Female Founders: Emmi Kavander of Kavanders & Co On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine
14 min readApr 19, 2022

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Everyone tells you that people are important. But how important they are, I only learned when I employed them. Having such people on your team that you can absolutely rely on, is vital. Not only because you can trust them to do their job and be by your side, but also because you will have a significant stress factor less when you don’t need to question if they can pull their weight and you don’t need to micromanage them. I went through some tough times earlier building a business, but knowing that my second could take over in a heartbeat if I had to leave unexpectedly, was a key component to keeping my life together. I am forever grateful to her for that.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emmi Kavander.

Emmi Kavander, originally from Finland, is an angel investor, wife, mother, and Co-Founder and CEO of Kavanders & Co., a Switzerland-based company providing services in international business development, communications and fundraising for early-stage high positive impact businesses, and in scouting and pre-vetting investment opportunities for professional investors and VCs.

Before founding her business with her husband, Henrik Kavander, Emmi worked as an investment broker and financial adviser and successfully established and led the Finnish branch of an international sales organization. She climbed the corporate ladder to, by the age of 30, reach the leadership team of a globally operating and stock listed fintech, for which she led their corporate communications, including investor relations.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have always been a “learning by doing” kind of person and have been fortunate to be entrusted with good positions and work based on my experience and traits of learning and adapting quickly. I have worked throughout a variety of positions and industries related to sales, then going over to strategy, business planning and communications. In addition, I have always had a profound personal interest in cognitive psychology. Combined, these have brought me strategic communications and storytelling.

My husband, Henrik (originally from Sweden), has been globalizing tech businesses as a go-to-market strategist, implementer, and leader across five continents for more than 15 years. After a severe traffic accident in 2017, I started thinking about my impact on this world so far. I was not happy with what I had achieved from an impact point of view. This thinking sparked the thought of taking our business knowledge, experience and network and utilizing it for the greater good through our own business by ensuring high positive impact cases to succeed.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

While we scout for other investors and ensure investor readiness on the start-up side, we also make some investments ourselves through Kavanders & Co. A funny story is when we signed some of the final papers in co-founding and investing in one of our first portfolio companies. We were on our way to an appointment at the notary near Lausanne, Switzerland, and everything was clear and organized — or so we thought. Due to a series of inconvenient events, we missed our scheduled time at the notary.

We could not reschedule the meeting as we were already rushing to meet our client in Geneva. So, we ended up signing some of the paperwork against the back of our family car at a gas station. I think most people would imagine an event like this a bit more glamorous! That is the start-up and business life — things often do not go as planned. Some things that we assume to be glamorous are, in real life, often more humane and pragmatic.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

It is related to the first business I built. To save costs, I decided to build every single piece of furniture myself that I had ordered from Ikea. Now bear in mind that I had ordered furniture for 20 people. When I was on my way to the office and spoke with a neighbor about what I would do that day, he asked, “you do have some power tools, right?” No, I had not considered that and was pretty much only equipped with a standard screwdriver and a lot of determination (someone could call it being naive). He lent me his tools, and I am forever grateful. Otherwise, I would probably still have blisters on my hands over ten years later! I learned from that the importance of thinking and planning before executing. Otherwise, one might go down a very tough road that would not be necessary.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I could impossibly mention only one — for me, four people are cornerstones to my success so far. Not only do I have a great mentor, but on the more personal side, our daughter gives me motivation and is my main raison d’etre. I am also unbelievably grateful for all the support I receive from my husband and business partner and that this combination is a possible and such a fruitful one! I am also very grateful for the support from my mother — for a couple of reasons. Naturally, I owe a great deal to her in how she has brought me up and what she has made possible for me while growing up. But even today, she supports us and our business by looking after our daughter while we work. There is no way we could have come this far in such a short time in being business owners without her help.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

There are a few things that go into this. Firstly, to the topic of fewer female-founded businesses being funded. We could start with the fact that there are by far fewer female founders than male ones; thus, it is natural that female-founded businesses get less capital — there are just fewer of them asking for it.

