Founder Coffee episode 032
I’m Jeroen from Salesflare and this is Founder Coffee.
Every three weeks I have coffee with a different founder. We discuss life, passions, learnings, … in an intimate talk, getting to know the person behind the company.
For this thirty-second episode, I talked to Perttu Ojansuu, co-founder of Happeo, a social intranet platform for companies using G Suite.
During his studies, Perttu was already selling different products and phones, and then founded an e-learning platform. His interest in entrepreneurship spiked and he started university studies about it to deepen his knowledge.
Helping organizations with implementing G Suite, Perttu and his co-founders recognized a need to organize internal knowledge better for these organizations. That’s when Happeo started.
We talk about how he spends his time recruiting and scaling the team, why he started being more mindful about sleep, and why he moved from Helsinki to Amsterdam.
Welcome to Founder Coffee.
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Jeroen: Hi Perttu. It's great to have you on Founder Coffee.
Perttu: Thank you so much. It's my pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invitation.
Jeroen: You're the co-founder of Happeo. For those who don't know yet, what do you guys do?
Perttu: So Happeo, is simply a communication and cooperation platform. We mostly focus on the enterprise market and we help companies to co-create their internal digital culture. I can explain a lot about it in detail too.
Jeroen: Sure. What does that mean?
Perttu: So it means that you know that it's easy to communicate with each other. For example, with Slack in a smaller team. But when we founded the company, from my previous background, we found out that in large organizations it's really hard to build this kind of digital culture. Like chat tools are kind of like good for weak messages, but when actually building a relationship with the different offices in different locations, you need something where your people can actually find each other, co-create together and find information easily. So those are the things that are important.
Jeroen: So do I have to imagine it like a sort of intranet 4.0, 5.0, or something?
Perttu: Yeah, exactly. That's a very good correlation. Gartner, for example, has to change their topics from intranet to digital workplace platforms and just that based off from SaaS is quite a wide topic skillset. You can have, let's say a phone system under the individual workplace. But that's what the whole industry is about and we're specifically focusing on that part - how you can find the information inside of your large organization, in an easier manner.
Jeroen: Is it then mostly about showcasing information or is it about discussions? What is kind of the basis of it? Are you more like competing with SharePoint or with Facebook for work, let's say?
Perttu: Exactly. Really good question. For the majority of the organizations, the intranet has been so far away from where the action happens. So let's say Facebook or Slack or other tools. But, the thing is that we believe in the same kind of philosophy that, let's say, HubSpot has a built in sales and marketing and external websites so that you can actually build a platform where you can combine those features under one platform. So, how we always say it is that we are combining SharePoint and Facebook.
Jeroen: Oh, okay. I think I understand what you mean. So, you're mentioning you saw this in your previous background in large organizations. Were your previous jobs in larger organizations then?
Perttu: We were actually helping large organizations to start with Google, earlier. So, we helped them set up Gmail and then I'm take to Google Drive and Google Docs, and put them to use. What we recognized there was that large organizations were suffering a lot in terms of how they were finding information in SharePoint or some of the other tools for simple PwC or KPMG actions for professional service organizations or consulting companies. I remember that one meeting where we let them tell us about it. It was one of those firms and there were 14 people in that meeting and everyone sprang to find information in their six or seven different internal systems, and it was such a big mess. No one could find the information. That's when I looked up my old founder and said, this is the thing that we want to solve - how larger organizations can find their intranet knowledge easily. That's how everything started.
Jeroen: So you saw that things like Google Drive and Google Docs and stuff didn't solve this internal knowledge issue and you thought there should be a better way that integrates with all this.
Perttu: Exactly. We have jumped to the cloud phase now in the past 10 years. Salesforce was one of the first to build a CRM and sales and then in marketing came HubSpot. And then there have been some other tools too. But there wasn't any integrated platform from the enterprise perspective that would be actually nice to use. Or say, easy to use. We thought that something was missing, people were using Slack and then using different storage systems like Dropbox. So what would be the easiest way to integrate different generations of platforms together, kind of like Burke, in one for their organizations. So that's where the story got its start.
Jeroen: Okay. Well I'm currently also reading your LinkedIn profile and I see that after almost five years of economics, you started studying entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies. When is it that you figured out that you wanted to go into entrepreneurship? Was this during your economic studies or before?
