We Bootstrapped A Seven-Figure Innovation Management SaaS [From Finland]

$150K
revenue/mo
3
Founders
10
Employees
product
Viima
from Espoo, Finland
started October 2013
$150,000
revenue/mo
3
Founders
10
Employees
170K
alexa rank
298
followers
market size
$8.13B
avg revenue (monthly)
$301K
starting costs
$18.5K
gross margin
83%
time to build
12 months
average product price
$249
growth channels
SEO
business model
Advertising
best tools
Twitter, Teachable, Google Adwords
time investment
Side project
pros & cons
37 Pros & Cons
tips
5 Tips
Discover what tools Jesse reccommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Jesse reccommends to grow your business!
Start An Idea Management Software

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Jesse Nieminen, the Co-founder and Chief Growth Officer for Viima. Viima is the most widely used and highest-rated innovation management software in the world. Innovation management software helps organizations systematically collect, develop, and manage ideas all the way through to innovations.

Our customers are medium and large organizations across every industry, but the one thing they have in common is that they are looking to make more innovation happen. We have more than 13 000 organizations from all around the world using our platform, which we’re super excited about and proud of, especially since we’re a bootstrapped company based in a small home market (Finland). We’re currently growing our recurring revenue at a rate of around 70% year-over-year, while also being highly profitable.

we-bootstrapped-a-seven-figure-innovation-management-saas-from-finland

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The story of Viima begins during my computer science studies at Aalto University. On the first day of school, we ended up in the same freshmen group with my future co-founders. During our studies, we became good friends and worked on many projects together and since we were all very entrepreneurial, we decided that we wanted to try our wings at it.

You really don’t need a lot to set up and run a software business – as long as you’re willing to put in the work through your own sweat equity.

At the time, we were still working on finishing our Master’s degrees and all had day jobs in software companies to make ends meet. We had our hands full but we're still very committed to the idea of starting a business on the side as a team.

We then applied to a local incubator program with an idea very different from our current business and were accepted. Near the end of the program, we realized that companies might need a way to help them test their ideas in the market sooner – as that was a challenge we had struggled with ourselves.

After several iterations and feedback from half a dozen of our first customers, the idea evolved into something pretty close to what we still do – even if the software and business have obviously evolved a lot since.

Take us through the process of designing the initial product.

During our time at the incubator program, we had the fortune of having many experienced entrepreneurs highlight the importance of testing the product in the field and developing it together with the customers, so that’s what we set out to do.

we-bootstrapped-a-seven-figure-innovation-management-saas-from-finland
Our workspace during the incubator program

Once we had settled on the new business idea, we set out to create a super quick MVP of the product and actually had our first sales meetings and demos just a couple of weeks after that. We didn’t close those deals, but the feedback helped shape our roadmap, and after a few months and dozens of iterations, we finally closed our first paying customer, soon followed by a few others.

Ever since, we’ve tried to keep up the same spirit of using our customer’s feedback to steer our development of the product, while remaining focused on our mission of democratizing innovation.

While we did know a thing or two about software engineering and business, we still had to learn a lot of new skills and take those into practice right away. We simply didn’t have the funding to hire employees, freelancers, or consultants back then.

Describe the process of launching the business.

For us, launching the business was pretty straightforward. After we had officially founded the company, our only ongoing expense was $50/month spent on the servers used for hosting our software. We worked from our student apartments, used the campus internet access, and did absolutely everything ourselves.

You really don’t need a lot to set up and run a software business – as long as you’re willing to put in the work through your own sweat equity.

We did that for the first two years or so and actually kept working at our day jobs and finishing our studies on the side. We obviously didn’t have a lot of free time back then, but those were still tremendously exciting and enjoyable times for all of us.

After we had gotten our first few customers through simple cold outreach, primarily via phone, we finally had enough money to hire our first employee, a sales rep, and after a while, that helped us grow the business enough to make the transition to working on Viima full time.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

For the first two years of being in business, we focused solely on cold outreach and customer referrals as ways to get our first customers and worked closely with these initial customers to refine our product-market fit.

Investing a lot in marketing or on building a sales force would simply have been a waste of time and money, neither of which we really had before we had that right.

Once we were able to hop in on Viima full-time, we started to see some of our customers really get great results with the software. That’s when we knew it was time to start ramp-up our growth efforts.

From the get-go, we knew we wanted to build a scalable, global software company. We also knew that we wanted to democratize the field of corporate innovation where there’s a lot of mystique around the topic itself, and where the traditional software in the field had been super expensive and not very easy to use.

We knew that to achieve these goals, our only strategic option (especially without funding), was to focus on leveraging the power of online and inbound marketing as a way to create a scalable, low-cost customer acquisition machine and a leading brand in the field.

So, that’s what we did. We set out to improve our SEO visibility and create a following for ourselves with our blog, and other content marketing efforts in late 2015.

