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Article 5 min read

Finding your product-market fit: Insights from Trulia and Virta Health Founder Sami Inkinen

The entrepreneur explains how he and his co-founder revolutionized real estate, highlighting lessons he learned and strategies for success.

著者: Adam O'Donnell, Host of the Sit Down Startup podcast

更新日: July 10, 2024

In this episode of Sit Down Startup, we uncover Sami Inkinen’s entrepreneurial journey, beginning with how seizing the opportunity in his 20s set the stage for a phenomenal career. Inkinen shares his groundbreaking strides in revolutionizing residential real estate with interactive maps, helping Trulia achieve an unparalleled product-market fit. Venturing into health tech, Sami discusses Virta Health’s mission to reverse diabetes through nutrition, not pharmaceuticals.



Pivoting away from a stable career and seizing opportunities

In 2005, Inkinen graduated from Stanford Business School with $100,000 of debt and only a few hundred dollars in his checking account. He says, “I was in the process of starting Trulia with a classmate of mine. We had nothing but a little prototype, but we were super excited. I really wanted to start the company, but I had absolutely no money. We had not raised any capital so there was no way of paying our salaries.”

Given the situation, it’s easy to see why Inkinen accepted a job offer at McKinsey & Company. The company gave him a $10,000 signing bonus before he started his new position (which he promptly spent). However, Inkinen soon had a change of heart.

To alter his course, he realized he had to repay the signing bonus, though. He recalls thinking, “Now, I have to find $10,000 [and] pay rent next month, and I don’t have a visa secured—how do I get out of this mess?” Fortunately, his co-founder Pete Flint loaned him enough money to repay McKinsey & Company and cover his rent in San Francisco. “That was a very stressful moment, but I’m glad I made the decision,” Inkinen says.

Although his decision might seem drastic, there was rational thinking behind it. “Your risk aversion is never lower than in your early career,” he says. At that point, Inkinen didn’t have a spouse, children, or a mortgage to consider when making big life decisions. “So, I was thinking, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ I was 28 or 29 at the time. I figured the worst thing that can happen is that I have to go back to the farm in Finland and stay at my mom’s house.” On the other hand, if things worked out, he would be able to build his dream company in Silicon Valley.

He says, “This is the advice I give to aspiring entrepreneurs: If you are 22, 25, or 28 and have no responsibilities other than yourself, it will never be easier to take that first leap. So, take the first step now!”

How Trulia hit unparalleled product-market fit and revolutionized real estate

In 2004, Inkinen and his co-founder began developing an online real estate marketplace. At the time, the internet was revolutionizing traditional newspaper classifieds, and people could now find a spouse on Match.com, book travel tickets with Expedia, or reserve hotel rooms through Hotels.com. It was clear to them that residential real estate would eventually follow the same path. The goal was to build a consumer-first internet destination marketplace.

When Google Maps launched in 2005, Inkinen leveraged it to start Trulia. Though they lacked an official API, he and Flint mapped properties for sale as pins on Google Maps. “This sounds very 1980s now, but this was a huge innovation,” says Inkinen. “We did that in early 2005. Then, we demonstrated that to consumers and real estate agents. I remember that people went positively ballistic—they were like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this, it’s incredible.’” That response gave the Trulia founders their first sense that they were hitting product-market fit.

The next step for Inkinen and Flint was to track the journey a customer would take when searching for a home online. They knew most people seeking to buy a house would likely start with a search engine like Google. Inkinen explains, “We were probably one of the first companies to say, ‘Okay, we are going to have a stellar experience with interactive maps and then we can dominate the SEO game.’’’

Until then, no company had combined real estate, Google Maps, and search engine optimization, but the approach proved successful. When consumers looked for an online real estate marketplace, Trulia ranked highest in SEO. “Those are the elements of product-market fit that we figured out, and honestly, it fueled our growth for five or six years,” recalls Inkinen.

Founding Virta Health to reverse diabetes through nutrition

In 2014, Inkinen co-founded Virta Health, venturing into a new sector with a bold mission: to reverse type 2 diabetes in 100 million people without relying on pharmaceuticals. Instead, Virta Health harnesses nutrition to eliminate hunger and cravings.

“We’ve seen some phenomenal results,” says Inkinen. “Take people who have had diabetes for 10 or 20 years, we get them off insulin and get their blood sugars down to a normal range, effectively reversing type 2 diabetes.”

The company’s business model is supported by health insurance and major employers like United Airlines and UPS, who cover the costs. Treating type 2 diabetes with nutrition proves more economical than managing symptoms with drugs, making it a financially sound choice for insurers and employers partnering with Virta Health.

Though both of his companies leverage technology, telemedicine is a world away from the online real estate marketplace, and the outcomes are vastly different. Type 2 diabetes is a treatable condition, but when it is not managed correctly, it can lead to complications and even be fatal. Inkinen reflects, “When we reverse it, we improve a life or we save a life. It’s even more meaningful than my experience with Trulia. We have patients who have tattooed the company logo on their bodies after we had reversed their diabetes. It’s quite emotional to see the results of our work.”

Words of wisdom for budding entrepreneurs

If there is one piece of advice that Inkinen wants aspiring entrepreneurs to hear, it’s this: Choose something you fall in love with. He explains, “It’s kind of like when you are on a date with someone—you know it when you see it. You know it when you fall in love with someone.”

Drawing from his 23 years of entrepreneurial experience, Inkinen emphasizes the importance of prioritizing passion over money: “If you haven’t fallen in love with what you are doing, you will give up. And if there’s the economic outcome at the end of it, wonderful. And it’s much more likely to be there if you have the stamina and excitement to keep going through the ups and downs, which are inevitable.”

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