Looking back at the past year is paradoxically exhausting and energizing at the same time. Boldly taking big leaps is nothing new to Bilot, but when I looked at my diary entries, it struck me – we have accomplished amazing things the past year or so.
It has been quite a spree ever since the spring of 2019, when we began to seriously investigate the possibility of listing the company on the Nasdaq First North Growth Market. An initial public offering (IPO) process is not a rarity, but the true nature of it is not necessarily well known even to seasoned business professionals.
The amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into it may be difficult to relate to unless you have personally undergone the process. The prospectus and updates on the website are what you see, but to get there, there is a thing or two that needs to be done. The tricky part is that daily business needed to run undisturbed.
I had the privilege of having top gun colleagues around me who voluntarily assumed accountability even though none of us knew at get go, the amount of work it would entail. After multiple parallel RFQ rounds we also had major league advisors and auditors to help us piece together the storyboard, manage the red tape and all the paperwork needed to file the IPO. To avoid unwanted hassle and speculation, we decided to keep the process under the lid up to the first announcement planned for January 27th.
The pace picked up towards the end of 2019. Calendars were saturated with meetings with anchor investor candidates, countless meetings with our advisors, prospectus reviews, marketing meetings, website reviews, recruiting meetings and of course abundant regular year-end activities like business reviews, budgeting, target setting, etc.
On December 31st, Wuhan was in the news with the first pneumonia cases. Alarming news, but who knew what an Armageddon was ahead of us….
We had a meticulous plan and a precise timeline for even the smallest steps from January onwards and a target date also for the start of share issue itself. There were countless document reviews, tedious proofreading, photo-shoots, numerous board meetings, extraordinary and annual general meetings, public events, announcements, more anchor investor meetings and kicking off the business for 2020.
By February, the Wuhan pneumonia had been dubbed COVID-19 and already spreading in the western world at an alarming rate. Our public offering was due to start on February 28th and on the previous week, Finland had witnessed its first COVID-19 case. We had already been hearing how our customers, many of them operating on a global scale, were seeing the impact of this international public health concern.
We were soon asked if we are going to proceed with the IPO, but we saw no reason to stop the process and we continued steadily as planned. I was asked if we saw any risk in the pandemic hitting our business. In retrospect, we were not immune to the pandemic in the short term, but in the longer term I still believe that the impact will rather be positive than negative.
The offering was discontinued one week after the start on March 6th as it was oversubscribed 5,3 fold. WHO declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11th and trading of Bilot’s shares was to start on March 17th. The traditional opening bell at Nasdaq was indeed rung on Tuesday, March 17th, but only a handful of people were allowed to attend. On that day, there had been over 300 reported coronavirus cases in Finland, which at the time was regarded a large number. For comparison, the current number is over 33.000.
The spring months were mostly a blur. The pandemic kept worsening and we were in the trenches together with our customers. We had a mutual target to keep things rolling, but we soon felt the gale force of the pandemic. Projects were scaled down or temporarily ceased, investment decisions were postponed, work shifted to remote-mode, offices were shut down – global economy was under siege. We also had to negotiate with our staff to temporarily cut-costs to stay safely afloat. We remained true to our values and solidarity prevailed.
In spite of the surreal conditions, we had our plan to execute on. We had communicated in January, before COVID-19 even had a name; that we were to reach 50M€ in revenues during 2024. Part of the growth was to be achieved by proxy of mergers and acquisitions. The pandemic gave us no excuse to change course. Instead, we stubbornly and steadily steamed ahead.
In late spring, two months after the IPO we initiated first introductory discussions that eventually matured to negotiations and an eventual announcement on August 17th that we were to acquire CastorIT. This process was a genuine sign of the times – a large proportion of the negotiation was carried out remotely on Microsoft Teams.
As of October 1st, we are now One Bilot, and the two organizations are being integrated. The coronavirus outbreak calmed down during the summer months, but during the Autumn we were eventually locked down again. In spite of this, we have been able to get to know each other and I am in awe with the dedication, passion and professionalism of our new members of Bilot.
The management team was also reshaped this year, helping us to better gear up for upcoming endeavors. Three new members were introduced and I believe the team is well poised now to lead us on our 2024 mission.
One important milestone was getting a firmer stance in Sweden, which was an accomplishment of its own. We have an excellent team in place with local leadership prepared to write new chapters to their success story. Our outpost in Poland continued to mature focusing on both local business as well as supporting our undertakings in both Finland and Sweden.
Many of us suffered from the isolation and absence of the conventional social context. Hours were long, days fitted wall-to-wall with Teams meetings, minimal breaks, lousy ergonomics, creeping stress, working double-time and trying to cope with unprecedented conditions.
Meanwhile, some have dealt with the conditions comparatively well. Having saved hours of daily commuting, productivity hasn’t been compromised and they have been able to find new healthy routines that would have been otherwise hard to hang on to on regular basis. Meetings have become more numerous but shorter and more punctual.
We became intimate with our customers helping each other out against the common enemy. All of the sudden, meetings were held in the private quarters of the customer, wearing t-shirts and boxers. Our customer relationships have traditionally bowed to partnership spirit and this was now even further reinforced.
With regards to digital business and our core offering based on Superior Customer Experience, The Intelligent Enterprise and Process & Platform Excellence, I believe the long-term demand trends were positively amplified by the pandemic. I hope we will soon have seen the worst of it and gradually return back to a new normal, which is not all bad.
On a personal note, I am proud of my colleagues and the entire crew at Bilot for what they have accomplished these past 18 months, and before. I am always humbled by the excellent feedback our people get from those they work with, customers and colleagues alike.
As the year now comes to an eventual end, I look ahead with confidence. Having been able to accomplish all that we did, we will come out of 2020 even stronger than we were. We were not immune to the pandemic, but we showed ourselves how we can endure even the harshest conditions and survive.
I wish you all a peaceful and Merry Christmas!