Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with Yrjö Ojasaar, Partner at Change Ventures, about the startup ecosystems in Estonia, the Baltics, and the Nordics.
Yrjö has a fascinating background, having worked as a lawyer in the US defending major tech companies before returning to Europe to work with startups. He has been the CEO of a Finnish clean-tech startup, a UK digital publishing company, and advised many Estonian founders.
Currently at Change Ventures, an early-stage VC fund focused on ambitious founders from the Nordics and Baltics, Yrjö draws on his diverse experience to help entrepreneurs build global companies.
Our hour-long conversation covered a range of topics from pitching mistakes to founder obsession and the role of AI in VC.
"Startups and venture capital can dramatically expand an individual's power to affect change in the world around them. As an investor or startup founder, you have the ability to fundamentally transform how people conduct business and live their lives by introducing entirely new solutions and ways of doing things." —Yrjö Ojasaar
These are my top 5 notes from our conversation with Yrjö:
Common mistakes entrepreneurs make in pitches
Founders often just memorize a pitch formula rather than having an in-depth discussion.
This lack of depth on customers' problems is a red flag.
How to respond to investor rejections
Ask for specific, actionable steps you can take to improve, rather than taking the rejection personally.
Markets change so re-evaluate later.
Factors behind the success of Estonian startups
Early wins like Skype broke psychological barriers.
Successful founders reinvest in the ecosystem.
The importance of founder obsession with solving customer problems
Successful founders are obsessed with deeply understanding their customers' problems throughout the startup's growth.
Continually empathizing with and focusing on customers is key, as their needs change over time.
The benefits and drawbacks of being a generalist VC
The job is much more exciting and interesting because you get to learn about so many different areas of business, new business models, and different technology sectors. You get a lot of variety.
There is much more randomness and many more unknown pieces to evaluate compared to being a super specialized domain expert who knows all the details of a narrow niche.
"At the end of the day, we reject founders who lack a deep, empathetic understanding of their customers' needs. You can have the most innovative product in the world, but if you don't intimately understand who will use it and why, you'll fail. We invest in founders who obsess over solving real problems for real people - they ask questions, listen, and continually refine their solutions based on feedback. If that founder-customer connection isn't there from the start, we simply can't proceed." —Yrjö Ojasaar