In the contemporary business landscape, prioritizing employee development, refining their expertise, and fostering diverse and inclusive environments are critical for achieving organizational success. Boku emerges as a standout organization, excelling not only in cultivating talent growth but also in championing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Positioned as a global tech enterprise, Boku collaborates with industry giants such as Microsoft, Sony, Meta, Tencent, and more, underscoring its commitment to nurturing talent on a global scale.

We sat down with Marisa Cardenas, a Technical Program Manager and talked about how Boku has managed to create a culture that is supporting talent growth.


🔵 Can you tell us a little about what attracted you to Boku in the first place?

I had heard about Boku and Fortumo way back in 2016 when I was working for a Malaysian mobile content provider working with different mobile operators in Asia. Boku and Fortumo were known in the region for being some of the best in direct carrier billing. These companies worked with renowned digital brands and published market reports that I found very useful even back then.

When I moved to Tallinn, I had two friends working in Boku and they happened to share the amazing work culture of the company – how fun and interesting it was to work there. Combining this feedback with the previous knowledge about the reputation of these companies – it was an easy decision to come work here!


🔵 Can you share your journey with Boku and your current role within the company?

I am very happy that I have gotten the opportunity to grow so fast within Boku. When I started my journey with Boku last year in April, I was initially appointed as a Technical Project Manager. This year I was offered the position of Technical Program Manager for one of our partners in one of products called bundling. You may ask, what is the difference between a Technical Project Manager and Technical Program Manager.

As a Technical Project Manager, I was in charge of leading and executing different projects: collecting requirements, building solution designs, attending meetings with partners and making sure the projects are executed in the timeline and with the requirements expected.

As a Technical Program Manager, I have a much more of a strategic role as I oversee the delivery of all projects and post-launch operations, making sure they run successfully from all angles: process, product, etc. I now work much more closely with Technical Project Managers, Operations team, Product Managers and Account Managers.

🔵 How would you explain Boku’s product to someone who doesn’t know anything about it?

At Boku we provide the possibility for partners like Netflix, Tencent or Meta to reach out to more customers by connecting these to merchants who provide other payment alternatives, different from debit and credit cards. (We do this through our APIs). Think for example of the opportunity to pay your Netflix account with your GoogleWallet, AliPay or as a part of your preferred mobile provider’s services. This enlarges our partner’s capability to acquire users and at the same it democratizes digital services to users worldwide, specially in countries where credit cards or debit cards are not common.

🔵 How would you describe Boku’s company culture in your own words?

Boku’s culture is a real treat! We work with inspiring and open colleagues, our work involves dealing with renown digital merchants such as Netflix, Tencent, Amazon, Spotify, etc. We have a wide range of different events, such as cultural evenings, summer and winter days, sports challenges, parties and much more.

In a nutshell, we work in a fun, inspiring and engaging environment! And the cherries on top, we also enjoy flexibility in schedule and location, making it easy to have better work-life balance, have a transparent and positive culture and have cool offices with the typical start-up treats (ping-pong tables, play stations, etc). You can see I have a lot of positive things to say about Boku’s culture!


🔵 How do you perceive the importance of diversity in the tech industry, specifically in a company like Boku?

I want to specify that the key is not only to be diverse, but to have equity and inclusion. Diversity can be achieved fairly easily, you add someone from a different background to a homogenous group and you obtain it. But without equity, the fostering of equal opportunities, and inclusion, the involvement of those different to us, you cannot foster an environment for diversity to be an asset.

In a tech company, diversity is very important for many different aspects. First, it fosters innovation and creativity. When you have a diverse team, you bring individuals with different perspectives which then can think of multiple ways to approach a situation and problem as opposed to when you just have one angle to the problem. It really helps to reduce groupthink.

Second, it improves marketing competitiveness. For example, in Boku we work with a vast number of countries where cultures and languages can be vastly different. When you have employees from across the world, you are able to cover for such differences. The needs of a diverse and global customer base, making the company more resilient for growth.

Finally, for a Public Company Like Boku, investors want transparency from companies on the diversity of their workforces. Investors, passive and active alike, have integrated Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) into their investment decisions. Doing DEI well correlates with better change power, which in turn is linked not only to company performance but also leadership and employee engagement.


🔵 Could you share any ongoing diversity initiatives that Boku is particularly proud of?

There are two things that our DEI committee is currently really focused on. First of all we want to understand what the needs of the different minorities in our company are, so that we can give recommendations on how to support them better and enable them for opportunities.

For example, we have started running interviews with parents returning from Parental Leave to understand how to make their return to work much smoother so that they do feel engaged in their return.

