What makes Brian Gentile tick

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Meet the chairman of Vaadin, who talks about innovation, philosophy, Finland and the company.

You can tell that Brian Gentile is used to being photographed by the way he moves and positions himself. After all, Gentile, the chairman of the board at Vaadin, has been in the public eye long before the Finnish tech company came calling.

“I learned about Vaadin from a US-based recruiting firm that was contracted to work with the company’s CEO Joonas Lehtinen,” Gentile explains.

Gentile has held senior executive positions with a variety of major tech firms and has managed large developer communities. His career spans 32 years in software and technology, 24 of which were spent in Silicon Valley. This made him attractive to the Turku-based company, which creates web application tools and services for software developers. The interest was mutual.

“I was immediately intrigued by their open source approach, the cleverness of the tools they have created, and the importance they place in making their customers far more productive,” Gentile says.

Building engines to drive success

In late summer of 2016, Gentile was named chairman of the board. The company uses an open source development and distribution method which has increased their customer base and awareness. This has helped with growth, averaging about 30 per cent annually. But now the company is ready for their next step, and for that Gentile is ready to give some guidance.

“Building great products and a great company is like a never-ending puzzle,” he continues.

“Success requires different strengths and I suppose that I have the benefit of experience building large and small companies in very similar markets.”

Gentile says Vaadin needs three “engines” to succeed: a product engine to constantly innovate, a go-to-market engine to build a community and reach customers, and an operational engine to constantly create more efficiency in the business.

“This does not just drive relevance, but can yield market-changing success,” Gentile explains.

“That’s what I like to do.”

“I suppose that I have the benefit of experience building large and small companies in very similar markets,” says Brian Gentile, Vaadin’s chairman of the board.

Broadening the business

Breaking into the American market is a major point in the company’s growth strategy and a number of key people are based there. So far, results are positive, with about half of sales coming from the US. Yet it is difficult to get a foothold in that giant market, so Gentile’s expertise in marketing tech companies will be put to good use.

Vaadin has been able to grow quickly and generate profits, but it has reached a fundamental turning point of sorts. So far, the company has earned most of its revenue from selling services like consulting time and training. Now it is time to broaden the offering.

“The future of our business is selling distinct products, where a ‘product’ equals a bundle of software development tools and services that create unmistakeable value for its customers,” says Gentile.

“This shift from a nearly pure services orientation to focusing more on building, releasing and selling products will require us to re-think and re-cast nearly everything it does.”

Defining the future of innovation

It might seem daunting to have to reinvent yourself, but Gentile is confident Vaadin can succeed.

“During the past ten years, I’ve watched certain countries and cities within Europe seize the moment and become much more like Silicon Valley,” he says.

“Areas which have strong universities, smart ideas and nearby funding sources are finding the right, local formula to unleash innovation and entrepreneurship. We are a great example of this formula as it is taking hold in Finland.”

“Vaadin could help to increase the productivity of software developers.”
Brian Gentile

Gentile’s philosophy is not just to help a good company get better. He looks for something special, and he thinks he has found it.

“By helping to increase the productivity of software developers – people who innovate for a living – Vaadin could be one of the most vital enablers of innovation in the world,” he says.

“This is not just a big opportunity; it is also a big responsibility. There aren’t many companies that can say this. I hope that each of our employees, community members and customers recognise the importance they have in helping to define the future of innovation.”

Brian Gentile

  • Guiding philosophy: “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” (Attributed to Peter Drucker.)
  • Age: 53.
  • Education: MBA from Arizona State University and BSBA from the University of Arizona.
  • Career: Apple, Sun Microsystems, Jaspersoft, TIBCO.
  • Family: Wife Sarah, daughter Leah and son Andrew.
  • Home: Los Altos, California.
  • The mission: To make building amazing web applications easy.

Vaadin Ltd

  • Produces web development tools and related products and services.
  • Established in 2000.
  • Turnover: EUR 10 million.
  • Employees: 140.
  • Offices: Turku, Berlin and San Jose.
  • Main shareholders: eEquity, Verdane and Tesi.

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The article was first published in Growth 1/2017.