Before Trustmary became Trustmary, a globally competing software company, it went through some very different phases. But the goal has always been the same: help businesses build trust online.
Now, as 2022 is coming to an end, Trustmary’s CEO and founder Johannes Karjula looks back on the company’s history and shares his views about the future.
In the 2010s, Johannes worked as a digital marketing consultant, helping Finnish companies with digital customer acquisition and advertising.
He was a solopreneur and worked for around 100 companies, making websites and executing broader digital marketing projects. The main services included building and improving websites, creating content, doing search engine optimization, and other cornerstones of digital marketing.
– At that time, Facebook was new and Google Ads was new. Websites were quite static, and they were not optimized for mobile users. Companies started to take interest in digital marketing and needed help with that, Johannes recalls.
– There were also great, or rather unrealistic, expectations for digital marketing. People thought that once they have a good website, there wouldn’t be any need for traditional sales anymore, he laughs.
Johannes focused especially on one important issue: How can a website make customers trust the company the same way a salesperson can build trust during a meeting?
Johannes started to join the clients’ sales representatives for sales meetings and observe what kind of words they used with clients. He also inspected the keywords people were using on search engines. That was the foundation for the websites he built.
– One thing I noticed was that people made Google searches with the company’s name and words like “experiences, reviews, feedback”. So, potential customers wanted to know what previous customers have to say about the business.
Johannes started using the same key terms on his clients’ websites and highlighting stories from happy customers. It led to an increase in visibility and Google rankings. At the same time, he noticed that these customer stories led to good results on websites and social media.
However, creating content required a lot of time and labor, and Johannes was a solopreneur. He started collaborating with freelancers who wrote stories, took photos, and filmed videos. He also began to contemplate how he could scale and streamline the business.
– In 2014 and 2015 I truly realized that I was working on a real problem that does not yet have a proper solution. Customer testimonials are an important advantage for sales, but making them requires a great effort and many businesses simply have no resources for it, Johannes says.
– I started thinking about a concept where companies could get everything they need from one place: customer testimonial videos, articles, photos, and finished materials that can be used in marketing. I purchased the domain Kokemuksia.fi (eng. “experiences.fi”), which provided good search engine visibility for the stories.
Image: Johannes with his co-workers at the first ever Kokemuksia.fi office.
Johannes decided to found a company and started to look for partners who would be excited about the problem and ready to jump in.
– I first talked to my friend Valtteri Ylimäki, as I always thought it would be nice to work with him. He already had a good job, so it was a big decision to make. Then I convinced my old friend Perttu Paukkeri, who was an even more experienced digital marketer than myself and also recognized the problem I wanted to solve. The three of us founded the company in the end of 2015, Johannes reminisces.
In the spring of 2016, the three men began the work. Perttu took care of the Kokemuksia.fi digital media, Johannes led the sales, and Valtteri was in charge of the content production.
First, they sold the service to familiar businesses and acquaintances, but soon enough they acquired brand new customers. The sales took off immediately.
After producing around 100 stories, the web service was launched, and new partners and sales representatives were hired. Taavi Laukkanen, Arttu Haho, and Hannes Paaso started to lead the sales in different parts of Finland.
New content creators were also hired to keep up with all the sold projects.
Already during the first year, Kokemuksia.fi made 1 million euros, and there was no need for external funding.
The same pace continued through 2017, and in 2018, the company already had around 30 employees. At this time, competitors started emerging. So far, Kokemuksia.fi had been the only company in the field in Finland.
Soon Finnish companies who were going international started asking if it was possible to film customer testimonials abroad. Kokemuksia.fi started to sell videos to other countries, too, and production teams started traveling all around the world.
Image: Kokemuksia.fi traveled all the way to the U.S. to film customer testimonial videos.
When the business expanded, the company experiences a few bottlenecks that required changes.
– Our business clients wanted to collect stories from satisfied customers, but they didn’t know who those customers were. Who would be willing to participate in a testimonial video? This resulted in a situation where we had sold many projects but couldn’t produce the materials, and it became the biggest problem for us, Johannes says.
The clients started asking if Kokemuksia.fi could find the satisfied customers to interview for the videos. So they did, and a new product was born: customer satisfaction research. It was done via phone calls and the results were reported to the client.
Another bottleneck was the traveling.
– A few years ago there was no remote meeting culture whatsoever. Every single interview had to be done face-to-face. It obviously required time and money.
The third problem was that the business clients didn’t know how to utilize the finished materials. They needed help with putting the materials online and using them in efficient ways.
In the end, these three challenges consumed almost more time and resources than content production itself. The service had lots of demand, but the execution was not ideal. The company started to plan a solution for streamlining the process.
Image: Admiring a finished customer testimonial video.
In 2019, Kokemuksia.fi developed the first version of a software tool that could find out which customers would be willing to recommend a business publicly. At the same time, they still provided customer satisfaction research and testimonial video service.
