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Best of Bootstrapping: Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland

Posted on Friday, Aug 30th 2019

Mikko has steadily built an excellent SaaS company from Finland and is now expanding into the US as well. Read on for more.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your personal journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?

Mikko Honkanen: I was born in a small town in Finland, 20 miles up north from Helsinki. I studied at Helsinki School of Economics. I also studied at Oxford. Then I spent the last 10 years in the SaaS business. I spent almost seven years at a Norwegian company called Meltwater.

Sramana Mitra: I know Meltwater. I know the founders of Meltwater. They’re here in Silicon Valley.

Mikko Honkanen: During that journey, I also lived in San Francisco when I was running the sales and customer success division in the US. I moved back to Finland in 2014 when we decided to launch Vainu. Now I’m back in the States.

Sramana Mitra: What was the thinking that led you to start Vainu? What did you see in the market? Why did you decide to quit Meltwater and start Vainu?

Mikko Honkanen: I was actually very satisfied with my job. I think Meltwater is an awesome company. It’s a typical company that believes in people. I got a lot of responsibilities even though I was very young. I was very involved in sales and customer success not only in the US, but also for the European market. I saw a pain point. I saw lots of sales people who were spending hours and hours prospecting.

The best sales people spend hours doing online research and wading through different types of lists of companies. I just felt that there was so much information out there. My co-founders and I felt that if we aggregated all that data and used computers and machine learning, we could actually provide a solution. You could have a tool that could identify ideal customers in no time, and also get notifications every time there’s a company who might need your product or service.

It was a big leap of faith. Making a decision to move back to Finland was a big decision. To some extent, I always had an idea that I would like to be an entrepreneur and see if we can build something that is very successful. I just made that decision and I’ve been very happy with that.

Sramana Mitra: What did you start with in terms of the MVP? What were the specs of what you started with?

Mikko Honkanen: It helped a lot that we knew the pain point very well. We had spent a lot of time doing sales and coaching sales teams. When we started, we only had the idea. We were three people and, very quickly, a fourth person joined. The first 10 customers, we got by only having slides. We were very transparent with them.

We said, “This is the idea we have. We will build a product and it’s going to work like this.” It was a big leap of faith for those customers to sign one-year contracts with us. The only thing we were able to say is, we will deliver this service in a few months, but you need to sign up and pay upfront. What’s unique with Vainu is that we have been growing without external funding. We didn’t have salaries for the first six months.

Very soon, we were able to ship a product. Even though it didn’t do lots of things, the things that it did do, it did very well. That’s important when it comes to MVP. Whatever you do, you need to do those things very well. You don’t have to do too many things, but whatever is your main value proposition, try to do that very well.

Our conversation continues here.

This segment is a part in the series : Best of Bootstrapping

. Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Why is Bootstrapping Important?
. How Can You Play this Low-Probability Game Intelligently?
. Do NOT Go to VCs as Beggars - Go as Kings
. Excess is NOT Required for Success
. Bootstrap First and Raise Money Later
. Some Bootstrapping to Exit Case Studies
. The Buy Side of Bootstrapping to an Exit
. Blitzscaling vs. Bootstrapping
. Bootstrapping to Unicorns
. Cinedigm Acquires Bootstrapped 1Mby1M Company Future Today for $60 Million
. Mailchimp Bootstraps to $600M Revenue
. Bootstrapping from Arizona to $10 Million
. Bootstrapped Basecamp Executes a No Nonsense Strategy
. How Under30Experiences Bootstrapped to $5 Million
. Bootstrapping with a Paycheck
. How CEO Amjad Hussain Bootstrapped using Services from Michigan
. Seed Investors Who Like Bootstrapped Businesses
. How iHeartRaves CEO Bootstrapped a Niche e-Commerce Company to $20 Million
. Bootstrapping with Services
. How The Intern Group CEO David Lloyd Bootstrapped to $13 Million
. How Passageways CEO Paroon Chadha Bootstrapped from Indiana
. How SmartBuyGlasses CEO David Menning Bootstrapped to $50 Million
. Death by Overfunding
. How RainmakerForce CEO Mack Sundaram Bootstrapped Decisively to $5 Million+
. How FormAssembly CEO Bootstrapped a Virtual Company with a Paycheck
. TimeSlips CEO Mitch Russo Bootstrapped to Exit with Sage
. The VC-Entrepreneur Compensation Disbalance
. BioConnect CEO Bootstraps with Sophisticated Strategic Maneuvering
. Tremend CEO Marius Hanganu Bootstraps from Romania
. Gesture CEO Jim Alvarez Bootstraps to $10 Million
. SproutLoud CEO Bootstraps to $30 Million from Florida
. Tuft & Needle CEO Bootstraps to Over $100 Million
. Co-founders Bootstrap Linguamatics to Over $10M from the UK
. Ownership Matters
. Vainu Co-founder Mikko Honkanen Bootstraps from Finland
. Entrepreneur Couple Bootstraps to $10M from Colorado
. Power2Motivate CEO Bootstraps to $80M from Canada
. Financial DNA CEO Bootstraps to $10M+ from Australia
. Big Barker CEO Bootstraps a Niche E-commerce Brand
. PrecisionLender CEO Bootstraps to Over $10M from North Carolina
. Master Bootstrappers with Over $1B in Exits

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