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Staying Efficient Amidst a Pandemic: An Interview with Martin Jensen, CEO of Centra – The E-Commerce Platform for Brands

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Martin Jensen Centra

Martin Jensen, CEO at Centra tells us how leading brands deliver global eCommerce.

First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?

Martin Jensen: Thank you for asking! Everyone’s great, including our older relatives. We’ve been lucky not to catch Covid-19 and all of us have been able to work from home. I think I speak for everyone when I say that we really miss life at the office and being able to meet our colleagues and friends. We’re looking forward to finally getting the vaccine. 

Tell us about you, your career, how you joined Centra.

Martin Jensen: I started out at McKinsey & Co where I did strategy consulting and helped companies with digitalization and strategies for digitalization. I also helped investment companies that were responsible for digital transformations. That made me think about the big changes digitalization has brought to us. 

During that time I came in contact with the ones who had decided to create Centra. We shared the same mindset where we believe in a future where consumers on a larger scale will shop directly from the brands. You will buy your TV directly from Sony, your phone directly from Apple, your car directly from Tesla, or your jeans directly from Nudie Jeans. The founders of Centra had already developed a fairly advanced technology platform for this when I came in contact with them in 2016, and we realized we had the same vision. 

The direct-to-consumer concept did not exist back then. We realized that we had a consensus around that vision that brands should be able to reach out globally to all of their customers. And we continue on that road today. They persuaded me to join Centra. I had worked with consulting for five years and I enjoyed it but was ready to do something else. The offer suited me very well personally where I was in my life and career.

How does Centra innovate?

Martin Jensen: We have a structured innovation process where we follow SCRUM by the book, meaning that we have customer success managers who stay in contact with our clients and listen to their desires. We have product owners who look at statistics on how our product is being used, and we have structured meetings where all insights synthesize to product development. Based on that we build our product and launch new functions. This is our innovation process on paper – it’s not how it works in reality. 

In reality, we are a group of individuals who are all very passionate about e-commerce. Some of us have spent our careers running e-commerce companies and know that business by heart. Others have been working with e-commerce in consulting roles. Some are very specialized technicians in different areas within e-commerce, others know all about logistics, payments, and other back end-processes related to e-commerce. The way innovation truly happens at Centra is that it is completely spontaneous – different people with different competencies, such as design, business, or technology, meet and discuss and most ideas are born spontaneously. At Centra we have a very open climate. One of our core beliefs is “ideas over egos”, meaning that if you have a better idea than I have, I have to let go of my ego and go with the best idea. 

Another core belief of ours is “progress depends on the unreasonable human – The reasonable human adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable human”. To be able to have a very high level of innovation you can’t care too much about what you believe that you can or cannot do. Only the ones who think they can do anything are the ones who can get us where we want to be. 

The absence of spontaneous meetings has been somewhat of a challenge during the pandemic. It’s not as conductive as innovation. We’re all remote at meetings, following the agenda – but the spontaneous discussions where we would’ve come up with ideas we wouldn’t have otherwise are absent. 

How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?

Martin Jensen: When the pandemic happened it was chaotic. Our clients did not know what was going on, their customers were busily bunkering up with toilet paper, diapers, and canned food. A lot of our clients specialize in luxury and fashion, and there was a time during these weeks where no one purchased anything from these segments. After the initial shock, the direct-to-consumer e-commerce interest increased more than ever. Our wholesale e-commerce had a big upswing due to canceled exhibitions and sales meetings. Overall, Centra has not been negatively affected financially by the pandemic. Even if we prefer to meet in real life, we are an entirely digital company – this is not something stopping us from working effectively.

Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?

Martin Jensen: We have been very lucky, we haven’t had to let anyone go during the pandemic. On the contrary, we’ve grown. Our organization was dimensioned to get new clients every other week during 2020. Instead, we were able to get a new client every week and had to recruit new people to meet the demand. 

How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?

Martin Jensen: We’ve had to switch to an all-video conference-based customer relationship. Nowadays, many of our colleagues are in zoom meetings eight hours a day. We have reviewed our toolbox in terms of office tools, project management tools, and communication tools to be able to make our everyday remote working process more efficient. We still miss the personal meetings though, we don’t see that video conferencing can always adequately replace them.

Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?

Martin Jensen: We’ve got a smaller government grant to be able to expand our knowledge within artificial intelligence, an area we don’t directly work with, but which have some interesting complements within e-commerce – like product recommendations or being able to see what products customers want to buy.

Your final thoughts?

Martin Jensen: Working remotely actually goes really well, which is a lesson we have learned during the pandemic. It saves a lot of resources financially and ecologically and we believe it will be implemented more in the future. On the other hand, we have also come to discover an even greater value in a personal meeting. We believe that at Centra, we have a faster pace of innovation when we focus on interactions between people instead of processing and tools.

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