Don’t you just hate to juggle with over 100k pages of requirement documents while running 1 billion € projects like a nuclear power plant?

Company: Selko.io

Started playing:  Q1/2017

Joined the band: Q4/2017


We had a chat with two of the founders of Selko.io, Tuomas Ritola (CEO) and Suvi Ellilä (COO), who have an interesting story of why they founded Selko.io. Nuclear power plants, marine vessels and all the other complex projects usually contain over 100k pages of requirements defining all the details from sizes of the bolts to the colour of the paint. Selko.io uses AI to automate these complicated requirements management processes, and here is a story on who they are and what they do.

Selko.io Interview

Icebreaker(IB):
Hey guys, hope you’re doing well! What are you working with at the moment?


Tuomas:

At the moment, most of the time goes into developing the MVP (minimum viable product), and we are actually piloting with a couple of major Finnish companies. At the moment we are scoping the length of the piloting project, and hopefully that will end in a deal after the testing during the coming weeks!


IB:

When did you guys get started with Selko.io?


Tuomas:

Actually this project started already 10 years ago as a research project in Helsinki University of Technology, in Otaniemi, and several doctoral theses have been done during this project. About one year ago we incorporated the research project, and last September we started to work full-time with this. Before that we searched for the right team and investors.


IB:

Is your team the same that started with the research project 10 years ago?


Tuomas:

Not quite. Me and Faisal Mokammel, our CTO, have been working with this since the beginning, and our Chairman of the Board, a professor from Tampere University of Technology, was the project leader back then. Vladislav Nenchev, our lead software developer, was originally a Mathematics Professor at Sofia University in Bulgaria and he joined through the research project but started to work with us last September. Suvi was working in UK, but we met in April and she joined shortly after that. Building such an international team took a while :D


IB:

What are your backgrounds, what have you been working with before Selko?


Suvi:

My journey to this point has been quite long and different. When I was still studying, I wanted to work for a large corporation instead of being an entrepreneur. When I went on doing my master’s to Cambridge, I noticed how they really encouraged students to start something of their own, since they want their students to make something big and different rather than ending up in big corporates. Nevertheless, I then ended up working for corporates, but it wasn’t really my thing.  Also, I noticed that several of my classmates went on being entrepreneurs, which really got me thinking that maybe I should start something of my own as well. I then joined a health startup as a developer, which later failed, but I learned that I wanted to work on the business development side, which then took me back to Finland.


IB:

What is the difference between working in Finland and abroad?


Suvi:

The largest difference is regarding the entrepreneurial atmosphere. In London, they say that it is almost impossible to get funding, while in Finland you are encouraged and introduced to the right people. Also, London is so much bigger than Helsinki, which means that there is no similar startup infrastructure that we have in Finland.


IB:

How about you Tuomas, was the research project so interesting that you later on wanted to make a profession out of it?


Tuomas:

I graduated in 2010 and continued with my doctoral thesis right after that, but I always had that feeling that I wanted to start something of my own. After a couple of research projects at the Helsinki University of Technology, I founded a design agency together with a friend where we did for example mechanical design. I noticed quite fast that this can’t be scaled without hiring new employees, since we only sold our own expertise instead of a product. If we wanted to double our sales, we needed to double the number of employees. At the same time, I was also part of multiple research projects, and we wanted to commercialize one the projects but were not able to find funding because it wasn’t incorporated. This eventually lead to incorporating the project, and after we managed to find funding I quit at the previous company to work full-time with Selko.


IB:

If you should explain to a 5-year old what Selko does, how would you frame it?


Tuomas:

Concretely, we examine text-based data and scrape the most relevant elements or phrases that would be interesting for the user. For example, if you have a 300 page document, we can examine and find the most relevant information out of that document with the help of AI algorithms in a fraction of time it would take manually.


IB:

How long has it taken to develop this technology so far?


Tuomas:

Researching this problem and the theme started 10 years ago, but the technology, or the tool, has been developed for a couple of years now. The technology has been developed in stages and we have noticed new things from every pilot we have done.


Suvi:

I really think that these pilot projects with real customer cases instead of researching at the university lab have been the cornerstone in shaping the product and technology to what it is today and where it is heading towards.


IB:

Do you concentrate only on one business segment or can this tool be applied in several fields?


Tuomas:

The tool has no restrictions regarding different business segments, but every segment is different when taking the requirements into consideration. Therefore, it is important to choose which kind of business areas we focus on, since the tool is at its best in segments where the requirements are complex in their nature.


Suvi:

What really interest us, in a technical manner, is to learn how we can utilize the tool inside these complex segments and how we can customize the product for the users inside that business segment. Our goal is to validate that during the next 6 months.


IB:

Have you noticed that these problems are similar regardless the segment, do you find any similarities?


Suvi:

Surprisingly yes. We have worked with several fields which are totally different, but we have noticed that these projects are really similar in their nature. We think that we can actually solve these problems side by side even if the document layouts are different.


Tuomas:

The things that actually are burdens for the companies are the things that we detect through the pilot programs, and very often we notice that the problems are similar. Luckily the data and the solutions to these problems are mostly the same, regardless of the business segment.


IB:

Where do you find all the passion for solving process automation in this fascinating new way?


Suvi:

This is a really good question, since when we first met with Tuomas and he was going through the presentation, I was like “Wow, interesting”, and Tuomas replied “Really?! No one find these complex requirements and rules interesting!”. I really liked the business and got fascinated about the problem-solving idea, which I think derives from my background since I am a mechanical engineer at my core.


Tuomas:

Another funny incident occurred during Slush, when someone grabbed my sleeve after hearing our pitch and said that he was surprised that someone actually pitched a business idea about requirements, since there are only few people who actually know that this kind of segment exists and even fewer actually are interested about it. The requirements itself are not super interesting but providing a tool to solve problems of this magnitude really interests me.


IB:

How does the short-term future of Selko look like, how does your roadmap look like at the moment? How about scaling?


Tuomas:

We are focusing on releasing our MVP during the summer, so that we can actually start to sell the product to customers. Another thing is that we are exploring the different segments where to utilize this product, for example inside the energy and space segments. On a broader timescale, we would want to tap into other segments, such as legal, where there are massive amounts of text-based data and documents.


Suvi:

Also, we would like to collaborate with other engineering companies who concentrate on software solutions, so that we could for example integrate our software with the existing ones. At the moment, the majority of text-based documents are written in English, and we have done an analysis in another language, but supporting other languages is not in our scope for now.


IB:

Are you thinking about growing the size of your team during this year?


Tuomas:

At the moment we are a team 4 people, but we are planning to hire one frontend and possibly one backend developer as well as one data scientist during this year. The biggest problem is to find the right kind of people. To tackle this we are collaborating with Aalto University in different research projects so that we could possibly find the right people through that collaboration.


IB:

Where does the name Selko come from?


Tuomas:

The original name of the research project was quite long and difficult to enunciate in another language than Finnish, so we started to think of an easier name that could be expressed “selkokielellä” (=in plain english). That’s also what we are trying to do, explain and derive heavy text-based documents in more common language.


IB:

How has Icebreaker.vc contributed to your journey?


Tuomas:

The best thing is that we can recruit new people and actually concentrate on growing the business. Also, we do not have any financial restrictions for a while now, which really helps the decision-making.


Suvi:

Now we can actually concentrate on selling and focus on our potential customers, which is in my opinion the most interesting part!