We also need to look at the industries that get VC funding since not every type of business is suitable for it. Many women are setting up, e.g., their own shops, salons or other local services. You will not go for VC funding for such a business. Thus these founders will not be on most of the statistics. On the other hand, the tech industry has traditionally been one that more men are interested in. That said, it is natural that they found more tech businesses — these types of businesses often need external funding from investors. As a logical consequence, male-founded businesses get more funding in the space. So it’s not so simple to say that women are getting less funding, but I think that there have been fewer women founding companies that are suitable for fundraising.

Going back to the question of what is holding women back. I don’t think it has to do with gender discrimination. After all, a founder does not need to ask for permission to set up a business so that any gender can do it. But, I do think that gender in itself can have something to do with it. Traditionally, men have been more risk-takers than women (e.g., thinking of mine workers, there are not too many women standing in line to get into such a risky job). Naturally, this does not apply to everyone — my husband and I are a prime example, with me being the risk-taker of us two, but it fits as a general rule. And founding a business comes with a lot of risks.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I am not sure if the things I mentioned are such that they can be described as obstacles. But I think we are already seeing generations more willing to take risks, which is increasingly gender agnostic. Through media, and especially social media, we see entrepreneurs that we can relate to and see they come in all “shapes and sizes,” so to say, meaning that the stereotype of a male founder is fading. This has positively impacted people across demographics to be more daring to leap into entrepreneurship. There is also an increasing number of women interested and active in, e.g., the tech space mentioned above — this will naturally drive into more balance.

In general, I think that the support of various stakeholders toward entrepreneurship is increasing. We are also raising children so that it is no longer a given that boys choose woodwork and girls sowing at school (which was still very much the case even when I was a kid). We are encouraging and showing more than just men in tech, science, etc. From the beginning of time, we have needed role models to follow. Now, we will slowly start reaping the fruit of the widened spectrum of role models over the next generations. I think this is great!

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I don’t see any reason why more women should become founders than men should unless they feel a calling for it. Founding a business is tough, and unless you have the desire (and even then), you will go through phases of doubt, failure, exhaustion. For me, gender plays no role here. However, naturally, I see benefits from a richer founder base in terms of not only genders but people in general. If all companies are founded by similar stereotypes, the outcomes are likely also at a greater chance similar for whole industries. So, rather than just making it about women, I warmly welcome people from all walks of life to follow their calling if entrepreneurship is that for them.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

It is not necessarily the hardest thing to have your first customer, as it is often said. You may find your first customers from your close circle if they believe you are good at what you are doing. However, you need to go further to find customers and scale your business, which can be much harder than getting started in the first place.

Another thing is the image of being your own boss. Technically, that is true. But without your customers, you have no business. As your livelihood depends on running and building your business, the customer, in certain ways, is your boss. Naturally, you need to keep your boundaries to ensure that you don’t burn out or sell yourself in unfavorable conditions trying to survive, but if you think that you can fully decide your schedule — wait until your biggest customer calls you asking for something really urgent. Once your business is a bit bigger and you potentially have investors and a Board of Directors, you will report to them.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

In my opinion, not everyone is cut out to be a founder, just like not everyone is cut out to be a, let’s say, doctor, writer, or scientist. As an entrepreneur, you need to 1) be able to tolerate uncertainty, and 2) you must be willing to fail, learn, and grow every day. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted.

And it’s not only that. You need to have a calling, an inner driver. Based on my experience, most founders are optimists who want to change the world (or at least their world) and being an evangelist for their mission helps.

Someone who prefers certainty enjoys being in a bigger corporation and does not want to carry the weight of the whole business on their shoulders is likely happier as an employee. Also, if you own a business and it succeeds, you must congratulate the team. If you fail, you need to look into the mirror. If you can’t accept that, you should not start a business. But to be honest, you should, in that case, also not aspire to be a leader in someone else’s organization.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

As this is not the first business I have built, I will partially have to go a bit further back in history. For me, most of them are related to people.