The software also included a function for collecting testimonials and a simple embed tool that made using testimonials online easy. Teppo Kallio and Kim Salmi were in a big role in software development.
The company’s interest shifted more and more towards the software business. It seemed like a more sustainable way to solve the problem that Kokemuksia.fi was tackling. At the end of 2019, the profit from the video production business was directed to software development.
– Finally, we made a decision to transform into a SaaS company, which in hindsight was a very risky call. We aim to grow into a global company that offers a self-service software product that enables companies to collect customer testimonials themselves, instead of a testimonial production service.
Kokemuksia.fi changed its name to Trustmary. The new name was a better fit for the international market.
Johannes reminisces about the name’s origin.
– We held name competitions and asked for opinions from external consults. We wanted a name that means something and evokes associations but is not used by anyone else. Many good names were already taken, or the domain was no longer available.
– In the end, the name Trustmary was born when I was driving to the board meeting where I was supposed to present the new name. I called Aki Hokkanen who was working in sales, and we brainstormed ideas. We figured that the heart of our business is based on trust that is created when an ordinary person shares their good experience with another ordinary person. So we integrated “trust” and “Mary”, one of the most used names in the world.
Image: This crew kicked off the transformation in 2019.
In 2020, the pandemic seized video production. Sales dropped to practically zero in just one month. Lockdowns made it impossible to continue making videos.
Luckily, the software product had gained some traction and many clients had bought video testimonials as well as the Trustmary software.
– We fully focused on selling the software. Otherwise, the worst-case scenario could have been having to close down completely. We were successful even though the software was in its early stages. The existing customers started using Trustmary, and soon companies that hadn’t heard about us previously also got interested, Johannes recalls.
Trustmary’s testimonial widgets started appearing on business websites, and investors took interest in this new software product.
A Finland-based SaaS investor Vendep Capital started following Trustmary and giving feedback and advice on improving the business. The feedback was taken into account and the suggested improvements were implemented.
In 2021 Trustmary’s potential was clear. Even though the world opened again and video production continued, the software became the center of Trustmary’s operations. The brand was developed accordingly, and resources were directed toward software development and marketing.
Vendep Capital ended up investing in Trustmary in the autumn of 2021, as they believed in Trustmary’s story and the potential to grow into a globally competitive software company.
So far the sales had operated with an outbound approach in Finland and the Nordics, and people had been in a big role in the sales process. Thanks to the investment, the product team could be strengthened and a new goal was set: becoming a self-service software leveraging Product-Led-Growth, and tapping into the huge global market.
– Businesses in all countries have the same problems in digital marketing. Everyone wants to improve customer acquisition and build trust online, and the traditional industries need help and a suitable tool to achieve it. There are tens of millions of businesses like this in the world, Johannes notes.
Image: Now, the product team is Trustmary’s largest team unit.
During 2022 Trustmary has focused almost entirely on Product Led Growth. The objective is to create a product that pulls in customers on its own instead of having to do traditional outbound sales.
In March, the first self-service product Trustmary Solo was launched on the Producthunt platform.
During the year, preparations were made to completely transform into a 100% SaaS company.
It happened in August when the video testimonial service business unit and Kokemuksia.fi digital media were sold.
– Today, we are in an interesting place. Trustmary gets hundreds of interested users from every corner of the world every month. Many start using the software independently and manage to publish reviews online. Trustmary has the potential to become a leading solution for traditional businesses that want to establish trust on their website. The product already has all the required functionalities, Johannes rejoices.
At the moment, the product solves all three problems that it was created for. Trustmary finds happy customers who are willing to recommend the business publicly, collects their testimonials in text and video form without the need to travel and meet customers face-to-face, and utilizes the feedback on the website in various ways that create true benefits for the business. All of this happens almost automatically.
Trustmary’s mission has remained the same throughout its history: helping traditional businesses that might struggle with digital marketing and building trust on the website.
Only the means have changed. It has had its toll on everyone.
– When one shifts from a project-based video production business to a SaaS business, everything changes. It has called for lots of patience, and tolerance for change and uncertainty. It’s resulted in the staff having to develop their skills rapidly. Many have departed from the journey, but some have stayed through the transformations. The people and this crew have made everything possible. They believe in the product and trust that we are the best in the industry, Johannes thanks.
Some of the credit can be attributed to the company’s values that have carried through tough times and will support the team in the future.
– Authenticity means that everyone has the right and opportunity to express their feelings in continuous change. Truth and realism help us soldier on in tough situations. Accountability makes sure that we can trust each other, we do what we promise, and we are good colleagues to each other. Progress shows that we are willing to grow and improve every day. These values will carry us on in the future as well.
Image: The autumn 2022 kick-off finalized the transformation into a 100% SaaS company.
Johannes views the future positively.
– We keep moving forward! Trustmary will succeed because we understand the market well. We have been tackling this problem for a long time and worked all around the world with thousands of businesses. Our people are competent, fast learners, and passionate about solving this problem. We have proved that we can transform and rise despite the challenges. A group like this will get us far, he states.