CEO journey: becoming an international growth company

Anne Gretland CEO of Fotoware

The CEO of FotoWare talks about what it truly entails to be a growth company and how bringing in an investor has impacted their customers, employees, and the company’s journey.

Interview with Anne Gretland (header image)

FotoWare‘s software enables businesses to manage all their important digital assets in one place and allows companies to do more with their content through automated workflows. FotoWare has an impressive customer list, with companies like Lindex, Hilti, UEFA, San Franciso Ballet, and Klambt Verlag. They have more than 1400 business customers in 40 countries worldwide, and their most important markets are Norway, Germany, Australia, France, and the USA.

What was your vision when you first joined FotoWare?  

– When I joined FotoWare in 2017, I wanted to be part of a company with strong and valuable products with more potential to realize. The previous owners had spent the last 20 years building a substantial customer base of almost 1400 business customers and more than 2000 photographers. Moreover, Fotoware already had a global footprint with customers in more than 40 countries worldwide. Their journey inspired me, and I wanted to take the company to the next level. In 2018, we started to build an organization that could scale in every aspect of technology and business.

How has FotoWare evolved over the last years?  

– It is inspiring to see how a small company from Norway has made software used by large companies on every continent. The key is, first and foremost, to have a great performing product. However, if no one knows about your products, you won’t be able to sell as much as you could have.

– You must have an organization, and people, who are passionate about making a difference for customers. Everyone needs to have a sense of urgency in everything they do and want to achieve results with their colleagues. In 2018, we had flat growth, but in recent years we have started to grow steadily in market share and customer base. Customers who love our products energize us, and we’ve built a customer ambassador program where we get valuable input every time.

– Our growth has increased as we have started thinking and acting more as a growth company. In the past two years, our new owners have helped shape our journey further and given us valuable insights, guidance, and the ability to scale our hiring. Now, our yearly average growth is 50-70%. In addition, we have increased the net number of customers by more than 40 customers per year in the last three years.

What has been decisive for your success so far?  

– I was fortunate to work at Microsoft for many years. When I started at Microsoft Norway in 1998, we had around 40 employees, and we received much training in being managers and personnel managers. I learned how to work for a growth company and what the board and owners expect of managers.

– As CEO, I also need a strong and competent management team who are experts in their fields and with excellent leadership skills. We must complement each other in our skills and experience. We must be clear about our strategy, goals, and why we exist towards the whole organization. People need to know why they come to work every day and what they do here. I believe in transparency and as much information sharing as possible.

What turning point has impacted you the most in FotoWare’s journey?  

– When Viking Venture became an investor, we could hire more people. Investing in people, taking better care of our customers, and realizing our huge potential have helped us scale in a way that would not have been possible otherwise. You don’t want to hold back when you know you have a product that can make a difference to users.

How has bringing in an investor affected the people at FotoWare?  

– FotoWare has always been an inclusive company with a sharing culture, and as we expand, having a good company culture is more important than ever. Most people expect a trustworthy environment where they take pride in their work and workplace, and as owners and leaders, we need to build on that.    

– In the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, FotoWare took the Great Place to Work certification in 2020. We have won the award three years in a row, in 2020, 2021, and 2022, proving that we are still a customer and employee-centric company.

Great Place to Work Celebration and marking the celebration of a new office.

How about your customers, have they been affected by a new ownership?  

– With new owners, there is no doubt that some customers needed confirmation that we would continue to deliver on our platforms and keep our product promises. We have been highly informative and communicative with our brand ambassadors and key accounts. It has also enabled us to bring on more Key Account Managers to continue building great customer relationships, ensuring they get the absolute most out of their FotoWare subscriptions.   

– The latest customer satisfaction survey shows that we have the highest (4,6 out of 5) customer satisfaction numbers we have ever had. So, I believe our customers see the positive effect.   

How do you work with diversity and gender balance at FotoWare?   

– In FotoWare, we now have 45% women (50% managers and leadership team) and 27 different nationalities. We are actively looking for diversity in every aspect of the word, not just gender. We need people from different parts of the world with skills, experiences, and knowledge from various industries and arenas to make a diverse and inclusive company. Technology is essential in shaping the world, and technology creators must represent our users.

FotoWare CEO with colleagues
Anne Gretland with colleagues

It’s no secret that being a CEO is a demanding job; how do you cope?  

– Because I love my job – I believe in our product, we have smart and hard-working people, and we have customers who mean something to us. We help companies that are important to society and people with jobs that matter. Many of our customers are in healthcare and law enforcement – so creating a product that can help people in these industries do their jobs faster and more efficiently makes me proud.

– Also, I like to solve challenges, and as a managing director, there are many challenges to solve. However, the best part of my job is being able to celebrate our wins together as a team. I often say that a company is like a football team: every role matters and is important. Everyone should come to work and make sure they make an impact. When we achieve big or small wins, I find it very inspiring.

How important are the people on the journey with you?  

– The people on our journey are essential. We have increased our number of employees by more than 100% in the past couple of years – taking the time to hire the “right” people is a matter of success or not. A company on a growth journey needs employees who are experts but also willing to change because changes are happening all the time. As we evolve, we must be open to new ways and move forward to be relevant. I think FotoWare employees are doing just that.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders considering raising funding?  

– After raising funding, things will never be the same. Being a growth company is different, but mainly in a good way. You must prepare yourself to have control over your numbers and the state of the business at all times. Being part of a journey like this is exciting and rewarding but hard work in a different way than before. A transparent business and finance overview is necessary, so the CFO role is critical. I cannot underestimate the importance of sales efficiency either and having the right people in the right roles. Especially people management and leadership roles are alpha and omega.   

– Getting everyone to have a “growth mindset” is crucial. However, it can take time if this mindset is new to the company.

If you could go back to when you started at FotoWare, what would you say to yourself?  

– I landed my dream position in an amazing company when I got that job, but I would probably tell myself to delegate more early on and take more breaks. Driving transformation and developing and growing a company is a marathon, not a sprint. You need strength and energy for the people above you (the board and owners), your team, and your customers. Being CEO is a fantastic mix of different responsibilities, tasks, and challenges. Luckily, I love everything about it!   

CEO Journeys

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