Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges: Joel Holmberg’s Trailblazing Journey at Axess Lab

Joel Holmberg: Revolutionizing Accessibility & Leadership at Axess Lab

In the latest episode of “Bright Founders Talk” podcast, hosted by Chris from Temy — a global software development firm focused on sustainable business solutions — we are introduced to Joel Holmberg, Co-Founder of Axess Lab. This insightful interview peels back the layers of Joel’s professional and personal life, revealing a unique approach to business leadership and a passion for coding. 

Unconventionally, Axess Lab eschews the traditional boss-employee hierarchy, favoring a more collaborative and adult-to-adult interaction within the organization. Joel’s philosophy on leadership is clear: a good boss solves their own problems and supports their team in solving theirs, rather than offloading responsibilities. This refreshing outlook is not common in Sweden or globally, but is gaining traction among forward-thinking companies.

Apart from his innovative business strategies, Joel also shares his personal escapades to unwind—a blend of indoor bouldering and playing jazz, showcasing his multifaceted interests and abilities. His journey from being a backend developer and drummer to co-founding Axess Lab began with a hackathon, highlighting his knack for creativity and problem-solving. This interview not only offers a glimpse into Joel’s dynamic leadership style at Axess Lab but also portrays his diverse hobbies that contribute to his unique approach to work and life.

Joel Holmberg: Revolutionizing Accessibility & Leadership at Axess Lab
Breaking the Boss Mold: Joel Holmberg’s Innovative Leadership and Eclectic Unwind Techniques

Joel Holmberg, in his casual, almost mischievous tone, drops a fascinating nugget in our latest chat. “We actually don’t have bosses at our company,” he states, challenging the traditional corporate hierarchy. It’s not just talk; Joel and his co-founder experimented with being ‘the bosses’ but quickly realized it wasn’t their cup of tea. They envisioned a workplace where problem-solving is a collective effort, not a top-down directive. Joel quips, “A good boss is a boss that doesn’t use their employees to solve their own problems.” It’s a philosophy that’s rare in Sweden and worldwide, but one that’s gaining traction. This refreshing approach resonates with the principles of ‘reinventing organizations’, advocating for mature, adult-to-adult interactions in the workplace.

A good boss is a boss that doesn’t use their employees to solve their own problems

When the workday wraps, Joel shuns the traditional executive leisure. Instead, he’s either scaling indoor climbing walls or syncing rhythms in a jazz band. Fear of heights doesn’t stop him from bouldering, a metaphor for his business approach – facing fears head-on. In the dimly lit basements, Joel, the drummer, finds his groove among seasoned jazz musicians. “Both coding and drumming are mathematical and square,” he observes, drawing parallels between his work and hobbies. This mix of analytical rigor and creative expression shapes his unique leadership style.

The origin story of Axess Lab is as unconventional as its leadership style. Joel recounts how a hackathon – initially mistaken for a coding speed contest – turned into a life-changing event. He and his co-founder turned a two-day innovation sprint into the foundation of their company. “Most people just create a PowerPoint; we created code,” Joel says with a hint of pride. This blend of innovation, teamwork, and a dash of rebellion against the norm isn’t just the story of Axess Lab’s inception; it’s the ethos that drives Joel every day.

Joel Holmberg: From Childhood Dreams to Coding Reality

Joel Holmberg, a man of many aspirations, shared how his childhood dreams morphed over time. Initially drawn to teaching, he helped his gym teacher mom with classes, nurturing a love for guiding others. This love for teaching dovetailed with an inherited entrepreneurial spirit from his father, who was a company founder. Joel’s journey is a testament to the fluid nature of ambition. He chuckles, reminiscing, “I wanted to do that [create companies] someday, I had no idea what it meant, really.” His story illustrates the winding path of finding one’s true calling, a mix of inherited traits and personal interests.

I wanted to create companies someday, I had no idea what it meant, really

Joel’s entry into the world of coding wasn’t predestined. He recalls, “I just liked playing games and having fun.” It wasn’t until university, where he initially pursued music, that he stumbled upon computer science. Here, he found a program combining his love for teaching with computer science, leading to a revelation. “That’s where I realized, oh, it seems like I’m pretty good at this,” Joel reflects on his first programming course. Joel’s narrative challenges the stereotype of a coder, showing that one’s path to tech can be unconventional yet equally fulfilling.

