I was always interested in entrepreneurship and believed that the biggest learning I can get only by trying to do things myself. I had a friend who shared the same views on design, business and entrepreneurship and most of all we always had fun working together. We often talked about starting something on our own and one day we decided to give it a shot. Since we are both designers and creativity is inbuilt in us, we had many ideas to choose from. The main question was, which of the ideas we believed the most in and what we wanted to work on. During our studies, both of us were frustrated on finding the right information from the uni. All the information was scattered on various channels primarily on posters and emails. We wanted to create a unified platform that would unite all those channels and give students one place to find all the info about their studies and student life. That seamed like something we shared and agreed that it was a good starting point.
The research started in Aalto School of Design, Arts and Architecture. Departments in the schools are divided in different floors and the main issue is that those floors don't communicate. Students from the sixth floor (Industrial and Strategic Design Department) don't have any idea what is going on on one floor below (Spatial and Furniture Design), although those two departments are quite similar in terms of design topics. This fact caused a lot of frustration to many students including Rahul and myself. We simply wanted to get as much from Aalto as possible and we simply felt we were missing out a lot. Our research started by investigating internal Aalto communication structures, it included meeting many different people from the University and making a lot of communication schemes. People we met were primarily connected to information distribution such as study coordinators, communication leaders, secretaries and fellow students. We were trying to validate the need and the problem. Simultaneously since we had no previous knowledge of business, we started taking courses on customer development and business planning. It proved to be quite beneficial for us, since by the end of the first month, we already had a business plan and the first product roadmap.
Pretty soon we realized that if we wanted to actually do something beneficial, we needed to have a technical person on board. Our first choice was Palash, a very modest and talented front end developer who had much experience working for startup companies. Since money was a problem (We had none), we had to motivate him strictly on learning opportunities and by being super lovable people to work with. My job was to be the fun guy, while Rahul was the serious one. The tactics proved to be working and Palash joined us immediately.
Having a technical guy in the team proved to be beneficial not only because he could build thing that work, but also because he can tell us which skills we still needed to acquire in the team. At that point we had a vague idea of what our product should look like. We wanted to integrate many different information sources such as webpages, blogs, emails, Facebook posts... and recategorize them all into new user friendly categories such as jobs, fun, study... Our goal was that a student can check the "fun" category and see all the parties at the uni, regardless wether those are organized by mechanical engineering guild or by student union or any other organization. It was a way to completely unify the entire university and improve collaboration and networking between students from different backgrounds. The vision was bold and we wanted to do it.
For creating something, you also need money. Unfortunately student life is not lucrative and finding sources of income is vital for survival. We needed to find investment and we new nothing about VCs or angel investors. Generally speaking, we knew nothing, but we were curious and ready to learn. Our first contact with investors was through the Aalto Center of Entrepreneurship. They had a small budget which they used to invest in companies that started from Aalto University. Their upper limit was 50k and we were determined to get as much of that budget as possible. In order to do that, we needed a credible business plan with five year financial predictions, competition analysis, vision and all the other parts that a business plan should consist of. We also knew that we needed to personally meet and convince all the members that we are the right people to invest in. We spent roughly four months from the first meeting with them until the decision on investment. The final request they had was to create a compelling competition analysis. We took a week and worked day and night on it. Ultimately we delivered the best competition analysis they have seen in their careers. We had a table with names of all the competitors, they positioning in the market compared to us, SWAT analysis and product usability and funding information. We were ready for making the company and they saw it as well. We got the money.
Working on your own company and creating something from scratch is the best feeling in the world. You are working more than ever but you also learn accordingly. You see it grow from nothing to proof of concept, to working product and you really learn how hard it is to create something people need.
Money we got lasted for the summer. We worked intensively and at the end of the summer we were running out of cash. The product was far from ready, but it was working somehow. We had gone far in negotiations with Aalto University on adopting our product, but we needed to prove them it worked. With other schools in Finland we were negotiating, but we were still far from getting there. We believed that if we would get Aalto on board, it would be sign for others that this was useful. For that we needed more time and more money. People in the team were getting impatient and nervous and slowly lacking motivation to continue. There were some strategic choices to be made before going and raising a seed round. Some of us believed that we needed a pivot, since selling to Universities proved to be very challenging and the number of Universities is limited. Improving communication in companies looked like a better business solution, but it also meant postponing the round and living on the savings for a while. Since not everyone was financially safe, this wasn't an option at that point. Also there were some differences on what MVP should be like. Those differentiations culminated in me leaving the team and letting them continue without me. I left the company I started, but I believed that asking investment from someone at the point where your motivation is diminished, is not morally correct and I didn't want to do that.
The company lasted few more months and eventually they stopped the operations. All the founders found "normal" jobs and had a great experience to reflect on.
Having a company was the best and the most challenging experience in my life. The amount of learning is incredible. I learned more in a year of having a company than in five years of studying. It is also very stressful. Every day is a new challenge and if you like playing safe and being secure, entrepreneurship is not your cup of tea. For me it was just the opposite. I loved it. I learned that creativity doesn't stop at making something pretty. You can be creative in networking and business as well and that gives you an advantage in comparison with others who maybe didn't have such training. On the other hand, as a designer, you lack in business knowledge but if you are curious enough you can learn it. All in all, it was fun and I will definitely do it again. Maybe already tomorrow.