Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to our “Mentor Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase our mentors who are a big part of how we support startups in Red Brick Accelerator. We hope you enjoy reading them!
Tomi Neulanen has had a diverse career starting from the early 2000s and now provides valuable advice and mentorship to entrepreneurs and clients. He wore different hats, as a developer, an analyst, designer, and a project manager. He has also dabbled in sales and worked as a customer happiness officer. Now, he’s found his groove as a consultant at Sofokus Oy, a company that specializes in creating digital solutions that deliver real value to businesses.
His experiences in consulting and founding his own startup have given him a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the business world. Tomi was known as the “talking coder.” He says that while you can turn a coder into a salesman, the opposite isn’t as easy. With his passion for problem-solving and his dedication to helping others, Tomi continues to make a positive impact in the startup ecosystem. At Red Brick, we have been lucky to have a chance to extend his impact to startups in our programs.
Tomi is drawn to startups because of the founders’ optimistic mindset and their determination to overcome challenges and push for a better future. He finds inspiration in their passion and motivation to solve problems. He loves interacting with people during this stage of their lives and avoids putting them into limiting boxes. To him, everyone has something valuable to offer.
He believes that a founder’s resilience and unwavering commitment to their idea are the most important qualities they can have. One piece of advice Tomi gives to early-stage founders is not to shy away from making cold calls. Although it may seem intimidating, he warns against putting it off because it can have long-term consequences. Using simple tools like Google Sheets is a good start to compile a list of leads. By reaching out to many leads, founders can convert a small percentage into actual revenue, demonstrating the value of persistence and proactive outreach.
Looking back on his own entrepreneurial journey, Tomi remembers his own previous startup founded 15 years ago. They faced significant challenges due to the tough market conditions. The idea behind his company was technically complex, similar to how Facebook targets ads or conducts questionnaires with focus groups. He approached the project, as a web developer, purely as a technical challenge, without seeking input from others, and that turned out to be a big mistake. Working alone without a team and lacking the necessary tools for running a company held him back. But Tomi now uses this experience as an example when talking to founders building similar platforms, as they face similar challenges and can learn from his insights.
Don’t build your product alone, always ask for input
That entrepreneurial experience has led him to where he is now. He understands the excitement and potential when young founders come up with innovative ideas, but he also knows the downside of making endless promises without setting clear timelines. Tomi believes founders should commit to a specific period for their projects and establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or such to evaluate their progress. This helps them decide whether to keep going or move on, avoiding wasted time, energy, and resources. He also emphasizes the importance of building a diverse and adaptable team, effectively analyzing data, and using KPIs to make objective decisions. Tomi is a proponent of piloting solutions and believes in trying to solve problems before giving up.
Understanding the entrepreneur’s mindset, finding shortcuts and clever solutions for their challenges, and finishing strong are Tomi’s compelling assets. But he knows that he can only offer meaningful advice if he truly understands the founding team and their situation. Building trust is key, and his extensive experience in technology and various projects allows him to provide clients with different options to solve their problems. His work with clients is very similar to his role as a mentor, and he genuinely enjoys being around people and helping them solve problems. “Whether it’s students trying out new things, experienced entrepreneurs venturing into new businesses, or just people looking for solutions to everyday problems,” he says, “I admire and have passion in helping them find solutions and shortcuts that would help save their time and resources.”
Being helpful, as opposed to being right, is his ultimate goal as a mentor at the end of the day. His advice to founders would be to find a trusted advisor, who is somehow detached, with a wider viewport of what they are doing as founders. Self-reflection is also important; a founder should always find the time to take care of themselves.
Red Brick mentors play an important role in the shaping of our early-stage startup teams. We thank Tomi for his insights and expertise in helping our teams grow and succeed. 💚Has this inspired you to mentor a startup team? Get in touch, we are always looking for new mentors to join our family!
Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to our new “Mentor Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase our mentors who are a big part of how we support startups in Red Brick Accelerator. Hope you enjoy reading them!
Anastasiia Kozina, also known as Siia, is a strategic product designer who is passionate about creative problem-solving and using her skills to help others. Her journey in design began during her studies in Finland, where she was drawn to modern and interactive design techniques. She currently works at Nordkapp, a strategic consulting agency that supports companies going through change. Siia has experience as an entrepreneur, working in the dementia care industry as well as IT consulting.
