Tomorrow on September 5th is Finnish national Entrepreneur’s Day. The fun and somewhat comical part are that it does not coincide with World’s Entrepreneurs’ Day, which was in August this year. In addition, in Finnish – which is my native language – the word for an entrepreneur is ‘yrittäjä.’ Don’t try to pronounce it, but what it literally means is ‘someone who tries.’
I’ve been a trier for 10 years and some months now.
For me, entrepreneurship often means being a business owner. Running and building a company, and trying to grow it successfully without making anyone angry in the process. Back in 2009, when I started with my brother – as all the best companies are founded with your siblings, and in a garage – I wrote extensively about the joys and virtues of being an entrepreneur. Most of these writings are still available in the Internets but luckily encrypted in Finnish (if you insist on reading those via Google Translate, see here).
Since those days I’ve toned down a bit and focused more on writing about technology, challenges, and skills. I realized, perhaps sometime around 2011, that it’s a bit like being overly religious. Or deeply into CrossFit or golf. It’s better to keep it to yourself, and like-minded people will find a way to your realm. Or the realm you’ve found and feel is great.
Today, the company I founded and have since helped grow in the past decade has surpassed 100 employees. I’m a bit proud of this, in a quintessential Finnish way. We even have a phrase for this – “ei tehrä tästä ny numeroo“, meaning let’s not have a big fuzz on this, it’s nothing really.
I’ve reflected plenty over this in recent months, as I initially wanted to build a company for two people. Myself and my brother. That plan went out the window a year after we started, as I realized I simply suck with CSS, and at the time it was all the rage for custom web projects based on certain Microsoft technologies. So we had to hire someone (and she was – and still is – a great hire!).
Once you hire someone, you become a sort of real business owner. You have responsibilities. If you’re not working your ass off, someone will not get their salary, and their families will find you and it won’t end well. After the first hire, it becomes easier.
I said to my brother in February 2009 when I’d just resigned from Microsoft in Finland, that I’ll sleep well when our company has 30 000 € in the back account, all taxes paid and we can afford a salary of – wait for it – 1500 € each. That’s before taxes. Money isn’t the ends to a mean, but it’s crucial – especially in terms of cash flow – if you’re to succeed in any capacity.
After a couple of years, I lost interest in checking the bank account. This wasn’t because it was overflowing, but because we were able to pay salaries in time, up our own salaries a bit (and I mean, modestly, as I feel the lower the owner’s salary, the more money the company has for the future) and fulfill our obligation’s to the government, social welfare office and the tax administration. Consistency is key.
It’s also important to understand whether you’re a starter, a maintainer or something in between. For me, I’ve always been a starter. I need to seek new challenges, come up with new initiatives and challenge the status quo. For someone else, it might be more about maintaining the equilibrium and running a steady boat. I am, what one of my professors at school affectionately calls a ‘John Wayne’ type.
So, reflecting back on these ~4000 days of not being a salaried tech guy, but rather a business owner who also loves the technical challenges, I’m happy. I’ve given over 25% of my life and existence for this, and it’s given me even more back. It’s my unofficial university diploma in building something out of thin air and running with it successfully.
I’m anxious to see how the next 10 years will unfold for me. I wouldn’t say I love all things in running a company, as there are plenty of things that I could forgo easily. Then there are things that truly make it memorable and meaningful – such as when you get to take a break during the day – whenever you like – to spend time with your kids when they come home from school.
And nobody’s telling you otherwise.
I work with Azure and frequently write about my experiences. Former Microsoft Most Valuable Professional & Microsoft Regional Director, ex-MSFT. Based in Helsinki, Finland.