We talked to Lauri Kinkar, CEO at Messente on how they are connecting services to people with global messaging and 2-step verification and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Lauri Kinkar: In our family, a lot of how our days function has been reinvented. The kids have been studying at home for some months in the past year. Work has been mostly done at home by adults, and you never know what the situation might be a month from now. So the daily routines, the skill to plug out from work, and the ability to live while not making plans too far ahead, have become increasingly important.
We have coped quite nicely.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Messente.
Lauri Kinkar: I joined Mobi Solutions exactly 20 years ago as the first salesperson right out of university. Since then, I have helped Mobi become a group of telecommunication service companies. We have launched over 10 companies ourselves and invested in about twice as many.
We founded Messente 7 years ago, and I have been building and running it from zero to our platform, being part of hundreds of millions of small business transactions every year from Singapore to Peru. As a partner and board member of the Mobi group, I still consult other group companies on enterprise sales and building sales organizations.
In the era of the fast-moving workforce, work bites, and quick contributions – I thoroughly enjoy being able to focus on and build one company or group for a crazy long time.
How does Messente innovate?
Lauri Kinkar: Simply put, we follow the clients. There has to be a clear business case for everything we do, for everything we change or build. So we try to follow the industries that use Messente’s messaging platform; we try to understand their pains and motivations behind what they use us for. Then we analyze if we can do something else for them in these respective fields – serve them better and create more value. We talk to our customers, get their feedback, maybe even a precommitment for a partnership. And only then we start building the software/feature.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Lauri Kinkar: Messente does exactly as good as our customers are doing. If their business grows, we grow. In the spring of 2020, our turnover took a small hit as our customers found their businesses being temporarily declining or, in some cases, being shut down in some markets. I’m glad to say that in hindsight, they all (and therefore also Messente) managed to bounce back quite fast.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Lauri Kinkar: Our choice was to keep everyone on the team and not lay off anyone. We also did not lower salaries. That decision is clearly visible in our EBITDA for 2020, but we were able to move much faster after economies started to open up. I think this has been a lesson learned – if possible, retain your team for faster momentum. The world’s economy is in for another couple of rough months till summer. We’ll follow the same principles this spring.
Saying all this, I understand that being a software company, we are lucky to have the opportunity to make these kinds of decisions. Being an investor and having an inside look at things in a small restaurant in my hometown, it’s clear that in many industries, entrepreneurs do not have the luxury of retaining the team for long periods.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Lauri Kinkar: It definitely did evolve. We were in a good place, to begin with, having a dedicated team of highly skilled account managers at our clients’ disposal. We talked with our customers at length during spring and worked out more flexible terms towards each other. And it really was a two-way street; many of our partners were very sympathetic with our emerging needs during COVID. These partners can now enjoy our increased loyalty once the tougher times are past, and similarly, all the customers we showed flexibility towards are still with us right now.
It’s really motivating as an entrepreneur and for the whole team to realize that you have been able to build relationships that withstand this kind of pressure test.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Lauri Kinkar: We did not. There was a possibility to apply for some, but it was a conscious decision to leave these to companies who needed it more. By the end of the day, the money was 100% distributed by the government, and I’d like to believe it made it into the hands of companies who needed it more.
These grants might have been helpful for us, but for some others, they were a question of whether the company will survive or not.
Your final thoughts?
Lauri Kinkar: I like to speak of the COVID period as something that happened last spring. But in fact, at least in Estonia, we’re entering an even rougher few months right now. As with many large-scale shifts that happen around us, it is easy to overrate its short-term impact and underrate its long-term impact. It felt like a complete change of world order in spring, but really looking back from an entrepreneur’s standpoint, it was a rough few months, and we overcame it. (Not talking about the Pandemic as a whole, of course, just the economic point of view.) The markets bounced back (with help from the printing presses and the increased government debt), and everything seemed to fall back in place.
However, in the long run, I don’t believe that we’ll end up in a world that is 100% the same right after the vaccinations have taken place. I think the world will switch into a slightly different, location-independent mode for a long time. We will both cherish and respect physical contact for some time to come. Travel will be transformed for years. E-commerce, work, education, the way we think about home and personal space, our daily routines have all been slightly altered. Not enough to maybe even notice the change on the surface, but enough for our collective behavior as homo econoemicus to make a difference in the structure of the economy.
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