Reaktor: A tech firm that does it all

Sending satellites to space, teaching kids to code and building the digital world of the future. Not Bill Gate’s daily to-do list, but the projects of a Finnish firm now making a name for itself on the historic canals of Amsterdam city centre. The firm is Reaktor, ostensibly a digital product company focusing on strategy, design and engineering, but take a closer look and you’ll come across a myriad of ventures encapsulating everything from next-gen tech (space!) and social initiatives.

So, the first question on our lips when we sit down with its Amsterdam CEO Ville Himberg is: ‘what do you actually do?’ “We get a lot of people asking that. But you can’t really put it in an elevator pitch,” admits Himberg. “We’re doing Adidas e-com, developing software for Heineken. We’re helping ING with its startups. So, if these companies need developers, designers or product managers, they come to us. To put it succinctly - the world is being rebuilt into a digital one, and we are the builders of that.”

Reaktor Amsterdam CEO Ville Himberg

Reaktor Amsterdam CEO Ville Himberg

That translates to projects across the tech, financial, creative and aerospace sectors, working with the world’s biggest brands, including KLM, Airbus, Finnair and Dow Jones. The firm was founded in 2000 by a group of friends in Finland, back in a time where software development was seen as a haven for nerds and geeks. Now Reaktor employs 550 people and has offices in New York, Tokyo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Dubai and Shanghai. “The ethos was to build a great company for ourselves,” explains Himberg. “Eventually we realised that you can’t just do code, you also need design and to educate clients about the challenges they need to solve. To advise rather than just follow a brief.”

Why Reaktor and Amsterdam is the perfect fit

Reaktor moved to Amsterdam three years ago, attracted by the city’s thriving creative and tech sectors. “Amsterdam is the place to be. It’s a village-like atmosphere which is great from a design and creative aspect. There’s a lot of small, interesting companies here, and big brands have their European headquarters here. It’s also so accessible in so many ways – the culture, infrastructure, biking, the language.”

Personally, Himberg fell in love with the city when visiting his brother who lived here a few years ago. “Living in Amsterdam offers many special moments. When dusk starts to settle and you are cycling through the city and the lights come up – it still gives me goosebumps. It’s also so friendly here, there’s a real sense of community.”

The Reaktor launch party

The launch party for Reaktor's Looiersgracht office

It's clear that the team Reaktor have soon settled into life in the city. When I amsterdam visits its Looiersgracht office on a Friday – an ‘office day’ when employees work from Reaktor’s premises rather than at their clients – we see staff enjoying free massages and bonding over lunch. The entrance to the Reaktor office is wide-open to anyone passing by, and it even has its own boat which staff use as a makeshift meeting room.

Another reason Himberg thinks that Reaktor has fit in so quickly is the similarities between the Finnish and Dutch approach to doing business – one that’s all about being direct, honest and loyal. “I really value that honesty. The Dutch are an old merchant nation, and so they like to get down to business. It’s about trust and directness. That makes the decision making straightforward.”

Reaktor Amsterdam’s team is now 50 strong and employs people from 13 different nationalities. Bringing the group together has been one of the proudest achievements of Himberg’s career. “Those firsts – such as when you pay your staff for the first time," he says, "it’s special. And the latest proud moment I had was when we had a grand opening in this office. I took a beer and walked across to the other side of the canal and just watched everyone enjoying themselves. That was a moment when I got a little misty-eyed.”

Making a difference through societal initiatives

Reaktor has also organised free coding workshops for kids since 2014. IT companies, public libraries and hundreds of enthusiastic children have all been involved – so too the President of Finland, Sauli Niinistö. Now Himberg says it wants to start tapping into the societal infrastructure in Amsterdam. “That connects to our original plan for the company,” he explains. “We want to educate society and demystify engineering, coding and the world of computers.”

Another way in which they Reaktor does this is with its free Elements of AI online course, which helps pupils understand what it is, what it can do and how to start creating AI methods. Since launching more than 200,000 people from dozens of countries have enrolled. “That’s something we want to bring to Amsterdam and the Netherlands.”

These initiatives are all about connecting to the local communities they live and work in, but Reaktor also shoots for the stars. Recently the firm made headlines when its Space Labs arm designed and built their own nanosatellite, launching it into orbit in November 2018. “We always wanted to challenge ourselves and what better way to do it than by entering space,” Himberg explains. “We also believe that nanosatellite technology and space-based services will become more prevalent in the future.” From educating earthlings to blasting off into space, the only definite in Reaktor’s future is that its almost guaranteed to go where no one has gone before. You get the feeling Bill Gates would be proud.

Read more testimonials from Amsterdam's tech sector.