“Jesper and Finnbjørn are coming with me.”
It was with those words in 2003 that Siteimprove founder and CEO Morten Ebbesen started his new company with two colleagues after exiting from Netmester (now Kruso), which he had co-founded with his brother. 15 years later Jesper Persson and Finnbjørn av Teigum are still here. We were lucky enough to sit down with them for a talk about their long journey with the company.

 Jesper and Finnbjørn in front of a Siteimprove logo

Why did you join the Siteimprove project in the very beginning?

Jesper: Actually no one asked us if we wanted to! It was Morten who said “Jesper and Finnbjørn are coming with me,” because we were already working on things that were supposed to be within the profile for the new company he aspired to establish. 

Finnbjørn: Morten and Niels, the brothers who owned Netmester where we worked, wanted to go separate ways. Niels wanted to continue making websites and Morten wanted to do something different. Morten’s plan was to have many smaller customers instead of a few big ones so we didn’t have to rely on one single customer. The idea was really exciting and we had already started working on a lot of the features.

What were your roles when the company started?

Finnbjørn: It was only the two of us so we did pretty much everything! Full-stack, front-end, back-end development, and we were also responsible for the network.

Jesper: And for the servers. We did it all.

Finnbjørn: Yes. For a number of years, we even had to drive to the server room ourselves and restart the machinery if it broke down.

Did you imagine the company would look like this 15 years later?

Finnbjørn: We realized that we were starting from scratch and would have considered it a success if we knew that the company would survive for 15 years!

Jesper: I never imagined that we would grow as much as we have...

Finnbjørn: We were still only 8 employees in 2008. In fact it wasn’t until 2011, when all of the company’s employees, now numbering 25, met up in New York, that I realized the company could sustain for a long time and continue to grow.

How would you describe your 15-year journey with Siteimprove?

Finnbjørn: On the one hand it’s been an amazing journey that couldn’t be much better. However, you need to keep in mind that it’s been really hard as well. For one, Jesper and I haven’t been able to have our summer vacation at the same time since 2003.

Jesper: It’s been exciting and fun. But, as Finnbjørn says, it’s hard because we’ve had so much responsibility. There’ve been summers where the database didn’t want to start and you were all alone because everyone else was away on vacation. Then what do you do? There’ve been times where the system broke down on New Year’s Eve or Christmas Eve and we had to let go of the Christmas tree to go figure out what was going on.

Even though it’s been hard, you’re obviously still here. Why?

Jesper: Siteimprove has always treated employees well. The company trips, nice facilities, the food. We’ve always been cared for. We’ve also had a lot of freedom to solve tasks our own way.

Finnbjørn: We all have the same mentality. It feels like we are one big family.

To this day, you’re still coding the Siteimprove software. Is it a deliberate choice that you haven’t gone down the managerial path?

Finnbjørn: It’s definitely deliberate. I considered it and have been asked about it a couple of times. Some manager tasks are fun, others less so. If I go down that route, I’ll have to let go of code and have others do it for me. That’s actually one of the reasons I’m still here – that I still have the opportunity to code while I’m also involved in the development of all the new things.

Jesper: I’ve never had the ambition to manage other people and I think it’s fun to code! Like Finnbjørn, I don’t want to let that go.

What are you most proud of having developed?

Jesper: If I had to choose one it’s probably the Batman QA crawler which is still going strong after 15 years. I’m not proud of how pretty the code is, because it’s not, but to know that it has played a part in building this 'empire' makes me proud.

Finnbjørn: Of all my ‘children’ I can’t single out one. I’m proud of it all and I have pretty much had a hand in everything that’s still running.

What has been the highlight of the past 15 years?

Finnbjørn: Every time we get the chance to look back, like when Summit Partners invested in us, it makes me proud that we’ve created something others find valuable. It was the same when we received our ‘Distinguished Engineer’ award, which is the only thing I’ve shared on Facebook to show how proud I was! But again, it’s hard to pick only one thing as I’m proud of it all.

Jesper: For me it was the moment when we were sitting at the global meetup and Torben, CEO of Siteimprove in the US, mentioned that a lot had happened since we started out. Suddenly, there was an old photo of us up on the big screen in front of 300 colleagues. That was really one of those moments where I sat back and said “wow” and realized what we had built.

Finnbjørn: Another highlight was when we moved into these new facilities. It’s a sign that things are going well at the company.

 Jesper and Finnbjørn in front of the Siteimprove office

Any tips for aspiring startups?

Jesper: What we were really good at from day one was listening to the customer. Every time something didn’t work, we fixed it right away. And every time a customer told us that “this feature would be great,” we started working on it. And in the early days when Morten visited a customer he came back and said “we need to be able to do this, this, and this. I’ve already told them we can do it.” Then, 2-3 days later it worked.

Finnbjørn: It took a long time before the wheels started running for real. In 2008 we were still only eight employees. Hang in there even though it’s not going well in the beginning—it might turn into a huge success.

Where do you think Siteimprove will be in another 15 years?

Jesper: It’s impossible to say, but I’m sure we’ll be bigger, have more colleagues, and operate in even more countries.

Finnbjørn: And we’ll still be among the leading companies in our field.

What’s the best thing about Siteimprove?

Finnbjørn: The culture.

Jesper: The friendly atmosphere. I have never seen anyone being angry or yelling at each other. It’s not even like that at home, right?

 

About Finnbjørn and Jesper

Finnbjørn and Jesper have been with Siteimprove since its foundation on October 1st, 2003. Both are Distinguished Engineers, Finnbjørn in the Security team and Jesper in the Crawler team. They’re both based in Copenhagen.