, and still are in some ways, the most technically advanced products around. I was really interested in car technology and in cars as a product but I was also found it fascinating that they were designed as an experience.
“Cars are made to take you somewhere, to be thrilled by speed and power. The idea that cars provide both a service and an experience for you as an end user through using complex, exciting technology was really what sparked my interest.”
I started exploring technology when I got my first paid job which was actually a bit before the Internet. I don’t know if you’ve heard of BBS, the Bulletin Board Systems? Back in the days before web pages, I used to be in my bedroom designing and developing ANSI/ASCii bulletin board pages. That was when I started getting into computers and over time I began to combine that with my passion for cars.
By the time I was 10 years old I already knew what my dream job was when I grew up – I wanted to be a car designer. I used to play loads of car games as a kid, first on the Commodore C64, then the C128, then later the Amiga 500, the PC 386, 486, 486DX2… I could go on and on!
I used to sketch cars on paper when I was little and then later, you started to get these basic design programs and I started to do 3D designs on the computer just for fun.
I can see now that that’s what started me on the path to where I am now at Huddly. As I grew older, I started to become more interested in products in general.
I kept learning and choosing the classes and schools that were around that field and eventually I ended up studying Product Design at University.
Once you had graduated, what were your experiences in the early stages of your career?
– I started my career in production – learning how to assemble products, how to test them and that was a really important foundation for later when I moved on to being a designer and engineer.
After some time, I began to take more strategic management roles where I gradually became more involved in asking “ok, what kind of products should we design in this company?”. I feel very fortunate to have been given those opportunities and I’m grateful to all those people I worked with who gave me the chance to do that.
“All of that experience together is what led to me being a part of Huddly and having the responsibility of leading the company. For me, one of most important parts of my role is to enable our fantastic team to live out their dreams and aspirations in the same way I did.”
I got the chance to follow my dreams and I want to make sure these guys have the same opportunities I had 10 or 20 years ago. I want to put them on the same kind of dream job path, whatever it might be for them and, hopefully, that’s what they get to experience here at Huddly.
Huddly has grown really fast over the past year and we are adding more new people to the team all the time. Could you tell us a little about how you would define the culture here at Huddly?
– From my perspective, and from what I hear when I talk to my friends here at Huddly, we have a very open culture. That’s a very easy thing to say, but here it’s really true. Everyone has a seat at the table here and there’s no threshold for who gets to have a say and give feedback on what people think is right or wrong. That opens up very good discussions so any issues we might have can rise to the surface really quickly and that helps to guide us in the right direction.
On the other hand, we have a culture of ambition. I would say that everyone in Huddly has very high ambitions, both for Huddly as a company but also for what we want to reach with Huddly together – what we want to deliver. That goes for each individual in terms of what they want to do in their discipline, be it software, hardware, design, mechanics, you name it.
“But I believe what everyone has in common, what unites us, is a desire to take on big challenges and then go on to deliver on them. I think it’s fair to say we inspire each other, even if we work in different fields, to go on and compete with the rest of the world. I certainly find it very inspiring to see everyone pushing each other to reach new heights. I think we get a lot of energy from each other.”
What qualities do you look for in someone who wants to join Huddly?
– Firstly, I’d say I’m always very humbled that people have heard of us and are interested in joining the team. It makes me feel proud that people are coming to us now, because in the early phase we worked hard to find the right people but I think that, these days, Huddly is kind of past that stage. We’ve been able to find the right people – really good, highly talented people and the best thing about that is they then go on to attract other talented people. Right now we are in a bit of a luxury position in that we have amazing people from all over the world wanting to join us.
What we look for in newcomers is primarily their social antenna. I used to work for a fantastic company here in Norway called Tandberg and we always used the old classic phrase “hire for attitude and train for skills”. You might have heard it before but it’s still true and it’s central to how we hire.
I’d say Huddly is still a pretty small company. As of today we are only 45 employees, so the attitude of the people who join us is really important. The interview process is based around that we do a lot of interviews for every new person who applies.
If you’re looking to join us in Huddly you will most likely be interviewed by all the people who are part of the team you will end up working with. It can easily be 10 interviews in a day for an applicant. It sounds like a lot, I know, but I think it serves a very important purpose. The interviewee has the chance to get to know us and ask themselves if we are the right fit for them, and the Huddly team gets to ask the same question from our end.
That goes back to the importance of social skills and attitude – what matters most is if they can work well with the team. After that, we look at whether or not they have the right skill set for the job.
Would you consider Huddly a Scandinavian company and how does that impact what we do?
– I think there are a few different viewpoints on that. Firstly, yes we are a Scandinavian company in that our headquarters are here in Oslo, Norway and this is where we were founded. But it goes beyond that. We are a global company and we have offices all over the world, but being Scandinavian does influence the way we work inside Huddly, our cultural values, that openness I was talking about.
I say this a lot internally but here we use a lot of what in Scandinavia would be termed “common sense”. In my opinion, Scandinavia is very different from other cultures in that respect. We don’t do micro-management at Huddly. We give our people a lot of individual responsibility. We respect them, we trust that everyone will do the right thing.
At the same time, the Huddly team is a reflection of the global world that we’re designing products for. We have a very diverse group of people with different cultural backgrounds. I’m not sure about the number right now but I think out of 45 employees we have around 10 different nationalities. That gives us an extra dimension and brings a special kind of energy to the company. I think we would be missing out on that if we were only focused on hiring people from the neighbourhood and then trying to provide a product for the rest of the world.
It also brings a lot more fun to our everyday work life – we get to learn a lot about new cultures, new foods and different dance as well, if you can believe that. We have all sorts of interesting characters with different skills. Lots of musicians. Actually, I have to say we have a really good band or I’ll get in trouble. It’s true though!
“The Huddly GO camera is designed according to Scandinavian principles too. We use a “less is more”, clean-and-simple approach and I think we really got that nailed with the GO.”
It has a very simple form factor, it’s very pleasant on the eye and it also has this kind of friendly approach when you get to see and use it. That’s very important, especially when you’re designing a camera. It has to have a kind of ‘personal’ quality if you want it to be part of people’s daily work and home life and that has been key to the design from the beginning. We have tried to stay true to that Scandinavian design heritage with GO, to provide an enjoyable experience and create something people want to return to and enjoy again and again.
Many thanks again to Jonas for his time. He says you’re welcome to follow him on Twitter here @jonasrinde. In addition, we’d like to thank you for reading, and don’t forget to have a look at huddly.com.
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