From a prospecting application into global company data for RevOps teams
We founded Vainu with Mikko on the notion that every salesperson should know the 10 best prospects to talk to at any given time. We started that off with a prospecting application, which evolved into a tool for Revenue Operations teams. Now we are on the brink of serving that audience on a global scale.
During my time in Vainu, I worked as a CEO for the first 3 years and now for the past 2 years. They’ve been quite different times: the first three years were more or less about scaling our business with Mikko from his living room to a company that had close to 200 employees. It was a lot about momentum game - one needed to strike while the iron was hot. Bootstrapping from a PowerPoint to a 200-employee company was a journey that earned us a good reputation.
The second stint has been more about executing our strategic decision to focus on product and transforming Vainu into a more customer-driven team at the expense of short-term revenue growth. Such a fundamental decision can mean many things - anything from simple ones such as talking to a customer or doing headhunting to hard decisions where you put your reputation and future at risk. The toughest decisions are always related to people and are impossible to take lightly.
I have a strong sense of being honest and doing the right thing in my everyday work. It would be impossible to work otherwise for me, and it has been put to test so many times.
"I know in detail our product milestones and most important customer cases. About these, I'm obsessively curious - and it might feel like micromanaging."
Currently, we are around 140 people. It’s a small enough team so that you know everyone at least by name but big enough that you can’t touch every single detail. However, there are a few things I know in detail: Our product milestones and current situation on an issue level in Gitlab, our current customer retention rates almost on a customer level, and our most essential sales cases that push our strategy forward.
For the people that work with those objectives, I’m obsessively curious, and it might feel like micromanaging. I just try to explain that those are things where we cannot fail. My communication might be very straightforward, but there’s no room for hamburger feedback in our most important KPIs. We need to get back into growth mode now that our product is starting to be ready.
Growth is the easiest ingredient of leadership
We have experience in both hypergrowth and plateau mode. When you grow fast the biggest task of a leader is to stay out of the way and find the words you are comfortable with describing your leadership. It might be the product, it might be the focus, or it might be the culture. In growth mode, you have access to anything: people, capital, respect, and attention, and nobody questions your methods. I don’t say that it is easy, but it’s fun.
But when the plateau mode kicks in, leadership style is put to test. Although our strategy has been progressing well (we have half the amount of customers than 2 years ago but the same ARR), you need great communication on so many levels. It’s a real feat to explain why the things that are supposed to be so great for the company appear as a loss of revenue, loss of people, and loss of clients. You have nothing but your core beliefs and the ability to communicate them. That is why I owe a lot to the core team for sticking around in a world where hyper-growth companies are looming around.
Also, if we wouldn’t been 100% aligned with Mikko, this journey would have been set to failure. I feel that even after a decade, Mikko and I are so aligned with the company's future that we can finish each other's thoughts.
One of my favorite quotes on being an entrepreneur is that it feels like riding a lion: From the outside, people might see it as heroic, but all you just want to make sure of is not to get eaten. Lots of things come and go - some stick for a while, and you just learn to live with it. There are always ups and downs, but it’s never a backwater (as is my last name directly translated into English). If I feel so, I know I’m missing out on something. That makes it imperative that my job can never be boring.