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Vainu takes the lead with award-winning sales platform

In September last year, Vainu was listed by Wired as one of Europe’s 100 Hottest Startups. It also won FinancesOnline’s Rising Star and Great User Experience Award in October. Credits: : Vainu

This AI-driven, cloud-based online sales prospecting platform allows companies working in B2B sales to narrow in on which leads to contact.

A tram depot stands a stone’s throw away from Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium. It has since been converted into a cultural centre, and late last year, in an auditorium flanked by retired trams and their wooden destination signs, Vainu convened some 400 prospective and current clients.

They gathered there to talk about how to keep making more sales.

“We’re building software for a modern, systematic salesperson, which entails coaching our clients and potential clients along their journey,” explains Mikko Honkanen, one of the three founders of Vainu and its current COO. “They’re also a way to thank our customers, as they’re free.”

Taking it to market

In some ways Vainu’s journey actually started across the Atlantic. Honkanen was working in San Francisco between 2012–2013 while Pietari Suvanto, Vainu’s CEO, worked with European and American customers in Helsinki. They were responsible for sales and account management respectively.

Vainu in Finnish refers to an animal’s superior sense of smell, and for years has been used to describe an apt salesperson with a knack for the craft. Here we have Vainu’s office dog Stella. Image: Vainu

With the traditional problem of sales prospecting amplified in the largest market in the world, they both felt a lot of time, and hence money, was being needlessly wasted. Four years later, Vainu opened up an office in New York.

“Those first slide decks we drew up in 2014 still hold true: we haven’t had to pivot from how we approach the problem,” tells Honkanen.

A hub of machine learning

This approach involves using AI, named-entity recognition and natural language processing to gather open data on companies through websites, media mentions and recruitment literature at a pace and scalability previously impossible.

It has helped Vainu gather information on over 150 million companies. Neural networks and machine learning help cleanse and supplement these data.

The company has offices in Helsinki, New York, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Oslo. Image: Vainu

All of this is very much the territory of the third founder Tuomas Rasila, a seasoned developer who has sought to build an industry-leading tech team around him.

Vainu’s technological needs are met in Helsinki, in house, with key members of the team dedicated to theorising about AI full-time for the good of the cause.

Staying power

Vainu’s approach has taken it far in a short span of time – to date, the company has over 1 500 businesses subscribed to the service.

These include big players such as Microsoft, HP and Adecco.

Having never sought external investment (and being the proud winner of Best Bootstrapped Startup and the People’s Choice Award at last year’s Nordic Startup Awards), it’s no surprise Honkkanen seeks to distinguish Vainu’s company culture from your average startup.

“Some startups call themselves a family whereas we like to think of ourselves as more of a team,” he says. “Kind of like a sports team, we’re hungry for growth, results and success.”

It’s clearly a supportive environment too, as 24 of the original 25 recruits from back in 2014 still work for the company. With six offices across five countries, employees aren’t raring to give up their seats on a rocket ship determined to gather more knowledge about companies everywhere than any other.

And, with annual recurring revenue approaching 10 million euros, it seems they also have every reason to stay.

The three founders have known each other since the age of six, having gone to the same primary school. Vainu’s first employees are now partners. Image: Vainu
By: Heidi Aho