Petri Alava went from corporate CEO to founding his first startup at 50 years old. The startup, Infinited Fiber Company, has already raised tens of millions of dollars in funding, while securing global partners with the likes of H&M Group, Patagonia, and Wrangler.
On the Dealmakers Show Alava shared how he has used knowledge transfer from multiple industries to launch the global startup together with co-founder and research professor Ali Harlin. Plus, what it’s like to go from corporate to founder, how to create a sense of urgency with investors when fundraising, and his insights on building a team.
Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.
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Weaving Together Engineering & Business Thinking
I’ve always found entrepreneurs who can blend together engineering and business thinking to be dangerous, in a good way. Like Steve Jobs.
Petri Alava seems to be one of those individuals that have been able to meld these skills together too.
He was originally born and grew up in a small countryside town in the middle of Finland. At an early age, he learned from his mother the possibilities of building a strong career, even against the odds, no matter where you are. At least if you have the determination and passion to do it.
Growing up he enjoyed playing ice hockey with his friends, as well as physics and math in school. He describes himself as always having a logical type mindset. By the time he was seven years old he decided that he was going to grow up to be an engineer.
He went on to get a degree in computer science, and his Masters’s in engineering. A long way from Silicon Valley, he graduated at a time when you plan to go work for one big company for the rest of your life.
While his background was on the technical side, Petri also had an interest in learning math and how businesses worked. So, he started out as a controller, while also doing some programming. He became increasingly interested and fascinated with how you could impact decision-making with the figures.
Then craving to learn more about the full cycle of business he decided to go into sales. Then ultimately enjoyed working in a string of executive positions across a variety of industries.
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Going From Corporate CEO To Founding CEO
At 50 years old Petri found one of his executive roles ending, and was left to decide what he wanted to do next with his life and work.
At the time he was witnessing a lot of innovation happening around him. There was new technology emerging, and a lot of corporations were displaying a real willingness to change.
This was especially true in the textile and fashion industries. He had deep experience in operating businesses, and working at a global scale, as well as waste management. Though, it was when he met a professor with strong problem-solving skills and knowledge of chemistry that everything came together.
One of the biggest differences in the transition that Alava pointed out was having spent most of his days being around a lot of other people, to becoming a solo entrepreneur who was pretty much working by himself for the first two and a half years.
Instead of working with an internal board of directors to move around the budget, and having revenues and cash to invest in various areas, he now had to learn to sell the business to others himself.
Setting out Petri says he thought he could bring in the funding he needed for his new venture in six months. It ended up being two and a half years to close that first round of funding needed to finance the business.
So far Infinited Fiber Company has raised over $56M. No small feat for a startup in Finland. A country with a population smaller than the Miami metro area. However, they are also working on another $350M round of funding.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Petri Alava was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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He shared with the Dealmakers audience some of the initial challenges they faced in securing funding. For example, raising for a manufacturing business that would take a while to grow, during a time when VCs were all about trying to scale incredibly fast.
Then there is instilling that essential sense of urgency with investors. Typically, time is on the side of investors. The longer they wait, the more time they have to see the risks, see if a startup can gain more proof and traction, and gain a stronger negotiating position.
The opposite is true for the entrepreneur and founder. The longer it takes to close funding, the harder it becomes to operate, the higher the risk of running out of money and going bankrupt.
Fortunately, Petri was able to make progress before getting funded. They were able to prove that they could produce a high-quality product. That led to bringing on strategic investors like Adidas.
They also figured out how to get to decision-makers. First starting with material people inside organizations that would work with their product. They in turn pushed the recommendations up the corporate food chain and seeing them recommend that those in charge of making investments pick them.
Petri’s company Infinited Fiber, is a technology business that has gained a strong reputation quickly with the world’s leading apparel and fashion brands. .
They turn textile waste into high-quality material that fashion companies turn back into sustainable clothing.
They’ve been signing long-term contracts for many millions of euros with big clients, and hope to expand from 40 people to 250 with their new manufacturing facility.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- How you go about fixing a business that is not working
- Making the decision to become an entrepreneur
- Building a great team on a startup budget