“If it looks like a loss, it’s probably a lesson”

“Well, actually we met in the kitchen while I was trying to reach for some food. I had to be polite and introduce myself and that’s how we got to talk about Catering Joy.”

Chilu and Roope are working together on the startup Catering Joy. They met back in December, just before christmas at an event held by Amplaffy. Roope, who started working on the idea back in September, had been looking for a developer for months. Chilu, a developer who just arrived in Helsinki in November, was instantly intrigued by the idea. Catering Joy is a market place that makes it easier for caterers and potential customers to connect. It was more a moment of luck than a careful plan that resulted in Roope and Chilu teaming up, but that is nevertheless a big lesson entrepreneurship has taught them. You have to put yourself in a position where you will get exposed to opportunities and new people.

Roope Nykänen and Chilu Machona

Roope and Chilu have two very different entrepreneurship stories.

Roope is from Finland and currently studying for a Masters degree in entrepreneurship at Aalto University, although he didn’t actually grow up dreaming about being an entrepreneur.

“In high school or secondary school, I had this class. I got really good grades, and the teacher asked at the end of the course if anyone in the class wanted to become an entrepreneur. Just 1–2 people raised their hands… …and I wasn’t one of them.”

Roope has been discovering the appeal of entrepreneurship over the past 2–3 years, and remembers a certain moment that really made him consider the career and work life he wanted.

“A trigger that got me thinking happened during my studies in Bangkok. There was this professor Joe Lobbato, he really knew his stuff. He was giving good advice on work-life and careers and during one lesson he asked a question; ‘At one point in your life you’ll have to make a big decision about which way you want to go; are you going to work for someone else and make them super rich or are you going to work for yourself and make you super rich?’ That really made me think.”

It wasn’t all about making the money though, but just as much about the life Roope wanted for himself. He likes the fact that being an entrepreneur is highly unlikely to become a repetitive cycle. He is able to work on something he truly loves and likes the flexibility entrepreneurial life brings.

Chilu’s way to entrepreneurship, on the other hand, started early on.

“Since I was young, I wanted to have something of my own. It started with selling lunch to girls in school. I was making good money off that, so I thought I had business skills.”, he laughs. He grew up in Zambia but later moved to The Democratic Republic of Congo. Not speaking French was a struggle, but that meant he started spending a lot of time online, where he started learning how to code. At 18 he started joining national competitions.

“It’s one of those things where I was just trying my luck to see if I was good enough. Being able to win these competitions, being recognized; this completely changed my mentality. I started to believe that I had the potential to build something. So I always had that drive.”.

Regardless of their different journeys to entrepreneurship, they see eye to eye on the things that helped them develop the skills and mindset that prepared them for starting their own business.

Roope starts: “I definitely recommend being active in the startup community. The Shortcut is a very good place to start, it’s a very open community and for anyone interested in entrepreneurship. I joined Digital Prototyping Weekend twice and I learned different things both times. That was a great way of learning, meeting people and building my network, which in large part brought me to where I am today. It’s really about exposing yourself to many different kinds of people and opportunities.”

For Chilu, joining events was a defining factor as well: “I’ve done a lot of hackathons around the world. Most recently, I participated in Unearthed in Australia. It’s great since it’s online so I can participate from here. I think most of my best ideas came from hackathons where I had a short period of time to plan and execute. It really forces you to focus.”.

They both agree though, that while all the events and hackathons are great,they can’t truly prepare you for entrepreneurial life. Mentorship has been a huge help for both of them in their personal development and with their business.

Entrepreneurship according to Chilu and Roope’s experience includes a lot of uncertainty, challenges and irrational optimism. “There are these different stages when I feel more or less motivated. At the times when I’m less motivated, Chilu asks me to think of that moment when we get to the sixth zero in our bank account and we can do that victory dance. That always puts a smile on my face. It feels motivating to hear that kind of belief in the idea. Even though it might sound too optimistic, it works. Maybe you need these overly optimistic moments because it keeps moving you forward.”

So how do you find the right co-founder that will help you keep that optimism?

“Personally I think it’s a lot about open-mindedness. I don’t know anyone who got into a partnership as fast as we did. I saw benefits for the both of us and for the company. In the early stages of entrepreneurship, you really have to take any opportunity you get.”, says Chilu.

When asked about their take on the most important skills for an entrepreneur, they both agree that the ability to constantly learn and adapt are key. Roope adds:

“You need to learn fast and adapt to be able to keep up. Everything changes so fast. Furthermore, communication skills are definitely key, since you always have so many different stakeholders. If you can’t get the feedback you’re not going to get the information you need and you’re not going to improve.”. He adds, “And never strive for perfectionism, it kills entrepreneurship.”.

Chilu nods, “You should be prepared to interpret conversations. Normally people are built to tell you nice things. So they’ll give you thumbs up but not buy your product. You need to understand why something is not working. Don’t stop learning, seek advice and learn to interpret advice differently. ‘If I got this feedback, what do I do next?’ Look for the constructive, negative feedback.”

Roope and Chilu seem to have found their co-founder match in each other and they have only just started.

“In five years I see Chilu on a beach in Hawaii shorts with a tropical drink, doing his money dance!”

They both laugh and Chilu continues:

“and Roope at the side playing the ukulele!”. More laughter.

Roope thinks for a moment and then adds: “We don’t know if we have money or not but at least we’ll be having fun. I think we’ll still be good friends, I guess that’s the main point. I would see us both smiling in that scenario.”

Feel inspired to try out entrepreneurship and start building that network? Join the School of Startups at The Shortcut happening from the 5th to the 23rd of March!