This is an old blog post when Zefort was known as Aivan.ai. Oh, those were the days!
This is a recap of my first year as Aivan.ai’s CEO – and a story of how a young aspiring software startup finds its place in the market.
For the past 15 years, a small entrepreneur had been living in the back of my mind. During this time, I had several excellent (biased statement🙂) business ideas, some of which I have even worked on with my good friends.
However, even though we worked on ideas, they never turned into reality. Not before last year.
I finally mustered my courage and took the step to become an entrepreneur. Letting go of the security and luxury of an executive position to start something own was not an easy call.
Looking back, I am really happy that I took that step – the past year has been a really interesting and motivating journey and I am not expecting anything else from the upcoming year.
Signing that very first MRR
When I started in August 2018, Aivan’s founders Ville and Juhani had just released the MVP version of Aivan.ai. My first priority was to reel in the very first customers for the solution.
Artificial Intelligence was a hot buzzword at the time. Media was filled with articles on how AI will dramatically shape the future and role of everyone. However, almost none of these stories gave any concrete examples on how AI can actually help companies.
Aivan’s “contract management like magic” pitch was a positive exception – we were able to show a concrete example on how AI can help companies to manage their contracts more efficiently. This helped us a lot when booking sales meetings. Many companies wanted to see AI in action.
Having the first customers onboard had naturally several positive effects, but one of the outcomes rose above the others: we started to get extremely valuable feedback from actual users with real-life contract management challenges. We started to prioritise our solution roadmap based on this feedback to further improve our product-market fit.
With customer references, more complete offering and better market understanding, our sales started to pick up speed. Today, we are proud to have many great companies as our public references.
Aivan.ai’s top development priorities
As we learned more about our product-market fit, we also started to see more clearly what the top priorities for Aivan.ai’s development were. Two items became our top priotities: user experience (UX) and security.
Aivan’s vision and ultimate goal is to build a “zero-effort contract management solution”. Zero-effort builds on great UX, which to us is the sum of a great User Interface (UI) and top-notch AI.
Our goal is to use AI as much as possible to minimize the boring routine tasks in contract management. Our UI must be fun and logical to use. In addition, zero-effort includes an extremely simple on-boarding process – new users should be able to start using Aivan.ai without any extensive training.
Security is our other top priority. Contracts are confidential documents and information security for customer data had to be in top shape. We also needed a way to reliably prove this to our customers.
Achieving top-notch security was actually built-in with Aivan, as our co-founder and CTO Ville is a top professional in this domain. Naturally, getting there meant a lot of hard work, but our team knew from the very beginning how to build a secure system. There was no need to learn the hard way.
But how could we ensure our customers that their data would be safe with us? As with many other roadmap items, we received valuable input from our customers for this case, too.
Following an extensive pilot phase, we landed a publicly listed company as our customer. As their final requirement, they required us to get an ISO 27001 certification (ISO 27001 is a specification for an information security management system – ISMS). We had already earlier implemented a formal ISMS for Aivan, but now we needed to make it ISO 27001 compatible and get an official audit for it.
Again, one of the co-founders stepped forward. Juhani has a background in Quality Management and had been involved in several certification processes. He has been leading our ISO 27001 project successfully and the audit will take place during the autumn.
Our goal is to have ISO 27001 certification for Aivan before the year ends.
Getting your picture in the papers
This gained us good coverage in the media during the past 12 months. Articles about Aivan were published in Talouselämä, Tietoviikko (Tivi), Turun Sanomat and Yrittäjät magazine, for example.
For example, in the news coverage of our cooperation with Senate Estates, one practical benefit was saving 7 years of manual labour with AI (read the full article in Finnish).
It’s all about teamwork
The year has not only been hard (although interesting) work, but included also some less artificial and intelligent events.
One of such was Aivan’s summer kick off for the full team. As there is a small rally and/or formula driver living inside of each Finn, our agenda also included a karting session. One achievement from my first CEO year I value very high was the fastest lap on this session 💪🏁🏎.
Activities such as this are important to nurture the most important assets of a growing startup – its team. As proved earlier, having the right people in place helps building the product and leaping to the next level.
Now I and we at Aivan have one year behind us, hopefully several in front of us. The speed of business is accelerating all the time and as our team grows, also my role as a CEO will change.
I will not go into details of our future plans now, but international expansion will definitely be one of the top themes for the coming year. Stay tuned!
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