Interview with Mikko Honkanen, Co-founder,

Mikko Honkanen
Mikko Honkanen

Tell us about your role and how you got here. What inspired you to launch Vainu?

Our founding team has collectively spent many years in the technology sector, specifically leading sales teams and managing accounts at major organizations. No matter where we were, we face a consistent challenge — finding the ideal prospects to go after and sell our services. With limited time and resources, it’s impossible in a B2B setting to go after every possible business who may need your services. You need to be able to allocate time to the right prospects and customers. That’s where idea for Vainu began.

How do you bring ‘super accurate’ marketing qualified leads, and real-time buying signals to B2B sales and marketing team?

Our name Vainu is actually Finnish for “scent of the hunt” — through the use of the right online buying signals companies send, we have built a product that helps B2B sales people target and reach the right prospects at the right time. The accuracy comes from the the actionable insights we gather from open data in our database of more than 100 million companies. Through machine learning, our platform is constantly learning, refining and expanding the depth of our database’s knowledge.

Perhaps the best way to show the power of our platform is through what our customers have experienced. For example, one of our customers, a SaaS vendor in the HR space, spent 67% less time on prospecting while conducting 27% more sales meeting and increase revenue by 36% — all within a six month period.

Sales teams work smarter and have more time to spend on doing what they do best — talking to people about the value of their product or service. Vainu is the tool that helps them find the people most in need of having that conversation with them.

What are the differentiating factors separating Vainu from other sales intelligence products?

We know more about companies any anyone else and have built a very powerful prospecting search engine on top of our extensive database. Our tool is built and designed by sales people, for sales people. Our sales intelligence platform isn’t built on static or annual data, unlike other platforms. And, our information isn’t combed through having team members tediously call companies and gather information that way. It is all done through open data and machine learning — we teach our Vainu platform to gather relevant insights from companies. Through 100-plus filters, our customers can find their Ideal Customer Profile through simple searches and maintain an evolving list of them by setting up automated sales trigger updates. And, our platform feeds into a customers’ CRM so that there is a seamless process from researching prospects to maintaining leads. And, customers can feed lists in their CRM back into Vainu to build a list of like-minded companies in the Vainu database and call on those prospects.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader? How do you leverage AI technologies at Vainu?

AI really is in our DNA at Vainu — our platform evolves and builds on itself through it. We have a team of developers, led by our CTO Tuomas Rasila, who are constantly looking to take our machine learning a step further. As an example, we just launched new updates that allow users to find corporate structures of all the companies in our database. Moreover, we are, with A.I., able to know industrial domains of all the companies by detecting those from how they communicate openly. This is huge in the US, where this is a problem. Our AI is now also crunching the numbers of all the financial statements on full auto pilot. This means that a customer of ours who conducts sales at a bank can sort all of the companies in the order in which they need financial services. We also just released a new way of how our customers can create their own AI instances within Vainu to search customers like their examples — in short, take a list of best customers and search more like them.

The intent for these AI expansions is to make the life of sales and marketing people more efficient, saving them time and energy.

In 2018, how would CMOs benefit from leveraging sales prospecting tools?

CMOs are often measured by number of leads, their conversion rate and total return on marketing. Using sales prospecting tools, CMOs can run very effective account-based marketing campaigns and make sure they spend their marketing efforts with the prospects that have the highest likelihood of becoming customers. CMOs can also use account insights to make their lead scoring algorithms even more accurate. There are both positive and negative company attributes that can be extracted from public web and those data points improve lead scoring algorithms that typically are mainly based on behavioral data.

What are the major challenges for B2B teams in dealing with multi-channel data along the prospect’s journeys?

In the past, data quality was always a challenge for almost any B2B teams. Nowadays, data quality has improved a lot but at the same time the amount of data available has exploded. All teams need to make sure they have mapped out their customer journey and built a systematic sales playbook for their teams. With those  it’s easier to map out different data sources that are most useful in different parts of the sales funnel. At the end of the day, B2B teams don’t just need data but insights that help them to do the right thing at the right time.

What startups in the martech industry are you watching/keen on right now?

There is a lot of activity in the startup and marketing technology industries across the Nordic region (our European headquarters is in Helsinki). Here are some rising martech companies in the Nordics that people may want to keep their eye on as they continue to grow and refine their technologies:

  • – This Finnish company helps marketing teams to automate and optimize their Facebook and Instagram advertisements. I believe they will become one of the leaders in that space globally.
  • Flowbox and Stackla: Flowbox is from Sweden and Stackla is actually not from the Nordics but Australia. They both help marketing teams to utilize User Generated Content more effectively in the marketing process. I believe UGC is a great opportunity for many companies and it’s exciting to see the progress of these fast growing startups.
  • Unacast: A Norwegian company and one of leading proximity and location data platforms. Their Real World Graph™ helps marketing teams to understand how people and places are connected.

What tools does your marketing stack consist of in 2018?

We use a number of tools across our team in multiple offices, countries and continents. Here’s what our stack looks like in 2018:

  • Vainu – We use our software for sales prospecting, inbound lead scoring and account based marketing campaigns.
  • Hubspot – This is our marketing automation tool
  • – Sales engagement platform for the US market where it’s more challenging to get connected with decision makers
  • Pipedrive – This is our CRM and it’s integrated with our own Vainu tool
  • GetAccept – For eSignatures and sales & marketing collateral analytics
  • Slack – Our team collaboration tool
  • TrenDemon – A Hubspot plugin that helps us to understand what type of content resonates the best with customers

Would you tell us about your standout global digital campaign/ customer success story at Vainu?

