Over 11 years ago, Marije Grijpink, began in Customer Service when the company had just 40 members. Today she is a Service Owner, leading 2 service development teams. In this interview, Marije discusses her enduring commitment for the company.
How did you start at funda?
‘It was quite a dramatic and personal situation for me. Just four months before my 29th birthday, my relationship ended abruptly, forcing me to move back into my parents' attic. Additionally, my temporary contract at UPC came to an end, leaving me feeling completely lost.
However, during a job interview at an employment agency, one of the employees, who happened to overhear my story, told me, ‘I have the perfect company for you.’ That company turned out to be funda. Although I wasn't very familiar with the brand, I went for an interview with Monique Pijnacker, then Manager Customer Relations at funda, and we immediately connected.
Within an hour of the interview, she called me to meet with the team. What struck me was their honesty. Instead of painting a perfect picture of the company to entice me, they candidly discussed the potential challenges I might encounter if I became part of the team and started picking up the phone. This openness allowed me to truly get to know the team.’
How were your first months at funda?
‘Initially, I joined as an Internal Account Manager, but within a month, the department underwent a reorganization, and our role got rebranded as Service & Operations which was in many ways similar to a Customer Service division. When I started, funda had a workforce of 40 people. I took my position very seriously, dressing professionally every day in a suit jacket, high heels, and trousers with a perfect fold, neatly ironed in. However, one day a colleague approached me and said, ‘Please stop this. Do you want to make us look bad for not trying?’ The atmosphere here is relaxed and casual. I have not worn a suit to work since.
What truly stood out for me at funda, unlike any other company I had worked for, was that the people I met here became like family and friends. I even found myself dreading the weekends because I missed being at work so much. It did not feel like work, but like one big celebration every day. We would talk, discuss, challenge, consult and support each other. The working week would fly by. On Fridays, we would eagerly discuss the afternoon drinks. At 4 pm, we wrapped up our work, and the Friday drinks would begin. We had an incredible amount of fun.’
Is it true that you met your husband through funda?
‘That's right! His name is Samir, but it actually took us four years before we started a romantic relationship. Initially, he didn't even notice me. Every day, he would stand at my desk and read the Twitter feed, completely unaware of my feelings for him. I made a few attempts to get a date, but they never seemed to take place.
However, one day everything changed, and our connection finally clicked. I can pinpoint it exactly to the day we had dinner before going to the ‘Introduction to Real Estate’ course, which we both took – me in my role and Samir as a back-end developer – to learn what an estate agent encounters in their daily work. Fast forward to today, we have been engaged for seven years, and we are blessed with a beautiful daughter.’
Could you share the journey of your career at funda?
‘My career at funda began as a Customer Service Representative, but after two and a half years, I transitioned into the role of an Incident Manager. I desired to take on more responsibilities within the company. During my time as a Customer Service Representative, I collaborated closely with a women called Angel, who was an Incident Manager. Together, we implemented Zendesk, integrated it with JIRA and we worked on a proper help centre.
However, when Angel became a Product Owner, I was offered the opportunity to step into the incident manager position myself. Initially, it was a perfect fit for me. I enjoyed the process of unraveling the mysteries behind bugs, feeling like a detective akin to Sherlock Holmes. Customers would simply state, ‘It doesn't work’, and I relished the challenge of pinpointing the problem and understanding why.’
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After three years, however, I found myself anticipating the nature of the problems, and it no longer presented a significant challenge. I yearned for more and wanted to delve into a role that was more technically oriented. At one point, I even contemplated leaving the company. However, HR recognized my untapped potential and urged me to stay, informing me of an upcoming new job opportunity.
That's when the position of Service Owner emerged. I went through a rigorous internal application process, comprising four rounds, and ultimately secured the position. It was crucial for me to prove that I was capable of excelling in the role, not solely because I had been with the company for some time.’
Was it challenging for you to take on this job without a technical background?
‘Absolutely, stepping into the role of a Service Owner without a technical background presented its difficulties. Initially, I struggled with unfamiliar terminologies and concepts that were completely new to me. For example, writing acceptance criteria was something I had never done before. I excelled in reproduction paths of bugs, but when it came to acceptance criteria, I was clueless. Thankfully, my colleagues were incredibly supportive and helped me get started.
Additionally, lacking structure was a challenge, especially since I was initially managing three teams simultaneously, which proved to be overwhelming. Recognizing this, an agile coach was assigned to assist me in establishing a solid foundation. Moreover, Stephen, who was a seasoned product owner, got hired. He took over one of my teams (the data team) and later became my manager. This arrangement was precisely what I needed. Managing two core teams, Team Platform and Team TDM, each consisting of four individuals, provided me with more focus, stability, structure and confidence.’
What do your teams do within funda?
‘The two teams I am part of are considered core teams. Both are there to empower the product teams – but they do it in their own way. Instead of a product which features on the website, we build services which enable the product teams to build their features more easily and faster. We support and empower. Team TDM is currently working on a new data pipeline while Team Platform is focused on improving the developer experience overall.
Since we develop services rather than visible products for our end users, I am a Service Owner instead of a Product Owner. But the work I do is very similar. Both roles involve stakeholder management, backlog preparation and roadmaps. The work itself can be very abstract. In explaining what I do to my mother, I can't just say: ‘Look, mum, at this cool button my team made last week’, but instead I tell her: ‘we helped make this happen.’’
Why are you well suited to this job?
‘It might sound odd, but I'm the kind of person who thrives when faced with challenges. I have a tendency to be a bit of a perfectionist and a control freak. Even when it seems like we're not making progress, I persistently ask ‘why?’ or ‘what problem are we trying to solve?’ until I gain clarity. Not everyone appreciates this approach, but luckily, I have a team with whom I can engage in meaningful discussions.
In the context of scrum, there is huge psychological safety, and it's something I highly value and would not want any other way. I encourage everyone in my team to be honest and voice their opinion. I believe having individuals like myself is essential to ensure we build the right thing. Admittedly, it can be a thankless task at times, but I have the privilege of collaborating with exceptionally intelligent individuals who constantly inspire me. In my job, I learn something new every day.’
What is the best thing about working at funda?
‘Well, since I joined over 11 years ago, funda has grown from a small company of 40 people to a team of 140. A lot has changed during that time. The organization used to be very flat, but now there are many more roles, which means more opportunities for growth. One aspect I particularly enjoy is how funda has become more international. I now get to work with people from many countries, including Russia, Spain, Portugal, Brazil and Ireland.’
Any tips for those looking to build a career at funda?
‘Absolutely! Firstly, make it known that you are interested in growing within the company. It also requires a bit of luck. Your manager needs to support your ambitions and be willing to take a chance on you, which means they need to find a replacement for your current role. I was incredibly fortunate that they recognized my potential and gave me the freedom to figure things out.’
Do you plan to stay at funda?
‘Well, I can say with certainty that I'm not ready to leave this company. As long as they still want me here, I will stay, as there's still so much room for me to develop and improve as a Service Owner. I haven't had any formal training, but the support from my colleagues and managers has been invaluable in helping me excel in my role. There's always room for improvement, and I continue to find great joy in what I do. As long as I keep feeling that way, I'm eager to stay. Let's aim for 15 years at this remarkable company!’