Business / digital agency

Degordian, a different perspective.

Performance marketing, creative, digital production with a people-first attitude. 

Their impeccable and down to earth culture, big heart, awareness of wellbeing of their employees, and passion for digital, innovation and technology has made Degordian a flagship of what we want all companies to be – successful and admired in Croatia and internationally. They may have thought they were setting the standard only for themselves, but in doing so, they unintentionally set the bar high for the whole market, and now there is no turning back. 

And while many others will have very long conversations about the flex-work, how and why, questioning the concept, Degordian embraced it. The priority is on health and safety and getting things done, not where they are done. The team introduced a support system for their employees, having two psychologists available for anyone needing help with the ‘new normal’ and working remotely during the pandemic. The situation was specifically hard, because, at the time, a 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck Zagreb.

The man in charge of this crazy idea of doing things in the ‘right’ way, Daniel Ackermann, founder and CEO of Degordian, was kind enough to provide answers to all of our questions. Thank you for your time Daniel! 

We wish them all the best on their journey, keeping the bar high! 

‘We will go back, way back’, and ask you to reminisce about the iSTUDIO! Can you share with our readers a quick recap of your story?  

Of course! Eleven years ago we started really small, with only Tomislav Grubišić and I. We didn’t have big expectations at first – in fact, we were sure nobody would ever even hear about our company. But things started to change quickly. We were growing very fast and doubling our team every six months. Our ambitions grew as well, so we began thinking more seriously about international expansion, providing new services, and developing new products.  

Daniel Ackermann

We quickly realized that our brand name was not suitable for what we wanted to achieve (it was too similar to Apple, no .com domain was available, etc.). It was one of the main reasons why we decided to rebrand as Degordian in 2013. iSTUDIO was already an established brand back then, so we were very concerned about this change, but it worked. We managed to raise 1.5 million euros of investment, started getting more and more international awards and opened new offices outside Croatia. It turned out that the name change helped us start a new and even stronger chapter and definitely gave us more visibility. 

You also have two sister companies, Bornfight, and Mediatoolkit; whilst the Mediatoolkit is a product, Bornfight covers digital production, how much do you collaborate or share resources?

Every company in our group works individually with separate teams, guided by their own vision and culture. However, since all three companies started from Degordian, the base principles are more or less the same. So yes, the companies are similar, but they also had the freedom to evolve differently, depending on their needs and business goals. We structured our group this way because we genuinely believe in the benefits of an integration that preserves individual focus and independence. 

On the other hand, we do collaborate where and when it makes sense. For example, Degordian expands Bornfight’s offer of services for Bornfight clients or Bornfight helps develop a complex digital product for Degordian clients. 

Your portfolio of services is wide and has everything that covers a contemporary marketing strategy.

Yes, we wanted to create a company that has strong and narrowly specialized teams. In that case, every team can offer their specialized service, and Degordian as a whole can provide a full-service approach.  

I strongly believe in this because we are helping clients get an integrated service — the same level of quality and a much easier way of working since they are collaborating with one agency and have one point of contact. We are happy and proud that our clients respect this kind of approach and are also very loyal to us. 

How do you train your team members in particular areas?

It really varies from team to team. But, to be honest, I mostly believe in the culture of continuous education and self-development. We, as a company, are offering many monthly educations and have regular career development conversations, but that wouldn’t mean a thing if all of us don’t share the same or similar culture mindset and drive that primarily comes from the individual and then the team itself. And part of that mindset is endless curiosity and individual desire to hone your skills.

I am very proud that this is one of our greatest strengths. We provide tons of education options (internal and external), but the members of the team proactively share articles and materials that may be of interest to others, we have relevant discussions and educational projects. The overall atmosphere is stimulating, people support and encourage each other and this is, without a doubt, the strongest value we have.

Solving business problems and continuous reevaluation are your drivers. Can you share one example that could explain the impact of this approach? 

Sure! For example, last week, we acquired a new client in the US, a SaaS startup. Their main challenge was in scaling – bringing new visitors to their website, as well as getting new leads and converting them to paying customers. In this specific situation, we are helping the client with performance marketing, conversion rate optimization, and inbound marketing. To help the client overcome their challenges and for us to respond accordingly to their business needs, it is crucial to have the approach of continuous reevaluation in order to detect and solve different business problems in a timely manner.

You have a lot of international clients. What is your idea and why are they working with you?

That’s a great question! Think of this – the average NYC agency is small and has about ten employees. The talent market is super competitive (they are competing for talent with startups and huge corporations with bigger budgets) which drives talent prices up. Agency prices also go up, as it is super hard, if not impossible, to attract top talent and to maintain them. This brings huge hurdles and often stops agencies from growing.

On the other side, we are much bigger, our whole group employs more than 200 people. We were voted ‘Best employer in Croatia’ eight times and that helps us attract top talent and keep them in the company. This brought us to a position of having much stronger teams, the best talent and quality. Also, our teams are located in SE Europe. Compared to a New York setting, we are still very affordable for the top quality services we provide. That doesn’t mean we want to position ourselves internationally as some kind of cheap agency, it is just a simple fact that we can provide our services for less money than the agencies that operate from the US area.

