How we did it – 10 years of supply chain excellence

Feb 24, 2016 4 min

RELEX founders: Michael Falck, Johanna Småros and Mikko Kärkkäinen

So! With our tenth anniversary celebrations having come and gone it feels like a good moment to look back over the journey so far.

January marked ten years since Johanna and I left the logistics research group at Helsinki University of Technology. We’d decided that a business would provide a really dynamic environment in which to explore our ideas and bring our talents to bear on the very real challenges many of the companies we encountered faced. Michael was still tied up with his promotions forecasting research in Eindhoven for another six months, but soon enough, he came back to join us.

We started cautiously. We’d built up a good understanding of logistics and supply chain but we were new to running a software business and we wanted to figure out how best to work and grow.

But we had two factors working in our favour; firstly a profound understanding of the problems that businesses were facing and secondly a belief in what we were doing and the determination to do it.

The next critical element was recruiting Marko and co., the technical talent that has powered so much of our development, and great budding project leaders such as Tommi. Perhaps it was luck, perhaps it was good judgement, either way it has stood us in good stead ever since.

Then there was our approach to developing the business. In the early days we spent countless hours with customers that went on to become the biggest evangelists for RELEX. We’d pour over the issues they were facing, brainstorm answers and then share the enormous pleasure of seeing the solution we’d agreed upon take shape and the customer start to benefit from it. Do a great job and you have, right there, the core of a great business. With RELEX, success has always flowed from our customers’ successes.

After a couple of years of bringing happiness to Finnish retailers and wholesalers we decided it was time to spread the joy. We blew 100€ (we were feeling reckless) on plane tickets so Johanna could go sell to Swedish companies.

Luckily we found ourselves talking to the SC Director of our soon-to-be first Swedish customer, who got what we were offering and sat down with us to create a vision for a better supply chain – a vision that we delivered together. This company became a powerful ally in spreading the word throughout the Nordics about what RELEX could do.

At about the same time, 2008, we moved from Otaniemi to a ‘studio space’ at Valimotie 27 in Helsinki. There were a dozen of us. Everyone was close enough that one could hear them sneeze or laugh. We published a statement of our values at the Christmas party; it came down to doing our best by our customers and by ourselves at the same time. They didn’t spark much discussion – this is a Finnish company after all – we simply did our best to live up to them.

Three years later the commuting to Stockholm was becoming time-consuming. Luckily the girlfriend of one of our project managers lived there so we volunteered him to open a Swedish office. He got us up and running, and became the kernel around which a very RELEX-like operation coalesced.

We replicated this model of sending a Finnish engineer as a one-person bridgehead into new territories when we sent Timo to Germany and Tommi to the UK. On reflection it might have made life easier to have done as I was advised and hired a local salesperson. All credit then to Timo and Tommi, their drive and determination, that they single-handedly managed to get us established. It also provided us with great reference customers that acted as cheerleaders for the business in those countries and helped us grow.

But while our technology has developed considerably in ten years, our approach to prospective customers is recognisably the same. We still sit down with them, listen carefully, try to get a deep understanding of their particular challenges, build a vision for a solution with them – and then build that solution, solving their problems at the same time.

The approach has paid dividends in every market we’ve entered; Finland, Sweden, the UK, Germany, Norway, Denmark, and South Africa – and we’re hoping to take that same spirit to Italy where we opened our office earlier this year and, to our latest and toughest challenge yet, the United States. We’d like to think that if we’ve got a solution that helps businesses across Europe, it can help them everywhere. And thanks to the team we’ve built, we believe we have a real chance to make RELEX a global success.

It’s been a great ten years. Hold onto your hats for the next ten! It’s going to be a heck of a ride.

Written by

Mikko Kärkkäinen

Co-founder & Group Chief Executive Officer