Gerrit Taaks, Stephan (Händsche) Handschin, Rudolf (Ruedi) Meyer and Patrick Barnert: Four students who met at Berne University. That is how the Unic story began in 1996. The name Unic (University Consulting) goes back to the original idea of students offering consulting services. Due to Rudolf Meyer’s IT background, the foursome soon began to focus on digital projects. One of the first big customers was Wander with the Ovomaltine brand. Every now and then, Wander would send the four founders ‘provisions’ for their all-nighters.
All four founders still have close ties with Unic. But thanks to Holacracy, Unic has not just four but almost 250 partners today. Everyone is involved. We shape the company and assume the responsibility for creating a future-proof organisation.
The four founders remember the early years in a video from 2006:
From the lecture hall at the University of Bern to a valuable partner in the digital world: two of the founders of Unic provide insights into the history, present and future of Unic.
A Living Organisation
Our organisation is a living thing, constantly trying to improve. When the company was founded, there were no titles or hierarchies. Two years later, it was time for the first org chart: It defined specific roles and functions and the associated teams. The business units were introduced in 2005, were called 1, 2 and 3 and used a sailboat, a tanker and a speedboat as their logos. Back then, Unic had 68 employees. Most projects were covered by a single business unit.
Later – when Unic had grown to about three times the size – the projects became more interdisciplinary. Countless employees were involved and several release levels were required. There were many coordination meetings, which is typical for a company with a traditional organisational structure. As the company grew, however, the complex hierarchy levels became an impediment to day-to-day operations and business development.
The Journey to Holacracy
In April 2017, we parted with the “old world”. We embarked on a journey toward self-organisation. Since then, we have rediscovered who we are, rewritten the rules of the game, challenged many truths and reorganised many processes. Today, we are organised differently. Many employees cannot even imagine going back to a conventional organisational structure.
And the journey continues. Holacracy is based on the idea of a purpose-driven organisation and thrives on constant change and the power of small steps. With Holacracy, we chart a new future. The employees are partners of the organisation and know what is good and right. Together, we define new rules and forms of interdisciplinary collaboration.
Big Plans – Unic Crosses Borders
From its home base in Berne, Unic is conquering the German-speaking world, step by step. In 2000, we opened our Zurich office. Our Karlsruhe office opened its doors in 2011. Munich followed in 2012. Only a year later, we opened the development centre in Wrocław, Poland. This was an important and successful step for nearshoring. Our team in Poland is growing rapidly. More than 50 team members here work closely on our projects.
The collaboration on the Zurich Airport project brought an unprecedented level of communication. Marta Imos-Merska, senior software engineer in Poland, speaks about the international collaboration and technical challenges on the project from a back-end developer’s perspective.
Snowball Fights and Disco Moments
Partying is in our nature. The founders have been known to end the occasional workday at the Broncos club in Berne. Nothing special, you might think, but they were the only patrons in suits and ties. Since 2006, Unic has been hosting an annual two-day winter party in different destinations: Saas-Fee, Grindelwald, Adelboden, Laax, Gaschurn, Europapark, Internalken, Hasliberg, Munich. We end the year together: We party until the lights come on, drink to everything under the sun, laugh until we cry, talk until the voices go and dance like there is no tomorrow. Our mountain destinations made for great skiing, snowshoeing, ice hockey and tobogganing on day two and, of course, for brisk walks in the fresh air. Those legendary winter parties are the perfect way to blow off steam after a year of demanding projects. Those nights gave rise to many legends and unforgettable stories – most of which we’ll keep to ourselves.
We Make Our Mark
Our projects continue to impress and raise the bar. In total, we have won 119 national and international awards. Since 2003, we have submitted projects for the Best of Swiss Web award every year. We are proud of our fantastic total:
- 39 Bronze Awards,
- 29 Silver Awards,
- 15 Gold Awards,
- And, as the only agency, 4 Master of Swiss Web awards – the accolade for the best web project in all of Switzerland.
Our projects also score well in the international arena: For instance, the Sitecore Experience Awards recognize brands every year that have built truly customer-centric, digital environments. Since 2012, we have received an award every single year. In total, we have won 15 Sitecore awards for our projects. An impressive testimony to our comprehensive Sitecore expertise and our focus on digital services that place people at the centre of things.
Emerging Stronger From a Crisis
In between the happy times, there were also times of crisis. We suffered our share of setbacks, sometimes expectations were not met and hopes were dashed. Natural disasters such as the two floods in Berne and the Covid pandemic only brought us back stronger. Offices opened in Brussels, Amsterdam and Vienna had to be closed again after a few years, despite our best hopes. The bursting of the dotcom bubble and the need to introduce short-time work during economic crises forced us to change our mindset.
Floods in Berne
On 22 August 2005, flooding in the Mattequartier reached the Berne office. This was the second flood following the one in 1999. The water level rose to exactly desk height. We were able to evacuate mail servers and other crucial data media to the attic of the office building just in time. For about a week, employees had no or only very limited access to email. Anyone who owned a laptop took shelter in the Zurich office during that time. Later on, our customer, Sunrise, put our Unic employees up in their offices for a few months.
Matthias Wegmüller, alumnus, and Stephan Handschin remember:
A Nose for Technologies
It all started with HTML 1.0. With changing customer requirements, increasingly complex solutions and our growing company size, technologies become more differentiated. We have always kept an eye on developments and lifecycles of technologies. We had a nose for identifying which platforms would become established in the market.
As early as 2001, we initiated partnerships with key software providers such as Obtree (now Open Text), Day (now Adobe) and Hybris (now SAP). We have a vast network of partnerships and technological solutions. Our technology portfolio encompasses 18 platforms and as many languages and frameworks. Our strategic technology partners include Sitecore, SAP and Contentful.
We Share Knowledge
We strongly believe that sharing knowledge promotes innovation and networking. By making knowledge, opinions and experiences available and accessible to everyone, we create new possibilities. We have various vessels such as lunch to learn, communities of practice, the UX day, the tech lead forum and innovation days, where we get together across disciplines to explore a host of topics. Additionally, we offer young IT talents an insight into our day-to-day work and help them start their professional careers in the digital world. Their enthusiasm and curiosity are contagious. They challenge us and we encourage them.