Mentor Stories: Meet Anastasiia Kozina

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!