The Art of Founder Exit: Jenni Kynnös

In the world of entrepreneurship, the journey of a founder is often filled with triumphs, challenges, and pivotal moments that shape the course of their ventures. One such significant milestone is the founder exit. In this article, Jenni Kynnös, a well-known entrepreneur and CEO, shares her insights and experiences about founder exit, as well as her learnings about leadership and building successful companies.

May 22, 2024
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The Art of Founder Exit: Jenni Kynnös

Who is Jenni Kynnös?

Jenni Kynnös is a well-known entrepreneur and CEO and one of the sharks in the Finnish Shark Tank. She describes herself as the Little My, and the rebellious spirit of this Moomin character resonates well with her. 

Jenni sold her first company, MySome, at the age of 28. 

"After all, it was an easy decision since I always had a timeline to exit by the time I'd turn 30." 

How did the exit happen?

When Jenni received "the call", she was on a holiday in Maldives. 

"When the phone first rang, I thought I wouldn't pick up," Jenni says. However, she picked up the phone. The rest is history. 

"This was not the first time someone wanted to buy our company, but this time, I felt ready to let go."

The less glamorous reality

Once the decision had been made, Jenni's initial feeling was horror.
On the other hand, this was according to her timeline: when she founded MySome at 24, she already had made an exit plan. The company seemed independent enough, and thus, the timing right.

"I had decided that once I'm 30, I won't be spend a single day working with social media. Either my company would be sold or have another CEO".

While people might picture selling a company as a big, fancy celebration with champagne, the reality often is less glamorous. The process takes time and consumes energy. An example from Jenni's experience:

"The night before the signing, the other party requested that we print all the contract papers. Well, we didn't have a printer at home, so we needed to drive to the Prisma Hypermarket and buy one at 11 p.m. My husband spent the whole night printing the papers so that they would be ready the next morning."

Success factors for exit

When reflecting on the success factors, Jenni says that at least the team succeeded in building a company culture and executing sales. In addition, Jenni highlights focus as a crucial matter for success. 

"Decide what you do and do that only. If someone wants something else, they shouldn't become our client. Don't try to please everyone."

Once the focus is clear, she advises to be consistent with processes and routines – even if they would feel boring. 

"I would love to say that the key to success is something fancy. In reality, however, you just need to maintain your focus and then execute processes and routines. Make sure your clients and employees are happy. As simple as that."

Another critical matter Jenni mentions is recruitment. 

"Be wise with recruitment. And keep in mind that some individuals don't grow at the same pace as the company or aren't the right fit for the position you thought they'd have."  

Learnings about leadership 

When asked how experience has shaped her as a leader, Jenni points out a few things. First, she reflects on being a "people pleaser". 

"I remember this one time I was jogging with my dog in the evening when my client called and complained about a minor detail in a Facebook post we'd published. I remember running back home to fix the post, and this was at 11 p.m. in the evening. I could have fixed it the next morning or actually taken care of the situation in a way that no client would call me at 11 p.m. Not everyone needs to be happy with me."

Another thing Jenni mentions is distance. During her years as a leader, she's learnt to look further into the future and realise that not every issue is a "life or death" matter.

When it comes to leadership, she talks about finding balance. The job of a leader can look very different as it is for the employees. Not doing hands-on-execution doesn't mean the work isn't valuable – even if it's often invisible.

Finally, Jenni talks about company culture and transparency. While she admits of being a fan of transparent culture, she has learnt that while the company grows, 100 % transparency is not desirable, not even possible to achieve. 

"That being said, however, I believe in a culture where everyone can be their authentic selves. No need for building a different "work-me". Finding the balance here is the key."

Jenni's advice for other leaders

1) Make lots of decisions.

If you struggle with this, maybe you're lacking vision or perspective. Start by acquiring those.  Life becomes much easier, when you stop postponing decision-making – you won't be any smarter next week, most likely just busier and dummer. 

2) Focus on your strengths.

"The best advice I've ever gotten is to focus on my strengths, not my weaknesses. Of course, there are certain matters one needs to learn in order to run a business, but start by focusing on your strengths. Don't try to change yourself, but build on your strengths. "

Read more stories like this: 

The Evolution of Leadership: Timo's Journey from Founder to CEO and Chairman

Navigating the Burnout Battle - Learnings from Piia Kuosmanen and 3 Tips Leaders Can Use Right Now

Copyright (header image): https://jennikynnos.fi/