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!