C-suite career advice: Thor Olof Philogène, Stravito

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? “If I’m honest, I don’t have traditional career ambitions, that's why I’m an entrepreneur. What motivates me is being able to solve hairy problems. Success is the bi-product of this…”

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Stravito

Name: Thor Olof Philogène

Company: Stravito

Job Title: CEO and co-founder

Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Thor Olof Philogène is the CEO and founder of Stravito, an AI-powered knowledge management platform for market research and insights. Stravito allows global organisations to centralise their insights and make them accessible to employees everywhere, with minimal time and effort. Founded in 2017, Stravito counts world-leading enterprises such as Comcast, Carlsberg, Electrolux and Danone as customers. Prior to Stravito, Philogène held many prominent leadership positions. Most recently he was Chief Revenue Officer at fintech company iZettle, which was acquired by PayPal for $2.2B. There, Philogène scaled the growth division from scratch to a 200-strong team covering 12 markets globally. 

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Your company is only as good as its people. It’s true and why I’ve deliberately chosen to allocate a lot of my time to hiring the right people and creating a great culture at Stravito, where autonomous teams can thrive. 

This is particularly important for growing companies like ours. We’ve just received our Series A funding, taking our total to €20.1million, and we’re now looking to hire more talented, self-starters who will play a key role in scaling the business globally.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Advice formulated as blanket statements that encouraged me to go into a specific role and industry that had nothing to do with my passion.

After graduating from business school, I went to work in traditional business roles for a few years doing what I thought “I was supposed to do”, rather than what I was passionate about - which is, of course, technology! 

It’s so important to pick a career path that resonates with your inner drivers because that is also where you’re going to have fun. A career that you truly enjoy doing. Otherwise, you probably won’t ever reach your full potential because you won’t be completely motivated by it. 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? Think about what you really want to learn and then pick a job based on that. For example, do you want to learn how to scale a start-up? Or, perhaps you want to learn how to build a product? 

Identifying what you want to learn, and what you want to do in the future, will help you to frame how to get there. 

Then, see your first job as an extended part of your education, where you learn more about your chosen area of business, and the skill sets that are truly required.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? If I’m truthful to myself then yes! Technology was always an interest of mine throughout school, and I’m so glad it only took me a few years to realise that it was my passion and then I was able to build a career from there.

What was your first job in IT/tech? In 2008 I founded a social media company for virtual worlds or what is also called the Metaverse. The business was acquired by Second Life in 2010 and from there I went on to work with Second Life’s creators Linden Lab in San Francisco to scale out the monetisation of the platform. 

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? I would say that there are a lot of cool tech enabled companies that aren’t really operating in a tech market at all, for example, Netflix is much more a TV company than a tech company. But, what these businesses have in common is they’ve disrupted their category, providing a seamless consumer user experience. 

That’s exactly what we’re trying to do at Stravito. We’re not building tech for tech’s sake. We’re building insights software that our global customers need to, want to, and will continue to use. We offer a level of simplicity, usability and search that’s similar to Spotify, Google, and Netflix. Usually, this doesn't exist in traditional enterprise software.  Particularly as a great user experience is not a feature you put in your usual feature comparison chart. 

But, we believe there is no point in being feature-rich if your user experience is poor, especially as investing in software for your company is only worth it if employees actually log in and use it frequently.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? Find out what keeps your boss up at night and try to help solve those challenges!

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? If I’m honest, I don’t have traditional career ambitions, that's why I’m an entrepreneur. What motivates me is being able to solve hairy problems. Success is the bi-product of this, and I see that like a game of football - you shouldn’t focus on the score, instead you should focus on all the components of your play that increase the probability of success, such as making the passes in the right way! 

Do you have a good work life balance in your current role? At times as a CEO it is challenging but a good work-life balance is a fundamental pillar of Stravito’s beliefs and something we draw from our Scandinavian culture, which certainly sets a high bar. 

Ultimately, we want the team to love what they do and a key part of this is creating a flexible, enjoyable culture. Building a successful company is a marathon, not a sprint, and we need people to be in it for the long run. 

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? It may sound cliche, but I probably wouldn’t change much because all of the routes I’ve taken have allowed me to get to where I am today. Each setback offers an opportunity to learn.

That being said, I do believe I should have taken the opportunity to learn about the technical side of products at an earlier stage. 

Which would you recommend: A coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? Both serve great purposes. Assuming that, doing both is not an alternative I would say, a coding bootcamp for anyone who is not going to work as a developer and a computer science degree for anyone that wants to become a developer. For example, if you have a business degree but are serious about building a tech business from scratch, a coding bootcamp will give you valuable foundations to better understand the product you will develop and dialogue with your technical co-founder and the engineers on your team.

How important are specific certifications? We are undergoing a paradigm shift where anyone is able to access education through online courses (so called Massive Open Online Courses - MOOCs), even from the world’s best institutions. Opening up access like this is fantastic. 

But, in terms of how important specific certifications are, I would say that if someone from recruitment brought forward a candidate with relevant professional experience but no degree, I would find that just as impressive as someone that had one, because they’ve obviously worked incredibly hard to be where they are. 

There’s actually very interesting research out there about tech unicorns and how it is more common for them to have someone on their leadership team that does not have a formal degree.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? Ambitious. Self-starter. With a high level of integrity. 

What would put you off a candidate? Someone that’s afraid to be themselves and feels they have to act as someone they’re not. 

I’m always looking for ‘the spark’ in people, and that will come from being truly passionate about what they’re doing.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Candidates that don’t prepare for the interview or don’t answer the questions asked. 

It’s so important to do your research and prepare properly before an interview. Not only will you come across better and feel much more confident in yourself, but it will ensure you’re not wasting anyone’s time - including your own. 

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both? This very much depends on the role but contenders for business-only positions still need to understand the underlying challenges and opportunities of the technology and vice versa.