Picture by Felipe Santana
Our journey with Siia began in 2019, when she joined Red Brick as a startup mentor. Siia believes in having an open culture and the importance of sharing knowledge and failure stories. She sees mentoring as a way to merge giving back to society and doing pro bono work with her expertise, allowing her to support teams practically to move forward.
“All the startups I have met are rooted in some kind of problem they themselves experience,” Siia says, “Seeing these teams wanting to change something so badly inspires me. I believe that this is exactly what humans should be doing, trying to actively solve their problems instead of passively watching from a distance. You meet a lot of brave people in the startup world who are ready to go out there and try something. That alone is incredibly powerful.”
Siia is an entrepreneur herself. She co-founded Memocate, a research-powered startup with a mission to improve the quality of care for people with memory disorders and make their caregivers more confident in their abilities. Soon, they began creating multimedia materials for dementia care programs, hospitals, and municipalities. As a spin-off startup from the University of Helsinki, they’ve been learning how to grow business and create a successful team formula with board members, shareholders, and an excellent team to attract investors. They eventually found an angel investor who felt passionate about the dementia caregiving scene and helped them boost the business. However, the team kept struggling with the timelines required to close deals and discovered that EdTech solutions aren’t optimal for staying afloat through raising funds – in this field, investors tend to have specific demands to be interested in providing their support. They piloted a new idea using sensor technology to monitor patients’ communication and movements for more accurate care quality assessments performed in both public and private healthcare institutions regularly, which proved to be a totally different product with massive potential. Siia and her team had to learn to pivot the business in response to these challenges, the learnings of which she still applies in her mentoring rounds to this day.
Picture by Felipe Santana
Siia’s work with Red Brick began as a coach in UX design. She recalls thinking, “wow! There’s so much more I could do!” That is when her role transitioned from being a workshop coach to a mentor.
When asked about her first advice to early-stage founders, she says not to go on their journey in isolation. “Go out, validate, talk to people, learn more about the problem you are solving, ask for advice,” Siia adds, “be humble, accept that you don’t know everything.”
“If you’re building a startup, it’s very easy to go into a perfectionist state. Everything needs to be in tip-top shape, everything needs to be polished. That creates more work for yourself with already limited resources. Whenever I mentor startups, I ask them, ‘what is the most minimal thing you could do to get to your goal?’ whether it’s validating, selling or something else. That keeps you going and moving somewhere. Otherwise, your time is running out.”
As a mentor, Siia is on the lookout for humility as a key quality in an early-stage startup team. Siia believes that overly confident teams may not be receptive to advice and may not be open to learning. The team’s setup is also important, and having experienced entrepreneurs on the team can help steer the startup away from potential issues. Startups should define their positions and think about the smallest product they can validate and start selling shortly. She also points out that momentum is a very important factor to consider, as market expectations and challenges are changing. Doing research and meeting with other companies in the same space can help founders make informed decisions about the direction of their vision.
Siia shares the importance of engagement strategies for startups. “I noticed that many startups focus solely on acquiring customers without thinking about how to keep them engaged over the long term. Startups should have a plan for how to continuously engage customers, otherwise it can be a waste”. Siia also stresses the importance of team building for startups. Founders need to be critical when hiring new team members and should be honest with each other about their own limitations. She also encourages founders to care for each other and spread responsibilities so that no one person is taking on too much.
To better prepare for mentoring meetings, founders should come to meetings with a clear agenda and critical questions about things that block them from moving forward. For Siia, mentoring should be an ongoing process, rather than a one-time call, and startups should be proactive in asking mentors to continue working with them. Siia sees mentoring as a cycle of learning, where both the mentor and the startup team can benefit from the relationship.
When asked about her mentoring style, she says, “Let the team guide the process. I am there as a facilitator of their thinking. I am not the pool of answers and ideas, they should be owning those ideas and answers. Take the role of the one who can match them with those answers through asking the right questions.”
“You need to remember that people do not intentionally want to do any harm, especially in the professional scene,” Siia highlights, “if you want to change something, you should try to change how we approach things, rather than the people we are dealing with. Stakeholders are often not the problem, processes are.”
Red Brick mentors play an important role in the shaping of our early-stage startup teams. We thank Siia for her insights and expertise in helping our teams grow and succeed. Her belief in the value of ongoing mentorship resonates deeply with Red Brick’s mission to support and grow innovative startups. 💚Has this inspired you to mentor a startup team? Get in touch, we are always looking for new mentors to join our family!
What is the preferences model that revolutionized high-performing teams?
