These days, ideas are easy to come by. The value of an idea, however, lies in using it for the greater good. And how one goes about making that idea into a success story. When it comes to businesses, these ideas need the ideal conditions to grow. This is where the startup ecosystem comes into focus. Startups provide ideal settings for new ideas to become successful products, provided that they get the right guidance. Martin Zilliacus, is one of those pioneers who has been pivotal in setting the right direction for many startups. The co-founder and COO at VisiLean, he explains his journey and the challenges he faced while drawing up his VisiLean story.
From gaming machine design to VisiLean, could you tell us your story?
Martin: It was in the 1980s that I started working in the gaming machine design field. This then took me on to mobile games, long before they would become huge. And challenging. Now, challenges are something that drives me.
The more challenging something is, the more interested I become in finding the solution.
It is this love for challenges that pushed me ahead in my career. My association with Nokia, a global giant, paved the way for more challenging opportunities. I was Head of Product Development and played an important role in bringing Nokia Mobile Entertainment Service to the market at the turn of the century.
Then, within Nokia, I moved on to being an intrapreneur, responsible for analysing, leading and driving new business and product ideas from concept to market. We are talking about a full cycle here – from conception to developing the technology to analysis, prototype building, market study, coming up with a strategy, business planning to the actual going to market and customer negotiation- I was part of everything. It was challenging at first, but then, I wanted to explore new vistas. Find new challenges. In a way, it was this experience that led me to think about moving out of Nokia, to the startup ecosystem. And that finally, led me to VisiLean.
How did it all begin – from meeting the other founders to introducing VisiLean in the market – how was the journey – what were the challenges, the hiccups – how did you solve them?
Martin: I met Dr. Bhargav Dave when he moved to Finland. I had, by then, put in a couple of years in the startup world and I was looking at something new to work on. I was intrigued by Dr. Bhargav’s concept for VisiLean. It was new, it was simple and it had a great chance of being a trailblazer. The sincerity and the passion he brought to the concept and his plans for the future convinced me. I like ideas like that. I love the dynamics of VisiLean. I love the flexibility it offers. They are the best part of VisiLean as a product. We spoke at length, and I decided to join the team. It was more than a year and a half before I met Stefan Boddy in person. However, that was never a problem as we were all working in the right direction and that is all that mattered.
Do you know that the Excel spreadsheet was our toughest competition at the start? I discovered that the field of construction is slow to change practices and decision-making takes time. We solved this challenge by explaining the functionalities of VisiLean. How simple the processes were. Things got easier once we convinced the teams who did the work.
We relied on feedback greatly to find solutions and identify problems. We found out that the most unhappy customers are our greatest source of learning, and we went back to the drawing board and fixed the issues. In the beginning, each step posed a new challenge, and we, as a team, enjoyed finding the solution. Our ethos has always been to build a product that solves real problems. We don’t add features for the sake of it, we understand the ever-changing market and work to create a real solution. One that drives tangible benefits for our customers.
VisiLean is a multi-international company, selling in over 15 countries. What are the challenges with this and how do you overcome them?
Martin: Many of our customers have offices across the world and being able to use the same system on all their projects has been vital. Now they can share updates, project learning and so much more in real-time. It has been a game-changer for them.
Currently, we support 9 different languages on our App and this is growing. Our amazing support team talk to customers around the globe and we are constantly adding to the team to ensure all our customers receive world-class support. This is something we are incredibly proud of.
You hold patents for machine-readable code systems and mobile applications – could you tell us a bit about them? And how have they helped in coming up with VisiLean as a product?
Martin: There is a common ground for it all. First comes the challenge, and then comes the solution. The steps in between depend on how we address the challenges. That is what I do. Promoting innovation; finding simple solutions to complex problems, even in a remote setup, shows it is possible to innovate as a team.
From big names to start-ups – you have done it all. How has the experience been?
Martin: I have always been a person who lives and loves to create new things in new ways. My stint as an intrapreneur in Nokia made me interested in the start-up ecosystem. Start-ups are innovative and pose exciting challenges. It is very vibrant in Finland. You would be surprised at the new ideas that come up. I love that. I take it as a learning experience.
When you think of start-ups, people have this misconception. They think that start-ups are all about a bunch of youngsters with a great idea trying to make it big. Yes, while there are many youngsters out there, they need people with experience to guide them, set them off in the right direction. And that is where people like me come in. It is this experience that I bring to VisiLean too. Adaptability is what counts.
Speaking about adaptability, what would you think was the change Covid 19 brought to the sector?
Martin: To help our customers, we incorporated Covid 19 protocols into the product to help them track who was on site. Going forward, the world has changed. Covid 19 has made the world smaller, opened new markets to us and shown that we can work remotely all over the world. Coming out of the pandemic, it’s an interesting new world, but one we are prepared for.
If not VisiLean, where?
Martin: I would have still stayed close to the startup ecosystem. It is where new ideas come, discoveries happen, and technology grows leaps and bounds. I would have been closely associated with it. However, I am very happy with the challenges I address now at VisiLean.
Do you still think of gaming machine designs?
Martin: I play games, and I like it too, but no, I have moved on from gaming machine designs. I am not thinking of going back – at least not now.