Expert advice on taking Finnish SaaS Products to the North American market – The Case of Howspace

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Takeoff Partner’s portfolio company Howspace has taken their digital facilitation software for change management and learning to the North American market. At the moment, approximately 25% of the Finnish company’s revenue comes from outside Finland and the target is to grow the share of US sales to cover 40% of the total sales by the end of the year.

In Howspace’s case, it all comes down to an excellent product that was ready for the markets. While the US market values products with concrete benefits, a product alone, even one with huge potential, doesn’t guarantee a foothold in the highly competitive SaaS market. What makes a Finnish SaaS product succeed internationally? What can we learn from the case Howspace?

“We have worked relentlessly to create a market for our product and to get the first customers on board.” Ilkka Mäkitalo, CEO of Howspace 

Howspace has a market tested product that addresses the needs of various customer segments. According to Ilkka Mäkitalo, the CEO of Howspace, whilst having a good product is key, it has also been important to understand the true needs of different customer groups and to create relationships with them. ”The only way to understand the markets is to meet customers regularly and to show them through our communication that we are serious about meeting their needs”, Ilkka says.

In the US markets, getting early customer references and presenting concrete benefits for users is crucial. This should be a key priority for all SaaS companies wishing to enter the US market successfully. Jouko Virtanen, Takeoff Partner’s expert on the North American markets, emphasizes the importance of active sales, networking, face-to-face meetings and well-planned digital marketing.

Being present locally and investigating the market

It’s important to have a dedicated person working with the customers in North America and to get help from partners who know the market well and can help with practicalities. ”I suggest that companies do so called investigative sales work. By this I mean going out regularly to selected target companies and testing the product with the customers. This is a great way to simultaneously promote the product, to learn about the competition and about the buying behavior, as well as to grow the network”, Jouko underlines.

Choosing the right geographic location for the campaign is important. Not only is it important to have enough potential customers, but practical things such as time differences and travel times should be taken into consideration when planning the focus area. In the case of Howspace, the strategy has been to focus on the east coast.

Lack of resources limits companies despite the interest in Finnish innovations

It takes and time and resources to pave the way into the US market. Building networks as a newcomer in the market is a lot of hard work, especially for a startup company, and the financial strain can be too much. Most companies underestimate the true recourse needs and therefore don’t succeed in their export. But as Howspace has shown, with relentless hard work and a good product it is possible for Finnish SaaS companies to gain recognition in North America. Finland has a reliable and innovative reputation and Finnish knowhow is valued internationally.

Strong domain understanding is critical

Even if you have a great product, you will need to be able to consult the customers and demonstrate that you understand their possible pain points and how to solve them. In Howspace’s case it has been essential to spend time discussing the challenges related to modern, on-the-job learning supported by digital tools, for example, and how to truly involve people in learning and change processes for sustained organizational impact, you will also need to be able to demonstrate why your approach is unique and yet simple enough for easy adoption. This all takes time, but it is all worth it.