Secondly we have launched a series of trainings regarding DEI. The importance of understanding unconscious bias and how to work with a diverse workforce. For example, slightly over a month ago, we shared with our colleagues outside of Estonia, what characterizes the Estonian culture and how to work best with Estonians.


🔵 Reflecting on your time with the company, what has been your most fulfilling moment at Boku?

Looking back on my journey with Boku, there have been several moments that have truly filled me with a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Among these, two stand out prominently. Firstly, being acknowledged and appreciated for my contributions was a pivotal moment for me. Within just a year of joining Boku, my dedication and efforts were recognized, resulting in a significant career advancement. Moving from a marketing-sales-business development background to a technical role at Boku initially brought about a sense of uncertainty – that classic ‘imposter syndrome.’ I was constantly questioning my performance, wondering if I was meeting expectations.

However, during my first performance review, the feedback I received was incredibly validating. It affirmed that not only was I managing projects effectively, but I was also excelling at it. This feedback not only surprised me but also fueled a sense of achievement. It signified a positive shift in my career trajectory and validated my potential. Soon after, the opportunity to transition into a Technical Program Manager role presented itself, reinforcing the confidence in my abilities and the direction I wanted to take my career.

Secondly, witnessing the evolution of one of our team’s key products has been immensely rewarding. From its experimental stages to becoming an integral driver in Boku’s growth strategy, seeing the impact of our collective efforts has been deeply satisfying. Knowing that the work we put in has contributed significantly to the company’s success has been a source of immense pride and fulfillment.


🔵 Is this a common practice for Boku – recognizing the talent early on and moving them along the career path?

I would say it is and I’ve seen it happen to other colleagues multiple times! It definitely depends on the teams, as some of them are more dynamic and different positions open up a lot faster than in other teams. We do try to recognize and have these different levels of growth so people can jump into these different roles. We also have a constant and active feedback culture with platforms making it comfy. And addition to that we have a quite a strong 1-1 tradition, where the manager sits down with their team member once every week or two to discuss their wellbeing, problems, goals, dreams etc.

🔵 Talking about Boku as a workplace. What are the main reasons you would recommend Boku?

Firstly, the pace at which Boku is growing is remarkable. This rapid growth prompts constant innovation and adaptation, making it an ideal environment for those eager to contribute ideas that can make a tangible impact. Boku’s focus on continuous improvement encourages professional growth and fosters a culture that values innovative thinking and pushing boundaries. If you’re seeking a place that encourages you to expand your professional horizons and think creatively, Boku is an excellent fit.

Secondly, if you have a passion for IT and aspire to delve into the realm of paytech while collaborating with leading brands, Boku offers an exceptional platform. It provides an opportunity to validate your skills, face industry challenges, and align with the high standards set by these prominent companies.

Lastly, Boku’s culture is a standout feature. Working alongside a diverse range of individuals and engaging with different countries and markets offers a unique and valuable experience. This exposure fosters a global mindset—a critical asset in today’s IT landscape, where being a global citizen holds immense importance.


🔵 How does Boku ensure welcoming and supportive onboarding members? Are there any special initiatives or programmes for new joiners?

At Boku, ensuring a welcoming and supportive onboarding experience for new members is a priority, backed by various initiatives and programs.

For example in Estonia, we appoint a designated mentor, complementing the manager’s role, to guide newcomers into the company culture. This dedicated individual ensures support and integration within the team, fostering engagement right from the start.

Moreover, we have a well-structured onboarding plan, initially outlined by weeks and later extended by months. This plan offers clear expectations during the probationary period and charts a path for growth thereafter. Regular 1:1 sessions with managers and consistent check-ins with HR further facilitate a smooth transition into the organization.

And also one of our strengths lies in information transparency. We provide access to tools and resources, including data-sharing platforms and informative materials upon joining. These resources are designed to facilitate early engagement and equip new joiners with essential knowledge about the company.


🔵 What does the future bring for Boku? What are some exciting upcoming endeavors?

Considering Boku’s future endeavors, there’s a vibrant landscape of ongoing developments across various fronts within the company. Our products continue to experience rapid growth, fostering a culture of relentless innovation. Every department is geared towards improvement, perpetually exploring new possibilities to enhance our offerings. Notably, we’re actively shaping strategies around account-to-account and instant banking payments, paving new directions for our services.

On an organizational level, our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) remains a continuous journey, open for everyone to engage in. Additionally, our ‘Building Better Boku’ task force is a platform for sharing and nurturing ideas, ensuring a collaborative environment where innovations thrive.

Moreover, our culture is dynamic and diverse, marked by engaging events. Recently, colleagues proposed activities like a ping pong competition and meditation sessions to promote work-life balance. Boku fosters an open culture, actively embracing and encouraging novel ideas, providing numerous opportunities for collaboration and contribution.

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