On April 25, 2023 at 16:00 – 19:00 we are organizing an open-for-all session with Pouria Kay sharing insights on “How to build superteams?”. Join us to learn the fundamentals behind high-performing teams and what is the secret sauce. 10 years ago, Pouria found out “thinking diversity” term when leading his own design team. He spent the next years studying the topic and that’s where the “preferences model” method came from. In this session he shares insights by digging deeper into these key topics:
How to build trust and a bigger brain in the team?
How to create a safe team culture?
What are motivational drivers and how to boost motivation and joy in the team?
The session takes place on the 5th floor of Platform6. The official part ends at 19:00. We continue with light discussion and networking. Drinks and snacks will be served.
Come and join us for an open afterwork with Tribe Tampere and Red Brick to practice your pitching skills!
Being able to present your business idea briefly and win people over is crucial to your success! That is why in this afterwork we are asking you to PITCH, PLEASE!
Join us for an evening of short and sweet 1-minute pitches where you’ll have the chance to impress the crowd and win amazing prizes. You can pitch an existing startup or just some crazy idea that has been cooking in your head for a while. Maybe this is the validation you need to see if that idea is something you should pursue! It’s the perfect opportunity to challenge yourself, get feedback on your idea, and network with like-minded people.
Not ready to pitch just yet? No problem! Come and listen to some awesome startup pitches and cast your vote for the idea that wows you the most. The winner pitch will be declared after the voting!
So don’t miss out on this fun and exciting event. Bring your A-game, your creativity, and your enthusiasm, and let’s make some magic happen!
Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to “Founders’ Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase different startup founders who were taking part in Red Brick Accelerator. Hope you enjoy reading them!
This story features Antti Moilanen — co-founder of Lainappi. On their mission, Lainappi aims to make innovative items affordable by offering a rent-based marketplace.
The idea of entrepreneurship wasn’t new to Antti; it was something he thought about since high school. However, taking the step towards becoming a startup entrepreneur happened after taking a survey for Kimi Siefen’s thesis — his co-founder, and that was the initial sparkle. Together with Aukusti Eskola and Nea Liikamaa, they form Lainappi’s core team.
For the Lainappi team, their main goal is to develop an easy and sustainable way of renting everyday items.
We sat down with Antti who gets real about his startup life, the journey so far, and the green values Lainappi stands for.
Emily: How was the Lainappi team formed?
Antti: In 2020, Kimi, Lainappi co-founder, was writing a thesis about renting household items in Finland. The objective of the thesis was to figure out if there is a potential of individuals interested in a renting application. I took part in his survey, and so did our other co-founder, Aukusti. Both Aukusti and I found the topic very relevant, and we excitedly hopped on to provide a solution for the problem Kimi was exploring in his thesis.
Nea joined a bit later. She herself had a similar startup idea called bowit, “borrow it” shortened. She wrote us a very interesting email, and we could see that we shared the same vision and values. That’s why she is a valuable addition to our team!
As for the name, “Laina” is Finnish for borrow, and “appi” is short for application. If translated, Lainappi would be “borrow-app”.
Emily: Sounds like a values-driven project. What about Kimi’s thesis topic resonated with you?
Antti: I’m not a hippie, but I do have green values. Our planet has limited resources and the biggest problem I see is people going nuts and buying more and more. It looks like consumers want to buy all the time and I think it should stop.
I believe that our planet has limited resources. There is no benefit from over-consumption. We’re normalizing renting and borrowing.
There is no need to always buy something new. Sometimes, renting is enough.
Whether it’s for temporarily testing equipment, using tools, or even occasional clothes — renting is sustainable. People can also earn money by leasing items they are not using. Lainappi provides a safe space for a circular and sharing economy, while steering away from overconsumption.
Emily: Could you tell me about the highs and lows so far? How has the journey been?
Antti: There are a lot of those. Sometimes bigger highs, and sometimes bigger lows. Usually, there are quite many lows in a row, and then you get one high that makes it worth it. So, you enjoy it as much as possible, and then the cycle continues.
There are a lot of things happening behind the curtain that people don’t necessarily see. You mostly show the positive achievements. But what people don’t know is how many “no”’s you had to go through… before getting that one “yes”. That’s why you make sure to enjoy that Yes, because you know it’s going to get windy soon.
You learn during the process. In the early stages, it gets mentally challenging. It’s not for everybody. It requires setting up the right mindset. But once you accept it, you go with the flow.
What I love the most is the experience. Learning new things, a lot of new things, and growing at the same time.
