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.
Red Brick Accelerator is supporting the growth of early-stage startups, ready to make an impact with their ideas. Check out the programs from our website and apply now!💚