In our effort to bring you stories from the global startup ecosystem, here we introduce you to a wonderful success story from Finland.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of circumstances?
Mikko Valimaki: I’m a 39-year-old guy from Finland. I did my schooling in Finland. I did, however, study in Berkeley in the United States and was exposed to the American culture. I’ve never worked for any big company. I always started my own stuff. I had already developed my own computer games back in the 1990s while at high school. I tried to sell those.
After university, I tried to found my own company. I tried several things. We had one database startup back in 2001. The product is still selling but that broke up perhaps because of personal issues with the other founders. That was one of my first success stories. There were some other companies as well. In 2008 finally, I got in touch with a Hungarian software engineer who was working at a local IT security company, which was one of the leaders in antivirus software. He had moved to Finland around 2000. At that time, he was working in open source. Then he quit in 2006 and went to work for Ericsson that that had big local offices here. He was able to continue his open source project.
He called me in 2008. I was known for knowing something about open source. I was, for example, consulting this local company called MySQL. He called me and we met. We talked about an opportunity to start a new company around filesystems. We started to build a company on top of an open source project.
Sramana Mitra: What specifically was the problem with open source filesystems that you identified?
Mikko Valimaki: There’s a lot of filesystems out there. There are these things that read and write all your files. Every computer has a filesystem and most of them are free. There are specific cases with specific filesystems. In this case, the main thing was the interoperability. At that point in 2008, Windows was still everywhere and people didn’t have that many mobile phones. These days, everything is about phones and tablets. Mac was coming up. There was Linux but Linux wasn’t that popular.
The challenge was that Linux was becoming popular in various devices. Linux basically couldn’t read and write to Windows format. That was one of the big bottlenecks for Linux to become really popular. That was a successful attempt to make a reliable filesystem on Linux that is able to read and write in Windows format. We found that there’s a lot of need for this kind of filesystems in different applications from corporate data centres down to embedded devices.
The guys who manufacture devices need this kind of filesystem so that the devices can interoperate in an environment where you have all kinds of computers. Let’s say you have your mobile phone that you want to plug into your phone, this phone has to be able to read and write in a Windows format. Then we had to build a company on top of this. That was the real work.