Building a great online presence is vital for scaling a successful SaaS business. Doug C. Brown’s guest today is Jesse Nieminen, co-founder & Chairman of Viima, an innovation management SaaS platform that helps turn ideas into innovation. In this episode, Jesse explains how bringing traffic to your website and converting them to leads increases your online presence. When you keep giving value through your content, they’ll eventually remember you when they need your software for their purposes. Join in the conversation to discover more of Jesse’s strategies on scaling a successful SaaS business. Sit back and enjoy this episode!
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Building And Scaling A Successful SaaS Business With Jesse Nieminen
I have a guest. His name is Jesse Nieminen. He has his company called Viima. It’s a cool innovation-vision Software as a Service and a low barrier of entry to get in. We had a good conversation around sales, sales strategies and getting clear on the vision of life, business, ideal personas, people, building out your story and what it takes to do online marketing the right way. You’ll find a lot out of this. He’s a super-smart guy and has done quite well for himself. Without further ado, let’s welcome Jesse to the show.
We’ve got a wonderful guy here from Helsinki. For those of you who don’t know, that’s in Finland. He has a software company. I always love interviewing people from different countries. We’re going to welcome Jesse Nieminen to the show. He owns a company called Viima. Welcome.
You have a unique background. You have such a unique name. Where did the company name come from?
In Finnish, it’s a cold or fresh breeze of air like a gust of wind. We thought that would be what we would be bringing to the market that we’re operating in. That’s the origin of the name.
Since it’s such a cool name, what does the company do? I know it’s Software as a Service.
It’s an innovation management platform that we offer as a service for all kinds of customers around the world. We have more than 10,000 organizations signed up for the tool ranging from super small teams of a few people all the way to the Global Fortune 500.Ideas themselves aren’t worth that much. You have to implement them to unlock their business value. Click To Tweet
For those people who may not understand what innovation-vision means, if you broke it down into more specifics, what does the software accomplish for somebody?
For us, it all starts with ideas. Everybody has ideas. In a larger company, a lot of those ideas might get lost in the water cooler talks and whatever kind of lack of those you have. Nevertheless, it all starts with the ideas. The ideas themselves aren’t worth that much. You have to implement them to unlock the business value of those ideas. What we offer is a platform that allows you to collect all of those ideas systematically from different stakeholders be it employees, customers, partners, you name it. You take those and find out which ones are worth implementing and then prioritize them. At the end of it, you get a tool that helps you manage the whole process from an idea to innovation.
How many entrepreneurs out there are reading this? You’re the creative types. Your brain explodes with ideas, “I can monetize this and that.” I know I’m not much different from other people that I’m jotting them down on notepads and on like, “I’ll guess this one on Word or this one on Excel. I’ll bank them and then they die.” I love what you said something to the effect of, “Ideas are not much unless you’re implementing them into a business strategy that produces something.” I love the software. I am plugging the software because I do like it. You’ve built yourself a multimillion-dollar company out of this.
We’ve bootstrapped the company. We haven’t gotten any outside funding except for some minor government grants here in Finland. Other than that, we have always tried to focus on delivering value for customers and then building the company with those funds.
Let’s talk about bootstrapping a company because here in the United States and worldwide, not all our governments are willing to give even a grant. A lot of companies start out with the ideation, “I think I can do this.” It’s always wise to find out if the market will accept that. You bootstrapped that. You’ve had this company now for many years. Tell me the origins. In year one, what were you focusing on? What brought you up to the first seven figures?
Together with my cofounders, we met on the first day of our studies at a local university here in Finland. We all studied Computer Science and were all quite entrepreneurial by nature. We figured out that we liked working together and thought that we would like to do this bigger project together as well of building a company. At some point, we then took part in a local incubator program facilitated by the entrepreneurship society of our university. That was where we got the initial boost to get started. After the program, we ended up setting up the company officially.
In the beginning, our idea was a bit different. We were focused on helping companies meet the needs of their customers or provide a platform that helps them figure out what their customers need. That then turned into what we’re doing through a number of iterations in place from working with our pilot customers, figuring out where they currently are and what they need out of that process. There were quite a few steps along the way and a few smaller turns. It’s the general direction that has set us to where we are.
