#11 Perttu Ojansuu: The Competitive Mindset

published on 26 December 2020

Being patient is underestimated in the world of entrepreneurship.

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A year ago, we had the pleasure to meet Perttu when visiting Happeo’s headquarter in Amsterdam. We remember that we had to take off our shoes at the entrance… The whole vibe at the office felt like a bunch of friends gathered to have the time of their life. Everyone was treating each other as an extended family. We were instantly impressed.

Perttu is currently the Co-Founder and CEO of Happeo, a digital workspace provider changing the way thousands of people work (they also raised tens of millions of dollars during the pandemic). Straight off the bat, Perttu embraces the figure of the Scandinavian entrepreneur. He listens and thinks more than he speaks, and he might even show signs of shyness.

However, once we got to know him better, it felt like a rocket took fire, and he told us about his incredible plans and enormous ambition to win at all cost. Interestingly, Perttu favours consistency over speed and seems to use the power of patience as his secret weapon. In a world of instant gratification, and overnight success stories, Perttu’s ideologies felt like a breath of fresh air.

But that is only one part of the story.

At Venture Insider, we strive to undress the ups-and-down, the late nights, the early mornings, the failures and the victories.

In a few words; we want to share the real stories.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Everything in Italic symbolizes the voice of the writer, aka, us at Venture Insider.

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What defines your journey?

We spend one-third of our life working. Shouldn’t it be something that we love doing? However, we spend 20 hours per week combing through emails and 8 hours searching for information, instead of actually doing the job. That concept has haunted me my entire entrepreneurial life, and it’s what defines my journey. My mission is to make work a happier place.

How was your upbringing in Finland?

I come from a family of six people, and my parents raised all four of us with the idea that we live in a world full of opportunities. They have both worked their lives, passionately, but they were also incredibly supportive at home. They always said whatever we choose in life, and we will succeed if we are willing to work hard.

We played sports and music and went to school. When thinking about our childhood, it feels we treated all of these activities like small competitions where we wanted to perform the best — no matter what the arena was. I hated losing and loved winning, and who doesn’t? That defined our lives. Playing sports taught us the hunger of winning, how to handle losing, and also how to work in a team towards a common goal. All in all, we all were curious kids interested in everything. I think that made us look at the world openly, seeing opportunities and thriving in competition — but not with a “whatever the cost” mindset.

Isn’t there a bad aspect of competitiveness?

I think it is excellent to have a competitive mindset — as many entrepreneurs have. However, it is crucial to pick the right battles and not compete at all costs. Even if you would like to win with everything, we, humans need to show our empathetic side too, that is what makes great leaders. In the end, as a CEO, you sometimes need to make hard decisions. They might not seem ideal in the short-term, but turn out to be a win in the long run.

What about your first encounter with the world of entrepreneurship?

At the age of 13, I got interested in economics at school. We had a lecture about the stock market, and I was fascinated by all the different companies. I got hooked, and I began reading books I could get my hands on about business. At the same time, I was a normal kid. I had summer jobs, ranging from delivering newspapers at five in the morning, to being a cashier in a supermarket, or selling phone subscriptions over the phone (seems counter-intuitive, I know). All these experiences taught me the value of hard work, but also to realize that everyone at the top of these organizations was normal people — and that everyone can influence your own life journey a lot. That’s how my entrepreneurial life got started.

My first entrepreneurial project was an e-learning platform helping students to prepare for their university-entrance exams online. I started that project with my university students to help our friends get admitted into the university. We recognized there was a problem in the market — lecture classes were expensive, not scalable, and if you missed a class you couldn’t watch that lecture later. Nowadays, it’s a no-brainer to study online at your own pace, but things were different over a decade ago.

You founded your first company at the university. Was it good to be an entrepreneur while studying, and how did it all start?

It’s free to study in universities in Finland, which doesn’t put pressure on students only to fast-forward your university time and quickly jump into the work-life. Throughout my studies, I had been working in multiple organizations, and I saw the impact that I can have on my career. Starting a company while studying also allowed seeing if that path could work — and it turned out I loved being an entrepreneur.

