Mikael Lauharanta - Co-Founder and COO of Smarp

Good things will happen when you show trust in your employees.

Mikael Lauharanta (September 19, 1989) is a digital media authority and one of the founding fathers of employee advocacy. As the co-founder and COO of Smarp, he has helped foster the expansion of the company from the founding team to a global organization with 50+ employees and offices all over the world. Recently Lauharanta has focused his expertise on growing the international teams and playing an imperative role in sales training and recruitment. Lauharanta has won several pitching competitions for Smarp including Arctic15 and is a frequent speaker on the topics of social selling, employee advocacy, and social media measurement. Lauharanta holds Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Aalto University (formerly known as Helsinki School of Economics) where he graduated with high honors.

Where did the idea for Smarp come from?

One of our first listed clients had 10,000 followers on LinkedIn and we were given the task of improving their LinkedIn presence both from the company and employee standpoint. At the time they had 30,000 employees globally and 7,000 were already representing the company on LinkedIn. We realized their 7,000 employees already had more than 260,000 unique first degree LinkedIn connections, or in other words over 26 times more connections than their company profile. If we could create software that would encourage employees to participate in enterprise communications all while helping them improve their personal brand and thought leadership, we would create a massive win-win situation between the employees and the employer. That’s what inspired us to create the world’s first employee advocacy software.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I usually start by skimming through my emails and Slack messages attending to anything urgent from the offices in London and Helsinki, which are 5 and 7 hours away respectively. At the office I try to get through my daily task list for which I use Trello and sticky notes. I’m using a lot of reminders and notifications to remind my scatter brain of the most important things.

Overall as a company we use a lot of project management tools like Git and Targetprocess and have migrated all internal comms to our own Smarp software and Slack to minimize distractions and make it easy to find everything. Last but not least we use Google Drive a lot so that everyone can work on spreadsheets, presentations, and docs simultaneously without having to worry about conflicting copies.

I try to minimize the internal meetings I attend and not eat lunch in front of the computer. I like to finish as much as possible at the office before going home and working on more creative stuff in the evenings, which is my best time. Before going to bed I try to get through all emails and make sure I can start with a clean slate the next day. As a rule of thumb I try to prioritize tasks with high impact that require minimal effort.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I’m pretty conversational when it comes to ideas and try to bounce them around as much as possible, which annoys people who are more straightforward and trying to concentrate on something else. I believe in sketches and charting things out especially when something needs to be communicated to a bigger group.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

We’re seeing a clear shift towards employee empowerment when it comes to enterprise communications. Companies are giving more freedom for employees to participate in the communications and trying to think of ways to engage them instead of trying to maintain control over all external communication. I really believe that good things will happen when you show trust in your employees.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I always try to make sure projects and tasks have an owner that is responsible for the execution and completion, especially if we are discussing things to do in a meeting. The other thing is that I’m probably the most productive/creative at night so I don’t mind working on my ideas late and concentrating on helping others during office hours.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

We started this company while we were still studying so I haven’t had too many jobs prior to this. Some of them were not particularly interesting but I’ve always learned a lot from them. Probably the most tedious ones were internships as a kid when I had to e.g. scan all the IT contracts and agreements of a hospital. I guess that was a hands on way to learn about the possibilities in digitalization.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

Some minor things relating to starting up like reserving an international domain like .com from the start and making sure we have plenty of shares from the start to avoid having to split them etc. We’ve learned a lot about what sort of skillsets are important for each position and what it takes to open up offices in new locations. We’ve been lucky enough to have not made any serious mistakes and hopefully we’ll continue that way.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Talk about your product/service to everybody all the time to get feedback and to get the pitch down for when you only have a few seconds with someone important.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Go international right away and hire international people at the headquarters and local people at the satellite offices. This will foster creative thinking and expose people and teams to different types of thinking and doing things. This way you can use an inside sales approach from the HQ and know that the people in the satellite offices know the ways of working and subtle cultural differences of their home markets.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

We’ve done a couple pivots to find a good product market fit and traction. The first software product required too much manual labor and was too reliant on other platforms instead of being a standalone platform. We overcame the issue by listening to the clients and potential buyers and using a lean/customer development approach.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

One thing that can be very frustrating is trying to find a discussion or a document when you can’t remember whether it’s in Dropbox, Drive, Slack, email or in a social media feed. Not sure how it could be done or if it already exists but like an aggregated search tool that searches all your computer directories and chat histories at the same time.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

Hmm. I bought a backpack with a lifetime warranty. I hate shopping so I try to go for quality and shop sustainably so that I don’t have to do it often.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

In addition to the ones I already mentioned, we use Hubspot for inbound marketing, which coupled with the CRM makes marketing automation a lot easier. For HR we use Breezy, which has a pretty nice drag and drop interface. Personally I’m addicted to Spotify because I like to listen to music when I write or need to concentrate and outside work I use Untappd for finding good craft beers to drink.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Hard to pick only one but Zero to One by Peter Thiel is a classic and The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz is a good book about the startup grind.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

The authors of the aforementioned books and e.g. Mark Schaefer with his thoughts on the opportunities in digital transformation, Gary Vaynerchuk is pretty badass and a good reminder that entrepreneurship is not for everybody. Outside business related influencers Colossal is a pretty good source for visual and design inspiration.


Smarp on Twitter: @besmarp
Mikael Lauharanta on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mlauharanta
Mikael Lauharanta on Twitter: @mlauha