Don’t just study, experiment!
My parents come from two very different cultures, the Greek and the Finnish.
Growing up in Greece was the best childhood I could have asked for, carefree, safe, free to roam around the city, play with the neighbourhood kids, and enjoy the sunny summers.
Then came the time to decide what I was going to become. Now, how the hell are you supposed to decide that when you are 17 and just finishing high school. In Finland, the great thing is that you can take a break year and explore what you want to do. In Greece, such a thing didn’t exist, so I had to make my choice based on what courses were available, and what I was interested in and good at then. But the path was set, you had to go to study, and I didn’t question the path.
Fast forward 5 years of studies, the education systems I experienced in Athens and London, didn’t actually give me much practical experience, and as so many, I wasn’t well prepared for the job market that I encountered.
I founded amplaffy.io in 2017 because I had done all the right things; gotten good grades, finished university on time, got into one of the top 50 universities worldwide for my Master’s (according to the QS Global World Ranking), graduated from there, and all of this still wasn’t enough. How are you supposed to feel when you have done everything ‘right’, but you still can’t manage to get employed?
Taking part in a real-life initiative I learned more than during five years in universities
I wanted to save other young people from a similar fate, and set on a journey to figure out how to gain access to the data that will empower young people to make sound career decisions!
Through my startup journey, I learned that experimenting with a real-life project is the best investment you can make to your personal and professional growth. Taking part in a real-life initiative I learned more than I ever did during those five years in universities.
Is entrepreneurship the only way? Definitely not. You don’t necessarily need to become an entrepreneur, you can achieve this in many ways, and as part of a spectrum of types of legal entities, and in varying levels of commitment to suit your risk tolerance levels and life situation.
Having the right people on board
This has been the toughest part of my journey because I trusted the wrong people when I started out. Fast forward five iterations of the product, we launched amplaffy in March 2020.
Our first iteration was just a paper prototype done at a hackathon, showcasing the problem of access to information and networks. The second, and third were designs based on the initial concept, but the teams were not right. People were not ready to commit to the project, they wanted to comfortably be around and if the funding came through, they would join.
The fourth iteration was testing the concept of matching supply and demand for skills, with an excel sheet and email/LinkedIn connections. This gave me so much insight into the deeper issues in the job market, and the confidence to take the project to the next level and start building. Unfortunately, the fifth iteration, a coded prototype, also failed, because of the team. Again there was not enough commitment to the project, no time to put in for just shares, and tough life situations that demanded a salaried job.
Team commitment is important for success
Finally, at the sixth attempt, conditions were perfect for the launch. We grew our team since last summer to 10 people with multiple degrees of commitment and involvement. We are a mix of developers, marketing enthusiasts, designers, researchers, customer experience people, and advisors from a previously failed startup who guide us and support us.
We represent together Finland, Greece, Bangladesh, India, Brazil, Vietnam, Russia, and Mauritius so far. I am very grateful to each for choosing to become part of this story and taking this dream forward. Wherever this road leads us from now on, I know that we’ll solve the challenges and celebrate our wins together.
Today, our users can delegate their career planning and job search to amplaffy. Amplaffy will gather the scattered data for them, analyse it, and guide their learning process so that they will get employed in their target career faster.
Employers and employees don’t empathize enough with each other’s struggles.
If you want to start up, just do it as a project for as long as you can. Don’t establish the company just because you feel that you need to give yourself more credibility or for the promise of investment.
When you establish a legal entity, you will need to pay for a bank account, insurance, accounting, taxes, all sorts of tools, a place to work from, and people to work with you. The biggest part of costs comes from the last item on this list.
The unemployment office provides some support with work trials and salary subsidies, but still, more is needed. Because the outcome today is this: Salaries cannot really be negotiated, the cost is too high, even with the subsidy, and entrepreneurs choose to do everything themselves, from customer development to marketing, to accounting, to design, and development, lest being blamed for taking advantage of people through work trials, unpaid internships etc. While they get burned out with the workload, on the other side there are people who would love to be given a chance to practice their skills and build their experience. But the very system that was put in place with a very good intention to protect their rights and assure them a good salary, is leaving them unemployed, stifling their professional growth.
