Gorilla is a different kind of VC firm

Jacob Lindberg
6 min readMay 21, 2022

“Trust is good, but control is better”

— Lenin

This was the first time in my life I encountered a literal quote from a Sovjet dictator in a startup presentation. It was also the first time I was in Helsinki, Finland, and the closest I have ever been to Russia. Coincidence? I think not.

I rarely go to startup events. I despise the hype. I’m allergic to acronyms. I’m skeptical of all “truths” and truisms that are thrown around. People talk as if creating a healthy company can be done by following a recipe or someone else’s footsteps. Sure, there might exist patterns and some lessons we can draw from the past, but the ability to extrapolate from historical data is limited. The confidence intervals on predictions 2–3 years into the future are wide. I ignore most truisms. Instead, I try to reason from first principles using logic. That takes time and effort, but it creates more learning opportunities.

I have been through two startup accelerators. Sting in 2019 and another I’m not allowed to talk about in 2020. (Hint: it’s usually called the second-best accelerator in the world, after Y Combinator.) Some of these participants have entered my social circle. When they asked me “are you going to Slush?” or “will you be at this startup conference” my answer is always “I don’t plan to, why should I?” There is no point for me. It’s a distraction. Choosing what not to do can be just as important as choosing what to do. That’s true for everyone but even more so for a startup CEO.

Due to this, I was hesitant to join when Gorilla invited me to their founder’s day. But I know Gorilla is a different kind of venture capital firm. I know this from my long philosophical conversations with Risto, following their investment in our pre-seed round 2020. Because of this, and because I wanted to see the wise man face-to-face, I decided to go to Helsinki. In addition, I had to give him the Vinter Vest.

Risto dressed in the Vinter vest. He paid for it indirectly via his investment in our pre-seed round, so he definitely deserves getting one.

Living in Stockholm, I have the option to fly to Finland in an hour or go by ferry. The ferry is in-famous for its drunk blue-collar passengers. I took it as a challenge for my ego to go by ferry. My expectations were low — I thought I would see people throw up in the public sink, scream and shout, piss all over the toilet, and demonstrate unremarkable dance moves. That did not happen. The trip was surprisingly pleasant. It was quiet. People behaved. Perhaps because the stories about ferries are just fairy tales, perhaps because that stuff happens Friday/Saturday and I went on a Sunday evening.

I’m writing this text on the plane home. Sorry for ranting, I did not have the time to make this text shorter. Let’s get to the important stuff.

Vinter + Gorilla VC. From left to right: Risto, Jacob, Petri.

Gorilla’s event was good. Below are some random thoughts and notes to myself.

# 0. THE GORILLA PHILOSOPHY

Here is my interpretation of some aspects of the gorilla philosophy that I find worth pointing out. It does not cover all aspects — maybe not even the most important ones. It’s just based on the conference and several conversations with Risto.

1. Create win-win, never exploit win-lose. They would only do something if it’s good for both the company and the investor.

2. Avoid hype. Sometimes trends are important, but most of the time they are not. Gorilla is skeptical, on the verge of cynical. I describe myself as cynical and hype averse; this is a compliment.

3. Focus on what matters. Sure, writing down revenue goals is fine but focus on your todo list and what you can control this week and this month to make that happen. Yes, you need to be aware of ESG, however, before product-market-fit, you should have a singular focus on achieving it. Everything else is secondary and you should ignore it.

4. Inject emotions — be real. They want their startups to succeed. If they strongly believe certain behavior is important — such as sending your todo list once a month — they will get visibly upset if you don’t.

Inevitably, I have interpreted everything from my lens. You would have to speak with these men yourself to get your perspective of their thoughts. Instead of preaching their philosophy to us, they invited entrepreneurs to speak. I would like to think I had been a speaker if it were not for the fact that I decided to go two days before the event started — but that might be my ego talking. It is rarely quiet. I took notes when three people spoke:

  1. Ville
  2. Sampo
  3. Timo

Each of them gets one heading below.

# 1. VILLE: REVENUES

Ville Vanhala at Futures Platform held an excellent presentation on revenues. Being an ex-McKinsey consultant, he did meet my high expectations.

1. raise prices.

2. conduct interviews with clients.

3. map their answers to hubspot CRM e.g. “product use cases: A, B and C”.

4. measure % logo churn and net retention.

5. book tip: nail it then scale it. I’m not sure he read it, though, as consultants mostly read & write powerpoints not books.

# 2. SAMPO: PROCESSES

Sampo Parkkinen is the CEO and co-founder of Revieve and a Venture Partner at Gorilla.

Notes to self:

1. He talks about vision and mission twice a month in a video meeting with all employees present. this is needed to set the direction.

2. The first ten employees are information hubs. They are the company’s memory. when you have many employees these ten won’t get any work done, they will spend all day answering questions and enabling others to do their work, and that’s fine.

3. He swapped out half of all executives when going from 10 to 80 employees. not because they are bad but because he needed people with other characteristics.

4. You don’t have time to teach employees, they need to know the job. (this is similar to Jason Fried’s rule to hire “managers of one”.)

5. When you are scaling, you can’t rely on talent and hustle. “Process” is not a sexy word, however, it will be one of the most important ones in your vocabulary when you grow.

# 3. TIMO: ACTIONS

Timo Hentunen wants entrepreneurs to stop focusing on goals and start obsessing about activities and actions. He also happens to be the man with the best slide of the day, since the use of a dictator to make your point has some comedic value.

“Trust is good, but control is better” — Lenin

Notes to self:

  • You might want to win the tournament, but you have to focus on winning the next 1–2 minutes of the game. (Ice hockey analogy, of course, we are in Finland after all.)
  • Long-term goals are good but you can’t stop there and expect them to happen. You must break it down into a monthly todo list.
  • Every item on your list starts with a verb, can be completed/measured, and has a due date.
  • Timo reminds me of the book Getting Things Done.
To kick off the mandatory fireside chat, Gorilla’s intern lit a candle. Very cute. For some reason, the intern was not present when 25 pizzas had to be cut, so Petri (a Gorilla founder) cut it himself — no task is beneath them.

This blog post was brought to you by Gorilla. Are you a Limited Partners looking for a different kind of VC firm? Look no further. Gorilla is raising capital for their second fund, twice as large as the first. Just kidding. Nobody asked me to write anything. The Finnish gov is a large investor. I don’t think governments should get involved in funding startups, but that’s another topic for another day. Gorilla is adding LPs if you want to invest in great startups like Vinter.co you can read more on their website. Tell them I sent you and you will get a free pen.

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