How to sell a startup during pandemic: real life example from Finland

Helsinki, Finland
Photo by Alexandr Bormotin on Unsplsh

I recently sold my testing automation company Usetrace after I worked for 9 years to build it, writes founder ARTO VUORI.

The COVID-19 pandemic was just landing in Europe when I first got connected to the eventual buyer Tarmac, a software maker from Minnesota.

Except for the very first dinner I had with Tarmac in Helsinki just before the first wave hit us, the whole negotiation and due diligence work was done remotely.

For the past year, I have worked fully from my apartment. The work was done very asynchronously. As software developers, we considered this work as any other feature we must complete. We had a Kanban (Clubhouse) board filled with items to do and weekly progress updates over Zoom. Most of the communication was done in Slack. We also had ad-hoc calls randomly to keep things rolling.

When selling a SaaS company you, of course, can’t stop the development work while the business negotiations and due diligence are ongoing. The deal isn’t done until all papers have been signed and there’s money on the bank account.

In our case, we didn’t plan to sell a team that would have the technical knowledge of the system, so we needed to pass over the vast amount of know-how on how the system is working to the new team that Tarmac was onboarding.

We in fact didn’t have much of a team left, because we had forked a new company called just earlier. It was just me trying to clone myself to all those different roles.

In hindsight, it now feels a bit funny with all those face-to-face meetings that we used to have pre-COVID.

The digital communication and asynchronous work mode suit really well also for business transactions. Sometimes you chat with developers, sometimes with the CEO, and sometimes with attorneys depending on the task at hand. It all worked out very naturally. However, I think having the video connection was crucial because in business transactions you’re building trust between the two parties, and being able to see each other is needed. Just plain email doesn’t give you that human connection.

COVID-19 has taught us how silly it is to spend 2 hours a day commuting. Instead, we who work in digital environments, can have an extra hour of rest, and an extra hour of productive time, and getting things done, such as getting new customers or selling our businesses.

Of course, it’s good to remember that not everyone affected by this pandemic is as lucky.

Arto founded the testing automation company Usetrace and nowadays works as a lead developer at F-Secure.