Daniel Ackermann: Co-Founder & CEO, Degordian

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Daniel Ackermann is Co-Founder & CEO of Degordian, which focuses on providing digital full-service marketing to its clients and is one of the largest digital agencies in Europe with more than 140 employees. Daniel Ackermann and Tomislav Grubišić founded Degordian in 2009, during their studies at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, with the aim of doing social media marketing. In that period, in Croatia and its region, brands have only begun to use social networks, and because of their growing demand, their agency has started to grow rapidly. Soon, they started to focus more heavily on other digital areas.In 2011, they became Facebook Preffered Developers, and also the Google Analytics certified partner, and were one of the few global companies that had these partnerships at the same time.

Over the last few years, they have continued to grow rapidly, focusing increasingly on design, development and a comprehensive digital marketing service. In 2015, they were awarded with the Deloitte Fast 50 award, which marks the fastest growing companies in the region of Central and Eastern Europe. In 2016, they separated their software product, Mediatoolkit, into an independent company. They have won numerous professional awards such as Effie, IAB MIXX, Awwwards, European Design Awards, ... Up until now, Degordian has won the Best Employer Award 4 times, which Daniel points out as their greatest achievement, because Degordian's culture is the primary reason for gathering the best employees on the market and subsequently providing the best service to their clients.

How did you get into the industry?

When I was in high school, I wanted to be an architect because I loved design and architecture, and thought I would be really good at it. When I was 15, my parents started building our vacation house and I wanted to be involved. Architects spent a few months working on it and the final solution just didn’t fit. It came to me that I didn’t like that process and didn’t want to be part of it. Since I was very good at math, I started learning about web design, coding etc., and after a while I fell totally in love with that. I started freelancing, working on my websites and earning my first money. I was young and good at it, and somehow I just knew this is thing I want to be involved with.

Any emerging industry trends?

In addition to some “old trends” like big data, AI, Programmatic, there are a couple of things in focus.

Blockchain - from the technological point of view, this is a huge move. This technology is becoming mature, there is a huge buzz around it and a lot of cash in it. We see a huge potential in it and are already involved in a few crypto projects.

Integration - traditionally, there were always media agencies, creative agencies, PR agencies, Production agencies etc., but integration in digital is becoming a strong trend. More and more agencies are offering combined services that enable them to control the entire customer journey. Content, distribution, marketing, technology - everything in one place. And I think it totally makes sense. As digital is so dynamic and needs many iterations within the whole process, integrated solutions are really the thing that can offer the best results.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

Digital transformation - more and more clients are not only asking agencies for digital marketing solutions, but also for guidance in transforming their entire business. Sales process, CRMs, customer support, product development - every aspect of the business. It is not an accident that more and more consulting firms are buying digital agencies.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

There are a couple of aspects we’re fully focused on.

Approach - at Degordian, we want to focus ourselves on solving real client problems, and not just offering a new website or an ad campaign. We want to see what the client’s goal is and what solutions can we offer to achieve that goal.  We believe in integration and want to offer our clients both marketing services and technology in one place. We want to create content but also distribute it, as well as measure everything and optimise. We are stubborn believers that with good integration, measurements and optimisations, we can achieve the best result for clients.

Growth - we are 8 years old with 150+ people in our team. We want to continue growing and become one of the strongest agencies in the world. It is ambitious, but we have a very good basis and are really focused on achieving that goal.

People - we didn’t open business to make profits. We opened Degordian to achieve something amazing - a place where people will be happy, where they will love their work and love coming to work every day. We want to create an ideal framework which will inspire people and motivate them to learn and grow. This is really important and we want to integrate this thinking into every decision we make.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

2018 is an important year for us. We are in the process of spinning off our production team as we have a strong tech & design team which is going even deeper than marketing needs. Team is doing amazing stuff and we want to give them an even bigger opportunity to grow.

We are growing as a business and we are expecting to pass 200 employees in 2018. Growth is strong and our focus is on better organisation & setup.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

I see my task as creating a system. I think many CEOs/founders make a mistake of becoming a company frontman - they are acquiring clients, they are involved in every major idea. But that is not scalable and those agencies usually aren’t able to grow to more than 20 people. We want to create a system with a great organisation, procedures and quality. A system which would be working just as good even if I wasn’t in it. Of course, I am always here to help and guide, but my main role is to set the system up.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

We raised an investment (1.5ME) to develop our product. It was smart decision but we spent all of our resources faster than expected. When we had money, we were investing a lot, maybe even too much. We didn’t create enough reserves and the combination of overinvestment, poor reserves and irregular client payments created a problem with the cash flow. We had to lower our investments and were late with fulfilling our payments. That was a really hard period. It was very stressful for everybody as it negatively impacted team motivation and our reputation. It also shifted too much of our focus from developing our business to fixing this problem. We learned it is important to track finances in more detail, and do better plans as we grow our reserves.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

The best example of experience and cooperation is one of our clients from the Molson Coors group. We’ve been working together for several years and it has really turned from a client/agency relation into a real partnership. We are working with a dozen different departments, they are inviting us to their general strategy workshops, we are helping each others with problems - for example, they were in the middle of a reorganisation and didn’t have enough people in their marketing department, so they asked if we could help them out with a couple of our people for a few months. It was small gesture, but it really helped them. This is a real partnership and the results coming from it are amazing.

How do you motivate others?

Respect is the key. We want to create the best workplace, we work really hard to make sure our people feel as best as they can when they’re here. It starts with the simple things such as allowing pets in the office, all the way up to formin complex business processes and allowing everyone to have the abiliti to pitch in their ideas. I believe that it’s extremely important for people to feel that they are respected and valued, as iit make them give back tenfold.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Stay hungry, stay foolish - Steve Jobs quote.

Why stay hungry? Never be satisfied, always push yourself and try to go even further.

Why stay foolish? Do (or be willing to do) things people say that cannot be done.