When Vincit CEO Ville Houttu moved from Finland to California to launch the company’s U.S. subsidiary in 2016, he had ambitions of tapping into a new market ripe with innovation and demand for high-end software services.
The software and development company had an established presence in Finland, where it grew to more than 350 employees and went public on the Nasdaq First North marketplace. It was also named the Best Place to Work in Europe by the Great Place to Work Institute.
But Houttu envisioned even more business opportunities for Vincit, which develops digital solutions and mobile apps for a variety of clients, including Yamaha, Kellogg’s, GE and Nokia.
Five years later, Houttu’s desire to expand the company to North America paid off.
Vincit USA built a team of more than 50 developers and designers, gained new clients and acquired three digital agencies: XTOPOLY, Devise Interactive and Scottsdale-based Vuria Creative Technology. The company now has more than 850 employees worldwide with operations in Arizona, California, Sweden, Poland and Finland, where it was founded in 2007.
In December, Vincit announced plans to lease a more than 4,200-square-foot office at 6320 E. Thomas Rd, Suite 200 in south Scottsdale, following its expansion into Arizona in 2021 after acquiring Vuria.
“What I’ve seen happening in Arizona — and Phoenix, especially — is high-tech, software companies and software demand overall is steadily rising,” Houttu said. “I see huge potential for us being there to be able to help companies whenever they need anything related to software, customer service or digital design. It’s part of our long-term strategy to expand in Arizona, and this is one step.”
Can you share a little bit about your experience launching Vincit in the U.S.? We sold our home, we left our families, friends and everything we owned back in Finland. It was myself, my wife and kids, who were 6 and 8 at the time. I had a very strong career in Finland and a lot of opportunity in the country. On the plane over here, it just hit me like, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’ It was a new culture, new language, new laws and new financial structure. Everything was new to me, including my network. I didn’t have any clients or employees either. So it was a fresh start with a couple of suitcases and luggage, and that’s how we got started.
It definitely was a struggle and a lot of learning in the beginning. Which is like, including myself, something people don’t necessarily think about when they make the move. But it’s something, definitely, that I want to help companies to learn. I’m currently helping other companies as well to get established here in the United States who are from Scandinavia.
For many years, the U.S. has been the fastest-growing country for our global organization. We started by doubling our revenue year after year. Fast Company ranked us among the top 50 Best Places to Work for Innovators in the U.S. and we’ve made it on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies two years running as well. So I’m very proud of the team for making that accomplishment. And yes, it’s a new company, coming over here, going from zero revenue to over $10 million in less than five years. I think it’s a very good achievement for our services company.
Why did you feel it was important to implement the company’s ‘CEO for a Day’ initiative? I come from a country where we have the most engineers per capita in the world. There’s a lot of engineering-heavy companies where lean structures are typical. I believe in creating and scaling lean structures and the key to be able to do that is I have to be able to trust my employees and they will trust me in return. That’s how we are able to manage our team of 60 employees without management, basically. So that drove to creating ‘CEO of the Day’ five years ago. The way it works is we select one employee to be CEO of the day every month and give him or her unlimited budgets to make one decision to improve our workplace. This decision applies to the whole organization.
We encourage a lot of discussion among colleagues. The only rule is I, as the CEO, do not weigh in. But, yeah, a lot of great initiatives have come from that. Within five years, what I’ve learned is we don’t spend a single penny more than we would have otherwise spent on keeping employees happy, healthy and engaged. Instead of spending the money on something we think they might need, we actually spent the money on something they’ve told us they need. So that’s why it works really well.
You now live in the Valley. What do you enjoy most about living in Arizona? I love it here. I do a lot of outdoor-related sports. I’m a cyclist and I do a lot of mountain biking. I’m also a high school coach for mountain biking in the East Valley. During the pandemic, I built a camper van, so my family spends a lot of weekends in the mountains. The wide open skies is something that really speaks to me and sort of represents freedom. When you combine the skies with the mountains, it really feels like home.
How do you maintain a work-life balance? I think a couple of things. First of all, I want to meet a lot of friends, also non-work related, so when I ride my bike, I ride with people. Coaching a high school team in mountain biking helps to achieve that. I have a plan to continue my pedal steel guitar playing hobby. I had a band in California, but I still don’t have a band in Arizona. So that fuels the creativity. And I do quite a bit of public speaking as well, which is close to playing music on a stage. I put them in the same category: public speaking, music and sports.
Company: Vincit USA
Education: Master’s degree in embedded electronics, Tampere University, Finland
Why did you choose to expand Vincit to Arizona? I moved to Arizona two years ago and the reason being is I want to be where the technology will be, where it is rising and strong. We want to ride the wave and be well-established before we peak and the technology gets really big in that location.
What is the best piece of advice you have received? I think if I had to choose one, I would probably say it’s kind of my motto: You achieve what you believe. When not having any employees or clients in the U.S. and moving my family over here, I had a dream and believed that it’s going to work. In the first five years, I did believe in my goal to grow (Vincit USA’s revenue) to over $10 million in five years. And we did achieve that. So it kind of speaks to that model as well.
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