Reaktor: How One Company Is Shaping The Software Revolution

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There is a new generation of companies that combine expert software technical skills and world-class design. They are remaking the way we experience practically everything today. One of these companies, which has recently expanded to New York, is Reaktor, a creative technology company that builds experiences for companies such as HBO and Michael Kors. Founded in 2000, the 350-person Helsinki, Finland-based firm is unlike many traditional software firms.

Reaktor, in addition to its reputation for hiring software rockstars, embodies a renowned “get it done” attitude. A perfect example is its recent work for Finnair, one of Europe’s largest airline carriers, which sought a redesigned in-flight entertainment system. Reaktor had discovered that it was not getting access to the new screens that would be used on Finnair’s planes. Given the time constraints of the project, the team essentially built their own prototype screens, soldering special wire harnesses.

The freedom and responsibility embodied by Reaktor is seen in its management, which is as lean as its software methodology. Titles are, to say the least, not important. One way to think of Reaktor is to consider a group of networks, or links between people without an imposed hierarchy. The more links between people and the stronger these links are, the stronger the network becomes. And the stronger the network, the stronger the company.

The Reaktor Code can be summed up in four concise points: 1) Get s*** done. Stop starting, start finishing; 2) Freedom & Responsibility. With great freedom, comes great responsibility; 3) Kaizen: constant improvement, and 4) Community of experts: a “boss-level” community.

“We have created a ‘Community of Experts’ working together at the same expert, or ‘boss’ level,” says Timo Ilola, a more recent addition to the company’s New York office. Timo worked for one of the leading competitors to Reaktor, and found that Reaktor’s culture was the difference-maker for him. “We have a good vibe going on. We generally can communicate this through the way we work.”

The Reaktor Difference is not just a theory: the company has more than doubled in numbers in the past two years. It is no surprise, then, that Reaktor has won numerous “best places to work” awards over the years, including ‘Best Place to Work in Europe.’

“Reaktor’s recruitment strategy is that we never ‘hire’ people in the traditional sense,” said Mikko Kiesilä, who has worked with Reaktor for almost 10 years, and is now part of Reaktor’s recent expansion to the US. “We don’t recruit for specific roles or jobs, typically; we hire the best available talent, and then deploy accordingly.” As Reaktor continues to grow in the U.S., it seeks to hire top professionals who are attracted by its unique culture. A culture with a difference.

Meet Joonas Makkonen, CEO Reaktor North America

To further understand how Reaktor works, Adotas asked Joonas Makkonen, Chief Executive Officer of Reaktor North America (pictured top left), some questions about the Finnair project and making sure marketers can connect with their potential customers across all platforms–including the Apple Watch.

During his years at Reaktor, Joonas has taken part in a wide range of functions: sales, general management, business operations, global operations, recruiting, business development and Go-To-Market strategies. His latest venture has been taking Reaktor to the North American market.

Q: How do you create mobile user experiences that connect to wearables, such as Apple Watch?

A: The IFE system, or any other airline mobile service, is part of a networked experience. So, in this sense, we look at the entire framework for how a brand communicates with its customers, and how devices convey that communication. Apple Watch is perhaps the first mass-market brand for the wearable sector that carries an expectation beyond looking cool, or forward-thinking.

Q: What makes a wearable connection more than just an add-on or after thought?

A: The business traveler, for example, has an expectation level with Apple Watch that can be surpassed, for instance, with a connection to an IFE system. It enhances their perception of the brand – in this case, Finnair – and delivers a holistic utility to the overall experience. Wearable devices will become a larger part of the mobile conversation, and airlines, in particular, need to see these as connected to the broader experience, not one-off apps.

Q: How does targeting your marketing message to a wearable device strengthen your consumer connection and lead to better ROI?

A: We have experienced designers with backgrounds in advertising. They are used to working with different brands and brand guidelines, closely together with the client.

We examine the brand and the business needs, and make sure that the service is in line with the brand promise. If needed we develop the brand experience further and introduce new areas to the brand, all in line with the existing promise but expanding on it.

The service should seamlessly fit into the brand story across all touch points.

Q: The in-flight industry is a marketplace that is particularly suited to using mobile and wearables to reach consumers. How do you apply 21st century mobile design concepts to the in flight industry?

A: It’s not so much about mobile design as it is about development methods in general. We have found that agile development and cross-disciplinary teams are just as valid when developing for mature industries as they are for web or mobile application development.

It’s not always fun and games, of course. There can be a lot of pain involved, but it usually comes from clashing development cultures rather than methodologies. Mature markets have very deeply set ways of doing things, with their roots in how things were done 20 to 30 years ago.

Q: Travelers are perhaps the most connected consumers of all, particularly international travelers. What global considerations does one need to employ when building software products and experiences for global brands?

A: Cultural and linguistic differences need to be taken into account. There’s just no way around it. We need to understand the target audience and the main differences between the dominant cultures within that audience, and work them into the concept.

There are some universal design elements, but the way people use services and applications differs from culture to culture. The differences in languages alone dictate a lot of this, because language equals cognition.

We use ethnographic studies and native speakers of the languages to test our hypothesis for the service and tailor it. The differences are made in marketing and language implementation.

We start development early with the existing hypotheses, but we then adjust as we go forward. In the end we have a service that has a mostly universal experience with different language implementations, that is easy to use by everyone.

The thing is that we need to design the experience also for people who do not speak English or any other Western Lingua Franca. There are many Chinese and Japanese people, who need to have a fulfilling travel experience, but do not speak a word of English. Yet we must be able to tap into their potential to generate revenue too, which means that we really need to take their cultural expectations into account.

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