Fast forward, at Sellforte we're building a software to solve that pain

Pictured above: Ville Vierimaa, Teppo Luukkonen, Juha Nuutinen and Mikko Ervasti at their office in Otaniemi

We got the opportunity to sit down and talk with Juha Nuutinen, Mikko Ervasti and Teppo Luukkonen a.k.a. the guys behind Sellforte, one of Icebreaker’s latest investments. We talked about a lot of stuff but mostly about how they ended up founding Sellforte back in May 2017.

Icebreaker (IB):

Hi guys, how’s it going? Busy summer behind you?

Juha:

At the moment, everything is going great! Our days are filled with work but I guess that’s how it should be for an entrepreneur. We got a chance to have a few weeks off during July so that we could relax and enjoy the rainy Finnish summer and sleep a little bit longer than usual.

Teppo:

The bit of rain didn’t bother me at all. I think all the Finns are used to it. It was good to get a little break from all the work we are doing and relax before the busy Autumn.

IB:

You have different backgrounds and you’ve worked in different industries. How did you all end up founding Sellforte and how did you come up with the idea?

Juha:

All of us studied Engineering Physics and Mathematics at Aalto University of Technology back in the days so we knew each other from there. Before Sellforte, I worked as a consultant at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) for five years. At BCG, I focused on helping big domestic and international retailers in campaign management and promotion optimization.

You have probably noticed that, for instance, the grocery stores are having bigger and smaller campaigns and promotions all the time. You go to a store on Friday and see that the beef entrecote is -25% off, or you get three chocolate bars at the price of two. By optimizing these campaigns and promotions you can actually make an impact of millions of euros on the retailer’s bottom line. At BCG I enjoyed solving the clients’ optimization problems, however, I noticed that there should be better operational tools that would support the client’s promotion planning process and help make better everyday decisions regarding promotion selection. Fast forward, at Sellforte we are building a software to solve that pain.

Teppo:

Yeah, we studied together with Juha. Previously I worked at Fortum doing analytics and software development and most recently business development in an internal startup there. When Juha told me about the idea it sounded good and I had to jump in. Actually, the decision for taking the leap was a no brainer: such a great team with a brilliant idea. Nothing could go wrong -right? :)

Mikko:

I have a slightly different background. I did a PhD in the field of theoretical and computational physics, working as a researcher at Aalto University. But as Teppo said, I didn’t want to miss this great opportunity either, especially given that I can turn theory into practice with these huge data sets we are dealing with.

IB:

So, what does Sellforte actually do? What’s your value proposition?

Mikko:

It is Juha who makes those value props to our customers. What have you Juha proposed and promised last time? :)

Juha:

Hah! We promise our customers exactly what the solution delivers - a big impact on their bottom line. With advanced analytics and customer data we can, for instance, reduce waste, improve campaign availability, optimize prices, show which product categories the campaigns should focus on and help the merchandising teams to find the best price ranges for each product. These may seem minor issues or trivial to solve, but when you add all of them together they become a big issue. Our software can automatically find the best up-to-date options which have the most significant impact on the retailer’s margins, deliver additional sales or bring traffic to stores.

Mikko:

I think the future is making software like ours, automating the base analytics and aiming to solve the problems with the highest impact. We can for sure tell our clients that their margins will grow and it will form a “Win-Win-Win” streamline that benefits our clients and the consumers alike. That is, the consumers get offers and promotions they want, the retailers earn better margins, and it also makes the communication between the supplier and the retailer more efficient.

IB:

Did I understand you right: your solution will do the same thing as the consultants normally deliver? Does this mean that they are going to lose their jobs?

Juha:

Quite the opposite! I think this will give consultants a great opportunity to work with us to deliver software-based retail analytics tools the their clients. They achieve higher impact faster, more efficiently, and make the impact stick. Together we can find better solutions for our customers, making both of our value propositions better! So, my former colleagues don’t have to worry about losing their jobs, quite the contrary :)

IB:

What’s hot at Sellforte?

Teppo:

We started a pilot project with our first customer in June and it has been so far an extremely interesting learning experience. We aim to further develop the underlying analytics and user interface of our software, and of course acquire new customers. In other words, product development and sales, i.e. pretty basic stuff for a rather new startup, I guess. We are very happy with the positive feedback we have received from our first customers. It’s great to be helping people in their real day-to-day problems!

IB:

What are your plans for the future?

Mikko:

Oh, there’s a lot to do. Analytics, algorithms and software are never perfect and we’ll continue to develop them. So far, we have got good results and the customers are quite excited about what we are doing.

Juha:

As one of our potential customers said: ”I am jealous of what you guys are doing”. Everyone in retail industry is so excited about the potential that big data and advanced analytics can bring.  The opportunities in deepening your customer understanding and optimizing your promotions for traffic, sales or margin are limitless. We aim to build a world class product that no one has successfully done before. I’m confident that with this team and the future recruits we will do it. Could you say on your blog that we do want to talk with people who could be interested in joining our team? We are hiring and they can contact me by email, juha.nuutinen at sellforte.com.

IB:

Okay-okay, I’ll put your job ad on the blog :) Let’s continue, you all left your great jobs and took this leap of faith. How has your daily life changed after taking the leap?

Juha:

Man, it was a big change, but I have managed it quite well. The current salary is not as it used to be, but it didn’t come as a surprise. Acquiring more customers and seeing their excitement on what we do is a great reward! I also need to add that I truly enjoy my new commercial role. Nothing feels better than selling a product and value proposition that you believe in 100%!

Mikko:

For me it hasn’t changed that much. Having your own research project has a lot of similar aspects as having your own startup.

Teppo:

My life has become more flexible. Some days I work very late but on the other hand, I have more freedom to choose when to work and when to take a break.

IB:

So in other words, is entrepreneurship something you like and would you recommend it to others?

Teppo:

Yeah absolutely, this is the best way to push yourself to the limit and to learn new things all the time.

Juha:

I feel exactly the same. If you have the passion for it and you want to take responsibility, this is the right way to do it. A genuine interest for what you are doing is the key.

IB:

Juha, you took part in Icebreaker’s Pre-founder Project this spring and you ended up raising funding from Icebreaker. Any comments on that?

Juha:

The Pre-founder Project has helped me and Sellforte in many ways. During the project, I met with many enthusiastic aspiring entrepreneurs with different backgrounds. I still keep in touch with them. We offer each other peer support and exchange valuable learnings along our entrepreneurial journeys. The funding has given us the opportunity to focus on what’s relevant right now: talking to clients and building something what they love. We have got a lot of good advice and valuable tips from many people. And of course, we have had great time with the Icebreaker team. They’re all awesome guys!! 😎

 

–––The End–––


By the way, we are organising another Pre-founder Project this fall 

Read more here and apply before September 30, 2017!