It’s like the Google guys. In the dorm rooms, you’ve figured it out. You’re young. You’ve got these innovative ideas. You get together and put this idea together. You said very clearly you found out what your potential clients need. What I’ve recognized is a lot of corporations, companies, businesses and even solo practices get in with something and figure, “I got an idea. I’m getting into this. I’ll push this upon.” What ends up happening a lot of times is sometimes it works a little bit and they get stuck. You’ve gone back and said, “I’ve found out what they needed, wanted and desired.” You crafted the program around that. Is that accurate?
Yes. To be a bit more specific, in the beginning we focused on that transparent collaboration with customers with the product that we offered. We soon figured out that most of the companies out there were ready for that kind of transparent collaboration with customers online. They were used to doing focus groups. From that, our platform had a lot of cool things that our customers liked but it wasn’t solving their most urgent needs. Most of them first needed to get their internal processes right and needed help with those. That was how we then started moving in that direction. Ever since we have been moving there and figuring out what we can do to help our clients.
We’re bringing up a huge problem for many companies. They’re not clear on their ideal persona and not asking what that is. They’re doing business in areas that aren’t that profitable, taking up a lot of their time and building the business on their back. When we have that ideal persona and client, we’re giving them stuff they liked but they didn’t have what they needed and wanted. Once you figured that out, all of a sudden it starts opening up the opportunities and the revenue flow to come in. I know this might sound to some people like a soft skill in business. It’s not, “They increased transactional value by doing these tactics.”
The reality is this is a big one for people to understand that the market determines most of the time what you buy regardless of what Steve Jobs said. He’s the unlucky one. Let’s move on to some sales strategies that you used in the company. We did an article. I remember we put in the article that I built out the low-cost, scalable, go-to-market approach. That takes much more time and effort but can lead to better results down the road. Can you share the steps that are needed to acquire clients from your perspective?
Depending on what kind of business you’re in, the steps might be a bit different. For us as a Software as a Service platform, it all starts online. We have to build a great online presence that brings a lot of traffic to our website then we try to convert those visitors to our website into leads that we can then provide additional content. In practice, they might subscribe to our blog or download some guides from our website and then subscribe for additional guides that bring a lot of value for them. We create tons of content that provide value that helps to find us but also to want to be kept in the loop. When the time is right for them to figure out the software for that purpose then they’ll remember us from the interactions in the past.
If they are looking for that software then they might sign up for the free version of our software right away. We provide a version of our software that is free for as many users as you want and for as long as you want. We’re super generous on that. That helps us convert a lot of that traffic into very relevant leads for our sales guys to work on. It all starts with creating an online presence, a lot of valuable content and value for potential customers. Once they start to get more interested in us, we then convert them step-by-step towards customers onto that.Every single thing you do to create an online presence will help you going forward. Click To Tweet
I’ll bring this into a term that we use all the time. It’s called getting in the door. What you’re doing is you’re using the power of online to gather an audience. That audience is then getting drawn in by some type of value proposition and they’re taking that. Your thought process is to get them in the door so they can experience what’s going on. From there, you’ll work on the sales expansion process. For those of you who are older like me, used to coming in and trying to top-down sell, I’m curious to get your feedback on this. I believe because you’re a much younger guy than I am. My degrees were in Biology and Nuclear Medicine. I’m somewhat of a nerd as well. You got an Engineering and Science background so we can relate to that.
You’re the younger generation and coming up. The younger generation is embracing online more than offline ever especially with the pandemic that happened and everything else that’s going on. How important do you think it is for companies? Whether it is a traditional brick and mortar, “I’ve been there with two generations in my family. I don’t think I need online. I do think I need online but I don’t know how to do it.” What would you recommend to these people who are thinking, “I want to go online but I’m not sure that I should?” In other words, from your perspective of somebody who’s coming up in the world in your peer group who are going to be the majority of consumers in the future, how important is online now compared in the past?
