For our second Interview of the Month, I am meeting with Heidi Kähkönen, co-founder of Fiksari, to talk about what it means to become a full-time entrepreneur. Can-do attitude, vibrant energy and positive mindset, Heidi shares how she works towards bridging the generation digital gap and turning your Grandma into a geek.
What does Fiksari mean?
Fiksari comes from the English word “fixing”. It means a person who fixes things. It is difficult to find a name for a startup. It has to catch attention and be intelligible at the same time. We have been thinking about it for a long time and we came up with a few options that we presented to the customers we already had at the time we started. We asked for their opinion and that is how we finally chose Fiksari. This illustrates the way we work: we submit our ideas to our clients and make our decisions taking their advice into account.
What brought you to create Fiksari?
Fiksari began in 2016 as a side project and I turned it into my full-time job in March 2018. It all started in 2015 when I attended the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon in London. I was there and my mum called me, asking about a window that had opened on her computer screen: “What should I do? I don’t want to click on something and cause a disaster…”. I told her she could safely accept to update the program, but because I was not physically there with her, she didn’t dare to do it. I wish I could have sent someone to my mum’s place to help her solve the issue. And that is when I recognised that there was a problem here that needed to be tackled. The idea of Fiksari was born. Our project got publicity thanks to an article published on TechCrunch and then someone from the startup scene in Helsinki called me saying that he was already doing something similar and should we do it together and turn it into a scalable business? The third member of the team joined us soon after that.
Reflecting on your journey one year and a half later, what elements do you retain as most striking?
The biggest challenge was to find a way to reach our customers since, by definition, they were not online. We had to be inventive to flush out our audience and to build trust with them. Because we visit them directly at home, we had to make them feel that they could absolutely rely on us. We put up posters in grocery stores but what really brought people to us was word-of-mouth. About 75% of our clients came because companies such as their bank or friends of theirs recommended our services. Helsingin Sanomat also released an article about us in December 2018 and we still have people contacting us because of that: they read it, cut it and saved it in a drawer for the day they would need it.
Does your work today match up with what you imagined when you started?
Before committing 100% to Fiksari, we had already been running our activities for a while, but obviously, the dynamics changed when it became my full-time job. When you work for your own company, you could spend your whole time on it. When you have the passion and the vision, you don’t count the hours – but that can be bad too. At some point, you have to stop and take care of yourself.
Has all that you have studied and done before proven useful for what you are doing now?
What I am doing now is the synthesis of all that I have done before: journalism, data collection, information gathering, coding, supporting my former baby-sitter with everyday tasks and my mum with her computer issues. It is great because I feel I can use all of my skills and experience.
Look into what you have done so far and if something keeps bumping back, it means that it is important to you and you are in a unique position to solve that problem. When people get an idea, they often tend to protect it out of fear of having it stolen. But the only way to develop an idea is to tell about it. Within the first two months, I pitched Fiksari 150 times to random people and asked for their opinion.
Have you ever thought of giving up?
No, I never thought of giving up. There have been some hard moments for sure, but I never thought of quitting. It was tough because we had no funding and because of the time I spent working. But when I visit customers, I can feel their relief once their difficulty has been overcome or their joy of having learned something and that is such a reward that even when I am most tired, it is still absolutely satisfying and worth it! Money is clearly not the motivation. It is rather the possibility of growing this project into something significant. By helping the elderly, we provide youth with jobs and by connecting people, we change the culture.
However, at some point, I realised that I was close to burnout and that I needed some time off. I took a one week’s vacation, I read, I went walking in nature, I did some exercise and somehow I managed to calm down the acute stress. When I came back to work, I set a limit of a maximum of nine working hours per day and the outcome was good. People should feel comfortable talking about burnout, it is such a frequent issue in the startup world. There is a misconception, the “startup fallacy”, that says you have to work 12 hours a day because “that’s how you get shit done”. It is a weird culture that still persists and it is harmful. Work smarter, use your time well. I dream of being super-efficient in six hours at the office.
Anything else that matters to you and that you would like to add?
Helsinki’s startup scene is a tight community. It is easy to ask for help, to access people to whom you could not reach out in other settings. Most of the business founders, for instance, are very approachable here. On the other hand, it is also very homogenous and I wish to see more diversity. You cannot stay in your own bubble otherwise you lose opportunities, talent and vision.
If you want to launch your own company, it is worth learning how the administrative system works here, ask for support – for instance you may be eligible for a startup grant (starttiraha) –, volunteer for events such as Dash, Junction, or Slush to name only a few, network, dare to take the first step and people will be happy to help you! Also, you will need a strong inner motivation, so it is better to have something you truly believe in. Working for yourself will allow you to use your skills to their maximum and will give you professional freedom and independence and that is really nice.
Thank you Heidi Kähkönen for sharing your experience with us!