Your project managers are either marketing or IT, how much of that focus contributes to the outcomes?

A lot, because they are fundamentally different. From the types of projects, project sizes, platforms, processes, etc. When it comes to Project Management teams, and even Account Management teams, we are guiding them to specialize in their specific area of expertise so they can respond to the exact needs of the projects and the clients they are working with. That way, we can provide them with the best possible experience, quality, and achieve great mutual understanding.

How many developers do you have on your team, and what’s the secret of your productivity?

It’s a secret! Just kidding. We have amazing developers, but somehow, I think it isn’t quite fair to focus only on them since we have other teams that are equally amazing and doing a great job in their specific area. 

After all, it is never a goal to produce just a pretty website, we always make sure that every aspect of it makes sense, that it performs well and brings the expected results to our clients. That can only happen when we have good collaboration between our teams — from those specialising in Conversion rate optimisation, SEO, video production, content, analytics, inbound, employer branding to, of course, project management, design & development teams. It is important to see the whole picture. 

As I stated before, the ‘secret’ to productivity lies in continuous education and understanding the importance of self-development. All of this is part of the mindset we share, so there really is no secret — you only have to find the right people. I’m exceptionally proud that we’ve managed to find them and that they are part of Degordian.

Well, we won numerous regional advertising awards with our creative, SM and performance campaigns and websites. We keep adding more and more to our wall of awards every year, and they’re great proof that the work we do is top-notch, but I can’t really choose one, sorry.

However, besides these industry awards, I can highlight two other I’m really proud of:

Best Employer award
As a group, we were 8 times voted as ‘Best Employer’ in the survey by MojPosao. Five out of eight awards went to Degordian, which is probably more than any other Croatian company ever. I am proudest of this recognition because it comes directly from our employees and it means that we did something great for them.
Deloitte CEE fast 50
We were named one of the fastest 50 growing companies in Central and Eastern Europe by Deloitte. That was a great acknowledgement since it comes from renowned global industry experts.

You won several best employer awards, probably because of your culture, team, and values. Can you tell us what you think helped most?

I truly believe in this aspect, which is why we invested in the development of our team, culture, and values from the very beginning. We are also very careful about any new employment. We are already known for having one of the hardest selection processes, and that’s because we want to be sure every new employee is a fit for our company culture.

Besides, we are continuously investing in the professional growth of our employees. Our goal is to act as sort of an accelerator – to give every team member motivation, guidance and support to get to their desired level of expertise as quickly as possible. We have dozens of great examples of people who started as interns and then evolved into the team leaders they are today. 

Lastly, we truly don’t want anyone to come to work feeling uneasy and stressed. We want to have fulfilled employees, so we cultivate a culture that encourages both personal development and teamwork, good relationships, etc. If a company truly has the honest desire to have happy employees, I believe that everything will come into place and it will grow into a top employer that achieves that goal. 

Even if everything else is set up just right, but the company doesn’t really care about the employees, it won’t be nearly as successful. That was kind of my guiding idea, and it seems to have created the culture and team I always wanted.

There is a really touching and powerful story behind your last ‘Startup in 24 hours’, can you share it with us?

From the early start of Degordian, we were trying to develop a culture of innovation. We initiated the internal project known as ‘Startup in 24h’ in which we try to create a whole new digital product in just 24 hours. 

Participation in this initiative has always been voluntary, so we were amazed when we saw most of our teams hyped and ready to create something from scratch in such a small amount of time. That means no sleep, just hard work, positive thoughts, big visions, and most importantly – teamwork. It wasn’t rare that we heard somebody say that this is crazy, but in fact, it was an amazing experience every time. 

We would create something, we would learn a lot and we grew stronger as a team. Most of the participants would say it was one of the best experiences in Degordian.

This year we wanted something different. Something that will be helpful and beneficial to our community. Since our colleague has a child with a mild autism spectrum disorder (ASD), he pointed us to a hard challenge that they, as the parents, are facing from day one — the lack of credible online resources for parents who suspect their kid might have autism. After agreeing that this is the problem we want to tackle, we connected with a group of autism experts who needed a digital platform, set a date and started preparing for the 24 hours. 

The final result of that day is the website. It has a questionnaire parents can take to see if there might be indications that their child could have an autistic spectrum disorder and if yes, what their next step should be. It also has a special corner where they can find valuable advice and information about raising a kid with ASD, as well as a list of social, financial and medical rights of people with ASD and a map of important institutions in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina where they can seek professional help. You can read more about this in our blog.
All of us are immensely proud of the results and it is still one of the most emotional projects that we worked on. 

What’s the next big thing for Degordian?

COVID-19 and the subsequent crisis affected Degordian as much as other companies. But, from today’s point of view, I think it helped us become even stronger. Our growth will be smaller than in our past couple of years, but the crisis helped us reorganize and optimize our business, as well as implement many innovations. 

Today, we are much stronger as a company than we were six months ago. We are 100% healthy and have great plans and ambitions for growth in the upcoming year. We are planning to keep pushing on, but you will have to wait to see it.

A Different Perspective • Degordian Culture Video

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