When Heikki Väänänen was growing up, there was a shop in Iisalmi that Väänänen was forced to frequent. The customer service in the shop was poor, but it seemed there was no easy way to convey this to the management of the shop.
The thought was left brewing for several years.
Väänänen moved to Tampere to study for a master's degree in technology. Together with Ville Levaniemi, he established two companies that were later sold. The last of these was gaming company, through which the serial entrepreneurs ended up working in a larger company.
'Working for someone else, we started to think whether or not entrepreneurship might be our thing, after all.'
It was time to dig up the old idea Väänänen had thought up in Iisalmi. The idea was developed into a product by which a client can provide feedback on his or her customer service experience in an effortless manner.
'We visited the management of 15 to 20 of the largest retail trade companies and asked if our product made sense to them. All were very enthusiastic about the idea.'
According to Väänänen, the heads of the companies were relatively easy to reach.
'Everyone wanted to help when they understood that this was something new and useful.'
For many, the HappyOrNot service looks stupefyingly simple. The device, about a metre high, has four buttons, each with a different emoticon. The client expresses his or her opinion of the service by pressing one of the buttons.
The idea sounds simple, but the development of the device and the associated software took a surprisingly long time.
'Initially, we thought that it would take us a month to do it, but it took us almost whole year.'
The challenges derived from the fact that the device needed to be reliable and easy to use for both consumers and the clients purchasing the device from HappyOrNot.
'In the gaming company, we had got used to the idea that a service has to be so easy to use that no manual is needed.'
In December 2009, the first HappyOrNot device was adopted into use in a Valintatalo supermarket. The years that followed were highly educational in terms of how to access a market in Finland.
Entering the export market with support from Tekes
In 2012, HappyOrNot was ready to enter the export market. The feedback received and the growth in turnover indicated that the demand for the product was there.
The company, based in Tampere, remained small, but Väänänen and his team made the decision to themselves work on getting a foothold abroad.
'We tried it for two months, but did not get past the secretaries.'
The new plan was to hire sales representatives for each country. This proved to be a more sustainable solution, as currently the majority of the company's revenue come from export. Last year, the company's turnover increased by approximately EUR 800,000 to EUR 1.5 million. Today, the company's product is being sold in over 30 countries.
Finding the right agents can make or break a company's efforts to access a new market: it is thus worth investing in.
'Agents are easy to come by, but managing to hire good ones is a more difficult task.'
The company must sell its product to an agent to ensure that they will truly focus their efforts into selling the product.
'Arranging this in a satisfactory manner can easily take years.'
Today, the most significant markets for HappyOrNot are located in the UK, Germany, France and the US. The company, currently employing approximately 20 people, is now investing everything in internationalisation.
HappyOrNot's entry to foreign markets was expedited by Tekes funding for young, innovative companies, enabling quicker investments in export.
Supported by the funding, the company was able to patent and protect the concept, recruit top experts in the sales team, take part in a number of international exhibitions and produce marketing material for international use.
The funding for young, innovative companies is divided into phases. Entering a new phase requires fulfilment of the objectives of the previous phase.
Väänänen says that this helped the company to set goals and to truly strive to achieve them.
'Thanks to the YIC funding, we were able to access the export market in a short space of time. The objectives set by the Tekes experts were very challenging, but still possible. They kept pushing us forward.'
Managing Director, Co-Founder
heikki.vaananen (at) happy-or-not.com
Tel. +358 45 652 3668
Author: Josi Tikkanen