Creating solutions that work makes all the lows worth it. From a customer perspective, being able to make a product that people use and then getting good ratings and feedback give us the motivation to keep going.
Emily: What is the team’s secret sauce?
Antti: Open communication, shared values, and finding harmony. One very important thing is not to give up. We move together towards a goal or a vision in harmony and accept compromises if they come. Even if things don’t go exactly as planned, the most important things are the journey and destination, and you will make it if you don’t give up.
Emily: What would be your advice for first-time founders?
Antti: Follow your intuition. Go and do it. First-time founders should jump in and enjoy the ride.
Emily: How did participating in a startup accelerator help you during your ride so far?
Antti: Red Brick came into the picture very early on, in 2020. We had a prototype at that time, and Red Brick gave us the tools and what to focus on as a next step to prepare for the MVP.
Emily:When not working on Lainappi, what do you fill your free time with?
Antti: I like golf. I do some fishing occasionally. And hanging out with friends.
Emily: Do you have a favorite startup quote?
Antti: Selina Kustula from Red Brick posted this meme once on Linkedin. It had a picture of three people driving a car, and it said, “It doesn’t matter where we are going, as long as we’re moving on.” The timing of Selina posting this quote was spot-on, it was really needed.
There are about a thousand things startup teams and founders need to juggle. Marketing is one of them.
Marketing efforts often get de-prioritized as they don’t provide “quick fixes” and immediate growth. However, nowadays, marketing is the driving engine that goes far beyond building a website, making pitch decks and posting on social media. That is why Red Brick invited Yuliya Salorenko, a growth marketer by day and public speaker by night, to hold a workshop on Marketing: From Starting to Scaling.
Currently, Yuliya is a Senior Growth Marketer at The F Company, and she is running a side business in public speaking, startup coaching, personal branding and beyond. Yuliya’s career kicked off in a startup scene, from co-running a startup accelerator to coaching early-stage teams and everything in between. Her combined understanding of the startup challenges, as well as modern marketing tactics, enable her to build this hands-on workshop, aiming to impactfully serve the community and entrepreneurs in their marketing endeavors and growth.
In this article, I will be summarizing key learnings discussed during the workshop on May 3rd, 2022.
1. Marketing in most early-stage startups gets often deprioritized
Startups are dealing with a huge time and financial pressure to succeed before reaching the so-called “death valley”. Yet, while on a quest to find the ideal product-market-fit and understand the market deeper, most founders and startup teams still spend their time and money on building new product features, hunting investors, and attending events before dealing with their marketing. Though marketing enables early-stage teams to build a solid foundation, learn about the audience and prepare for go-to-market, all of which in many ways defines the market demand and helps to build the product further.
Marketing should begin as early as possible, arguably even before startups have their product ready. It helps develop the right market fit, which is why it should be prioritized early on. Actually, the top reason why startups fail is a lack of market need. So, marketing is about understanding the audience and serving them with the right message on the right platform at a right time. “After all, it’s called MARKETing and not PRODUCTing for a reason!” — Yuliya emphasized.
“Regardless of what area you operate in, B2B, B2C, C2C… in reality, we all play in the H2H industry — human-to-human. Humans should always be remembered when we talk about marketing. Build and nurture relationships, and think about the person behind the screen”, Yuliya highlighted.
Digital tools come and go, new privacy policies pop all the time, social media algorithms undergo regular changes too, etc. However, marketing in its purest form has a foundation that remains the same (the way marketing has always been done, already a hundred years ago). Sprinkling the terms “growth hacking”, “demand gen”, “inbound marketing” etc. does not turn marketing into magic and brings overnight results. Good marketing takes time.
2. Building a solid foundation: How to build a marketing strategy for your startup?
This is a foundation that any company can plug into their own business. Even though the process of building a marketing strategy remains the same, when it comes to tactical marketing, there is no one-size-fits-all. “Build a foundation, and then experiment to learn what works best for your audience, for your product, for your market. And experiment consistently and continuously”, Yuliya added.
STEP # 1: Buyer personas: identify who do you want to reach with your product/service
“It’s all about profoundly understanding your audience”, Yuliya said. “The best way to do it? Pick up a phone and call! Do not build a strategy based on speculation.”
STEP # 2: Mapping of the buyer’s journey: what are your persona’s needs, challenges, JTBD (Jobs-To-Be-Done) at every stage of the journey
Yuliya elaborated through a visual representation:
“Majority of your audience (95%) is at the awareness stage of the journey: they are yet to build understanding and awareness around the problem you’re solving with your product. They are not ready to buy. Hence, to move them alongside the buying journey, the job of marketing is to build awareness, educate the audience, provide value before asking anything in return, build and nurture relationships, and be on top of mind.
