Markus Mikola is the founder and CEO of ContractZen Ltd, launched in 2014.
ContractZen is an easy to use cloud service with a unique and powerful set of tools, including contract management, virtual data room, and eSignatures, to speed up operations, minimize risks and maximize company value in due diligence situations.
Prior to ContractZen, he was the Chief Operating Officer of Golf GameBook, in charge of creating a new set of cloud based online and mobile services. He was a member of the board for IAMCP Finland, the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners, for seven years and the President for two years 2008-2010. In 2008 he was given the Most Influential Person Award, Microsoft Finland.
And he was the CEO of Sopima Oy, a cloud service for a smart and easy way to negotiate, manage and fulfill contracts online. Sopima was 18th on the Global Top 100 the list of outstanding and fast-moving startup companies in 2010 (Guidewire Group).
He was former CEO of Softability, rated one of the Best Places to Work in Finland by the Great Place to Work Institute.
For two decades he has culled his experience in large multinationals, as well as in small startups with extensive leadership, software industry, sales and marketing experience.
What inspired you to create ContractZen, and why?
Markus Mikola: The two founders have a long background in software sales and leadership. We, like our colleagues in startups to Fortune 500 corporations around the world, were responsible for the proper management of the most important documents like contracts, board meeting minutes, and other corporate documents.
We noticed that despite the multitude of solutions for managing documents, tasks were tough to juggle. As the International Data Corporation IDC study found out, document challenges are still robbing organizations of just over a fifth of their overall productivity. And the increasing regulation around the world burdens executives, and increases risks of compliance issues, and has created pressure on the corporate governance.
At the same time, costly and burdensome due diligence processes are becoming more common in situations like mergers and acquisitions, venture capital transactions, tax audits, financial audits and joint ventures.
Previously professional contract management systems, board portals and virtual data rooms were offered separately. Most systems on the market need tailoring, a lot of configuration, or consulting services, and are generally regarded as expensive – especially for small-medium-enterprises. So, we wanted to change all this, and envisioned a solution that would merge previously separate tools into one, and make it as easy to use as email, and so affordable that all companies could use it.
How would a client retool their interaction based on using your solution ?
Markus Mikola: ContractZen changes the old-fashioned interaction patterns that are based on email, scattered storage places, and paper. Insecure email is not a recommended way to handle confidential business information.
When it comes to managing contracts, financial documents, and other crucial business documents, ContractZen has a centralized system which helps with creating these documents digitally. It offers secure storage and AI-powered search capabilities. It empowers both co-operation and dialog in teams, and within boards.
ContractZen enables businesses to truly take advantage of their business-critical data in daily business. All stakeholders have the same information to act on, and it supports both decision-making and risk management. ContractZen enables both transparency and confidentiality where and when needed.
What knocks people’s socks off?
Markus Mikola: The moment they realize the ease, and the power, of our solution. Many of our customers are leaders in their own field of expertise, and they have high expectations for the tools helping them to digitalize their businesses.
As they understand how the combination of our different features work seamlessly together, they get very excited. Like one of our clients, the leading global travel platform GetYourGuide said, “ContractZen is part of the legal tech revolution. The AI powered search is amazing, and makes our daily work much more efficient. Design and usability are high above average for a contract management system.”
Advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Markus Mikola: Study the concept of Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) – popularized by Harvard Business Professor, Clayton Christensen – as it will help you to understand the progress that the customer is trying to make in a given circumstances. In other words, what the customer ultimately hopes to accomplish. That is what is called “the job to be done” – and we believe that in ContractZen we managed to see our customers JTBD, and fulfilled the need with our new kind of service.
First things first: invest in validating your business idea properly. Start to test your idea early in your own network and outside of it as well. Remember to avoid relying too much on your own opinion. You need to listen to the targeted audience and other stakeholders carefully.
As we all know, more than half of startups fail, and according to studies, nearly three quarters of them fail because of premature scaling. So, your goal is surely to first create the Minimum Viable Product (MVP). But you must ensure the product-market fit before scaling. So, plan your financials so that you have enough funds to work with the customers long enough to build a Minimum Lovable Product before investing millions in scaling.
What can leading tech giants learn from what you do?
Markus Mikola: Agility, creativity, and some humility. We listen to our customers carefully all the way, and it pays off well. Customers compare us to the giant market leaders, and the feedback we get is amazing!
What is the essence of good leadership?
Markus Mikola: If people are given a clear and meaningful vision, if that vision is pursued by clear and consistent strategy, if learning is set amongst the highest values, and if the people, as a community, are led with integrity and accountability, the business goals, whatever they might be, will be achieved.
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