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Wolt’s journey from its early stages to teenage years and into the delivery giant it is today: It all comes down to the culture

Wolt's evolution, from its humble beginnings to its current status as a delivery powerhouse. Niilo Säämänen delves into the foundational aspects of Wolt's culture, exploring the values and principles that shaped its early days. The startup's transformation into a mature, industry-leading company paved the way for innovation and excellence in the delivery of services.

Since its inception in 2014, Wolt has grown remarkably. It has expanded its reach from Helsinki to over 25 countries in just a decade. Amidst this rapid expansion, Wolt has remained steadfast in its commitment to preserving its unique culture while continuously evolving its product to meet the ever-changing needs of its customers.

Niilo Säämänen, CTO at Wolt, emphasizes the company’s dedication to delivering diverse products and services, rooted in a deep understanding of end user desires, and facilitated by talented teams working towards a common goal. Additionally, Säämänen highlights the dynamic nature of Wolt’s working environment, where adaptability and agility are essential. 

“We now have half a year roadmaps. We used to do them quarterly when we were younger, but the last quarterly roadmap lasted for four years until we shipped all the features” 

Niilo Säämänen, CTO, Wolt

“Our roadmap for this year, which we made in December, has already been changed by three major kinds of themes in two months”, Säämänen says. Reacting swiftly to changing circumstances is imperative for achieving success – while establishing a long-term vision and goals provides essential direction for the company, effective execution is paramount.

Wolt’s culture puts customers at the center

Wolt’s ascent to success can be attributed to its unwavering commitment to prioritizing the needs of its customers. This customer-centric approach combines the nimbleness of startups with detailed execution, characteristic of industry giants like Apple. According to Säämänen, the company’s distinctiveness lies in its genuine concern for its end users and an unwavering focus on achieving clear objectives. The foundation of the company was to solve real customer problems, after all.

The customer-centric mindset is deeply ingrained in Wolt’s culture, and a legacy that traces back to its founders. While written policies are essential, the true essence of Wolt’s culture is reflected in its actions and problem-solving strategies. As Säämänen aptly puts it: “Culture is not just what you write down; it’s how you behave. It’s how you tackle challenges, and how you collaborate within the company.”

Finding talent with excellence and passion

Central to Wolt’s success is its precise approach to hiring and retaining top talent. The company’s recruitment strategy revolves around identifying individuals who possess the necessary skills and resonate with Wolt’s entrepreneurial ethos. Wolt seeks out passionate problem-solvers who are driven by the desire to deliver exceptional customer experiences, prioritizing intrinsic motivation over external rewards, such as career progression or financial incentives.

Säämänen also emphasizes the pivotal role of team leads in upholding Wolt’s culture and fostering high performance. He stresses the importance of recruiting individuals with both expertise in their domain, and strong leadership capabilities. He underscores the significance of excellence in every hire.

“If you can only hire two people, those two people better be goddamn good, if you want to get where you’re going. So excellence matters quite a lot of course. Making great companies is about timing, the excellence of the team and a ton of luck, and some weird magic in between.” 

Niilo Säämänen, CTO, Wolt

Wolt’s working environment empowers teams to operate autonomously, with minimal interference. Säämänen highlights the culture of ownership within Wolt, where teams operate as self-contained units akin to startups, driving innovation and taking full responsibility for their initiatives. In other words, everyone is responsible for selling and making the magic happen as a team. 

Fostering shared responsibility

Navigating the complexities of project prioritization and technical debt management within Wolt’s autonomous teams poses a significant challenge. The company must strike a delicate balance between fulfilling business-driven objectives and addressing technical debt, while adhering to regulatory requirements. 

When it comes to difficult decision-making processes, Säämänen underscores the critical need to foster shared responsibility and accountability. He emphasizes that maintaining excellence in product development often involves making difficult trade-offs between immediate business demands and ensuring the long-term technical integrity of the company’s offerings.

Lastly, it all comes down to culture. “Culture wins over control. Every time.” 

Doing common things uncommonly well

As Wolt matures, a determined commitment to excellence is the company’s ethos, highlighting the importance of meticulous attention to detail in every task. Wolt’s mantra: “Do common things uncommonly well”, encapsulates this philosophy. After all, the unwavering dedication to doing things well, no matter how small, has allowed Wolt to consistently elevate its products and customer experiences above the rest. This has been instrumental in setting the company apart in a fiercely competitive market.

Join Qvik’s next Digital Product Afterwork?

This article is based on Qvik’s Digital Product Afterwork on March 14th. Our Digital Product gatherings are a place for product managers, product owners, and people in digital product management to discuss and learn from one another. You can take a look at our upcoming events here.

Our May 2024 keynote speaker will be Mikko Olin, Head of Finnair.com. He is an agile team lead and coach dedicated to optimizing team performance and individual well-being. Mikko prioritizes aligning the team’s ways of working with the tasks at hand to enhance efficiency and people’s satisfaction. Read more and sign up.

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