September 2, 2021
If there ever were a way to predict which startups might reach the coveted unicorn status, one would need to follow Henri Kroosmann's career path. During his dozen active working years, he has worked in two companies before Brainbase - Skype and Pipedrive. Skype was the first unicorn company in the Nordics, which means it was the first Nordic tech-startup valued at over $1 billion in 2005; Pipedrive became a unicorn in November 2020.
“I am very selective with where I work. And I believe in 4-5 year cycles, during which one dedicates himself fully to a clear goal,” Henri Kroosmann says. “My first cycle lasted 5.5 years at Skype, and my goal was to understand the world of IT. I started as a web developer and dealt with the front-facing side of Skype - its front-end, localization, marketing e-mails, etc. It gave me an excellent overview of what the company was doing.”
Henri remembers that one marketing e-mail he was involved with went out to 30 million people. That's an impressive reach, and responsibility, of course. When Skype hit unicorn status in 2005, quite many Estonians became millionaires. Naturally, I am curious whether Kroosmann was among them.
He chuckles at the question. “I joined Skype when eBay owned it. There was an option program, but it was rather minimal because my role was not significant either. So to answer your question, I did not become a millionaire with Skype, but my mind became richer because I started seeing business and problems solved with an approach - the world first. As opposed to quite many who build things for the Estonian market only.”
Two cycles at Pipedrive
The next stop for Kroosmann was Pipedrive, where he did two cycles that lasted eight years. He joined the company along with one of his best friends and a colleague from Skype, Martin Kapp. “What was cool about Pipedrive was the fact that we were employees number 13 and 14. And we started building their web app from scratch.”
Henri's goal at Pipedrive was to become a team lead. “It probably would have happened at Skype (then already owned by Microsoft), but it would have been in a way more structured environment,” says Kroosmann.
His second cycle at Pipedrive saw him in a purely managerial role. “I was leading two 20-person teams. My first cycle taught me how to be a manager and my second how to go beyond that and amplify the job's impact.” And the impact certainly was impressive, considering that when Henri had joined the company, there were five managers, and when he left, the company had 700+ employees.
What made you join Brainbase?
It all started last summer when a recruiter contacted me. They certainly did it at the right time - I had reached the point where my team was functioning by themselves and did not need my constant input. And I had started to feel the itch - that nagging feeling that made me ask myself: Would I make it elsewhere, too?
I approached my first interview at Brainbase with the attitude that I will see what this small startup will tell me. No strings attached. But several other interviews followed - 6-7. And the role they were recruiting for changed slightly as we kept interviewing.
What sparked my interest regarding Brainbase was their colossal ambition. There's a vacuum in the industry; it has not been disrupted entirely by the internet revolution. And I could see clearly where I could help - by reorganizing the company, making things more systematic - but in a way that would not slow them down either. My goal as their VP of Engineering was to make the product scale, the platform stable, and the clients happy.
How has the first year (almost) been?
In hindsight, I underestimated how the 10-hour timezone difference between Estonia and LA would have impacted our work. I mean, don't get me wrong - there is a lot of energy to move forward, but there is also a lot of chaos - I have been able to organize much less than I had hoped for. The team is fantastic, though - all are set for growth and making Brainbase the synonym for IP. I already have two unicorns on my CV. I did not come here just to see the year go by. ;)
Any upcoming projects you’re excited about?
Quite many. We are in the most challenging startup phase today. Series A has been raised, B is near, our clients expect us to provide a very mature service, but we do not have the time, the people, and resources to perfect everything. Finding the balance is the biggest challenge. To take an application that is being used by our client base from a startup phase to a professional product is a true challenge. And our client base keeps growing, too, along with the business model. We have grown from an enterprise software platform to also be usable by SMEs and private persons. This means we have to be visible, easily found and used, and self-configurable.
How do you think Brainbase is changing the licensing industry?
We have two types of competition out there. Some are 25+ years on the market where there are armies of secretaries, and everything is managed on Excel, on pen and paper, or with some old type of software. In this type of company, it is hard to innovate. Then there are the other types of companies that are modern, but these are usually not covering a wide scale of intellectual property - be it music, books, or movies. We, Brainbase, want to be everywhere. Actually, the initial idea of Brainbase was a marketplace - where one can buy and sell intellectual property. It was a tricky thing to pull off initially, but maybe we will do it one day. And our competition keeps us on our toes.
What makes you passionate about Brainbase?
It is a combination of things. That the recruitment moment coincided with me being a bit bored at Pipedrive, that the challenge offered by Brainbase seemed big enough to take on, the fact that I was still only the 35th employee when I joined and already we have grown to 70+. The problems we are solving today and how our team has developed are fantastic to witness, and I would like to think I have had a small role in it, too. At Pipedrive, we had processes in place; at Brainbase, we have no processes yet. You have to stand out in the chaos.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I wake up to our child hopping on our bed. The pandemic messed all routines and plans up. I have tried, though, to be at least once a week in the office. Most of my workday passes in meetings; I really have to carve the time for other tasks. And I often prepare myself by talking to someone. I do not consider myself the smartest in engineering - so I will speak with Nauris or Jürgen, who are way more intelligent; my task is to listen and link the info together in a helpful way. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, I try to start my day later as it tends to run into the late night because I work with our US office then. And I try to keep my Friday nights call-free. I run quite a few teams as an interim manager because we are still looking for the actual manager - this eats away a lot of time and energy that could be spent thinking stuff through. But I knew this would happen. I am thrilled to see that we are forming our engineering leadership with our recent hires - the head of the infrastructure and the head of security. So I do not have to be inside all things anymore. I am also happy to working closely with Nate - planning the budget, which features to focus on, etc.
Favorite place to eat, have a drink, or enjoy some culture in Tallinn?
I have never been a party animal myself. I like to talk to people, so noisy places won't do. When I was still working at Pipedrive, I loved going to Drink Bar - it's one of the best places to sit down with 3-4 people and talk. As an ex-Skyper, there was no way around Valli baar - it was always cool to introduce it to foreigners as an authentic Estonian bar.
Right now, the Noblessner area is hot, and if you would like to do something with a team, there's a cool games area near the Seaplane Harbor. And the Iglu Park office area with a sauna is superb - you can go and take a dip in the sea to cool down.
Do you have any after-work hobbies/activities?
Before becoming an IT guy, I used to play basketball - in our junior and champions league. During the last 3-4 years, I have been playing disc golf. I am not that great at it, but I participate in public competitions - I love them. I already mentioned we have a small child, and we also have a dachshund-Jack Russell mix Lucky - so they both keep me busy.
Why would you recommend someone to apply to Brainbase?
For several reasons. Brainbase's licensing is helpful here and now. Toys are 90% licensed products; the same applies to technology. We just don't see it because we don't know how it works. So we at Brainbase are doing something helpful today, and we also help make it better. Licensing contracts are complex - one report can have a couple of thousand rows, and to make these counts on pen and paper can lose companies a lot of money. We organize all this data and also calculate through all the sales reports. So we are a painkiller, not a vitamin. Plus, the growth potential is enormous - music, books...Plus, can you name any other companies in Estonia who work with MGM, the Moomins, etc.? I think there is a potential for a next uni...no decacorn here. If I look at the world and the industry we are operating in, we have a real shot at it. I'd say in 10-15 years, Brainbase could be worth 20 billion dollars.