Learning is more important than revenue in the beginning. If you focus too early on making money you might be missing out on a lesson that could turn you into the next big thing. The obvious observations are available to everyone, and if you stop iterating and learning after building the first or second version of your product, you’ll end up competing with hundreds of others who can and will do the same. But is you keep experimenting, keep measuring and keep adjusting you can learn something unique that others can never replicate!
As part of my series about the “5 Lessons I Learned When I Created My App or SAAS”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Outi Pietilanaho, the CEO and Co-Founder of Vimma, a London-based nano-influencer platform that helps brands to find their collective voice in social media. Vimma enables brands to find their real advocates, and activates them to give a positive review about the brand in social media. Vimma’s disruptive technology is changing the landscape of digital advertisement. Vimma is playing in the forefront of PR 2.0. with its disruptive technology and unique mission — connecting brands with their real consumers by enabling authentic nano-influencer campaigns at scale.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My name is Outi, I’m the CEO and Co-Founder of Vimma — a London based software company that helps brands to find their voice online by analysing millions of nano-influencers and social media posts, identifying the real customers and the best content. Vimma’s AI-driven technology automates the entire process of creating word-of-mouth campaigns, allowing brands to incentivize consumers to speak about their products.
The story of Vimma started about a year ago, with me and my co-founder wanting to help companies with their marketing. I’ve been working most of my career in marketing and from very early on I realised how hard it is to get your voice heard as a brand. Consumers today are bombarded with more than 5000 ads every day, and it seems almost impossible to create meaningful interactions between brands and consumers. But we figured, that it is possible for consumers have meaningful interactions with their friends, family and networks, talking about brands and products — and this is the most powerful way of marketing! And that’s how we ended up building a software that leverages the voice of regular consumers, and “nano-influencers”, people who are active in social media.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The idea that first inspired me to establish Vimma surfaced while I was building my own cosmetics e-brand a few years ago. When it came to the point of deciding on the best advertising method, I refused to use regular ads because I thought that they just felt meaningless and did not cater to tell a vivid story to my audience. I started to engage people to talk about my products and to give positive reviews on social media and I saw it working better than any other channel. That’s when I realised that authentic word of mouth is the best marketing investment a brand can do!
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Building a company always takes a massive effort, and a lot of times founders only want to tell the success stories and show the positive sides of their venture journey. The early stages of building a product and finding a market fit involves a lot of insecurity, that can be very stressful. We worked very long hours and sacrificed a lot, but there was one thing that just magically kept us going through everything: Metrics. We beat all the odds through the cold email response rates and our campaign performance metrics were really good, and we just simply had to keep on going looking at those numbers.
So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?
Today, I can honestly say that I am happy we did not give up.
We have a great team, a unique product, and world-renowned brands working with us. We also just recently closed a round of venture funding and our team is growing fast together with the demand for the software.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
As an entrepreneur, funny and bizarre stories are inevitable because we are faced with unpredictable circumstances every day! When I started building Vimma, I moved to a very small shared flat in London because I needed to be very careful about my expenses. At the flat, we were all young entrepreneurs building our startups. Making calls with potential clients was a challenging task because I was taking the calls in the weirdest places — the balcony and sometimes even in the bathroom when there was no other quiet space available.
Throughout this kind of experiences, I’ve learned how important it is to be humble and flexible, and work with what you have. Adaptability is sometimes even more important than passion or commitment to an idea. Being open to the possibility that things might not always be comfortable and you will lack some key resources helps you embrace every situation with an open mind and ready to find solutions instead of looking at the shortcomings.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Prior to Vimma, I built the commercial strategy of a cosmetics brand startup relying entirely on influencer marketing. Through this experience, I understood the power of organic social content in advertisement. I visualised a tech product aimed at satisfying the niche market opportunity that was clearly overlooked but growing in importance. The power of Nano-Influencers! Consumers that have an authentic relationship with the brand or product, connecting with audiences on a deeper level. Brands on the other hand, have confirmed an interest in taking advantage of these real interactions driving revenue. Vimma is playing in the forefront of PR 2.0. with its disruptive technology and unique mission — connecting brands with their real consumers by enabling authentic nano-influencer campaigns at scale.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’m a marathon runner myself and I see a lot of similarities between building a company and running a marathon: It is all about knowing your race speed.
