Confessions of a start-up entrepreneur

It is the first day of the New Year.

I find myself doing the same as many others: Reflecting on the past year.

In a nutshell, 2014 was a year of taking risks and caring for the loved ones. I have always known I have a high-risk profile, but last year I surprised even myself. In the steep downturn of the economy, rather than playing it safe I bet it all in: Invested in both the existing company Compassion, and started up another one, AuroraXplorer, with co-founders. 

As with many other decisions in my life, my friends and family have asked, how do you have the courage? And as I have answered regarding previous decisions, I feel I had little choice, or rather, did not have the courage NOT to take this path.

The new business, AuroraXplorer, grew out of one of my co-founder’s observation, that by consulting I can support (and charge ;P) only one company at the time for building their success on the Chinese market. In contrast, with AuroraXplorer we now have the opportunity to lift a whole industry into a growth track, and create lots of new jobs in the process. What a vision!

So, in early summer of 2014, we came up with the idea of creating an online store, where Chinese travellers would find the most exciting once-in-a-lifetime experiences Finland can offer. During the summer, we interviewed Chinese tour operators and Finnish travel companies to find out what works and what doesn’t as the Chinese guests visit Finland. We found that there exists a niche for our idea. We were also able to convince the Aalto Centre for Entrepreneurship (ACE) about this, and received some seed money to be able to pay for the first legal fees (oh, do I wish I would have enjoyed those legal studies more!), domain name registrations, and out-of-pocket expenses for the research. 

In the autumn we set the big wheels turning: We started designing the user experience for a mobile service, and the software architecture, to be able to execute on big scale on the Chinese market. We negotiated the shareholder’s agreement; applied for Tekes-funding; registered the company (oh no, it is not at all as quick and easy as it is famed to be!); got the first twenty travel partners to join us; got consumer feedback for the concept; launched the demo version. We selected partners for accounting, auditing, legal advice in Finland and in China, and banking (did you know that many banks may not want to take start-ups as customers???) We were five co-founders, only me working 100 % on this business. We would have welcomed two more partners, but they turned out to be wrong choices. I bitterly swallowed my disappointment on the time and trust wasted on them and moved on (I did see the signs, and should have known better thanks to my experience, but the optimism and work overload took the best of me. Some people are not cut out for start-up lifestyle, plain and simple).

I met with ministry officials and potential investors; seasoned experts from the travel industry; filled in loan applications; filled in information to different investor platforms (FiBAN, Pocket-Venture, SLUSH...) each in their particular formats, never being able to complete most of them because they are all different and take too much time; listened to advice from generous friends who gave their time to help (can never thank you enough!).

We launched live version 1.0.

We attended SLUSH.  I was there only virtually because I had no voice. My Chinese co-founder did a great job with Chinese contacts. We got interviewed for TV, newspapers, and radio.

We gave a launch event to our partners and the Chinese community in Finland. (I was still sick, but with some voice). We moved offices from Start-up sauna to Innopoli. We applied for the second round of Tekes-funding, and for another Finnvera loan. We decide to start a crowdfunding campaign with Invesdor. Suddenly it was Christmas.

It has been a FUN and CRAZY ride!

Would I have had the same courage, had I known that both my elderly parents would fall seriously ill simultaneously? That my two small children would hate me for not being able to pick them up from day care every day? That some guy in Tekes can make me cry during a meeting, where I am supposed to get advice (sorry, my mistake)? That money granted is not the same as money in the bank account, the difference can be several weeks, and nobody cares, unless I have a melt down? That I would wake up at 4 am almost every night to worry about how we can get the financing in place to be able to pay the salaries to our amazing team members? That I would finally learn how to prioritize and loose my perfectionism?

I will never know (lucky me!) 2015: Bring it on.