During university times, my student-buddies and I were inspired by Silicon Valley entrepreneurs. Especially in the scaling-aspect of a company. We dreamed of doing the same. We wanted to start somewhere and realized there was an untapped market in Finland when it comes to helping companies utilize IT-cloud services. We knew we had to give it a shot and found that company in our last years of uni. That was a lot of fun! I’m proud to say that this company, Gapps, is still going strong a decade later, as it’s now the largest Google Cloud provider in Finland!

How did you come up with the idea behind Happeo?

A lot of people wait for the perfect idea before starting their entrepreneurial journey. That mindset is kind of challenging because great ideas are discovered by doing. Only by doing can you identify problems that either you or someone else has.

Happeo got started by recognizing how large organizations function. Most of the workforce’s time goes daily, searching for information and emailing. People weren’t happy about this. They didn’t like the tools they were using, as they weren’t built based on user-first design. Many of our previous customers complained about that to us. We decided to tackle that issue by founding a new company. This is how Happeo was born — from a vision of making work a happier place.

How do you make work a happier place?

Happiness is an interesting metric. It’s a subjective matter. Everyone can choose by themselves whether they are happy or not. However, we believe that organizations can influence this a lot.

Communication is one of the biggest challenges every company faces. If the company is only communicating top-down, they aren’t actually creating an engaging work environment. And when people aren’t engaged, they get bored. When they get bored, they stop caring, and when they stop caring — they leave.

Happeo provides a platform where people are heard, find the information they need to do their jobs, and it helps them to focus on doing what they love. That’s how we make the work a happier place.

Describe a day in your life as CEO and Co-founder of Happeo.

My work can be divided into these three topics:

  1. Hiring
  2. Helping my colleagues to succeed in their responsibilities
  3. Planning the strategy and organizational communication

Typically I spend between three and four hours on each of these themes, every day.

When we are fundraising, I’ll turn my focus towards that — and that can easily take several months. After the round is closed, my time goes back to the above topics.

What truly motivates you daily? What makes you wake up every morning?

We spend most of our lives at work. What motivates me is to make this time the happiest it can be. That brings me energy and makes me wake up every morning — knowing that everything I do to make my work-life happier, is something that Happeo can do for others too. It’s the biggest win-win in my life!

Where in the world will we see Perttu in five years, and what will he do?

In five years, Happeo will have grown into a big company with a solid product-market fit and predictable, dependable scalability. After that, we’ll start to approach our IPO.

Also, it takes years before most companies get a proper product-market fit. Even if they do, it can take a lot more years to make the company scalable.

I look at Happeo as a multi-decade project — a major part of my life.

If you could change one thing in your journey, something you now have regret for, what would it be?

I don’t actually have any regrets. However, if I could go back in time, I would have listened more to my own gut-feeling. Listening to other peoples’ opinions and learning from the best is super important (almost the most important thing), but at the same time, listening to your own voice after that is also important.

What was the most significant challenge you have faced so far, both in your personal/professional life?

Laughing. Thinking back to that, I can only cringe. At the beginning of our journey in Gapps, we were a bit naive about our competition. We learned the hard way that great reference customers are a make-or-break factor in the B2B industry. There were many large players in the market already, but somehow we made our way through by focusing on solving our customer’s needs. We got better and better by working hard. Our winner’s mindset and being persistent were our ingredients for success.

Do you have an inspiring figure? Someone who helped you to take action?

In university time, I used to read biographies of the best entrepreneurs in the world, but I didn’t have any role model that I would be following. I want to be open to influence from anyone and everyone.

What book influenced you?

The Hard Thing About Hard Things — Ben Horowitz. It tells the story of entrepreneurship so well what founders need to be able to go through.

The one Billion Dollar Question: What can founders do to raise money during a pandemic?

It’s important to be open and transparent about the changes that the pandemic made to your business. Prepare a few slides about that, and explain how your product will (still) solve problems in this changed situation. When you describe a world in which your platform helps the lives of people both during and after the pandemic, that’s when you’ve painted a good picture as to why the investors should invest.

Our Main takeaways

  • Being competitive is good. Yet, it is important to choose the right battles. At the end of the day, what you want is to win the war.
  • As a startup, you can get better faster than big players. It’s tough, and it takes time, but there’s always a place for new players in the market.
  • Going for an IPO doesn’t happen often. Even when it does, it takes time. A sh*t ton of time.

Inspiring story Perttu, thank you very much.

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