The Handheld Story
A combination of circumstances, strategy and teamwork
A combination of circumstances, strategy and teamwork
Before Handheld became a major player in the global market for rugged computers, we were an independent family business in a small city in the Swedish farmlands. The ongoing tale of Handheld is fun, unusual and a great success story.
In 1994, Jerker Hellström helped pioneer the rugged computer business, selling devices across Scandinavia from an office in Lidköping. Meanwhile, Thomas Löfblad had just returned to Sweden from studying and working in the U.S., taking a job in the same building Jerker leased his office in. Twin sisters Anna and Sofia Larsson worked in the same office as Thomas. Long story short, Coincidentally, Jerker ended up marrying Anna; Thomas married Sofia. Eventually, the four went from being social friends to being business partners.
In 1997 Jerker got the opportunity to purchase the Scandinavian component of Husky Computers, his employer at the time. He formed a company called Handheld, with a focus on selling rugged handheld computers. In 2003, Thomas left a CEO job in computer gaming to join Jerker as a partner in Handheld. They soon made the bold decision to adopt a new strategy: start selling products outside Scandinavia, through their own reseller network.
They signed an agreement with an American manufacturer to sell the smartest rugged handheld device available at that time, to the European market. Then they went to the CeBIT trade show in Germany. For 10 days they networked, making important connections who are still integral elements of the company’s network today. Handheld in its current form was born. By the end of the following year, the company had a network of 80 resellers worldwide.
The combination of Jerker’s deep expertise in technology – his partners say he even reads owner’s manuals for relaxation – and Thomas’s ability to read people, and sell them exactly what they need, helped the business grow. By 2005, the group decided to bring on both Sofia and Anna, given that they each had specific and complementary skills to contribute. Sofia is a savvy marketer who oversees virtually every element of communication and branding as the marketing director; Anna is highly organized and detail-oriented, and serves not only as the director of the supply chain but also as the person everyone turns to for solutions to operations challenges. The family business was complete.
In 2007, Handheld took a giant step: our own line of Handheld-branded devices. The first product was a rugged tablet designed to work under the toughest conditions. To name it, Jerker came up with the idea of reaching back into our Nordic heritage and chose a word from the Viking rune alphabet: Algiz, which translates to “protection against evil forces” (in this case, things like cold, heat, water, drops, dust and more). The Nautiz line of rugged handhelds followed in 2009 (Nautiz was also from the runic alphabet, meaning “hard work and effort”). By 2013 Handheld only sold our own products, and sales growth has been steady over the years.
Handheld has grown by capitalizing on the collective strengths of the partners, a dedicated workforce and a personalized approach to doing business. The business model has been refined to its current successful approach: Handheld designs and specifies all products, and then we outsource the manufacturing overseas; our in-house product management team monitors the manufacturing process to make sure products meet requirements and standards. Then our Handheld sales team and the reseller network go to work distributing them to the world. As of 2021, the network of resellers had grown to more than 1,000 resellers in 102 countries, and Handheld had relocated to a larger, custom-built headquarters in Lidköping.
One of the most important aspects is keeping up with the rapid pace of technology development. The entire team must stay on top of every technological advancement that could impact mobile computing – from hardware to software to communication networks. In our view the way to stand out against much larger competitors is to “overperform.” By our thinking, if Handheld and a giant brand name offer the same product at the same price, the giant is likely to get the business. Handheld must be better, smarter, faster and more customer-centric to hold an advantage in buyers’ minds.
One way we’ve gotten that advantage is by addressing a wide spectrum of verticals. Even as the designers of these highly capable rugged handhelds, we couldn’t possibly have imagined all the ways people would use them. Over the years we’ve heard dozens of stories of Handheld customers finding ingenious ways to apply our devices. And that means we have to include the features and capabilities all those users want, in dozens of different verticals and countless niche applications.
Another main competitive advantage is each and every Handheld employee. There is a genuine sense of teamwork across the entire company; where everyone is connected and in pursuit of a common goal. Even though spread out across the globe there is that shared culture where everyone is eager to help each other out, across all geographies, levels and departments.
That teamwork ethic is observed by our partners and resellers, who often mention that they do not do business with us just because of our products, but because they have experienced that our entire team is there to support them, easy to work with and passionate about their customers.
In the end, brand identity may be even as important as development, manufacturing and distribution. Today’s tech marketplace is global, and increasingly impersonal. So there’s high value in being a company that people feel a connection with, and loyalty to. That’s where our family roots and personality are an advantage.
The fact that we started as a small company is its own advantage. Even as Handheld has grown, the core approach of the company has not changed. We’ve purposely maintained a very flat structure, for smooth teamwork across job functions and geography.
We take regular coffee breaks (fika, as we know them), and the atmosphere is always one where people can share a snack and talk about anything with anyone.
The Handheld brand is based in teamwork, responsiveness, cooperation, shared success and long-term relationships. We’re focused on doing business the old-fashioned way: make a great product, sell it at a fair price, back it up, and make our word worth something. These have always been Handheld’s guiding principles – with roots that go all the way back to the days of two couples hatching a grand idea.