We also created a very generous free plan for our software, which allows customers to experience the power of what we do in minutes without having to pay a cent. The power of a strong product and that generosity is that once they do try it, they almost rarely with any of our competitors.

For the first year and a half, not much happened but we learned what seemed to work a little better and kept refining our approach and going for more ambitious projects.

Then, things suddenly started to pick up. We started to get a lot more traffic and more of that traffic started to convert into paying customers as we learned to sell our software better.

we-bootstrapped-a-seven-figure-innovation-management-saas-from-finland

In the last couple of years, the results have been impressive. We now have more leads than our sales can handle and our growth has really picked up.

Around a year ago, our blog actually became the most popular innovation blog in the world, and we now dominate the search results related to innovation and innovation management thanks to years of putting out extremely high-quality and value-adding content on these topics.

we-bootstrapped-a-seven-figure-innovation-management-saas-from-finland

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We currently have a monthly recurring revenue in the six figures and a 70+% year-over-year growth rate.

While that’s good, what really makes this work is the scalable customer acquisition machine we’ve created with inbound marketing. We’re now seeing around 1000 leads per month and can acquire customers very efficiently.

If you plan on doing something for the long term, just focus on building the capabilities within your own team.

We’ve also worked hard to make our software platform highly scalable and efficient, as well as to make it so easy-to-use that our customers need very little support and additional services. This is very different from virtually everyone else in our industry!

Put all of that together, and we’re not just growing fast but are also highly profitable. Last year we had an EBIT of around 30% and this year we’re on track to improve that figure by quite a bit.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I’ve already shared some of the things that worked well for our business. What I haven’t yet discussed are the things that didn’t, and I think those are always interesting things to learn from.

One of the biggest has been external help, be it agencies, freelancers or, partnerships. On paper, they are all very attractive options. They seem like shortcuts that can help you save a lot of time and money. In reality, at least for us, those all turned out to be the exact opposite: a detour that was a big waste of both. Not only did we not get the results, even when we worked with the most reputable folks in their fields, but we also didn’t build the expertise and capabilities of our own team, and in the long run, that is what matters.

So, if you plan on doing something for the long term (be it sales and market entry, marketing, product development, etc.), just focus on building the capabilities within your own team.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

The platforms we rely on the most are AWS and HubSpot. AWS is the infrastructure provider for our software, and in general, re pretty happy with them. However, the platform that has been the most invaluable for us is HubSpot. We use it for hosting, which houses our marketing website and blog, as well as for our marketing automation and CRM needs.

While it’s still just a tool and doesn’t guarantee great results, it’s made our lives so much easier. It’s allowed us to really focus our time and efforts on the work that creates results instead of having to battle with a plethora of tools that require manual work to set up and maintain, and that still wouldn’t be well integrated.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Entrepreneurship is all about learning, and books, podcasts, blogs, and many other outlets have all played a big role in shaping our thinking and helping us build the kind of business we have. Once you’re reading or listening to enough of them, it all starts to accumulate and blend to build your knowledge, and after a while, it’s really hard to know where you’ve picked up any specific piece of information.

So, with that context, I think the resources that have been most influential for my thinking have been things that I’ve gone through very early on in my career. I’ve listed most of my favorite books in this blog post, so I’d recommend checking that out for more details.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?

In general, there are a couple of things I think all entrepreneurs would do well to remember:

  1. Even when things are going well, it will still probably take more time and effort than you first think. If you’re hoping for an overnight success story, or to get rich quick, you might want to reconsider your career choice.
  2. Whatever happens, it’s always your fault. It’s always easy to blame others or external circumstances like the economic environment for your challenges or failures. Those of course does matter and will affect your outcomes, but it still ultimately comes down to you having to take ownership for building a business that can overcome any obstacle or challenge you face. If you fail to do that, in the end, you as the founder and the owner really are the only ones responsible for it.
  3. It will be lonely and psychologically very demanding. We had the luxury of having a very tight-knit and committed founding team, along with many experienced entrepreneurs in our network to exchange thoughts with, but even then, being a founder and entrepreneur will be a mentally tough job, and you will likely feel very lonely when you have to make decisions that affect not just you, but your employees, partners, and customers.
  4. Above all, focus on controlling and systematically building your own destiny. Don’t hope that a partner will bring you tons of deals, don’t hope that your post suddenly goes viral on social media, and don’t hope that you’ll find a tremendous, cheap freelancer to build your product. If it’s worth doing, do it yourself, do it well, and build your business into a machine that serves your customers well and acquires them effectively, little by little.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We have just hired a few new team members, but are always on the lookout for talented people who want to join us on our journey to help make more innovation happen. For up-to-date information on current openings, please visit our website.

Where can we go to learn more?

The best place to learn more is our website. For anyone interested in innovation, our blog, the most popular innovation blog in the world, is a must-read.

You may also find us on LinkedIn, or other social media platforms.

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

-  
Jesse Nieminen,   Founder of Viima
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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