Juha Valvanne, founder of Nosto, talks about delivering eCommerce customers personalised shopping experiences across all devices.

Nosto analyses customers’ behaviour, learning their likes and dislikes and enables eCommerce companies to deliver automated, personalised recommendations in real-time.

Founder, Juha Valvanne, started his career in the eCommerce industry back in 1999 as one of the first employees in a company that started building an eCommerce platform. While working at that IT company and helping merchants to start their online businesses, he established his own online store. It was more of a “sandbox” at first, to try out different things and help other merchants to succeed online, but the hobby grew to a real business and after some years, he found myself running a team of thirty people with multi-million sales, a full-blown omni-channel retail concept with physical stores, online stores, mobile, outlets, brand stores and apps. Juha says "I’ve sat on both sides of the table prior to founding Nosto" and continues to tell us more about the business...

I came up with the idea when... When I was a merchant myself, our sales staff could provide excellent service in a store, but the challenge I faced was how to do the same online. Online stores at that time were more of a product catalogue in online format: faceless, passive, static and lacking personal touch and inspirational experience.

The initial product of Nosto was a product recommendation engine for online stores. The reason I founded the company with Antti and Jani was to make the online experience better by providing more relevant product promotions and inspiration by recognising people entering a store, remembering their history and preferences, and recommending relevant products to each individual based on who they are, what they are looking for, and what other people have done in the store. This simply makes the shopping experience better, hence provides value to the merchants. And for that added value - and only for that - Nosto would take a success based fee.

If we could make it easy to implement to any store, and merchants would need to pay only for the added value, we could be able to empower merchants across the globe to use the power of personalisation and help consumers to find relevant products in more convenient ways.

The biggest challenge is... One of the challenges we have as a fast growing company is how to maintain the right kind of culture as we are so spread out across different locations. As a founder I find this a really interesting challenge. We have tools in place that help us to communicate and we are experimenting with ways to bring people together and share experiences, but as the team grows, the less time the founders have to spend per employee.

When it comes to scaling the business, there are multiple challenges, such as hiring. We’ve managed to build a AAA team, but finding new talent is a constant challenge. Meanwhile, prioritisation and having the right focus at all times is essential. It is easy to end up doing too many things at the same time and spread resources too thin. Although we are a very fast growing company, we feel that we should be moving even faster to secure this great opportunity.

Finding scalable models in everything we do is a key to maintain speed and agility. We want to remain a product company that can scale fast globally. This means we need to be smart.

The average day is spent... Guiding and inspiring the product team to achieve ambitious goals. Time is spent mostly in meetings, mainly meeting product managers, lead developers, technology partners and our clients. I also try to have one day a week with no meetings and emails and just focus on updating our roadmap, product vision, and strategy going forward based on all the data and feedback gathered, although taking that time is in practice quite difficult as there are so many things happening all the time.

The team consists of... Our product team is quite “flat” and divided to small teams responsible for improving certain areas of the product. Each of the teams has a lead developer and product managers help the teams to build and roll out new releases to the market.

Overall we give great responsibility to individuals in the team. With that responsibility also comes freedom and responsible people thrive on freedom. We care about getting things done, reaching the next milestones and innovating fearlessly. We have seen this kind of working atmosphere attracting and nourishing innovative people. Each of us can contribute to the success of Nosto and it is not measured by how many hours they work, 
or how much they are in the office. We care about accomplishing every day! By accomplishing daily and remaining agile and changing as the market changes - this is what will make Nosto a winner in the long run.

My favourite quote... Since we started I’ve had a sticker next to my workplace saying ‘Get **** done.’”

I’ve always tried to be positive and optimistic. That is also one character we’ve been looking for when finding new talent to join the team. In a startup, you just need to be optimistic. There is always **** hitting the fan and you need to learn from mistakes and simply do better next time. To get over things and try again, requires a certain attitude.

I am where I am today because of... The really amazing people around me.

I am who I am because of... My passion for the industry and people I’ve met along the journey. I’m extremely fortunate to have been able to work with amazing people and in general, happiness is doing what you love - and I absolutely love my work.

The best advice I've been given... Take it one day at a time, have fun, and enjoy the journey.

In five years I’d like to be... At Nosto innovating fearlessly.

The thing no one ever tells you about running your own business online... It is very much 24/7 and work and life lines can blur.

Our biggest mistake and what it taught us... I think we should learn more from other people. We often think we can figure out answers on our own, but you can only win if you ask someone specialised in certain area or someone that has done similar thing already, whatever it is. What I’ve realised is that people who have done amazing things actually love to help other entrepreneurs, and they feel satisfied if they can provide any kind of help.

The most rewarding experience we’ve had to date... The daily feedback we get from our clients.

October 2016