My father always taught me (a myriad of times), that life is like a bus ride: Only that it’s not about the destination, not even the journey, but fundamentally the people who you share the bus with.
Let us begin with a story.
The young man liked to play the guitar, and everybody could tell. It was nineteen-sixty-something in industrial Birmingham, and the teenager had decided to make it as a professional guitarist.
He was ready to leave his job at the sheet metal factory at the age of 17 when on the last day at work, he got into an accident and a great part of his fingers got chopped off.
Playing the guitar had suddenly become almost impossible with parts of his fingers missing and it caused him immense pain to simply press down the strings with what he had left of his fingers.
With his head hanging low, he went to talk to the factory foreman with whom he had previously shared his vision and goals with.
He was thinking of quitting his career as a professional musician before he had even begun.
I joined Wave Ventures as an investment manager in the spring of 2019 not knowing that much about the industry, nor the adventures I would soon embark on, but I had heard good things about Wave, and it seemed like a once in a lifetime learning opportunity.
As a law student, I always imagined starting my career in a legal office of some kind, but sometimes things play out in curious ways. Before my law studies, I used to work in the creative industry as an artist for several years so I was used to surprises and taking ventures and risks like my life depended on them.
So I said yes to joining the team and the same night vowed into my journal to never buy a Marimekko-shirt.
Summer went by and I read through as much material about the industry and its origins as I could get my hands on. To my surprise I began to see venture capital as the creative corner of the finance world and found myself enjoying the company of entrepreneurs and bright visionary minds — there are great similarities between the natures of artists and founders. I learned the means of “fake-it-till-you-make-it” and took notes on every occasion. Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night to check up on some phrase that came into my mind. When faced with hurdles I kept close to my mind the words in which the late Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius once advised himself in his personal writings (later published as Meditations): “Is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”
I enjoyed the challenge and soon noticed that I had set up my camp outside of the comfort zone permanently.
I discovered that one of the greatest things about Wave was its people. I got to work with an exceptionally versatile, hardworking, brilliant bunch of young adults who I quickly learned to admire. I saw how much our people genuinely cared about the founders they were working with. I met some of our inspiring advisors and alumni, which further fueled my motivation.
Being part of Wave’s team gives the keys and endless possibilities to explore the world from a rather unusual perspective. Because of its rotating model (operational team changes every two years), I am glad to know that many others will be able to experience this as well.
It is to be noted that even though the operational team changes periodically, we secure the stability of operations by keeping our advisors and board members the same for longer durations. Our expanding active pan-Nordic alumni network of previous operational team members offers their insights and support whenever needed. This ensures that key learnings’ won’t be forgotten and at least not all mistakes aren’t made twice.
Over the years we have been lucky enough to have met with thousands of entrepreneurs and gone through hundreds of their companies. We have seen early success and failure. We have learned about the importance of passionate founders and teams and set our roots into the venture capital ground of Finland and the Nordics.
In the beginning, Wave was an ambitious dream and a project visioned by a small group of students. Today — four years since its founding, I am happy to say and to see that whilst Wave has grown, matured, and developed, it has succeeded in keeping its core identity as the first point of contact for new entrepreneurs seeking their first institutional funding and for its student managers it keeps being a talent accelerator.
This new decade has begun with a massive global challenge — Covid-19 swept us onto a path of unknown and uncertain. It appears obvious that we are going to be faced with some of the greatest struggles of our time, but as a pre-seed investor, artist and a fellow human being I am a strong believer in the most profound underlying strength and a certain kind of hidden beauty that hardships like these seem to resurface in humankind as a global entity. History has proven time and time again that some of the greatest art, most innovative science and gigantic breakthroughs in progress have been created in times of greatest tragedies. That is not to underestimate the humane suffering evident today, but rather an attempt to look to the other side of the day after tomorrow and to see the dawn.
So this is the year of new beginnings in many ways for us. At Wave we are approaching yet another operational team transition, but this time in a challenging global atmosphere. I believe that we should take this as an opportunity to rethink and examine our operations and position in the ecosystem, and hopefully better our impact as an outcome.
I have been committed to the building of this team from the very beginning. Now I am extremely glad to continue the good work with this newly elected bunch of talented people as the CEO of Wave Ventures.
Even though the world was not prepared for Covid-19 and all that was to follow, we should be grateful that in the last 10–15 years the Finnish startup ecosystem has blossomed. This has created safety-nets and networks for new and old entrepreneurs. Those networks’ structures and true influence will now be heavily tested and I want to see Wave being part of the community effort. Pre-seed investing will be needed at the very grass-root level, maybe more than ever, and this is where we will continue to operate on.
It’s time to get back to the beginning of our story. What happened to the teenager who got into the accident?
His story was not destined to end.
After the incident, he brought his worries to his factory foreman who then went on to introduce him to the music of the world-famous Belgian jazz guitarist Jean “Django” Reinhardt, who was known for having just two fingers. Django couldn’t formulate chords with just two fingers, so he was forced to express himself solely through guitar solos. Instead of letting his deficit stop him from playing, he used his handicap to push him into spaces no other guitarist had dared to explore before him. To this day he is one of the best known and respected jazz virtuosos of all time.
Encouraged by Django’s unswerving resilience and example, the teenager didn’t quit playing the guitar but rather made the guitar work for him — he tuned his strings three semitones lower so the strings wouldn’t be so stiff and painful to play, and then went on to cover his fingers with bits of plastic.
This changed the way the guitar sounded and was destined to change the way music sounded. Soon bands all over the world got intrigued by the way he had tuned his strings lower and started tuning theirs down as well. Through the disaster and tragedy, a new sound and a way of doing things had emerged.
The teenager was Tony Iommi, today known as one of the most influential heavy metal guitarists. His band Black Sabbath has sold over 70 million records worldwide and has been cited as the “best metal band of all times” on several occasions. Iommi’s way of playing changed the sound of heavy music and how it is still being played to this day.
In the footsteps of Tony and Django, we should strive to look at the tragedy of today as a possibility and boldly re-engineer our established operations and regular ways of working.
If we manage to do that in the right way, something magical might just follow.
This text was authored by Katja Pihlainen. Wave’s fund will soon be managed by: Katja Pihlainen, Harri Iisakka, Ilona Raimas, Kasimir Hellman, Amy Nguyen, Markus Nyberg, Konstantin Kouzmitchev, Marianne Österlund and Alexander Brokking.