The biggest rookie mistake among marathon runners is to start running really fast in the beginning because the energy levels are high and you think that you are running faster than the competition. But in reality — the body cannot keep up with the exaggerated ambition for the entire race, and the fast starters run out of fuel after a few kilometers. When you know your race speed and your physical limitations and pace yourself accordingly, you’ll end up more successful and you can enjoy the experience of the race much more!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My fiancé has been the most important supporter of my road to startup success. I truly believe that having the support of your partner can make or break your startup! Having his support has been like a lifeline for me whenever I was faced with self-doubt or uncertainty. Both of which are common in the startup world. Your partner is like an emotional investor in your startup — someone you can rely on for unconditional support every day no matter the obstacles.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?
We currently have over 2000 users and the number is growing. Apart from the number of users, we’ve really taken priority on the quality of interaction the users have on our platform.
- Value proposition. We focused 100% on finding out what influencers need and want in order to build a software that would turn out to be something they really cannot live without in the long-run. It is relatively easy to find someone who uses your software once or twice, but finding a strong value proposition that keeps people coming back is something you need time and dedication for.
- Feedback. We are very rigorous on collecting feedback. In the early days, we called almost every person who used the platform and tried to understand what they want to do with it. We still pick up the phone multiple times in the week — we don’t just sit and wait for feedback or assume people will get back to us with praises or complaints. We go hunting after feedback more aggressively than we go hunting for potential new users.
- The human touch. We are an AI company, but we want to interact with our users as real people. In the early days of building a user base it is vitally crucial to know your users really well, talk to them every day and support them throughout the entire journey. Later, when the community grows, you can build support structures that catch the users that need help. But even then, it is really important that you have a great customer support that really cares for the users!
What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?
Currently, brands and companies pay a software subscription to use Vimma. We have considered other premium features for the platform that some of the users are already requested, and we might experiment with those in the future!
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SAAS? Please share a story or an example for each.
Here are some of my top advice for anyone thinking about starting a software business.
- Do not start building any software before you are sure what your customers really need! So many founders start with a “great idea”, and then proceed with building a product, just to find out that not so many people actually needed the solution they developed. Instead of spending weeks building software, you could just pick up the phone first and see if you can find at least 5 customers who are willing to pay for it!
- When you start building your solution, make sure you only build the most crucial parts to test if your customers are going to use the software. If you’re building something that genuinely solves their problems, they will use your solution even if it does not work perfectly or if it does not look that great. We started with only a simple landing page that had a web form — and only weeks after we saw enough people interacted with it, we started building the first bits of software.
- Don’t be afraid to be inefficient or make mistakes in the beginning. Do things that don’t scale, as long as it brings you closer to understanding your user and their real needs. We created our first nano-influencer marketing campaigns entirely manually looking through hundreds of Instagram profiles and talking to everyone personally — this was obviously not paying off, but the lessons were valuable and speeded us up along the way because we knew exactly how to automate the processes.
- Learning is more important than revenue in the beginning. If you focus too early on making money you might be missing out on a lesson that could turn you into the next big thing. The obvious observations are available to everyone, and if you stop iterating and learning after building the first or second version of your product, you’ll end up competing with hundreds of others who can and will do the same. But is you keep experimenting, keep measuring and keep adjusting you can learn something unique that others can never replicate!
- Don’t try to persuade a massive audience to use your app in the beginning. First, persuade individuals, solve their problems and really pay attention to understand their wants and needs. After you get to know 5–10 people to the bone, you know exactly what they need, when, how and why they’ll use your software. Then you can go out and find 5 million people that have exactly the same needs and motivations.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
As CEO and Co-Founder, I am proud to say that our product has been built by a team of unique, and passionate individuals. The secret to a great product is not really that much about the technology itself — it is so much more about the team who built it!
If I could start a movement, it would be focused on early startup teams finding the right people to work with. We all know talented individuals in our networks, and we also know how hard it is for startups to find those individuals at the time they need to grow. As a passionate word of mouth marketer, I would love to see wider networks of startup founders helping each other to build teams and connect talented individuals to great ideas.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present my story and vision to your readers!