Discussing the misconception that coding is just for ‘numbers people’, Joel offers an enlightening perspective. He differentiates between rote numerical skills and the logical, spatial thinking crucial for software development. “Math is also about proving theorems, thinking about geometry, logic… that’s the part you need to become a good software developer,” he explains. Joel’s journey from a music student to a tech leader underscores that passion, not just aptitude, is vital in finding one’s niche. His story is a beacon for anyone who feels they don’t fit the traditional mold of their field.

Joel Holmberg: A Journey from Learning to Leading at Axess Lab

Joel Holmberg’s ascent to CEO wasn’t preordained; it was a journey of learning by doing. “I had to learn everything from scratch,” he shares with a laugh, recalling his initial foray into the role. Running a company, he remarks, is surprisingly straightforward, likening it to fifth-year math at the Royal Institute of Technology: “Most of it is quite simple… You can do most of it in Excel.” Joel’s pragmatic approach demystifies the often-overwhelming perception of corporate leadership, emphasizing the accessibility of such skills to anyone willing to learn. His story reflects the ethos of Axess Lab – simplifying complex ideas into manageable, executable tasks.

Joel’s career trajectory smoothly transitioned from academia to the IT world. He reflects on his early days, “After university, I did some teaching roles, but then I applied for an IT consulting company as a junior.” His experience there, rich with a blend of junior and senior interactions, laid the groundwork for his future entrepreneurial endeavors. Joel emphasizes the importance of gaining experience before diving into business: “I’ve always thought… I first should feel safe that I actually know my stuff.” This blend of humility and eagerness to learn underscores his success at Axess Lab.

I’ve always thought… I first should feel safe that I actually know my stuff

Joel’s path to founding Axess Lab was intertwined with a deep desire to impact lives positively. He recalls, “My first couple of years after studying was focused mostly on… wanting to become good at something.” But the hackathon with his co-founder marked a turning point – an opportunity to use technology for societal good. Discussing the evolution of Axess Lab, Joel explains, “The app we created was helping people in public transportation with cognitive disabilities.” This initial project grew into a consulting firm specializing in accessible technology, driven by a philosophy Joel sums up best: “I think you’re not really ready to help someone else unless you sort out your own stuff first.” His journey from a learner to a leader, driven by the ethos of meaningful work, encapsulates the spirit of Axess Lab – where technology meets empathy.

Crafting Accessibility: Joel Holmberg’s Mission at Axess Lab

Joel Holmberg and his team at Axess Lab are on a mission to transform how we think about software accessibility. Their approach is far from conventional. “Don’t just adapt; build inclusively from the start,” Joel advises, speaking about their work with large organizations. They delve into the intricacies of making software genuinely accessible, ensuring it caters to various disabilities without needing specialized adaptations. Joel’s passion is evident as he explains, “We help fix mistakes and advise on avoiding them in the future.” This proactive approach isn’t just about compliance; it’s about making digital platforms usable for everyone, regardless of their physical abilities.

Don’t just adapt, build inclusively from the start

The concept of inclusive design lies at the heart of Joel’s philosophy. He emphasizes creating software that doesn’t require adaptations for different disabilities but works universally. “It’s about multi-modality and coding correctly,” he explains. Joel’s approach simplifies the complex, stressing that most web browsers and tools are already equipped to handle accessibility if developers follow the guidelines. “Stop writing wrong code,” he says candidly, highlighting a common oversight in the industry. His approach is refreshingly straightforward: Build right from the start, and accessibility becomes a natural part of the design, not an afterthought.

Axess Lab faces its unique set of challenges, chiefly in recruitment and organizational structure. “Finding experts in digital accessibility is tough,” Joel admits, revealing their strategy of training junior staff for future specialization. He also touches on the unconventional management style at Axess Lab – a company without bosses. “It’s about growing up and taking responsibility,” he reflects, underscoring the need for self-governance in such a setup. Joel believes this model aligns with millennial and Gen Z preferences for meaningful, autonomous work, but it requires maturity and a sense of collective responsibility. “It’s not for everyone, but it’s how we choose to operate,” he concludes, hopeful yet realistic about the challenges of pioneering such a unique workplace culture.

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