To the policymaker reading this, please engage more startups who have been through the first year, to learn from them what they would have actually needed instead of the programs you have in place. I was amazed to hear that some of these programs have actually been in place for 40 years and not been changed. Is this really the case?
Are women entrepreneurs having a tougher time than men entrepreneurs?
When asked to think of an entrepreneur, a company owner, or a business person, I always had this picture in mind – a man wearing a suit. I was definitely not a suit-wearing man. More importantly, I had no business education. Naturally, I was thinking can I really pull this off?
What I had was a passion to learn how to figure this problem out, determination to persevere, and a flexible attitude that allowed me to bend, instead of breaking at the first difficulties and criticism.
In a country like Finland with women Presidents and Prime Ministers, women entrepreneurs are having a tough time getting funding. This topic has been given light in many outlets, but we haven’t really gotten to the source of why it’s happening.
A popular explanation is that there are more men than women who apply for funding.
I looked into one of the prominent VCs in Helsinki, with which I had been in touch many times, and did a quick analysis of their team, and investments. Turns out their whole team was composed of male partners, and the companies they had invested in in the past had 86 male founders and 7 female founders combined.
I am not sure how many male and female entrepreneurs had been in touch with them, in order to confirm or debunk the popular explanation mentioned above, but this made me feel that my chances of convincing these men that I was worth it, were slim.
Maybe it’s because we think that we don’t have a chance, that we don’t approach them in the first place. We all have a bias towards what is familiar to us and what we have grown up with believing. To the investor reading this, how many women have you invested in? And why haven’t you invested in more women?
Don’t wait for the world to change to fit your dreams
And to the boss ladies reading this, create your own rules! Don’t wait for the world to change to fit your dreams, it’ll never happen. Create the reality that you want to live in, measure and document all your steps, and successes, and do research, as much of it as you have time for. Gather all the data that you can get your hands on, and find ways to make sense of it, to learn from reality what is needed and how you can tap into it with your insightful ideas that will change the world for the better. We are contributing to reality with every thought and every action.
Don’t get discouraged if you see everything is working against you. I’ve learned that nothing really matters, and this has become my motto in life. Not because I don’t care about anything, but because of the bad things that happen along the journey don’t matter.
What people say are just opinions, they are not reality!
I have been told that what we are doing is not possible multiple times. Did that stop me? No, and we made it possible, and we are here now doing it. Because what people say are just opinions, they are not reality!
You are the doer and you can change reality. Consider all the digital solutions we are using nowadays, 20 years ago, none of them existed. Our reality has shifted rapidly, and there are still people who stupidly dare to say something is not possible when actually everything has a probability of being possible at some point in time and space.
My top three skills for humans
1. Empathy – Kindness – Curiosity
To be brave to show people how you are feeling, to open up, to share your frustrations, to let others express their frustrations, to understand the human condition from different life walks, to show others it’s ok to be frustrated, and to be able to not get offended, but keep the conversation up, learn why someone is telling you the thing you don’t like to hear, challenge them about their opinions, learn and teach.
2. Communication – Honesty – Time
To be able to tell people how you feel, what you can do and what you cannot, what is ok and what is not ok. To be brave to say no when you are not interested. To communicate your needs is to be kind to yourself and others. It is respecting your time and other’s time, by sharing thoughts and coming to mutually understood terms about a given situation.
3. Experiments – Learning – Purpose
To continuously learn, in whatever you do, and to know that it’s time to buzz off when you’re not learning anymore. Learning has become so accessible now, so you don’t really have an excuse. And if your excuse is that you are busy working, find work where you will learn what you are most curious to understand about this world before your time here gets close to its end and you realize you haven’t really understood anything.