Only a small portion of your audience (5%) is at the consideration/decision stage, and are problem and solution aware. Yet, the majority of the marketers are focused on serving the 5% while neglecting the potential of the market — those 95% that need educating. That is why, it is crucial to identify what are your personas’ needs, pains, JTBD, roles etc. at every stage of the journey — to optimize your already scarce marketing efforts and communicate with the audience effectively.”
STEP #3: Initial hypothesis and experiments: set targets & hypotheses to test
“Set targets and hypotheses to discover what really works for your audience, and continuously test ways to reach your target market over systematic experimentation practices tied to your business objectives. Everything is an assumption until tested. Set clear goals: what to test, why and how to measure the experiment’s success. But when setting the numeric goals, focus on what brings value to your business. For example, many marketers are pressured on delivering the lead quantity (and greedy investors wish to see the number rise each month). But more leads do not necessarily reflect in sales. Pushing random leads into the sales funnel will not yield sales. Instead of chasing the quantity, look at the quality (ultimately resulting in higher closing rate and a happier sales team).”
STEP #4: Data and scaling phase: collect data, learn, scale what works, ditch what doesn’t
Review and assess the data, but take it with a grain of salt. Data provides us, the marketers, with the pattern, the big picture, which helps to define the performance of each experience and the next tests to run. This is a crucial phase of experiment-based marketing, a time to gain valuable insights in order to scale the right marketing efforts.
To summarize, my most interesting takeaways from the workshop were:
Prioritize marketing early-on. Marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought in your startup. Arguably, marketing should be prioritized before your product is even ready for the market. Experiment, be patient, learn and focus on the quality. Good marketing takes time.
Set realistic KPIs: having prior experience with data in a certain experiment helps. Trying to set a numeric KPI for the first time is difficult. This entire discussion comes from the sales team or legacy data from past experiments.
Never underestimate the importance of building the proper marketing strategy (personas, journeys and all). Companies, especially early-stage startups, simply cannot afford to be scattered and use resources on unscalable tactics that do not generate real value for the audience.
Was this article helpful? Let us know! Follow Red Brick on LinkedIn and Instagram to find out more about similar upcoming events and workshops.
Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to “Founders’ Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase different startup founders who were taking part in Red Brick Accelerator. Hope you enjoy reading them!
This story features Maria Allgaier — founder of Freyja. On her mission, Maria aims to reduce sexual violence and improve sexual education through Freyja, a new adult social media platform.
Maria studied history at UCL, and used to be an elite rower for ten years, competing nationally. She found that athletes’ safety and safeguarding was disregarded with regards to sexual violence and harassment. Maria tried to raise awareness through campaigns and politics to push for better policies in institutions to create safer environments. After she realised those efforts were not effective, she found the best way to make a change: start her own company and initiate the change herself.
For Maria and her co-founder David, their main goals are to reduce sexual harassment and provide a good sexual education.
After closing a successful funding round and launching the platform, we sat down with Maria to discuss her values, shared visions, and difficult decisions as part of her startup journey.
Emily: How did you decide to start Freyja?
Maria: It was during covid, I was with my friends, and we were discussing why sexual violence and harassment was such a problem. It became clear that the cause was tied to pornography. That’s what made me think, if we could fix those things in the porn industry then we could reduce the number of human rights issues. I had just finished university and had gotten a job offer, and I had to make a decision. I really liked the whole concept of Freyja and what we would be working on, and I had to tell my family and friends that I will not take that job and I will move to Finland and start my own company instead. Fast forward a few weeks to September 2021, I was in my apartment in Finland, and I got notified that the site was ready, and that was when it felt like things just got real.
Emily: Where did the name “Freyja” come from?
Maria: It was really random. My co-founder came up with it. We thought of doing something more mythological due to my history degree. Freyja is named after the Norse goddess of sex and fertility.
Emily: Why did you choose to solve this problem?
Maria: We’re a very big social project — our mission is to improve sexual education and reduce sexual violence. The thing that I found mostly frustrating regarding the problem we’re trying to solve is that it’s so obvious. Everybody experiences and everybody sees, but very little is done about this because the industry is considered so taboo. That really made me want to do something about it, because nobody else was.
