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Lennu Keinänen - The leader who made himself redundant


The founder of the online payment system provider, Paytrail (a member of the Nets Group), is an easy-to-approach sparring partner and an entrepreneur with an annual income of three million euros. It would be easy to add titles and credits to Lennu Keinänen’s name. However, he describes himself as a man for whom family and personal well-being are life’s main priorities.

In 1996, Keinänen was just 15 years old when he set up his first business, Discopalvelu Panic. Now, 20 years later, he has a hand in ten companies, is a travelling evangelist for entrepreneurship, and flies around the world for business. He didn’t become a serial entrepreneur and investor overnight, but it was a rapid journey all the same.

 In 2001, Keinänen began business studies at the University of Kuopio but set them aside three months later. After attending basic courses in marketing and banking, he decided that he knew enough to start his own business.

‘All of the companies I’ve been involved with have been in fields I haven’t had a clue about, no kind of experience or expertise. That has its advantages: you can think outside the box. You are not locked into doing things the way businesses in that field have always done.’

During the early stage of his studies, like many Finns, Keinänen dreamed of a steady position on the payroll of a major company.

‘Well, in the end it didn’t pan out that way and it was for the best. Simply put, if I had had a relatively secure position working in a big corporation, the threshold to strike out and become an entrepreneur would have been quite high.’

‘If at that point, someone had come and suggested a business like Paytrail then, of course, the answer would have been “No”,’ Keinänen says.

‘I’ve always held the principle that the role of an entrepreneur and leader is to make himself redundant, and to create a self-directing environment and operational model that will develop itself while giving people the opportunity to shine.’

‘For example, Paytrail has a brilliant management team and a top-class CEO, who take care of running the day-to-day business. It doesn’t need me to operate any more. I could be gone for up to three months and it wouldn’t affect Paytrail’s operations in any way.’

According to the serial entrepreneur, one good quality in a leader is knowing how to hire the right people.

‘I know myself so well that I know what I like and what I don’t, where my strengths lie and where they don’t. So, in practice, I have outsourced all operative tasks to those who are good at them,’ Keinänen laughs.

Paytrail is Keinänen’s fourth business enterprise and was recently sold to a Danish group. In 2014, the digital payments company, Nets, purchased a majority share in Paytrail.

‘My previous companies have taught me how things should be done.

One of the principles that we followed at Paytrail right from the very beginning was that the business would be sold at some stage. At some point, one way or another.

Everything that has been done was done with this in mind. Among other things, this has meant that the firm had to have an external board of directors. We have also used experts a great deal.’

Currently, Nets owns a majority share of 80 per cent of Paytrail. The remaining 20 per cent has been divided among employees.

The seasoned business leader invests a great deal of his own money in start-up enterprises and urges them forward to growth. But what is the basis for selecting an investment target?

‘My approach is rather opportunistic. I choose the ones with the right people and which have what I think is a good business idea.’

Keinänen says that he’s interested in companies he believes he can add value to, for example, by inspiring a team to achieve outstanding results.

‘It’s a very simple paradigm. Let’s say that I invest 25,000 euros in a company and spend five hours sparring with the strategy team. Then when the company grows, the value of my investment increases to 30,000 – 50,000 euros,’ Keinänen explains.

It does sound rather simple.

‘Well the basic idea isn’t complicated. It’s the same on the stock exchange, as well. You only need to know which companies are worth investing in and then you stake some money on them,’ Keinänen says laughing. ‘But how to recognise those cases? That requires experience and vision,’ he concludes.

Text: Raisa Nerg


Paytrail Ltd.
- Established in 2001 by Lennu Keinänen and Niko Lehtonen
- Payment services for e-commerce sites
- Headquarters in Jyväskylä, Finland
- A member of Denmark’s Nets Group
- 40 employees, more to come at the end of 2016
- Revenues of 6.5 million euros in 2015
- More than 50% of Finnish online stores use Paytrail’s payment services

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