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Juha Ruohonen: Get out of your country and see who your competitors are

On February 8-9 of 2018 Latvia’s capital Riga hosted TechChill tech event, which gathered around 2000 representatives from around the world.

Juha Ruohonen is a partner of Superhero Capital VC.

Previously he was the Head Coach of Startup Sauna Finnish accelerator and worked with various successful startups, helping them to enter the global market. talked to Juha Ruohonen within the frames of TechChill.

If we discuss the Nordics and the Baltics as a tech ecosystem, how welcoming is it for international startups?

I think the region is welcoming; we are pretty good at getting companies in.

Finland has startup visa so you can quickly get it, and Estonia already offers the same opportunity.

Startups from Belarus, Russia are very actively joining Finnish, Lithuanian and Estonian tech ecosystems.

It’s very difficult to get funded if you are a Belarusian or Russian company, as a lot of investors like us gave such limitations as embargos for Russia. So rarely investors consider Russia, but they still can invest in Russian teams who establish operations within EU borders.

Every startup wishes to get a VC funding? What should it know before applying?

First, you should understand the logic of the industry. It’s “a pay to play” industry. And once we step on that path, we don’t have a trial period. We can’t say: “Take our money and if you don’t like it, pay it back.”
The primary challenge is that entrepreneurs don’t understand how the VC industry works. They don’t understand why we have to get certain ownership. For example, we are a seed fund and typically invest after angels or with angels. So typically startups don’t realize that they have to go through multiple stages and in every round they are going to lose 15-25% of their ownership.

That’s hard for the entrepreneurs to accept because they want millions from the VCs but they still wish to own 80% of the company. It’s not going to work. If you want to own your own company and be a lifetime entrepreneur, don’t talk to investors. There isn’t anything bad in being a lifetime entrepreneur but it’s a different game.

What would be your advice to Eastern European startups, which target global market?

Entrepreneurs often don’t know their market. I usually ask them: “What is number one event in your specific industry?” They tell the event name and I say: “Get a ticket, go there, see who else is present, what are they talking about and if you come back and still don’t understand how you are different, quit it and do something else.”

If you do not know your market, for me you are lazy.

You have to be different; you have to do something unique. The best way to learn is to see what other people are doing, talk to customers. You need to get out of your country to see who you are competing with.

You can keep the technology development team where it’s cost efficient and where you have the access to talent, but you need to move the business as fast as you can to wherever the target market is. This is basically the Israeli model.

Get out of your country to see who you are competing with.

What kind of startups Superhero Capital VC is interested in?

We invest in the Nordics, mainly Finland and Baltic states. We are a seed fund, so we need to be close to the companies we are investing in. Those are mainly B2B startups.  

Do you know anything about Armenian tech developments?

Honestly, I don’t. I have never been to Armenia so I don’t know what’s happening there. I have been to several other post-Soviet states like Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. Of course, if Armenia has something interesting, we can always start discussions.

Narine Daneghyan talked to Juha Ruohonen

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