Today you are one of the thought leaders in the maritime ecosystem. Being based out of the Nordics, how did you get the insights from other markets (US, Europe, Asia)?
Toni: I’d say that the only way to get the insights is go out and meet the market. You can get some ideas and information from magazines and different publications, but the only way to get inspired is to meet real people face to face. As a CEO, I’ve been trying to stay close to the customers and the market, and that requires quite a lot of days on the road.
How do you make sure you personally keep up with the growth pace of the company?
Toni: I think this is a major challenge. What I’ve learned along the way is that the only thing you can take as given is the change. So one needs to accept that things that worked few months ago might already became obsolete. People who did a great job in a company of 8 employees may not be able to perform on a similar level in company of 16. What I learned the hard way is that if you try being on top of everything, you become major throttle in the organization. At the very beginning, a CEO can, and maybe must, be on top of almost everything. That’s why it’s really hard to give control and responsibility to other people, and rely that could actually do things better than yourself as company grows. Finding what’s important and where to focus is key, I believe.
How do you go around building the winning team? What are you tips?
Toni: Ha, another really though one. I think there are many books written around this topic. When we started the company, I was thinking that the idea and technology are the things that takes business to the moon. Now I’m really strong believer of the team and execution capability and I believe that strong teams can make even lousy business fly. Recruiting is really really hard and it can take so much time. Also, quite often the best people are not out there looking for jobs, but they’re working and doing things other people consider impossible. So, using your networks, is one quite essential part. And when company grows, using networks of your employees becomes more and more valuable, because good people wants to work with good people. In our case we’ve also found out, that intuition should not be underestimated. If something doesn’t quite feel right, normally it’s not. And other way around, if you have great feeling about someone being really great performing guy or gal, just get him or her on board and they’ll find things to do and surprise you with their execution capabilities.
After raising more than €10 million of external capital, what are the questions you would ask from a potential investor (or should have asked in the past)?
Toni: I’d say, that for entrepreneur, it’s quite essential to understand the basic principles of investors. All the funds have their sweet spot, in terms of company phase and ticket size, but also funds have certain life span, total capability to invest in single cases and so on. I see strongly investors as a part of team, and therefore I’d spend quite some time to share understanding with investors about business and understanding their motivation and targets and to make crystal clear what entrepreneurs are looking for and what kind of company they want to build. Also, it might be good to understand, if investors understand anything about business you’re at and do they have somewhat similar cases in their portfolio. This makes it so much easier for investors to help you in scaling the company and bringing in more value than just money.
Looking back at your journey so far, what would you have done differently?
Toni: As a first-time entrepreneur and CEO, it might be easier to say what I wouldn’t do differently. I would have spent more time on building really strong management team and commercial team already in earlier phase of the company. It’s so easy to underestimate time to market and sales cycles and I also learned that you cannot invest too much on marketing. This is something we’re still really bad, but I promise we will pick up. In general, I think we have so many great tech companies, that are about to fall short because of all time and money spent on technology and commercial side been totally underestimate. We see that also in well established companies, that makes nice revenue and are profitable, but could actually be so much more, if all the commercial potential would be utilized at its full.
What have been the most difficult periods of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Toni: I think being entrepreneur is most of the time somewhat difficult, especially emotionally. Ups and downs are so steep, and things can change in literally seconds. One call from Tekes or from major customer can secure your runaway for next 12 months but can also drive you close to belly up. But if I have to mention one somewhat difficult period of time, maybe it was when we were running R&D project for getting our first (and only) product ready and we had serious technical issues with it. Our subcontractor, that had a major role in development of the product, couldn’t get things done and we saw no progress in months or so. Subcontractor ended bankrupt and while they we’re trying to safe their own company, they had a great idea of sending us huge bills they tried then use to get banks to fund them. So, we ended up with no product, need to find new subcontractor to take care of the project already in huge delay and having case in court against our previous subcontractor and at the same time trying to get the funding round come together. So that was a bit difficult, but also a great learning experience.
What kept you going through the worst times?
Toni: Family. I have a huge support from my wife and kids. My wife basically takes care of everything related to “normal life” I just don’t have any bandwidth and time. Also knowing, that things don’t get any easier when business and company grows. For long, I used to look up companies couple of years ahead of us and I always thought that things will get easier when we have more people working with us, and when things grow. It might sound weird, but realizing and accepting that it’s never easy, gives me a lot of energy to just move forward. But I think that as a person I’m also quite optimistic in any case, so it helps a lot.
What keeps you up at night these days?
Toni: Nothing really. Fortunately, I’m a good sleeper and currently travelling most of my time makes sure that I’ll fall asleep immediately when seeing a bed. Of course, you’re always worried about the business and securing the next phase of the company growth. I feel huge responsibility of people working for us. That’s probably been the hardest responsibility to carry – making sure our people can rely their future on a monthly payroll from the company.
What are the books or blogs you are reading now?
Toni: Currently, I’m reading the book “The Complete CEO – The executive’s guide to consistent peak performance”. I’ll also read quite some blogs and articles from LinkedIn that people suggests there, and I try to follow blogs and news around our business to keep a close eye on market.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Toni: It’s good to listen different people advice and experience, but at the end there’s no one else taking the responsibility and making decisions than yourself.