Even in the past, I remember seeing some research. I can’t for the life of me figure out what the actual percentages were. Maybe 80% of all purchase decisions started online. People started doing their research online of all purchases not just by Millennials but it was across. Whatever you’re looking for, it always starts online. If you’re able to be the first party who they come across in all of their searches, you’ll have a strong market position regardless of what it is that you’re selling. That is a huge competitive advantage if you’re able to succeed at that. It’s not necessarily easy, straightforward and quick to do that. Depending on the business you’re in, cost structure and fit, it might not be something that everybody should be doing. If you’re that mom-and-pop store, you might not be able to compete against some of the bigger players out there. It might not be something that you want to focus too much effort on. For other businesses like ours, it is the core of our competitive advantage.
Even for the mom-and-pops, if we work on what would be called organic content publishing, the old school. Before it was writing a book and it’ll get published in a major magazine or trade publication, you still can do those types of things. Not a lot of these things are even online. Once you start establishing a presence then you can start smaller blogs, some groups and things like that. Start small and start getting published out. Once a person starts getting published out, bigger entities are far more agreeable to talk to them. For example, I got published in Forbes three times but I didn’t start out. When I was first going to Forbes, they were like, “Kid, I don’t know you.”
For mom-and-pops or any company starting this up, if they don’t want to put a ton of money in this paid traffic, which is a lot quicker usually and then there’s organic traffic, you’re going to put some time, energy and effort in. You can still make some great traction. A lot of times, the organic search results will push you up quicker than the paid results depending on what you’re spending. That has been my experience. Is that your experience as well, Jesse?
Absolutely. As you mentioned in the beginning, you won’t necessarily get those big breakthrough results. It will be always slower than starting with those paid ads and paid visibility. If you’re able to start to build that flywheel and get the snowball rolling then the results will accumulate. Pending changes in search algorithms with those sites and any kind of content you’ve got online will be creating traffic and business for you for the foreseeable future. Every single thing that you do to create that online presence will help you going forward. Once you work on that for years, the results do add up.
We’re talking a lot about online and sales. Let’s continue on with sales. One of the things I loved in one of the articles I read was one of the things you learned the hard way. You said that sales is a numbers game. You have to make sure you follow them and figure out what’s going on with the efforts to acquire a new business. In other words, make sure the bar is high enough and that could lead to systematic and methodical growth. What are the things you were paying attention to that helped you figure out what does it take to acquire the new business? What were the measurements or metrics that you were looking at?
In the beginning, we didn’t have a lot of discussions going on. Early on, we already figured out that if we’re talking to ten potential customers, we can’t close any more deals than that. If we want to close more deals than that then we got to have more of those discussions going on. With sales, it’s not rocket science but you got to figure out, “If on average I’m getting this and this many discussions going on, we’re able to win this and this many out of those as clients. How many people do I need to approach to get those discussions going?” It’s straightforward in the grand scheme of things. You build the traditional sales funnel. For different kinds of businesses, it looks different. For some, it might start with cold calling. For us, it starts from getting people to our website but still the methodology is the same. You needed to get more people in the door and then you can win over as customers.
I bring this up because I teach people and companies this all the time. It’s like, “You have to measure your metrics.” It’s the small metrics that tell the story. For you, it’s getting them to your website. They hit the website. Maybe the next small segment would be, “They hit the website. Did they take a free something? Maybe it’s a free login. Did they download a report? Did they have some type of content consumption?” From there, it could be the next step is, “We had this downloaded content. How many of those took the first step into a free trial or paid trial?” You measure all these numbers. The reason that you do that is it starts telling you a story.
For example, if you have a lot of people hitting your website and no one is taking the offer or you got a 1% conversion and you thought you were supposed to get a 30% conversion on that, there’s something wrong with the offer in most cases at that point. There’s something that’s not resonating or you’re driving the wrong traffic to the website. You might be driving people who are interested in buying fencing, for example. You got a lot of people showing up trying to buy white picket fences but they’re looking for sword lessons. The metrics tell the story. What I loved about your story was you guys measured these things. People who do this are able to self-correct course quickly. Did you find out that was the same for you?
Yes. When you’re first starting out, it might feel a bit overwhelming. You got all these numbers, “Which ones do you focus on? Which are the important ones? What do you have to live with? Is it realistic to get that 30% conversion rate? Is it just that 1%?” It is the name of the game in your industry, you have to live with that and get more traffic. You’ve got to figure out the dynamics within your business. Once you’re starting to look at the figures, you do different kinds of actions, see how they impact the figures and see where you can move the needle. That helps you understand the nature and dynamics of the business that you’re in.
