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December 19, 2023

The Beginning of Blancco: How Kim Väisänen started Blancco for real

By Evli Growth Partners
Kim Väisänen
Growth Partner
Startups are usually built around solving specific problems. For Kim Väisänen, the problem was that he wanted to get out of university.

This blog post is part of The Founder Files series, exploring the human side of entrepreneurship, where the distinction between success and failure is often a fine line. From founding and scaling, all the way to the exit, we reveal the unfiltered, authentic stories behind entrepreneurial journeys. Ready to hear the truth?

Don't be fooled by the rocks that I got

I'm still I'm still Jenny from the block

Used to have a little, now I have a lot

No matter where I go, I know where I came from

Startups are usually built around solving specific problems. For Kim Väisänen, the problem was that he wanted to get out of university. Growing up in a family of hard-working small business owners, where his parents drove taxi and delivered newspapers in the wee hours, he decided to pursue a completely different path. Väisänen wanted to become a bank director, so he applied and was accepted to study economics.

Then came the 90s recession, and suddenly, the term "bank director" became a curse word. At the same time, Väisänen realized that maybe the mathematics-heavy master's degree in economics might not have been much of a passion project for him. He needed a way out.

“Data erasure is almost as exciting as watching the paint dry. But there was a market gap.”

Along with his study mate and future co-founder, Väisänen participated in a business simulation competition where they ultimately ended up going bankrupt and ranked last. Not allowing the defeat to discourage them too much, they decided to give entrepreneurship a shot in real life.

“What the heck, building a company can’t be that hard”, they thought. Initially, they developed a remote control system for engine block heaters. Then, they moved to computer security cables. After trial and error, Blancco accidentally found its business opportunity in 1997.

“Data erasure is almost as exciting as watching the paint dry. But there was a market gap”, Väisänen says.

Once the market recognized its value, Blancco, specializing in data erasure solutions and mobile device diagnostics, began to take off – first in Finland and then internationally as well. But the initial years of building a business took a toll on Väisänen. He missed both weddings and funerals, and kept working, whether it was Monday, Sunday, or a holiday.

“I worked much more than was humanly reasonable. I thought it might be a good idea to travel for work during holidays like Easter, since they don't celebrate Easter in Japan, for example. But I don’t regret it. I was investing in the future.”

Blancco and Aucnet signing an agreement on exclusive distribution rights in Japan in 2005.

One principle Väisänen lives by – in his business – is not to fall in love with people.

“It’s very different to drink beer with a friend than to sell beer with a friend.”

Different people are suitable for the company at different stages, and individuals change as much as the company does.

“Some get married, some have children, some want to change careers, some want to leave everything behind and become ski bums. Those people who flourish in a team of three might be a disaster in a team of 15, let alone 100.”

As a company evolves, managing employee turnover becomes easier. With established processes, replacing individuals becomes less of a hassle. However, this isn't the case during the startup phase, which makes it harder to avoid becoming attached to people.

In Blancco’s case, two things made this lesson very concrete. The first one was that after a couple of years, they managed to secure €500k in funding – which, at the time, was a significant funding round – and lost all of it in one year, almost having to file for bankruptcy. They made the common early mistake of overhiring, expecting results to simply follow. But it didn't work out that way. There was no other option but to let people go.

Secondly, following that experience, Väisänen’s co-founder left the company, which certainly had a significant impact both on him and the team. However, Väisänen once again emphasizes the importance of not becoming too attached to people, as it's common for the founding team to change over time.

“For us, it offered a chance to make a fresh start.”

“If there’s a massive problem and you come up with an easy and simple solution, the solution is always wrong. There are 68 smaller solutions, and those create the bigger solution.”

Drawing from his personal experience, Väisänen summarizes his best leadership advice for managing a startup team in three points: First, seek individuals who are capable of working independently, without the need for constant supervision. Second, prefer individuals who can scale up and down, as situations in startups can vary greatly. And third, trust your team members to the extent that it almost scares you – don’t micromanage.

“The first ten years of entrepreneurship are the hardest. There’s a lack of confidence, lack of customers, lack of money, lack of sleep, lack of time… there is a lack of everything except for trouble.”

Väisänen navigated the challenging early years of entrepreneurship with resilience, driven by a strong sense of responsibility. He was raised by his mother to be a responsible man, which meant giving up many other things as well. “I guess that’s why I have no hair left.” He also firmly believes that the market is the best mentor.

“If there’s a massive problem and you come up with an easy and simple solution, the solution is always wrong. There are 68 smaller solutions, and those create the bigger solution.”

In the next part of the series, we will further explore how Blancco navigated the trials and errors of scaling, and what Kim's biggest lessons were when expanding into international markets.

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