Perttu: Yes, actually I already was an entrepreneur before I chose to do the masters in entrepreneurs, in business. I had already founded my first company at the age of 18 in Finland. At first, I sold different products and phones. Then after that, with online help from sales and marketing coaching and stuff like that, founded an e-learning platform organization. That kind of took me even more towards entrepreneurship. Obviously, during that time you also start to get a lot of information from selling. You've gotten excited about the scaling business models and it's fast. So that's the story of how I got interested in entrepreneurship.
Jeroen: Yeah. You've done these studies and it was also not just one year, because I know some studies that are like only a year in entrepreneurship. You did about four. Do you think it is helpful now, the entrepreneurship studies you did, especially next to the economics diploma?
Perttu: Yeah, so the Finnish schooling system is a bit different in a way that I was actually working while I was studying. That's the reason why it's four years altogether. But we were going through Harvard business cases about how entrepreneurs should act in certain kinds of situations, and how to grow your business and stuff like that. So definitely those were helpful, especially because I was able to try those things in my own companies.
Perttu: I think that in the end, the actual business life teaches the most. So in university you can form a good network and know how to analytically think about larger topics. But business teaches things in the best way.
Jeroen: Yeah, definitely. Did you ever attend any accelerators or incubators? How did you manage to learn things? Is it fully by yourself? Do you have mentors? I mean how did you go about that?
Perttu: Yeah, so I would say that when I was in university, I joined a group of like entrepreneurial minded people. And within that group, we invited a lot of people from Silicon Valley to Helsinki to kind of like inspire us about how to scale businesses globally. Because Finland is only like a six million people's country, so pretty much everyone understands right away that you need to look abroad if you want to build a big success story because compared to the whole market itself, it's not that huge.
Perttu: So that's the reason why we went into these print entrepreneurs and that kind of made the change in a way that understanding the differences between, for example, consulting firms and scalable product businesses that I got kind of interested about the topics, and then I ended up doing my master thesis about cloud computing and SaaS software. In a way, those were the critical moments that I would say that I was also lucky to be surrounded by those people who were explaining how they did their story. So from that perspective, if I'm thinking about all the current events and conferences that are out there, so at that first step stone, meetings, those discussions were really crucial and all the good books that I was hungry to read and use a lot of times to learn quickly stuff. So that's definitely the key changing points.
Jeroen: What was actually your very first entrepreneurial project? It doesn't have to be a company, but the first time you would say that's when you were really getting a taste of it?
Perttu: So, we founded with my friends the first e-learning prep courses for students to apply for universities, and that was it. And that was like around the age of 21. And so I think that entrepreneurs find problems that they want to solve and start companies. These problems could be their own for they might recognize them somewhere outside.
Perttu: And that's what happened to us as well. I had to study and do the entrance exams, and I felt how challenging it was. And so we started the first online platform for that and later on we founded other companies around other problems. We recognized the problem that Google tools were so beat up while using them in the university. We saw that there weren't many companies using them. That's why we wanted to leverage their platform. So that's how you find problems with different people, sometimes yourself or even your friends. A lot of companies have been founded this way.
Jeroen: Yep. Fully agree. Are there any companies in that respect that you look up to, companies that you think Happeo should be like?
Perttu: Actually not anymore. Not the way I did like 10 years ago. Chatting with entrepreneurs, everyone has some kind of ideas, people or companies that they look up to. I think it changed like five years ago for us or something like that. So, I've been more aware of how I would like to change the world to be a better place - a better place for people to work and people to communicate, and so it's more about a mission that we want to be on to change the world rather than something else. As you know, nowadays there's not that much time to go for conferences and learn. Obviously I still read books and stuff, but it's like, compared to the time and how it used to be, things have changed a bit.
Perttu: But it has so crucial, kind of like in a younger age at those examples and that you can see sometimes other entrepreneurs and companies doing or being like five or ten years ahead of the story. So, then you can see examples and feel the direction of where you could grow as well. So, those are definitely important examples at the beginning.
Jeroen: Yeah. You mentioned that you know what your mission is right now, very well. Could you elaborate?
Perttu: Yes. So, this is based on what I mentioned about that one company who had 12 or 14 consultants in one group. What I felt like was that my friends working in larger organizations don't necessarily feel happy and passionate about their work. And there are many reasons behind it. It can be that there is a lot of bureaucracy. They are not able to find information easily. They don't get those tools that they will be using normally and these kind of things. So all of these things affect everyone's purpose in life and in your class too. So, what we want to do is make people happier at work because it's only one life and we use so much time at work. We believe that with the right tools you can also make that happen in a large organization.
