Already at an early age I started thinking about who I would like be in future, and by the time I was 12 I had decided to become a millionaire. I remember planning to study finance management in a place where you can get the best possible education and after that to open a great bank. This did not seem impossible at all. Today, I am far from working in a bank, and the goal of becoming a millionaire has also disappeared in the shadow of the exciting and meaningful life I live now.
I have made quite a few right choices in my life, which, unexpectedly to me, have finally directed me to entrepreneurship. It all started with dreams and decisions. The first decision was to study at the University of Tartu Faculty of Economics. This decision was influenced by my parents, who were patriots of UT and told me that the education given at the University of Tartu was the best education. Currently, I am writing my doctoral thesis and I am closely connected with the university; for example, I have promoted entrepreneurship among our students and tried to spread my belief that in entrepreneurship one can apply all the skills obtained through economics studies.
Actually, on several occasions I did apply for a job in a bank, but did not get any further from the job interviews, as I lacked experience. As a fresh graduate, it seemed to me that all people lived as if running in a squirrel cage and never stopped to understand or find the meaning of life. Yet I wanted to get into the wheel myself and start living in a closed system. Well, life is ironic sometimes. Looking back, I am happy I did not get a job in the bank, because life had something much better in store for me.
Now I am in the IT sector, which holds great opportunities. At the same time, I don’t have a programming background and when I entered the start-up world, I did not socialise with IT people, but this was not an obstacle. One day I parked my car in front of the university cafe and got a parking ticket. I grew so angry about getting the ticket and wondered why there was no GPS device that would recognise a paid parking area. This angry moment gave rise to my first business idea – a parking device that starts and ends parking automatically.
I did not know any IT people at that time, so I talked about the idea with a person I thought would know someone who would know someone to help me develop such a device. From that moment on I started introducing my idea to everyone who seemed to be connected with the IT field and one and a half years later, I found a person with the necessary expertise whose interest was also kindled by the idea. We started the business and got as far as testing prototypes in cooperation with EMT, but due to unfortunate circumstances we had to close down the business three years later.
Certainly, failure should not not be viewed negatively. It is important for entrepreneurs to avoid carrying failures along with them and to know that it is always possible to make a new start. Coping with failure can be trained, and I have learned that you should not get stuck in emotions: complaining will not work – you have to move on! Everything that concerns my life is in my hands and I am responsible for everything that happens. I do not blame anyone else and accept full responsibility. There is no place for blaming others in an entrepreneur’s life.
Now I find entrepreneurship a very natural choice for me: I have always been outspoken and had a strong need for achievement. As soon as I feel no excitement and understand that I am no longer learning anything, my self-motivation disappears. That is probably why I have remained loyal to the IT sector – yesterday is like the last century here. We have to see our role as changeable, and already today we need to find ways to contribute to the future equally with highly developed software.
One of the greatest advantages of an entrepreneur’s life is the freedom to control your life. I am not one of those who believe that you have to work 80 hours a week to be successful. The key is in productiveness – how to eliminate the unnecessary and do more with less. Strenuous work has taught me that being focused will bring success, and my focus today is Greenhouse, the start-up that creates software to help developers of mobile applications be more efficient. If I do something outside the company, I always see to it that it is useful for Greenhouse. We all have 24 hours a day and the workload of running a company is enormous.
The most important for me, however, is my partner and three children, who must not suffer because I am an entrepreneur. Work can never be more important than they are. Apart from all that, I also have to find time for myself. A balanced life is very important, but I admit that achieving it is quite a tough nut to crack as an entrepreneur. However, anything is possible if you want it.
We also asked Triin to share her thoughts about the start-up world and give recommendations to a novice entrepreneur who is still establishing a start-up. First of all, what is needed for creating a good start-up?
The driving force is the most important when it comes to bringing ideas to life. Someone has to enthusiastically and devotedly take all the organising on their shoulders. It is extremely important to see the big picture, to be able to dream and think what the idea in its timid early stage could develop into. An idea must be taken as a developing organism; its development must be dynamic. It is very important for the founders of the start-up to communicate constantly with their potential customers (during the whole life-cycle of the business), to understand their actual problems and needs, and whether the current solution of the start-up meets their problems and needs. Founders of the company should not stubbornly hold on to their original idea when it is apparent that there is no actual need for it. Therefore, it is essential that the founders are constantly ready for change. Good self-discipline is very important – if there is no income, you have to find other motivators, such as passionate belief in success, vision, dream, or synergy to go on against all the odds, with the belief that any obstacle can be overcome.
Therefore, behind the realisation of a good idea, there is first and foremost a very strong team, who has a wider perspective and can see the global potential of the idea and prove it, for example, to investors.
There are start-ups that start but fail to survive. Why? What do they do wrong?
There are many different reasons, but overall it is about the team and the people – they run out of motivation because launching the business, getting customers, and lack of finances cause much stress and therefore conflicts can easily arise. My first start-up closed down namely because of internal stress. The other reason is the same that I already pointed out earlier – people stick frantically to the original idea, although there is no real need for such a solution in the market and the extent of the problem has not been proven. The third reason is superficiality – people hope to get things running with little effort, while starting up a company is actually extremely hard work, demanding thoroughness and great self-discipline. The fourth reason is that they cannot find good people for their team, cannot convince people to join their team. And there are more reasons, such as running out of money and not aquiring a new investment quickly enough.
As a co-founder of Greenhouse, please describe how you got the idea and how you started realising the idea.
We were a bunch of mobile app developers. The members of our development team developed, for example, the first Android app for Skype. The problem that we are solving in Greenhouse today arose for our developers when they were still developing mobile apps like our customers today. Greenhouse is a spin-off that grew out of Mobilab.
When you launch a business, the greatest challenge is definitely forming an awesome team. You won’t conquer the world with mediocrity, so we only look for especially talented people for our team, who may not be so experienced but have the ability to learn quickly and the willingness to change the world. Our current team is super awesome. We haven’t triumphed yet, and we cannot yet speak of success. What succeeding and success mean for us is sustainability – positive cash flows that are sufficient to be invested continuously into the development of the company and new solutions. The key to achieving it is to take a super awesome team on an impossible mission!
Will you take part in the sTARTUp Day 2016 on 9 December? If you do, why would you recommend others to attend the event?
I will definitely participate, because everyone who has a certain self-awareness and who wants to accomplish something should come to this event. This is the biggest business event in Tartu where active people meet. There is a saying that you should surround yourself with people who you would like to be similar to. At sTARTUp Day you’ll definitely have a chance to get a lot of inspiration, communicate with smart, ambitious, and courageous people, and broaden your horizons. It may be the place where great things start happening in your life.
Triin Kask is the co-founder and manager of Greenhouse CI, an entrepreneurship coach, and a doctoral student at the University of Tartu.
This post was originally published in the UT alumni blog.