We’re a very big social project — our mission is to improve sexual education and reduce sexual violence.
Emily: And what is the story behind forming the team?
Maria: I met my current co-founder, David, on a job ad online. He had the best application I’d seen, because he didn’t just hand me a CV; he explained why the cause mattered to him and why he wants to fix such an important problem. I met our other co-founder, Samantha, through my sister who introduced us. She used to work in the porn industry, and funny thing actually, we’ve never actually met in person although we’ve worked together for a year and a half.
Emily: What is Freyja’s secret team sauce? What qualities do you look for in your team?
Maria: What works well with us is that we are opposites. David fills the gaps that I can’t fill, and vice versa. My background is in human rights and people-side of things, and David has previous tech experience, so he can fill in the areas where I wouldn’t necessarily fill. Automatically, we both sit within different parts of the company so we don’t really step on each other’s toes. What I’ve had in other situations is that when team members are too similar and you have the exact same skillset, there’s more room for tension. There should be a good balance.
Other important qualities I look for are dedication and positiveness towards the project, especially in the early stages. If you have one person who’s negative and doesn’t believe in your mission, it’ll crush it really quickly.
Emily: Could you tell a bit about the highs and lows of the startup journey so far? What do you love about it the most?
Maria: It’s definitely very up and down. I don’t think I was prepared enough for that. Some days, you’re like, “this is amazing!” and there are other days when you really want to cry in the bathroom. It’s definitely been a good learning experience, and what I like most is getting to have so much responsibility and trying new things.
I feel like I’m doing 20 different jobs, which can be a downside, but it also means you learn really fast.
I’m really passionate about what we’re doing, so that definitely helps.
Emily: What would you consider your biggest success so far with Freyja?
Maria: The response from people, users and consumers. We now have a lot of brands, influencers, and charities coming on board, who really connect with what we’re doing. That shows we’ve hit the nail on something, because a lot of people connect to it.
Emily: What decisions are challenging and require you to go the extra mile?
Maria: The moderation and safety side is where most of our efforts go, and where decisions get challenging. As a media company, you have to make in-house rules, and that sounds simple to say but to actually do is hard.
Photo by Jeff Mayeda, Red Brick demo day 2022
Emily: What role did participating in an accelerator program play for Freyja?
Maria: It was helpful. We were talking to other startup founders and got access to mentors’ experiences in Red Brick. I’m quite young, and I did not have that entrepreneurial background yet, so it was nice to have that network.
Emily: Do you have a startup quote that resonates with you the most?
Maria: Don’t pay too much attention to what other people are doing. Of course, you need to be aware of your competition, but when you start looking at them obsessively, it sets you back. It’s like what we’re told when we’re rowing, “put your blinders on”, so that we don’t look at other people around us and lose focus.
Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to “Founders’ Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase different startup founders who were taking part in Red Brick Accelerator. Hope you enjoy reading them!
This story features Daniel Bumann — cofounder of Parkly, working on creating happy, more inclusive and functional public places. On this mission, he is accompanied by his partner in business and life — Päivi Raivio. They both have had a couple of other businesses before, but Parkly is different — it is the first scalable company. Daniel adds, “So far it has been an extremely rocky and challenging journey, but always when you bump off the rocks you get some air under your feet.”
Daniel has been studying scenic design, has worked in theaters and movies, and suddenly his focus turned to public space and entrepreneurship.
For the Parkly duo, the public space is their canvas. The main goal is to innovate public space and shift towards a public space that is more diverse, and more safe.
Find below the discussion with Daniel about working with life partners, how was Parkly born, vision for the future, “placemaking” and more.
Emily: You are on a mission to innovate public spaces. If you had to describe Parkly in one sentence, what would you say?
Daniel: We want to create happy, safe, and empowering places. Also innovation, collaboration, and co-creation.
Emily: First time we talked, you mentioned “placemaking”, we were not fully sure what it is. How do you explain that term to people who haven’t heard it yet?
Daniel: Placemaking is a relatively new urban movement. It emerges from tactical urbanism. At the core of placemaking the idea is to think of architecture as a transformation tool, and as landscaping architecture that has the people at its core at the interest of the users of the public space.
Placemaking is a way of planning so that people feel empowered that they can change their surroundings with the help of small interventions.
It can be like we do it with public furniture that can be greener, gardening initiatives, skipping parking spaces for a restaurant. It says in the name, it is creating places and it is straightforward.
Emily: Do you remember the moment when Parkly was born?