Jeroen: Is Happeo for you a company that needs to scale quickly or is it more of, let's say, more of a lifestyle kind of thing? If I'm not wrong, you guys raised about eight million in seed funding right?
Perttu: Yeah, so we have raised money from investors. So to answer your question, definitely to scale the business is our goal. I think that product businesses themselves, they need typically some kind of push and pull factor from the market, like the VC market this fall. So if you have, obviously, the resources to do it by yourself, that's really great, but I think that not only the cash or money that's coming in, but it changes the mindset of doing things a bit quicker. It also gives the perspective of third parties, so to say. I think it's a good thing. Because then you are able to deliver the missions with different markets, faster. For us, it's important to actually organize all that stuff. That's the reason why I chose this direction. So, solo entrepreneurs should work like that. Yeah, maybe. That's for some other people and other business ideas.
Jeroen: So, where are you guys now in this journey exactly? What is the stage of the company? What is the newest challenge?
Perttu: That's a good question. So, we launched a beta product three years ago and got the feedback from the market and have been changing some things in the product. But now we have hired the marketing, sales and customer success teams. So, now we're kind of close to that phase of starting to scale and it's a really exciting phase actually because this is something that we have been planning for a long time already. We're seeing the pieces piling up together nicely. So yeah, that's the current status though. Start of the scaling phase.
Jeroen: Yep. So, have you reached a product market fit and how do you define that? How do you decide that this is the case?
Perttu: Product market fit, we have definitely found in certain key verticals, key client sizes. I think it's constant. If company says that they have found a product market fit, I think it can happen in multiple different verticals or company sizes.
Perttu: So, definitely it's always a journey in a way and we all the time ask our clients as well, which direction we should go in, all the different verticals and things like that. But yeah, so as an entrepreneur, it's kind of like that you start to see the effect from the market that the clients start to come more naturally. That's how you see when you have found something.
Jeroen: What is it that keeps you up at night lately?
Perttu: Yeah, that's a good question. I would say that scaling the team is super interesting. At the same time, you need to be quite good at making the right choices. Before you have been able to change things maybe more, but in the scaling phase, you need to have the right team in place and scale it with the people who have done it earlier. There are always things that don't go as you think, but then when people are experienced, the going becomes easier. So, I believe that building this kind of like an Avengers team of people who are a good mix of young hungry hunters, are humble and then experienced as well to move forward with, is what keeps me up.
Jeroen: Mm-hmm. What do you actually spend most of your time on? What does your day look like?
Perttu: On day to day, 'recruitment', as Jason Lemkin says. So, that's something that I use a lot of time. And then the other thing is fundraising. Obviously talking with our people, with our team members. That's a thing too. So, I would say that those three things are what are mostly that my time goes on right now.
Jeroen: Well, how long are the days you do? Are you someone who works late in the night or the kinds who limits working time to a certain slot?
Perttu: I just read a book about how important sleep is. Compared to five to seven years ago when I only slept maybe five to six hours a day, I now try to increase it to seven to eight. I have seen its effect definitely. That book defines it really nicely that some of the people are more kind of like morning people, and then the one third is like more of night people, and then one third is kind of like in the middle. So, I would be fine. I'm in the middle. A typical rhythm for me on a daily basis is that I wake up around seven to eight and then start working right away and then have, after the day, having dinner and then still work during the evening as well. But I try to still go to sleep quite early.
Jeroen: So, you're constantly working when you're not sleeping?
Perttu: Yeah. At the moment.
Jeroen: Do you have a wife and kids?
Perttu: Yeah. So, I have a girlfriend and obviously, she's supporting me a lot. The entrepreneurial journey is not the easiest always. It has been really awesome to have someone to share those fun and sometimes not that fun moments with.
Jeroen: How do you actually stay mentally and physically fit apart from sleeping more now? Do you do any sports or meditation? Yoga, maybe?
Perttu: Yeah. So, I used to do yoga more. Actually, I met my girlfriend as well in a yoga practice, so that's something that we do together. Also, I go for runs. So, I typically run two or three times a week. I would love to do it even more. But yeah, I haven't been able to do it now in the past years, but I love running.
Jeroen: Mm-hmm. What else do you actually like to spend your time on when you're not working?
Perttu: Yeah, I read. I think it's a good way of getting you out of the business mode. Most of my books are still business books, but in a way that it's not about the current topics that are in your head. I think that's good then. And then I travel as well, quite a lot with my girlfriend. Apart from that I travel quite a lot to meet the investors and clients and partners in different countries. I have been quite lucky in a way to keep my traveling in somewhat of a balance. I get to enjoy and experience new cities and countries. So, that's something that keeps me really enthusiastic about everything that's happening and also, it makes it easy to understand different markets better.