Paying attention pays. One of the strategies that helped you reached seven figures and beyond was the right positioning of the niche market. Can you share what the process was that you used to find that? I know we touched on this to find that sweet spot that you wanted to have in and they responded to your offer.If you’re talking to ten potential customers, you can’t close any more deals than that. Click To Tweet
In the beginning, what we were offering was way vague. Sometimes we were talking about customer engagement, employee engagement then ideation and innovation. We didn’t know what we were exactly offering and what the value proposition was. It was super different. There will be different kinds of customers. The different parts of our product still resonate but it was vague that we weren’t able to tell a convincing story of what we do. There’s still room for improvement on that front. There’s always room for improvement there. Once we figured out that it’s the people working around innovation one way or the other, that is our core audience. We then started to create content for them, educating and getting them interested in what we’re doing and things started rolling in the right direction.
Do you mean you figured it out first and then you created content that they want versus putting out a white paper or throwing something out there and wondering whether it’s going to work or not?
Yes, it’s an interactive process. You do some of that first. Once you see something is working, you’ve got to double down on that. You can’t just think that first through and then implement it. In reality, it’s not as easy and linear as we make it sound here.
It reminds me of a conversation I was having with a gentleman one time I went to a live event. He said, “I can’t make Facebook Ads work.” I said, “Tell me what you’re doing.” He said, “I put $100,000 down and I got no leads.” I said, “How long have you been doing this?” He went, “This is my first month. I think I’m going to spend $120,000 this month. What do you think?” I said, “I don’t think that’s a smart idea.” We were having this conversation. He was like, “What are you talking about?” I said, “Can I ask you a couple of questions?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Are you aware of what you’re doing? Are you hiring a company and leaving it to them?” He said, “We’re hiring a company.”
I said, “Let me guess. They’re on a percentage of spend each month.” He said, “Yes, 10%.” I said, “Your bill is going to be $180,000 or $200,000 in six months from now. You’re still going to get the same challenge happening probably because you don’t know getting the ideal persona, building your story, creating content based on what they want and driving that to them.” I know this is a basic concept of human communication. Is this correct?
Yes. One of the things that I love about your story is that this is the part that you can’t outsource. This is the thing that you have to do as a leader, business owner or whatever your role is. You can’t let anyone else hope that someone else fixes it for you.
Are you a leader or a manager in your business? If you’re a leader, you cannot outsource this without understanding the process unless you want to have a high probability of having pain come into your life. The reason I say this is I used to own certain companies. An SEO company was one of them. Over 70% of our clients had already tried SEO and it failed for this particular reason. They weren’t clear on everything we were talking about. You brought up leadership. I would love to touch on mentorship. How important is it for people to get the right type of mentorship, the right mentor or somebody who has been there before? Whether it’s a coach, consultant, mentor or advisor. How important do you think that is in the growth of building a multimillion-dollar plus company?
It’s big. When we first started, all three of us founders worked in a successful, fast-growing software company before we founded Viima. We had gotten a lot of great examples of how successful companies operate and what the people there are doing. We also had the great fortune of meeting a lot of these people throughout our studies and the incubator and accelerator programs that we had early on. We had a lot of great examples, experienced entrepreneurs and leaders to look at them and take lessons from that helped shape our thinking and push us in the right direction. If you are able to get just one mentor or coach, that can be great.
I personally think that you should try to get influences from all the different kinds of views and points of view from many different kinds of people and even in different industries. That helps you shape your thinking in a much more holistic way. Even though someone built the best company in the world, whatever they did might not be what you have to do but a lot of the principles and lessons that they’ve learned are valuable. There’s a lot you can learn from all kinds of different people. I think it’s important to get some feedback and focus on your own education in the process.
