An interview with our CEO, Andreas Ohlson
What are the best things about being a boss? Does plagiarism matter? What do you say to researchers that don’t believe in plagiarism checkers? We spoke to Andreas Ohlson, CEO at Urkund, for his views.
Question: Hej Andreas, you are the CEO of Urkund and have been for some time? Could you tell us how you got there and introduce yourself?
Andreas: I have been the CEO of Urkund and some related companies since 2007. Urkund became the sole focus over the last year. My first contact with Urkund was as early as 2004 when it was a small IT startup with big ambitions. Back then, Prio Info was a traditional reseller with many vendors amongst which Urkund was one of them. When I joined full time in 2007, we started a transformation with a clear focus to grow Urkund without having to rely on the reseller business. Which we successfully managed to do. That said, I also want to give credit to Urkund’s original founders. It was brilliant to come up with the idea of anti-plagiarism software as early as 1999. Bear in mind that that was the time when Altavista was the dominating search engine and your Internet connection was via 56 k modems at best.
Q: What word would you use to describe yourself?
A: I’d say I am results oriented. I like the hands-on approach of working here and still have quite an operative CEO-role. I like to know what’s happening in all areas of the company.
Q: How would you describe your style of leadership?
A: I guess it would be better for others to describe me. I like to have an overview of what is happening in the company. With that said, I also want to encourage everyone in the company to feel responsible for their work and take the lead within their fields. After so many years, I have a pretty good appreciation of common problems and tend to be honest with the team. This way, I can guide my employees in the right direction. We are always trying to improve efficiency in the business processes here.
Q: In your own words, what do you do?
A: My main responsibility is to bring all departments together and make sure we move harmoniously in the same direction. As a small company we need to prioritise our goals, so I spend a lot of time on our long-term strategy and make sure we strive for constant improvement. Meeting customers and other EdTech companies is also very important. Naturally, we want to be part of the discussions and solution of tomorrows challenges.
Q: What is the most exciting thing about being the CEO of Urkund?
A: One of the best parts is the fact that Urkund solves a real problem and it is incredibly appreciated among our customers. If we can help teachers minimize their administrative tasks and spend that time on teaching then we’ve done a good job. It is also really exciting to be an increasingly global company. You get to appreciate different cultures and understand how they work. You get a pretty good insight into what is important for educators in different parts of the world and how education systems function. Personally, I find it fascinating to create solutions that fit as many people as possible. From a technical perspective, Urkund is a really advanced and challenging product, which is really fun, adventurous and never boring.
Q: What is the least exciting?
A: There isn’t much that isn’t exciting, but if I had to pick one it would have to be administrative tasks.
Q: If you could choose any company in the world, which one would you want to be a part of?
A: I have always been fascinated by Atlassian, so that would be the one. They’ve created a world-leading company from scratch by building great products that pretty much sell themselves.
Q: Which business person do you look up to?
A: I don’t really look up to any specific business person but I admire the work done by Janne Andersson (Manager of the Swedish National Football Team), Tommy Svensson, (former Manager Swedish National Football Team) and Rikard Grip (the youngest Manager of Sweden’s National Ski Team). I admire their clear leadership style and how they managed to create great teams. Even if the individuals aren’t the world’s best, as a team they are able to reach for the stars. That mentality is incredible to me.
Q: If we are going a bit away from sports and dive into the actual product of Urkund. What is your favorite part of the Urkund software?
A: I think the most exciting is that we managed to create a technically advanced product that is intuitive and easy to use for the customer. I am very proud that everything we built in the past and the fact that it is scalable and really stable. We try to be clear about what we can or cannot do with the Urkund solution and do not get sidetracked with spontaneous ideas or ad-hoc solutions. This way, we have been able to streamline the process and be effective with product development. Another important aspect is that the software is service-based, so even if one part of the system might be down, the system as a whole still works.
Q: What do you think about the statements by researchers that plagiarism detection software isn’t effective?
A: Firstly, I completely understand the criticism and the researchers are right to some extent. We are very mindful that the final decision, if plagiarism has occurred or not, always rests with the educator. This is something that we continuously highlight internally in our sales meetings and presentations. Urkund is merely the tool to support the educator’s decision. That said, we are the best alternative to what would otherwise mean teachers scrolling manually through each assignment, looking for potential plagiarism. Let’s face it, teachers barely have time to breathe, let alone the time to search the internet for single phrases and compare them with each other. Again, I really want to highlight that we strongly encourage everyone using Urkund to do their own final assessment. However, Urkund is here to help you as an educator to evaluate if sources in the assignment look suspicious.
Q: How do you respond to the pressure of big competitors?
A: Basically we are trying to be there for our customers. We are trying to make URKUND as intuitive, customer focused and easy for our teachers as possible. Our mission is to provide a tool that supports academic fairness and helps improve efficiency in education. As mentioned earlier, our system is extremely stable, even in hectic times, and the focus is one thing, providing the best plagiarism checker available. We are constantly trying to improve and expand our product’s capabilities, develop new services and introduce new features which our customers need.
Q: What is Urkund’s best advantage?
A: The core lies in the simplicity of the service, our server stability and frankly, the great bunch of people who work at Urkund.
Q: How does Urkund’s future look like?
A: Exciting! We have grown a lot and will keep on doing so, which is also necessary if we will be able to guarantee that we can continue to improve our service. We truly believe in our platform. It is state of the art, scalable and has enormous potential for growth in many directions. Keep in mind that we provide a solution to a problem that is as old as literature itself. People have been plagiarizing content and ideas for centuries, and we are here to address a problem that has been difficult to manage until recently.
Q: What are the biggest changes that people can expect from Urkund in the coming years and what will your role in these changes be?
A: In the short term people can expect a new “look and feel” of the Urkund brand. Most recently we have focused heavily on improving and updating the back-end. A lot of energy and investment has been spent on improved indexing solutions, redundancy, and scalability. Apart from the product’s stability and reliability, these changes were not really visible to the end user. While the back-end side will always be our main focus, we did feel we needed to change the customer-facing “front-end” too. We are in the midst of improving our overall look and introducing new and requested functionality. The beta version of our new interface is now released and has been very well received. Similar and obvious changes are on the way. With an intuitive and attractive interface, we are hopeful that Urkund will help teachers and students even more in their work. Our goal is to be at the cutting edge of technology in this industry as well as promoting a deeper understanding of plagiarism and ways to prevent it. My role will be to deliver this goal, to make sure we are growing effectively and sustainably, and that we have the resources and support to realize our goals.
Q: That sounds like there is a truly exciting future lying ahead of Urkund. Going back to your own journey with Urkund and your life in general, what are three accomplishments you are proud of?
A: I have two fantastic kids and a wonderful wife that keep me grounded and reasonable. On the business side, we managed to create a company with very few resources and today, are world-leading in the field of plagiarism detection software, which I am both really proud of. Another accomplishment from the early days of my career is that I was a part of building a successful business and securing jobs for over 100 people in the small village where I grew up.
Q: On that note, what have been the biggest let downs of your career?
A: I must admit that I have been quite fortunate so far. I haven’t had a huge let down yet.
Q: If you could, what would be the advice you’d give to a 22-year old you?
A: Listen. Be curious. Ask questions and dare to listen to your gut feeling.
Q: Some advice you want to give to someone who is just starting their career?
A: Say YES to challenges and trust yourself. The worst that can happen is that is doesn’t work out, in which case you’ll find something else. You will be one experience richer.
Thank you, Andreas!