Perttu: Those are the things and I think it's really a good way also to pull off from the office environment that way. And then I typically also tend to work outside of the office as well, like when we are traveling. So, then you get to the 'flow' mode of doing a lot of things in one time. So yeah, that's a really nice way of getting things done.
Jeroen: Where are you based?
Perttu: We are based in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands.
Jeroen: So, did the company start in Amsterdam or did you start it in Finland?
Perttu: So, we started in Finland and that's where the company's headquartered. Our product level is based in Finland and the business headquarters are in Amsterdam. So, sales, marketing and customer success are here.
Jeroen: Do you think Amsterdam is a better place to do this? Why did you base yourself there?
Perttu: We are trying to make the world better at communicating between two different offices. For us, after living in North America, it was Silicon Valley and Toronto in Canada. So, we filled that out. We want to do it right away with the same thing that we are preaching to our clients, that we are able to experience seamless collaboration through two different locations. So, it worked out nicely that way. And so, it was a decision of getting to a really upcoming city, which is like a melting pot of a lot of our young talent also. That was one of the reasons why we wanted to found it here.
Jeroen: Yup. It also puts you a bit closer to Finland's capital and DN also in a way I guess?
Perttu: Yeah. I think that the Netherlands location has been awesome for us because it's like 50 minutes by plane to London or three hours to Paris by train and then Ireland is as well, like two hours away by plane. We are kind of right in the middle of Europe, which has been the main market for us for the first two and a half years. So, it has been a good choice.
Jeroen: Mm-hmm. You think Amsterdam's a good place to have your startup?
Perttu: Yeah, totally. Totally. I think it's like both Amsterdam and Helsinki are good spots and the startup mindset in both the cities are really international. So you find young talent who know about startups. So that's important. And the fact of it is has been, personally, at least important to me, that in both cities, Helsinki and Amsterdam, you can get to the airport in just 20 to 25 minutes. Rather than spending the time in long hours of commuting, you get to focus on work. I think in the longer perspective, people appreciate these things more. So it has been really, really nice also from the kind of work life balance perspective, from what our employees are saying in both the countries - Finland and the Netherlands.
Jeroen: Slowly wrapping up, what's the latest good book you've read and why did you choose to read it? You mentioned you read a lot.
Perttu: Yeah. The latest book that I read was Play Bigger, and it tells entrepreneurs how to build a new category leader in a market.
Jeroen: Play Bigger.
Perttu: Yeah. I think the book had really good points on how to define a new category. It is not a kind of test where you decide something but it's actually the need to sell a lot of work. That you need to run through with your clients and with all the different stakeholders in the ecosystem that you're building. And I think the methodologies in the book were quite good and I would say it was an interesting read.
Jeroen: Is there anything you wish you would have known when you started out with Happeo?
Perttu: I have read quite a bit about both SaaS and the SaaStr communities, all the podcast by David Skok and Tom Wilson. The guys have talked about SaaS companies extensively. So, I think all of that knowledge has helped a lot. There are not that many things that I would do differently. Maybe it's just because I was reading stuff like way before Happeo, ten or fifteen years ago. Also the business books I read, they had a lot of things that are mostly correct. Things can happen exactly how they are written in the books. At the same time, it's important to build up your own imagination of the world and which direction you want to build in. So, that's how I see things.
Jeroen: Combination of imagination and learnings from other people.
Perttu: Yeah, exactly.
Jeroen: Final question, what's the best piece of business advice you ever got?
Perttu: Asking help. Many entrepreneurs that I meet, they are really super self aware, which is awesome and that's how it should be. But asking for help is also kind of like giving back to the community of entrepreneurs because it's typical that if there is some kind of obstacle entrepreneurs could be struggling with by themselves. So, asking advice is always a good thing.
Perttu: So, surround yourself with people who are like-minded and helpful, but I also think that it is important to remember to ask for help as well. I see that many entrepreneurs are struggling and then when they come to ask for help, they go like, "No. Yeah, yeah, no, I get it. Like, why didn't I do this earlier?" It was the same for me.
Jeroen: Definitely. Thank you again, Perttu, for being on Founder Coffee. It was really great to have you.
Perttu: Thanks. Yeah, it was really great to be here and share a few things and thanks again for the invite. It was like a really awesome gift!
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