For such a guy who’s half my age, you have sage advice. This is spot-on. Based on my life’s experience, if you’re taking mentors who are not congruent with your own life’s vision and they’re pressing upon you what they did but you don’t want to accomplish that, you could still garner and take some things from that and make it your own. Try to find people who have similar life’s vision of their own company. For example, if you don’t want a multibillion-dollar corporation then you can listen to those people because a fool listens to no one and a wise man listens to everyone but you have to make your own decisions. It’s powerful advice you gave to have somebody and be congruent in that process of understanding, “This person has accomplished this but when I look at their life, it’s not my life I want.”
Take what you can from that but find people who are like, “This person has the life and the business style that I want. I can rely more on that information to accomplish what I want to accomplish.” Jesse has been wonderful and indulgent. He has an innovation-vision Software as a Service or SaaS company. It’s a great product I highly recommend. Jesse, if people want to take a free login or get something from you to build a relationship, how do they do so? What’s the best way to get ahold of you or contact your company?
It’s our website, Viima.com. There you’ll find a lot of blog posts, articles and materials on how to get started with innovation and do all of that well. If you want to try our software, you can sign up for the free version. It’s available for as many users as you want and for as long as you want. You can get a lot done even with the free version.
Go there now. I’ve checked it out. It’s cool software. I was impressed. I thank you for being here. I love asking this question at the end of each interview because I always get some unique answers. I want to see what you would say. If you could go back in time or even in the present time and you could recreate yourself as somebody either living or not and you could say, “This is the person who I would have liked to have been at that time but I can take it now forward in the year 2021. I want to be that person. Here are the things that I would do to make great changes in the world knowing who I am based on that personality before.”Who would that person be? What changes would you make?
It’s hard to figure out one answer to that. For me, working so closely on innovation, it would have to be some of the big innovators in history, be in their seat and try to figure out how to take those innovations to the next level. Maybe even come up with another one with the special skills, knowledge, education and smarts that those guys had. I don’t know if I can name one for you.Once you see something is working, you’ve got to double down on that. Click To Tweet
It doesn’t have to be one. The point being taken though out of this is, “Success leaves clues.” If you follow the trail of past successes, you can usually figure out what someone is doing now if you can get with them and figure out what they’ve been doing. They tell you, “This is what we did.” It’s like what you said in this interview, “We made some mistakes. We shouldn’t have done this but we should have done that. We did do this and this worked out but this didn’t.” That speeds up our learning curve and implementation.
As you said at the beginning of this interview, “Ideas are nice but they’re not much unless they’re implemented and put into value.” It’s the same thing in all learning. Knowledge is not power. Knowledge is potential power. It is not power until implemented. Jesse, I want to thank you for being here. This has been a wonderful time. I know people are going to get a lot of value out of this. Thanks for being on the show. We’ll look forward to a future interview together.
It’s my pleasure. I’ll talk to you again.
What a great opportunity to understand online marketing in doing it the right way. Many people are doing it incorrectly. They’re going in reverse. You want to start out with your life’s vision and you find your ideal prospect or profile for that. The reason you want to find your ideal prospect or profile is that you want to build a story that’s going to attract those people. You want to get them to give you the information on what they want so that you can deliver content that they want to consume. Once they consume that content, they’re starting the process. We talked about getting in the door. If you can’t develop a relationship with somebody, you’re in trouble. If you can’t get the person to connect with you and you can’t connect with them to take the next step to build the relationship, you’re not going to have the relationship. Relationships are what lead to more sales.
One of the greatest sales growth strategies out there is human contact because the master prospector will always outsell the master closer. The more prospective people you can talk to and the more prospective people who buy, the more that you’ll be able to expand those sales. It’s a very simple concept but a lot of people don’t understand it. You want to follow the pathway that he talked about in building online and how these SaaS companies are doing it because online is here to stay. For the next years, I can foresee that. It has changed business in the way we do business forever. If you have comments or questions, please send them in to YouMatter@BusinessSuccessFactors.com. Share what you want for future upcoming episodes and we will try to provide what you’re seeking. Have an awesome day. Go out and sell something. Take care.
About Jesse Nieminen
Jesse is the Co-founder & Chairman of Viima, the most widely used and highest rated innovation management software in the world with more than 10000 organizations on the platform. With Viima, companies can collect and systematically manage ideas all the way to innovations and start creating a culture of innovation. Jesse is passionate about helping companies of all sizes around the world make more innovation happen.