Perhaps our biggest success story is how our own platform has really helped us to target prospects and sell directly to them. We launched our company just several years ago as an idea between three founders. For the first six months, we worked out of my house and did not take a salary to build our product. We did not take outside funding; rather, we started selling from Day One. And as soon as we had our initial database, we were using that to aggressively target prospects who would also stand to benefit from our services.

Since we first started developing Vainu in 2014, we have grown to more than 140 employees, six offices and $1 million per month in online bookings and recurring revenue. And we have still been able to do all of it with no outside funding.

In terms of measuring our successes in sales and marketing, we turn to the Sales Velocity Equation to get a better understanding of how effective our team is. The equation goes as follows:

You multiply the number of sales opportunities by average deal value and also win rate percentage. Then, you divide that by (the length of the sales cycle). That sales velocity number can then be measured over time to see how well your team is doing.

How do you manage people and technology converging at Vainu? How should businesses adjust management style when reaching new markets?

Our entire company really revolves around the Vainu SaaS offering and our entire team — from product development to sales to customer support — is laser-focused on providing the best possible experience of the Vainu platform to our customers. In a sense, the more energy we spend refining Vainu and learning best practices on how to use the data to effectively sell, the better we will be able to support our customers and convince prospects that the tool is essential for the modern salesperson.

Our sales team is constantly working on the Vainu platform searching for prospects who would be ideal customers for us. Technology and people have been converging since Day One here at Vainu — everyone at our company is helping us learn more about Vainu and constantly refine and expand on our sales intelligence platform.

Perhaps the biggest leap so far for us has been to expand to the United States and open our New York office. To launch, we did what we have done in other offices — we bring several experienced team members to the new market and build around them. These are people that we know understand our brand and culture and who can teach that to new team members.

While you may need to make some adjustments when managing in new markets, you will always want to maintain your company DNA. That’s the most important element of entering a new market. You will need to learn the nuances of the new market, but you will always want to hold to the most important elements that have defined company success to date.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Zapier is a great app that connects many of the apps I use daily. There are so many useful applications these days and they don’t always have powerful integrations with each other. Zapier solves that problem for users. One way we use it to connect our lead scoring models on Hubspot with our own Vainu data, which saves us a lot of time.

What’s your smartest work related shortcut or productivity hack?

In a way, becoming a parent is the most effective productivity hack one could think of. I want to spend a lot of time with my 15-month old daughter and it helps me to get started with my work-related tasks right away in the morning because I don’t want to end up working until very late in the evening every other day. So, I guess productivity is all about your mindset at the end of the day!

What are you currently reading?

I typically have several books that I’m reading more or less at the same time. Right now the ones that I’m really enjoying are:
Fanatical Prospecting, Jeb Blount – a great book about the importance of always building a fresh pipeline in sales.

Outside Insight, Jorn Lyseggen – this is a fascinating story of how external data can be used in corporate decision making. The author is my former CEO in the company I worked for before launching Vainu.

-Alex, Alexander Stubb – An autobiography from a former prime minister and Ironman triathlon finisher Alexander Stubb.

-When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi – A non-fiction autobiographical book written by Paul Kalanithi. It’s a memoir about his life and illness, battling stage IV metastatic lung cancer.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Start selling from Day One. We really made this part of our mantra in launching Vainu. I believe that the best way to try out if an idea is good enough to take off is to speak to 100 unaffiliated potential customers as soon as possible. If people are willing to spend their time and money on something, it’s the best feedback you can get.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read –

Kristo Ovaska, Founder & CEO of

Thank you, Mikko! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Before launching Vainu, Mikko Honkanen was a multi-national director for global media monitoring company Meltwater. He gained experience across the Nordics as an area director and country director for Finland and grew the company and a team in Silicon Valley as regional director for the North America West division.

Through his experience working in the media landscape and with Big Data, Honkanen realized a need for a broader B2B service that allowed business development professionals from many different industries the kinds of targeted insights and triggers they need to make smart, efficient prospecting decisions.

Vainu is a data-driven prospecting and lead generation sales intelligence platform used by more than 1,000 organizations to identify actionable insights and sales leads. On mission to collect, read and understand all the information ever written about every company in the world, and with more than 100 million companies in its platform already, Vainu has helped its clients streamlines sales and close more deals by finding the right time and method to contact prospects. It was named a 2017 top 100 European startup in Wired U.K. and “Best Bootstrapped Startup” in the 2017 Nordic Startup Awards.

Used by companies like FedEx, UPS, Manpower, Dell and Microsoft, business development leaders in countless industries capitalize on the ever-increasing amount of big data through Vainu. The user-friendly platform integrates with many major sales tools including Gmail, LinkedIn, Salesforce, Slack, Pipedrive and Microsoft Dynamics, among others. Vainu recently launched an app to provide its same customized sales and prospecting solution to users on the go.

With more than 140 team members worldwide, Vainu’s European headquarters is in Helsinki. It also has European offices in Amsterdam, Oslo and Stockholm. The company’s U.S. headquarters is in New York City.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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