7 Pieces of Advice from A Successful And Successfully Failed Entrepreneur
During the Business Unplugged event in Dec 2022, Kristina Sweet gave an inspiring and informative talk about the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur (and a job seeker) in Finland. Every great entrepreneur has failed at least once…this is where the real lessons are. At the end of her talk, she gave 7 pieces of advice for those pursuing entrepreneurship in Finland. We were asked by some of the participants to share them. Thank you to Kristina for providing them for publishing.
Love what you do
Whatever you do, make sure you love it. You need passion to propel yourself forward. You need the drive to last many years, most successful startups need 3, 5, or more years to get to exit. You need stamina to stay motivated, focused, driven, and engaged. You also need the passion to handle the lows. As a founder you are responsible for solving problems, pushing forward, and keeping morale up. Every buck, figurative and literal, stops with you. On days when you feel like the biggest loser, an epic failure, and not very smart, it is your passion that will pull you through. Your idea, your vision, is your responsibility.
Be genuine (and respectful) in your ask
There is a fine art in looking for opportunities and being opportunistic, don’t believe in the saying that the worst thing people can say is no. The worse thing is if people say no, and you leave them with a bad impression. When you are asking for something, especially if you do not have any connection to that person, you need to be authentic. Most people that could help you have been asked for help many times before. Asking cold, without authenticity, at an inappropriate time, with the wrong tone or with the wrong angle can land very bad. I have had several people ask me for help. For me, people that make me work to help them, ask aggressively (time, level of help, tone) it is an immediate turn off. The people who are genuine, confidently but politely ask are the ones I respond to.
Cultivate a moral support network too
Surround yourself with people. My biggest piece of advice is to ensure you have people that are not financially invested in you and that are there purely for moral support. Sometimes what is good for your company is not good for you, and sometime what is good for you is not good for the company. You need balanced views. I strongly recommend a mentor. I would also recommend an ally that really understands shareholders’ agreements. Most angels and investors are fair and honest, but in most cases, they have a lot more understanding of what all those clauses mean and over time how they impact all parties. As you grow your equity shrinks, and how those clauses are defined can make a significant difference.
Allow your idea to evolve
Your idea will evolve, be open to the process. What you start with is likely not the ending. The process is iterative and can be frustrating. That lightning bolt that initially struck you may remain no matter the shape or form the idea takes. Think of it as your inspiration, the starting point, rather than the end.
Accept that mistakes will happen
Be kind to yourself. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. It is toe-to-toe with good and bad. The difference is that the good and bad are rarely balanced. No matter how skilled and experienced you are there will inevitably come a time where you make a mistake or fail at a task. And it is likely this will happen a lot. You will be forced to learn more, which often means spending hours googling things. You will go down rabbit holes so deep it takes days to come out. In that darkness, fear and worry often creep in. Be mindful of this. Recognize how you talk to yourself. There will be a parade of people who criticize or have negative views, if you are one of them, it gets overwhelming quickly. Remember that most people do not have the courage to start their own business, you are already ahead of the curve.
Map for success and failure
Map out your boundaries. What I wish I would have done is identify how far I was willing to go and how much financial risk I was personally willing to accept. As your company progresses and there is more and more on the line, other people’s money and motivations, it can be a fast track into positions that make you vulnerable. It is important to be ALL IN as founder but being ‘all in’ doesn’t mean you can’t have boundaries. When you believe deeply in what you are doing it is super easy to want to take the leaps to achieve your goals. And there is a time and a place to do that. My advice is to be mindful of those decisions points. Map out not only what happens if you are successful, but what is the impact if you are delayed or fail.
Know Finnish bureaucracy
Finnish Practicalities. Get an accountant. Understand TYEL. Learn about the income register, what your risks and obligations are being self-employed. And learn your obligations as a Finnish employer.
Kristina currently works as an Investment Director for Korkia Venture Insight Oy but she has been both a startup entrepreneur and a consultant as well as previously being the CEO of The Shortcut, the place for meaningful professional integration and career transformation in Finland.