SACC-NE's In Focus Series #2 | Niklas Kiviluoto

In this second edition of SACC-NE's In Focus, we meet one of the Senior Directors of Cogniance, and fellow Nordic native, Niklas Kiviluoto, who is based in Boston since a year back.

Niklas describes himself as a strategic thinker, a hands-on doer and as a strong believer in human-centric, design-led methods of developing products, services, processes and businesses. Having lived in Spain, Austria, and Silicon Valley, Niklas has accumulated over 10 years of professional experience in both business and academia. Lastly, Niklas has a number of publications to his name - many of them centered around firm growth and profitability, a topic which was also the focus of his PhD thesis.

Having dedicated his career to both understanding and helping firms perform at a higher level and hence accumulating expert skills on the subject, we decided to pick Niklas' brain about different business topics while also adding the occasional expat question into the mix, since he is still relatively new to Boston.

Tweet-sized elevator pitch on who you are? 

Tech and startup enthusiast helping East Coast startups and Fortune 500’s create meaningful innovations balancing business viability, technical feasibility and human desirability. 

Coming from the Nordics, what was the biggest surprise you encountered in the business climate in the U.S.? 

It is a positive surprise, and that is that companies here are in general so much more forward-looking, optimistic, and open to collaboration and partnering. It is often much easier to get hold of and connect with people, even at very high organizational levels, and in general, it often feels easier to do business here than in the Nordics. On the flipside, this means that potential customers are talking to more people and thus competition is more fierce. Also, some additional selling might be needed for a company coming from somewhere else, especially if the person you are talking to has not heard of the Nordics or Scandinavia (yes, it happens!). But as long as you as a company know how your products/services bring value to the customer better than anyone else, you do get people’s attention. 

What has been the most surprising similarity between Boston and the Nordics for you?

The fundamentals of doing business are surprisingly similar here as in the Nordics, so no company should be offset by assuming it’s somehow different or more difficult. On a more generic note related to life here in general and the weather, people here too appreciate the different seasons and try to make the most out of each season, but foremost, take advantage of the summers.

What is the key characteristic that you encounter in your dealings with successful businesses?

They stay hungry, but also humble, across the organization, top to bottom. By doing so, they are open to listening to their customers’ and other stakeholders’ feedback and constantly improve. This, regardless of how accomplished the founders are, how much money they have raised or who they are already working with. 

What are the most important steps a growth firm has to take to avoid becoming a victim to its own success?

They need to focus on the right measures of success, e.g. growth doesn’t mean anything if it’s highly unprofitable and the underlying business model doesn’t scale. Having a too narrow view easily creates an illusion of success. To avoid this, success should be measured on a number of metrics, both hard and soft - staying hungry and humble at the same time. 

What is the biggest flaw in the current success measurement of start-ups and how do we move away from that flaw and other entrepreneurial myths?

We focus on a selected few measures, creating a very narrow - and often completely distorted - view on success. 
We move away from that flaw by understanding that success can be looked at from a number of views, and that all complicated things cannot, and should not, be overly simplified. We need to understand which are the underlying factors that contribute to long-term success (e.g. is it profitability, number of customers, number of satisfied customers, customer loyalty, a high NPS score, engaged and happy employees, something very industry-specific etc, etc.). We acknowledge that success means different things to different founders and shareholders, and looking from the outside, we may not always know what the underlying drivers are. We need to stay open to the fact that companies exists for various reasons, and while some are driven my maximizing short-term shareholder wealth, others may be in for the longer run, with a broader purpose.