Mountain Climbing in New York

Five years ago, Hyper Island was a little-known name in New York and I was facing my first professional failure in a long time. Fast forward to today and the company enjoys a strong position as a provider of tailored learning solutions to companies like Adidas, Dentsu Aegis, Revlon, and Volvo Cars. What changed during this time? I did.

The world was a strange place in 2013: our televisions were full of news about the Boston Marathon bombing and the Cleveland kidnappings; the web was lit up with Edward Snowden’s revelations; Candy Crush was the most popular game on Facebook. In business, the global economy was showing signs of recovery but things were not going well for us.

At Hyper Island New York at that time, Open Courses made up the lion’s share of our portfolio. We had 10-12 courses scheduled annually but the content became less and less unique as competitors like The 4A’s, American Marketing Association, Design Lab, NY Media Center and Smith & Beta moved in to our field.

After a period of reflection, I realized that course-content differentiation was not necessarily the answer; what we needed to do to turn sales around was to focus on our clients, and find innovative ways to address their needs rather than squeezing them into our existing portfolio.

I was quite familiar with the United States from my regular visits there as Head of Production (and then CTO) with Swedish national public broadcaster SVT. It was there that I oversaw digital transformation of the organization. One thing that I know from experience is that digital is not just tactical; it’s a mindset.

Hyper Island creates experience-based learning to challenge mindsets and help people and organizations acquire skills to thrive in a digital world. I fully believe in Hyper Island's methodology and experience-based learning and still get the shivers when I see the light-bulb moment during deliveries.

Everything starts with the client meetings: how they are taken care of when they come to us is a vital part of the relationship we have with our clients. Big ears, small mouth. Not a word about our portfolio or methodology unless asked. If we look after that, everything else falls into place. In New York, I decided we had to concentrate on creating amazing customer experiences rather than internal storytelling around the brand.

I redefined my role as Managing Director to be 100% about sales instead of overseeing the operations. Sales is an essential element of the delivery. Our team of seven full-time employees used to spend around 75% of our time working on processes, designing, and internal planning. Today, there are now just three full-timers in the New York office and we smashed our net margin and revenue targets for 2017. Today, we offer just four Open Courses per year. 10% of our business comes from Open Courses and 90% from our Tailored Business Solutions.

Now back in Sweden, I am working towards long-term change and transformation among our client bases. The New York office has a new Managing Director, Jennifer Allen, and its course is set for steady and sustainable growth. “For 2018, I'm looking forward to activating our alumni and collaborator network, connecting with local government to understand and assist with their learning needs, and building enduring relationships with all our partners," she says.

We may be on the top of this small mountain now, which feels great, but there's always a higher mountain top to pursue.