"Keep going, never look back and set your own goals"– nine theses about success and failure from Helsinki-based Man in Van’s Jon Catani and Olli Martinheimo.
When we first started out in Finland, we started with nothing. We compiled a list of a hundred Finnish companies that could use our help and trusted our gut instinct that we’d find a few that would be willing to work with us. It was tough. When we finally managed to secure our first client, we’d already gotten rejected at least twenty times. We still kept our motivation high and remembered that a no might not always be a permanent no. You just have to keep going until you get your first yes. From there, things will start rolling organically.
In 2015, we experienced a handful of big setbacks. First, a big client tightened their budget and cut all unnecessary spending. We had also just hired an extremely talented project manager, an intelligent guy in his early thirties. We all thought he’d become something big. On a Tuesday afternoon in May 2015, his mother called us to tell us that he’d gotten into a motorbike accident. He spent two days in the intensive care unit before passing away. It was a huge shock to us both personally and business-wise.
Shortly after our project manager’s death, our Norwegian headquarters informed us that they were going bankrupt. On top of it all, our CEO caught meningitis and got divorced. Despite everything, we always saw a light at the end of the tunnel — interesting client prospects, negotiations and new deals — that helped us carry on despite our setbacks. When autumn 2015 arrived, we’d already picked up our pace.
Our first million felt incredible. That seven-number figure felt great. We felt that if we could hit a million, we could easily hit two, three, four or five million, too. Setting goals is a great way to grow your business and keep your morale high. Aim for sustainable growth and profitability and be persistent about it. Challenge yourself and push hard. Try to forget about your competitors. Set your own goals. Make your own milestones. Only compete with yourself.
Everything will always take longer than you think. When our CEO Jon started the business, he was 26-years old and thought that he’d turn the business over in a few years and then move to the United States. Fast-forward to today, he’s still here, working hard to grow the business. It’s impossible to build a stable and profitable company from the ground up in a couple of years — it will take longer and require persistence. Try to be patient and enjoy it. You will reap the reward for your patience later. Building a business is like running a marathon — and you don’t win a marathon by jumping the gun.
Find people that you can trust. Getting investors involved in our business was a big milestone for us. It freed a lot of mental and emotional space and kickstarted a new period in the life of the company. Our investors, including Greenstep, got very involved in our business from the get-go and helped grow the company substantially. The key to our progress was to get experts involved. We relied on specialists throughout the process and only worked with people with extensive experience from the field. If you trust inexperienced people, you might miss the mark entirely. Pick your advisors well and you’ll sleep better at night.
Calculate what you think you’ll achieve. Then half it. Then half it again. Then double your expenses — and double them again. It will be far closer to the truth than what you initially thought.
Ask for references
Don’t be afraid to ask your clients for feedback that you can publish and use as reference cases. Potential clients appreciate and trust their kin; that’s why it’s of quintessential importance that you gather all kinds of references to rely on in negotiations and meetings. Set standards that will enable you to collect good references — write them clearly in your contracts and be transparent about them. It will help you along your way as you grow your business.
Get to know people. Make friends with likeminded businesspeople. Build a family around yourself. Be open. It’s extremely important to work and live with people you can trust and respect.
When you’re working, work and when you’re living your life, live. Even when it feels impossible, try to switch your work self off when you go home. Take care of your most important relationships and remember that they are the buoy that will keep you afloat when times get tough.
Founded in 2011, Man in Van is a Helsinki-based company that has created a new way of organising and providing installation, maintenance and construction services for companies with many physical locations in a dispersed geography. The company exceeded 3.5 million euros in revenue in 2018 with a growth of over 65 per cent and have a varied clientele that includes service stations, retail chains, restaurants, hotels and property companies like Shell, Teboil, Fitness24Seven, Oral Hammaslääkärit Oyj, Attendo, JYSK, NoHo Partners Oyj, Restel, etc.
Words: Matilda Kivelä