Daniel: It was not a moment of epiphany. We have executed similar projects or products in the past, then Päivi refreshed an idea she had had 20 years back of a solution for public space and courtyards. We took it from there, and a couple of days later I had a couple of thoughts and got extremely motivated and said, “OK, let’s do it”. It was at the beginning of the pandemic and we understood that life cannot go on like before, habits are going to change, there is a market that is growing and it came together.
I personally think that ideas are easily replicable, that is something I’ve learned on my journey. Instead, it’s about the way you execute and how long your breath goes.
Emily: You and Päivi are partners not only in business but in life. How does that work for you guys?
Daniel: We worked together before founding Parkly. Before having a relationship and a family as a couple. What came first was the professional collaboration between us.
It’s a totally different thing when you think about creating a startup from the scratch, you have to be open and flexible and that can be very demanding. It surely has pros and cons. One can’t anticipate what the other might want or think, the trust level is really high and that helps. And there is also the danger that you take the stress too much into the private sphere.
I personally do not want to separate the business from my private space, I see work as an enrichment to my personal life. Sure, it can be challenging from time to time, but it is not rare for partners to start businesses together. There comes moments when you just have to step a little back, then all is fine.
Emily: What are your personal and company values?
Daniel: We are impact-driven. Then co-creation, we want to invite people to be part of it. We’re producing next year in Switzerland, also manufacturing locally. We reduce CO2 footprint, we reduce the transportation footprint, and we manufacture with lean design. We have a strong focus on circular economy values so our products stay in the loop. For every module bought we buy 20 meters squared of old growth forests in Finland to compensate. It is our message to carry out.
Sustainability is the big task for the next few years. People have to be incentivized to become part of it. Convincing people individually to change their habits is not easy. It has to go with the community and society. It has to go with understanding other people’s needs and directing the shift. And we need to give room for people to express their doubts as well.
Emily: Have you had some difficult moments on the startup founder journey?
Daniel: 9 out of 10 days suck (he said laughing). It can be difficult when you think you are alone and no one believes in what you’re doing. It comes frequently and you think what’s this all about. Then there’s these moments where you get these truths — these affirmations — that help you go through the steps to understand: this is important. It’s kind of a game of two steps ahead, one step back. It will inevitably happen in every company, and you learn on your way. You need a lot of small failures to recognize what’s wrong.
As you say in Red Brick, it is a hell of a ride but it can also be a good hell of a ride.
Emily: What advice would you give yourself at the very beginning of it?
Daniel: I’m tempted to say “trust yourself”. Trust the feeling you have, go where you want to go, but don’t expect to end up where you think you will. Trust the process, and something good comes out. You might reach a beautiful place, without knowing, all while expecting something different.
Emily: What would you consider a must-have to be a successful startup founder?
Daniel: Startup founders are flexible. They need to be good communicators. It helps a lot when someone can communicate very well what they are doing. Focusing on internal development. Especially as a founder, you need to be able to go in every direction a little bit and have an understanding of how your business is developed.
Emily: Imagine the world five years from now and describe Parkly for us.
Daniel: We are still existing. We definitely must have grown already. Maybe 3–4 more people in Marketing and Product Development. We steadily grow outside of Finland, into a few handpicked European countries. In five years I would hope that, despite the revenue, we have established ourselves so far that it’s a name and a brand that people recognize and associate with public space solutions.
I hope that there will be by then some competitors on the ground; there’s no better proof of concept than if you have competitors that grow with you.
Emily: How do you see the role of accelerators and similar programs in startups’ early development?
Daniel: A bit of safety I would say. As the name says, they should accelerate, but there has to be a better name for that. Many people who have an entrepreneurial edge see a product they may develop, but they might lack other things. An accelerator can give a network to start off somewhere, to learn more, despite how uncomfortable it may seem. It gives an opportunity to explain the story to others and test out if your idea works. It is an emotional space that is helpful for people to grow and develop trust in their ideas and businesses.
Emily: What does Daniel do for fun when he is not wearing Parkly’s hat?
Daniel: Running the business is at the top of the list for me now. However, it is really important from time to time to zoom out. For me, it is meeting people and friends who have nothing to do with my business, who know me well.
That’s the danger in being too motivated, you always want to talk about your business and pitch, pitch, pitch.
So it’s important to appreciate hanging around people outside your bubble.
Emily: What is your favorite movie or series character?
Daniel: Roberto Benigni in the movie “Down by Law”. There’s a famous line from the movie, “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream!” and I like the positive energy in it.
