We had the privilege of discussing with three Finnish leaders who have led their organizations through fast growth. Co-founder & CEO of Wolt Miki Kuusi, co-founder and CEO of Gubbe Sandra Lounamaa and co-founder & CEO of Metacore Mika Tammenkoski all shared their wisdom on leadership learnings during fast growth.
Check below some key takeaways from the discussion to gain a better understanding of what to do and what not to do!
Find Your Product Market Fit
The biggest enabler for your company’s fast growth is to find the sweet spot of product market fit. You cannot succeed and scale without it.
“You will know if you don’t have product market fit, as everything will be much more difficult and your business will not fly,” says Miki. “For each market, you will need to figure out and customize the product market fit.” He knows what he’s talking about: Wolt has scaled its operations to 25 countries and over 300 cities.
“To find your product market fit, one way to do it is to ride the huge mega trends, like increasing gig economy or lack of nurses in our case,” Sandra explains. To date, Gubbe has raised three rounds of financing, totalling over EUR 7 million.
“In mobile gaming, you can find the product market fit with a really small team. Once that is found, the next step is to find the right people to scale with. You really feel it when you find the market fit,” Mika highlights. In 2022, Metacore was the fastest growing tech company in Finlandand one the fastest growing game companies in Europe.
Build The Right Team
Hiring the right team is often a bottleneck for fast growth.
“You need the best people with high motivation and potential to grow within their role and within the company,” Sandra emphasizes. “Good recruiting processes ensure the quality of recruitments, bring those in early on.”
A brilliant talent acquisition team will be essential to your growth, but you also need all hands on deck with recruiting, including your leadership team.
“You really need to train your recruitment muscle and be independent also without the help of talent acquisition,” Mika outlines. “When growing fast, there’s a limit to how many people we can integrate and onboard well. That should be the pace and timeline for our recruiting”, he continues. Metacore has scaled their team to 140 people in just a couple of years.
“Building a team, especially the founding team, is art, not science. They are people you most likely already know,” Miki says. “Founding a team really needs development, it does not happen by chance. There will be ups and downs, it is persistent work,” Mika emphasizes.
Not every hire you make will be a success and that’s part of the process.
“When there are problems with people, try to solve them immediately, also the hardest ones. If you hire someone and get red flags, get rid of them within the trial period. It never gets better with time,” Sandra says.
Hiring the right people and seeing them grow with your company can be some of the highlights as a leader.
“When someone exceeds the expectations and does something I could have not done is amazing. You know you’ve done something right, when your team has the courage to bring out difficult topics,” Sandra summarizes.
Clarify Culture & Communicate Transparently
When the team is scaling, it is important to get it working smoothly. An essential tool to do this is to jointly clarify your culture, values and ways of working.
Both Mika and Miki highlight the importance of defining culture. Codify your culture: write it down and describe who we are. Build a culture agreement or a handbook that expresses how we work together, what values we share.
“You can use that documentation also in recruiting. Candidates can choose for themselves whether this is a motivating environment for them,” Mika says.
It is important to remember that it is natural for culture to change and evolve over time and place.
“No culture is completely monolithic, there will be nuances. If 70–80% is the same independent of team or location, then there is room for local differences. When you reiterate your culture, build on top of what you have done previously. At Wolt, our culture is still based on the same elements that we have defined in 2017,” Miki shares.
To help the team make the best decisions in a fast-paced environment, they need to have relevant information.
“We aim for transparency, easy access to information and understanding of what everyone needs to know. In our culture of trust and ownership, we expect people to keep everyone relevant involved in their decision making,” Mika states.
“Really clear and frequent communication is key. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Be honest and genuine, especially about hard topics. Enable flow of information by having regular all hands meetings and 1-to-1 meetings,” Sandra guides.
Bring in Structure to Tame Chaos
“In the early phases, the prime objective of a startup is to survive. The longer you survive, the better of a shot you will have to succeed,” Miki advises. “At the early stage, remove everything that’s nice-to-have and keep communication as simple as possible.”
When scaling accelerates, you need to bring in structure to tame the chaos and help focus. This can happen by introducing management systems or tooling, like OKRs, KPIs and other metrics.
Sandra shares that OKRs as one management system was a game changer for Gubbe. “It helps the teams to focus. Focus is everything.”
“The long-term vision needs to be aligned with the day to day work,” Mika reminds.
Stop and Take a Break
The life of a startup leader will be full of ups and downs. Whether it is difficulties in raising funding, needing to lay off employees or just having struggles finding the right people, they are all part of the journey.
“You need to have incredible patience, there are no shortcuts. You need the ability to focus and keep your head together – that’s the most important role of the CEO,” Miki says.
When the going gets tough, you need to pause. “When it’s hectic, you are not attentive and present anymore. That’s when some people feel left out and sidelined. Listen to how your people are feeling and pay genuine attention to it,” Mika advises.
“It doesn’t get better with excessive pressure and stress. Sometimes you need to stop, take a time out – and go fishing,” Miki concludes.