So my mission, my reason for creating Pioner, was clear, as was my ambition. However, the only way to turn the mission and ambition into reality, was to assemble a team with the experience, competence, mindset and integrity to make it happen.
As a product guy, strategist and businessman, I knew that the first person I needed to find was a technology leader to partner up with.
Throughout my career I had the privilege of crossing paths with some of the most brilliant technical minds of the world: Colleagues and mentors, such as the former CTOs and Heads of SW Engineering at Digital Equipment Corporation, Microsoft, Apple, and Bell Laboratories. Their patient mentorship, entertaining war stories, and insightful perspectives instilled me with wisdom and perspectives on the timeless nature of recurrent computing paradigms, systems engineering and technology architecture issues.
Founders of startups in Boston and Silicon Valley, professors at MIT and Stanford, rising tech stars, serial technical entrepreneurs with energetic minds and innovative technology applications set my bar for how to dare to push the envelope of technology and use it to dream big and tackle big problems in novel ways.
In recent years, the many data science and software engineering managers at Schibsted, recruited from leading Internet pioneers such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and our equivalent Nordic lighthouses such as Spotify, Klarna, and Telenor. They all shared experiences with and approaches to cloud-based operations, cross-functional product teams and development of global platforms, products and services. It all helped me appreciate how the increasing potential of data and algorithms transform products and services, as well as organizations.
And yet, none of these people can hold a candle next to Nik Fasting.
Nik and his brother Pedro had been active in the Northern European startup scene for many years - starting ventures, financing ventures, and building ecosystems and networks. Together they built ExplorerHQ, a network of people and companies in the Nordics and Poland, that shared space, insight, advice, and contacts in a loosely coupled ecosystem across multiple locations. A lawyer by training, Pedro is our absolute North Star on living the Pioner Labs values in every aspect of our daily life. We could not ask for a more people-centric, value-driven, and broadly grounded person to lead the essential operational work of Pioner, including finance, legal, and people ops, and we certainly could not find a person with a better network across industries, I don't know how the man does it - but he knows everyone.
With Nik and Pedro on board, I now needed a UX leader. So, I called up Lidia, my former colleague as global head of UX at Schibsted, and asked her “So Lid, of all the people you have worked with or otherwise come across in your career at Nokia, Google and Schibsted, who is the strongest UX leader you know of who might be open to relocating to Oslo for an amazing opportunity?” Her answer came without hesitation: Definitely Axel Haugan, current Head of UX at Schibsted Norway. Of course! A guy with startup experience, a guy that has been an executive of Europe’s largest internet company, and who successfully had managed to redefine a product category by conceptualizing, developing and launched a radically innovative news service (peil.no). A guy universally and almost mythically loved by both his team and his colleagues. A soft and warm soul, amazing people leader and culture builder, coupled with high ambition and intense passion for excellence and high achievement. A guy with no patience nor tolerance for fluff. In other words, the perfect guy to lead User Experience Design at Pioner!
Pioner is all about creating awesome products for the world. Which meant we were completely dependent on getting world class product people. I had worked 17 years in the US, I had vacuumed Europe for product talent during my years in Schibsted - and yet, many of the best product people I had ever worked with were luckily located in Oslo. My priority was to recruit the two people that best complemented each other and myself, namely Marte and Niklas
Marte, started out as a telecoms engineer working with cyber security at the Norwegian Cyber Command. She moved on to focus her career on being the best possible product leader for consumer-oriented products and services, and she has the track record to prove it - at NRK and Schibsted. NRK, Norway’s state broadcaster, is maybe not a place that is particularly conducive to innovative, paradigm-changing services development...and yet, that is precisely what Marte did. As the first product leader for NRKs digital services, she navigated the landscape of a state-owned corporate bureaucracy and politics, to develop and launch the industry award-winning online video and audio player service and supervised online services such as the weather service yr.no. It's user friendly design and underlying functionality set it so much apart from other weather services that it's one of Norway’s most popular internet sites and has gained an international user base representing over 200 countries and more than 50% of the site traffic. Pretty impressive. Moving on to Schibsted Marte led multiple product teams across Europe as she led the work on implementing identity, privacy and GDPR related functionality across all of Schibsted’s marketplaces in Europe. In other words - a product leader that can turn a commodity services like weather into a differentiated service, that can break new ground in launching online multimedia service, and with the substance and managerial experience to lead development of necessary backend functionality at global scale - she was a “must have” member of Pioner’s team!
Niklas is the most formidable product strategist I have ever come across. I first met Niklas when he was head of strategy and products at Finn.no, Norway’s leading marketplace destination (and the world’s most successful marketplace, with higher traffic numbers, revenues and profits per user than any other marketplace in the world). At the time, Facebook groups for buying and selling used goods had come out of nowhere to disruptively threaten Finn. And it was Niklas who led the work of analyzing the situation, and developing a strategic product vision for how Finn was going to develop its service to counter the threat from Facebook - nullify Facebook’s strengths and build sustainably differentiating and valuable features. A year later, when the time then came for Schibsted to fight for its life by developing digital advertising products that could successfully compete with Facebook and Google towards advertisers, it was Niklas that led the work of building a new global advertising platform for Schibsted - defining a product strategy for how Schibsted was going to differentiate itself with success vs the global giants, detailing out a product roadmap, and lead development and launch of the new products. As Pioner seeks to create globally competitive, novel, and valuable solutions to big, important problems and seek to redefine entire sectors, Niklas gives us a true grandmaster capability.
Marius, the missing bridge between UX and Product, was the last partner to join the Pioner team. As a former art director in one of the world’s most cutting edge ad agencies, a serial entrepreneur in Berlin, New York and Los Angeles who has worked with the very largest and most iconic brands in the world, Marius is a uniquely entrepreneurial creative force. And yet, what makes him remarkable and invaluable for us at Pioner is his unique strength in information architecture and structural design, being able to lead the uniquely difficult work of architecting the logical, functional structure of a digital service, including business logic, information architecture, process and user flows, and associated states and roles. It requires understanding of tech, understanding of product and use cases, and the ability to process extreme amounts of complexity and scenarios - but it is also essential in being able to develop good solutions to very complex problems. Marius has that ability, and he has the global exposure and experience to be able to apply it at the right level.
So that is where we are today, a leadership team of immense diversity of backgrounds and personalities, that has come together based on common values and purpose. We will continue to expand both the leadership and the broader Pioner team with proven leaders, world class specialists, hungry talent with boundless potential, and entrepreneurs. All to complement and expand our capacity and capabilities. But for now, the team assembled is a team distinctly experienced and capable of walking the talk.
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