Aleksander Farstad, CEO of eZ Systems

Aleksander Farstad: Strategy Is Just Talk if You're Not Able to Execute

7 minute read
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Aleksander Farstad’s passion is building and growing companies, and to him, that means the people.

“The most important success factor in any business is people,” Farstad said. “Working with people, building a team, sharing visions, dreams and success is both what’s the most rewarding and important aspect of any company’s success.”

Farstad is the CEO of eZ Systems, an open-source content management system (CMS) vendor, which he co-founded in 1999 with his brother Bård. Farstad has found his education in mathematical finance and economics and his work as a derivatives trader to be very helpful in his work as eZ CEO. Effectively, that background has equipped him with, “analytical thinking, rapid decision making and risk handling” as well as the ability to speak the language of investor to ease the process of fundraising.

A Front Row Seat to CMS Technology's Evolution

Farstad’s skills complement those of his brother Bård, eZ co-founder and chief of strategy. “Being close, communication and trust are in place, and we work with a high level of creative efficiency,” he said. “In addition, we are very different. While I’m a company builder, he is a great programmer and product builder.”

In 2009, once eZ had matured as a company, Farstad handed over daily operations to a new CEO, while remaining on the eZ board. While outside eZ, he founded Assetto Capital, a specialist financial advisory firm, which invests in and supports the growth of digital-driven startups. Farstad stepped back into the eZ CEO role in 2013 to help the company execute a successful turnaround.

Over the years, Farstad has seen CMS technology evolve from a focus on web publishing to one where the core values of content management are coming more into play. Key trends in CMS today include “the ability to handle any type of content, independent of format and distribution channel,” he said. Connecting through APIs is allowing modern cloud-based architectures to link to new channels and applications.

EZ is a sponsor of CMSWire's DX Summit taking place Nov. 13 through 15 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. Two of Farstad’s colleagues — Roland Benedetti, eZ chief product officer, and Bertrand Maugain, eZ chief commercial officer — will participate in a panel discussion titled “Debunking the Headless-Only Myth & Embracing the API-Revolution” on Nov. 14.

We spoke with Farstad about his thoughts on “headless” CMS, building a great content strategy and the benefits of open-source technologies.

The Best Technology Is Never Created in a Vacuum

CMSWire: What are the pros and cons for companies in adopting a “headless” approach to their CMS?

Farstad: I don’t think we look at the “headless” question the right way. A company should not have a project to find and move to a “headless” CMS. Rather, they might have a project, for instance, to develop a multichannel media presence, where they might benefit from a headless approach.

The pros are that “headless” fits well with a highly multichannel approach, looking beyond the web and the web page. The biggest cons are that your editors or authors might end up writing content without a clear idea of how the content will play in its delivery environment and user experience.

It’s clear that APIs and especially remote APIs are playing a bigger role in the CMS equation. It’s also clear that websites are here to stay and there are plenty of reasons and plenty of use cases why we made features in WCM [web content management] systems in charge of the web delivery.

So, I would say the world is not black or white, as there are use cases where each approach is a better fit. At eZ, we have a headless design in our architecture, but we also include full web delivery, implying you can do both within the same platform.

CMSWire: In your opinion, what do companies tend to forget as they put together new content strategies or as they revisit old strategies?

Farstad: We live in a rapidly changing business environment. And what is true today, is most likely not the case in six months or two years. In any strategy you must make sure you have the ability and flexibility so you can adapt and go fast at the same time.

Strategy just becomes talk if you are not able to execute. We’ve seen again and again customers starting out with a very good content strategy at a high level and hiring the best content strategist in the early phases of the project. But then we see it falling apart when the customers get into further stages such as design, information architecture, implementation choices and execution.

It’s very important to make sure content strategists are involved and are working with the other disciplines involved all along the journey. In the end, a great content strategy should serve a business need, and create measurable value.

CMSWire: In terms of content personalization and recommendation, how should companies use the technologies to appeal to individual customers? Do companies need to guard against over-personalization of their content?

Learning Opportunities

Farstad: Since eZ acquired YooChoose in 2011, the German personalization and recommendation company, we have worked a lot with these questions.

The best results come when the personalized and recommended content is adding value to the users. We see this especially within ecommerce, where some retailers we work with increase their monthly sales with more than one million euros because of recommended content.

Personally, I find myself browsing recommended content on a few ecommerce portals I often visit. Why? Because I then find products I would not search for myself.

However, like most people I want to be in charge of my own experience, and I do not like intrusive content. Which is why ad blockers ended up being so popular. Thus, it is so important when building personalized content to be transparent and explicit, and in many cases the best results come from actually asking the user what he or she wants.

In the end, it is all about the user experience and if we can improve UX and add more value to the readers with the use of this type of technology.

CMSWire: Turning to open-source technologies, how have you seen the open-source movement grow and change over the years?

Farstad: The best technology is never created in a vacuum. Take 100 of the best software engineers in the world, put them in room for a year, and I am sure they will come back with a fantastic piece of software. However, it is most likely not the software that the customers need. And that is where open source is brilliant.

Open source is a catalyst for open innovation, including a larger community of users, customers and partners directly into your innovation process. This allows you to develop faster, test quicker, and get an immediate response from the market. And, most powerful of all, is that your community feels an ownership for the products, being your strongest evangelists.

CMSWire: Which sports do you enjoy participating in and why? What’s been your most intense sporting experience so far and why is it so enjoyable?

Farstad: I travel a lot around the world and one of the reasons I still have my home in Norway is to be close to nature. I love all sports where it’s man versus nature: skiing, mountain biking, climbing, cliff diving, surfing and free diving. When you’re outside, it doesn’t feel like you are exercising or doing a sport. You are just alive, in the moment, enjoying the fantastic planet we all are part of.

Freediving is probably the most intense experience of nature as you become part of the elements surrounding you. And on one breath, you enter into a very calm and present state, almost like when meditating. Your mind is just on your breathing and what is in your immediate surroundings.

Editor's note: Learn more about the Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit here.

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