By @SimonCocking. Great interview with Pekka Viljakainen from Joroinen, Finland. Founder of Oy Visual Systems Ltd. (1986-2004). Since 2011 he has focused on the non-profit leadership education project www.nofear-  and senior advisor of the Skolkovo Foundation and founder and advisor for several nationwide entrepreneurship programs, including the Russian StartupTour 2013-2016 and Startup Village. Also investor, business angel and advisor for several high-tech companies. 

What is your background?

I started my first company when I was 13, thirty one years ago. I then had a life changing episode at 38, I had a heart attack. I then decided after that I wanted to retire from my existing role at the company. I made two big decisions to spend my time doing meaningful projects for useful causes, and to not work with arseholes! I was travelling 250 days per year too, so I decided I need to do things differently. That said after three weeks at home my wife did say I needed to go and invent something new! Then the Russian Prime Minister asked me  if I would come and audit the Skolkovo project.

Tell us about your work with the Skolkovo …?

After auditing them I then took on the role as a mentor, and to travel around Russia talking about entrepreneurship. This year I have visited 70 cities to talk about my failures and [email protected]@kups in building succesful businesses. I am very open, and I want to share as much advice as possible to inspire and encourage more Russians to launch their own businesses.

What factors help inspire entrepreneurs?

The recent economic crises in Ireland, and Russia and elsewhere have been demonstrations of the disturbances taking place globally. While this creates difficult times, it is also part of the reason so many people are starting their own businesses. It is an exciting time too, and the reason why now is such an exciting time to invest in Russian startups.

What tips would you give to people thinking of launching their own businesses, and what mistakes did you make?

Don’t work with arseholes! (laughs). It is very important to work with the right people, and how you select them is important. Twenty years ago people used the mushroom leader approach, ie keep them in the dark and throw shit on them. This approach will no longer work, not here, nor in Russia.

I started from a very small village so it was necessary to look internationally very soon. It was also very important to build trust relationships with people. I think it took me too long to learn this! Distrust of people is very common, whereas I trust people straight away, and put the confidence in their ability to deliver results until they prove otherwise. It is important ro be open, to trust first and be open minded.

How much of your mentoring to startups is about explaining to them the importance of telling their stories?

It is super important to be able to sell your ideas. This side of your business is very important and something that I try to encourage startups to as much as possible.

The Finnish education system, did this have an influence on your approach and subsequent successes?

Yes, this is an important part of why we do well. Our education system is anti elite or VIPs. I have enough money now to send my children to private school but it wasn’t appealing to me. It is important to me for my children to see the diversity of other people from an early age. Our education system is basically free, places at university are based on talent, not whether you can afford it.

We are also a very small country and our language is not relevant globally. For this reason, from the age of eight, we have to learn other languages. This means we are already looking internationally from a very early age. The US is not like this, and this has helped us to grow Finish businesses abroad.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Yes, Russia is a great place to come to, and right now offers many great opportunties. Come now,  before everyone else realises, while it is still possible to benefit from the exciting things taking place there.

Ice and fire, Slush 2016 kicks off successfully


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