Forming a tribe
CEO of Vakanties.nl and Zoover
Judith Eyck began her career in Digital Marketing in 2011 at the Sunweb Group, where she quickly combined User Data and Web Analytics to improve her marketing campaigns. Inspired by the possibilities of combining data with marketing, or other business processes, Judith co-founded Vakanties.nl in 2017, together with Sunweb founder Joost Romeijn, who took a role as the sole investor. In the following two years, Judith led the company’s rapid growth, and in July 2020, Vakanties.nl took over their competitor, Zoover. In just four months, she successfully integrated both teams into one strong organization, working under the name, 'Zoover,' which Judith refers to as a “tribe”.
What does organizational design mean to you?
It means a lot, and at the same time, it means nothing. We look at our company as a tribe. Each individual contributes to achieving our vision. We are all connected to one another; we see the tribe as a super-brain. From this perspective, we do not follow a strict hierarchical design. However, each tribe needs leaders to determine the course. So, we never thought of an organizational design, but from the start, we were very determined to form a tribe. I discovered this way of working during my own career. After eight years of experience at several companies, and being a millennial myself, I learned that I was perfectly capable of taking my own responsibilities. I knew I needed a manager to support me, but not to ‘manage’ me. I never wanted to be a ‘boss’; I wanted to set a course and use the input of every single person in the company.
What does your organizational design look like? Every tribe needs a leader. At Zoover, we work with a tribe of 40 people, and we have two leaders, the CTO and myself as Managing Director. I think a collaboration as strong as ours is very rare; we are very complementary, almost like a ‘super-brain leader,’ and that causes virtually no friction. Together we lead our tribe, our company. Our organization is divided into three teams: the tech team, the commerce team, and the customer service team. On customer service, we have an operational manager.
We look at our company as a tribe. [...] We are all connected to one another; we see the tribe as a super-brain.
The core belief is that when you feel connected to our company, you are able to take individual responsibility.
What is the philosophy behind your organizational structure?
We’re all connected with the idea that we’re working as a super-brain. The core belief is that when you feel connected to our company, you are able to take individual responsibility. Our entire structure is built on individual responsibility. For example, our tribe members review themselves and each other at the end of the year. These reviews are supported via stories; everyone gathers stories about what they did the past year and scores themselves and others. As a manager, I help with these reviews, but I do not play a significant role, and I also can’t change the outcome of the review. If applicable, I will tell the tribe member that there are insufficient stories to support the score, and I’ll send the member back to gather more stories that do support it. We believe people are perfectly capable of looking in the mirror and describing what they see. Another example is that we have unlimited holidays and we have no set working hours or place. We trust each other to collaborate and contribute and have a very strong focus on personal responsibility. It’s not by the rules that we make it work; it’s because we need each other to achieve our goals.
The world is our playground for recruiting talent.
We know that it can be difficult for people to let go of this grip and build trust in our philosophy.
You recently acquired Zoover; how does this influence your organizational design? From the start, we decided to move everything to one company, with Zoover as our flagship brand. Zoover ‘swallowed’ Vakanties.nl. Zoover had a very different organizational design. They strongly depended on management layers, especially operational management, and on top of that, a solid layer of directors. Above this was the German mother-company giving instructions. Freedom and autonomy were not their reality. We had to make some tough decisions and scale down the management. We didn’t launch new departments but learned from Zoover, for example, from their processes and professionality. They bring in a new perspective, and they challenge us to arrange parts of our organization in a more professional way. Zoover was acting as a corporate company; everything was already predetermined, which, in a way, also gave a high level of predictability. We know that it can be difficult for people to let go of this grip and build trust in our philosophy. It’s a culture shock. It takes time, but we’re not in a rush. It helped that the people from Zoover actually fit in quite easily. It took a few months, but if the people are willing, it is very easy.
What is the biggest challenge in this acquisition? I wouldn’t say challenge because I don’t feel friction; still, it is difficult for people to get used to working as a super-brain. The Vakanties.nl team was already used to this way of working, and they suddenly had to swallow the acquisition of Zoover. That had a significant effect on everyone. We all needed to get used to the new normal, but as leaders, we promised we would keep our culture, and the Vakanties.nl tribe members helped to welcome the Zoover people to the tribe. Both organizations are tech companies and employ similar people of similar age; in fact, one of the biggest differences was our office location, Amsterdam versus Rotterdam ;-)
We all needed to get used to the new normal, but as leaders, we promised we would keep our culture, and the Vakanties.nl tribe members helped to welcome the Zoover people to the tribe.
Looking back, what was the best decision that you made? Buying Zoover, definitely! Corona helped us and we will be better in the future because of it. Without it, we would have never been able to acquire Zoover. We also made a wrong decision; Zoover was already reorganizing, and some people there knew their contracts would not be extended. However, they were part of the transfer to Vakanties.nl, and we expected them to be productive. It ended up costing us too much energy, and those people had already gone through a lot, so we decided to let go of our ideal situation in which everybody would be productive. We exempted this group of people from work and paid them till the end of their contracts. That was better for them and us. We started looking ahead instead of back. There have been so many decisions; I don’t think one decision stood out. Most notably was changing focus from Vakanties.nl to Zoover and making it one company, functioning as a super-brain.
What is your best piece of advice to others who are thinking about an acquisition? Trust is your foundation; trust your people. Have a good look at the culture of the company that you’d like to buy. Clearly decide what you want with it before you acquire and communicate about it. Communication is key. If you don’t communicate, you put your team at risk.
We started looking ahead instead of back.