“In startups, you have to do a bit of everything — be brave to try” — Markus Nuotto
Markus Nuotto, now VP of Sales in Aiven, held a workshop at the School of Startups this May. Markus is sharing his experiences on how people treated entrepreneurship in Finland before Aaltoes, how to move from an engineering career to business side and what is the attitude to keep if you are to build your own startup.
“I am originally from Helsinki, I have lived here pretty much my whole life, except only for the past 2 years, when I was living in the California and 1 year as a child in Chicago. I went to study Material Science and Engineering to Helsinki University of Technology (which is now a part of Aalto University), and at the end of my studies I got pretty interested in entrepreneurship.
I hadn’t planned a career in entrepreneurship, but almost by accident I ended up working in my first startup at the end of my Master’s degree. Eventually that startup failed, but I had great times working there for about 3 years. Back then, in 2008–2009, there wasn’t a good startup ecosystem in Finland, like there is now.
At the time when Aalto University was founded I bumped into my old high-school friend Kristo Ovaska (now — CEO and founder of Smartly). Kristo had an idea about building an entrepreneurship society and with a few other entrepreneurial-minded university students we ended up founding Aaltoes. During that time, I worked on Aaltoes and also my first startup. We ended up doing many things wrong but that’s also how you learn a lot.
The attitude towards entrepreneurship was very negative back then and we couldn’t find help from anywhere. One of the first missions of Aaltoes was to find a place where like-minded entrepreneurs could go and share experiences. There wasn’t much of that happening and we wanted to change the attitude.
Prepare to fail countless times, but that is only way how you get forward.
During my university life, most of the students didn’t want to become entrepreneurs. My own friends and family didn’t really understand why I had joined a startup at first. It’s nice to see that now it’s more acceptable to become entrepreneur and to do your own thing. This is a big change.
In 2011 I joined a startup called drawElements, which became pretty successful. After I worked there for 3 years, drawElements got acquired by Google — so I moved to the States. Last year I came back to Finland and recently I’ve joined a tech startup Aiven, where I’m working now. Since I joined, Aiven has already turned highly profitable and has closed VC funding, things are looking really good.
From Engineering to Sales — what is the best match?
I studied Engineering and started working at first as an engineer. Soon I realised that I am more interested in the business side. I moved more and more towards Business Development and Sales and my past 4–5 years I’ve been working solely in that field.
Be brave and just start trying things.
Having an engineering background brings you benefits, especially, in high-tech companies. Many times engineers don’t understand well business people and vice versa. They just don’t speak the same language, but as a business minded engineer you have a common language with both. Also, when you’re selling to customers, typically you have to convince engineers working on the field. A lot of discussions and questions are very technical. Although it’s ok not to be able to answer everything, having at least some technical base knowledge does help.
If you want to switch your career from tech to business, don’t be afraid to do it! Figure out what you’re interested in the most. One of the best parts of startups is that you have to do a bit of everything. Take initiative, usually the rest of the team is very happy when you show interest also in the business side.
Be brave, start trying things. Some of the easy ways to start with is to become a technical account manager or just to join sales meetings with business people. If your product is quite technical, a lot of business people are happy to have engineers with them at the meetings. It helps Sales if you have someone to answer difficult tech questions. But before going to any external meetings, coordinate your work and message internally. One of the mistakes, that an engineer could make, is to say something that doesn’t fit to the business pitch.
About starting a business here
Depending on your product, don’t focus on Finland only. Go outside to the large markets, travel, meet customers in other countries. Focusing only to Finland usually means your business remains quite small. I’m a strong advocate for learning by doing. Be brave and just do things.
In startups when you don’t have proper validation or a good product market fit, it’s always a lot of trial and errors. It is important to talk to your customers and learn from them. Prepare to fail countless times, but that is the only way how you get forward.
We need foreign talent in Finland.
About The Shortcut, I heard from Anne. I thought it was a nice opportunity for myself too, to organise my thoughts. (Note — Markus gave a workshop on Business Development and Sales at The School of Startups in May 2017) I haven’t given any speeches on Business development and Sales before and it was a great exercise. It worked very well, the audience was very interested and it was something I’d love to do again.
Although The Shortcut is under development as well, you try things and learn how to improve it, it’s on a really good track. Foreign talent in Finland is very much needed. I am all for bringing talented and skilled people to here, especially now when lots of startups are struggling to find skilled workforce. But there’s also a lot more we could do in Finland to help foreigners move here to build careers, so initiatives such as The Shortcut are very much needed. ”