Emily: Startup quote that resonates with you?
Daniel: Love the problem. Keep the problem close. Otherwise, you fall in love with the solution and you’re stuck there.
Emily: A book that changed you and that you would recommend?
Daniel: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, because it’s a very interesting book. It’s a book written from a gorilla’s perspective, that makes you wonder about the world and its perspectives.
Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to “Founders’ Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase different startup founders who were taking part in Red Brick Accelerator. This one is the first of many to come. Hope you enjoy reading them!
Our first story features Valtteri Korkiakoski — the CEO and co-founder of Medified, providing a monitoring solution for mental health treatment. Valtteri is a fifth-year medical student. Throwback to early days, he started his first company as a 13-year-old kid; a mobile bike repair company that paved the way for his entrepreneurship interest.
But something clicked in fall 2018, when co-founders Jussi, Karlo, and Valtteri started developing ideas for Medified. They started brainstorming during the nights, in the medical school building in Tampere. Jussi, Karlo, and Valtteri spent quite a few evenings there before they started a systematic exploration: weekly to-do lists, general ideas, tasks, and responsibilities.
During their time at Red Brick, they had the chance to narrow down the focus and the next steps needed to be taken. In early 2019, they started thinking more about mental health and the Medified idea became clearer.
When we talked about what helped them narrow down their focus, Valtteri says: “We did interviews, surveys, demos with a PowerPoint presentation, and anything to help find data points that could be relevant for us. Mainly, we channeled that early-stage enthusiasm and traction into finding our idea, finding what resonates with people and what does not.”
Furthermore, we discussed teamwork, resilience, and Medified vision for the future.
Emily: Why did you decide to address the mental health problem in specific? Why is it important to you and your generation?
Valtteri: Many people around us have had personal experiences with mental health issues. Within our team there have been some challenges in keeping it together with our mental health while building the business, experiencing it as we go. As a professional, I see the issues mental health raises, are experiencing it first-hand in the hospitals and our medical studies. These are issues my colleagues and future professionals will be dealing with, so why not create a tool that would help us in bettering our clinical work and approach.
The younger generations tend to explore more and build themselves a nice career in an area they care about. Personally, it is a chance to build something meaningful. I would like to work in a company aligned with my personal development goals, with a positive impact on society as well.
“It might be a generational thing, but it’s not just about making money or getting a salary.”
Building a company alongside studies has been the best time ever, it has many perks, and I think more young people should be encouraged to do so. Building a company in your twenties means less financial worries, more time and energy, and less risk. You can fail fast and it is still fine.
Emily: Can you tell us about some highs and lows that you experienced as a team?
Valtteri: It is a constant rollercoaster. You never know what day it’s going to be.
The highs are many: achieving milestones, onboarding new teammates, winning competitions, getting feedback from users, and positive reactions from big customers…
The lows are somewhere in the mix of personal life and company life. They manifest in my way of living: I have personal time and company time but I constantly keep thinking about new ways to improve. Among the team, we have had challenges, resilience has been stretched and we have been through difficult discussions.
Emily: What do you look for in a new team member?
Valtteri: It’s a proactive drive. At this stage, we are looking for members who take initiative and ownership. We do not have time to onboard someone who is not proactive. We have a common framework, KPIs and OKRs that we introduce. We trust that our team members have the will to do things independently and drive the company towards our common goals.
Emily: You were friends with each other before Medified. How do you manage working with friends?
Valtteri: Many of the more experienced professionals say that you should not build a company with friends. I agree with that to some extent. However, I would not have wanted to build Medified with strangers. It takes more time to know each other, the drives, the working habits. You just need to be completely open with your friends.
Personally, I have not had many occasions where I had to tell somebody they’re not doing a good job or working hard, because we are all very motivated and we know where we’re heading. We have the same goal, we have the same timeline, we are on the same page. It’s never easy, but we manage to put a barrier between the company and the friendships.
Emily: Where do you see Medified in three years?
Valtteri: We already have global partners and presence in global markets. I see us operating in some of the bigger markets, in Europe and the US. The number of team members has increased.
It is important to see the Medified ideology out there to help improve both patients’ and professionals’ mental health.
We need new and improved levels of care for the wider society’s well-being.
Emily: Well said. Two more questions for you. Favorite character from movies/series?
Valtteri: Thor from the Marvel saga.
Emily: Favorite startup quote?
Valtteri: Not a quote guy but if I have to choose one — “Just do it!”