Everyone tells you that people are important. But how important they are, I only learned when I employed them. Having such people on your team that you can absolutely rely on, is vital. Not only because you can trust them to do their job and be by your side, but also because you will have a significant stress factor less when you don’t need to question if they can pull their weight and you don’t need to micromanage them. I went through some tough times earlier building a business, but knowing that my second could take over in a heartbeat if I had to leave unexpectedly, was a key component to keeping my life together. I am forever grateful to her for that.

The second point also is about people. The responsibility you carry for someone else’s livelihood is a weight that is not carried easily. Taking that hurdle to employ someone and with that, asking them to trust you to ensure they can provide for themselves and their family is a major one. I did not understand just how heavy that weight is to carry. This I felt especially strongly in our current business. It took me a long time — I think we discussed the matter and worked part-time together for half a year until I dared to make an offer to the first person to join us full-time.

The third point is about the people around you outside of your business. If you have people around in your private life who do not support you or bring negative energy into your life, it will be nearly impossible for you to succeed until you cut that “noise” out. It just takes too much bandwidth and energy that you need to build your business. I learned this hard way at an earlier stage of my career when I had someone close to me who was abusive in every sense of that word. I couldn’t be the best version of myself at work. Luckily, today the situation is the complete opposite and I have a husband who also happens to be my best friend and business partner. He is the greatest support I could ask for. So, this also works the other way around. If you have great support from the outside, it will give you exponential chances for growth.

As a fourth point, I would raise the importance of having a great mentor. An outstanding mentor will ask you all the right questions and allow you to come to a lot of the answers yourself. When you can’t come to a solution, they will guide you and share their experience and mistakes so you won’t have to make the same mistakes. They will be by your side and they will be in your corner through the toughest of times and help you back on your feet. They will also be the biggest celebrators of your success. I have one that I would trust my life with. Trust is key, as you need to know that they guide you in your best interest and not theirs.

Last but not least, you don’t need to know everything or be perfect in everything. It is amazing how much one can learn if one is motivated and willing to put in the work. And let’s face it, you will likely not be world-class in what you are doing from the first day you start. It is enough that you or your product are perfect for the situation someone has. It might even be a part of your business that you did not think was critical for your success, but something that people need in addition. And there you have it, customers. One example is this; while I am a strategic storyteller, I often find myself being a general business, and even life coach, to founders. It’s not something that I advertise, but I get a lot of calls from founders that I am already working with and that need someone external to talk to, someone who understands what they are going through and can give them an ear and some guidance on how to handle the situation at hand.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

It’s twofold. Innovation is usually born out of passion and technical knowledge — vital components of innovation! What they often, however, do not have is the experience of building, commercialising, scaling or funding a business. We, on the other hand, have a team with a strong track record and a good reputation in building businesses and getting them to the next stage. This we can utilize to support other businesses and give them some extra credibility through our recommendation and involvement.

Secondly, we only use our skills and the previously mentioned help for businesses that make our world a better place in one way or another — environmentally, socially, or in other ways. As we, with our operations, increase the chances of these innovators in getting to the market and taking a share of it, I like to think we are an active part of making this world a better place for us all.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would love the world to reach a point where we would not mention genders anymore. In such a world, we would all be equal. As long as we have the need to differentiate genders, there is always some form of unnecessary division based on gender instead of people themselves and their traits and skills.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

There are a few public figures that immediately come to my mind. The first person is the former president of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari. I once had the honor of sitting at the same table at a birthday party with him, but there was no chance of a proper, more profound discussion. He is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, United Nations Diplomat and mediator that I admire for his international work for peace. I would love to learn about his work and especially about the mediation work he has done. Another Finnish person is Alexander Stubb, who was the former Prime Minister of Finland, among other global and influential positions. He has a great presence, strong communications skills and seems to have more hours in the day than the rest of us. I would love to understand how he does it. The third person I would like to meet is Angela Merkel. Not sure this one even needs explanation, but her career, influence and example have been remarkable. I would be honored to absorb some of that wisdom and experience.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this!

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Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.