Global Intelligence Alliance Group (GIA) introduced the idea of “market intelligence as a service” to the corporate world. During 15 years and with the support of CapMan, 3i Group and private investors, the Finnish startup grew into a 15MEUR business with 11 offices around the world and 150 professionals as employees. M-Brain Group acquired GIA in 2014.
Markko Vaarnas, Jouko Virtanen and Leif Backman were part of
the Helsinki-based founding team of Global Intelligence Alliance Group, or GIA,
in 1999. GIA specialized in Market Intelligence (MI) services and software,
helping global companies organize and operate professional MI programs. During
15 years, GIA grew into a professional services company with offices in 11
cities on four continents.
In 2014, GIA was acquired by M-Brain Group. At that time,
the company had 15 mEUR in annual revenue with a healthy EBITDA margin, 150
employees, and a position as a globally recognized thought leader in the field
Disrupting the MI
The Market Intelligence industry in early 2000 provided a
lucrative opportunity for ambitious growth entrepreneurs. The need in global companies
to organize their business information management was universal. The companies
did this in very traditional ways, however: They hired analysts, purchased
software tools, subscribed to databases of business information, and
occasionally hired MI consultants to do some analysis work. Because of the
nature of project work, most of these MI consultancies had remained small and
There was room in the global MI marketplace for another, disruptive
business model, whereby companies would instead rent dedicated analyst capacity, software, and database
subscriptions bundled into a continuous service package. Breaking away from
project business and establishing long term service partnerships with global
customers became the secret of GIA’s expansion.
Finland as a test
Some say Finland is all Western economies in mini size,
which makes it an ideal and affordable test bed for ideas. This was certainly
true for GIA: The MI partnership model was well tested in the Finnish market
with a number of globally operating customer companies. Based on the good experiences
and customer feedback, the founders of GIA were convinced of the global
applicability of the MI partnership business model.
Investors, too were convinced. First 3i Group and later on
CapMan joined on board to support GIA in seizing the global opportunity. GIA
started its internationalization from North America because it represented the
single largest market potential for MI services. The growth continued in
Europe, Asia and Latin America as a combination of greenfield operations,
partnerships, and acquisitions, depending on what was judged as being the best
local strategy for getting a foothold.
Built to last
One of the defining characteristics of GIA was that it
constantly seemed slightly larger than it was. GIA’s marketing messages were
aimed at the global arena from early on. GIA implemented robust leadership
development and talent management programs. GIA developed tools and trainings
for knowledge transfer during stages of growth that would have kept employees
busy enough even without any of such extra work.
Yet it was all a reflection of the ambition level: GIA was
determined to build a solid global business and organization. The processes and
tools to support that vision were built to make sure things would not get out
of hand along the way. For GIA, growth was no accident but it was made, and it
was prepared for. Many employees over the course of the years appreciated the
strong global culture that was built as a result. Indeed one of GIA’s great
assets continues to be its large and active network of alumni.