Opinions are like ideas; they don’t matter. The only thing that matters is how people actually use your product or service.
Juha Huttunen is a serial entrepreneur, technology enthusiast and geek. Getting his first computer in the early ’80s changed him for good; his studies, work and much of his free time have been about computers and applying technology to solve practical problems of people and companies.
Currently Juha is running a startup called Grafetee, a mobile bulletin board and location bookmarking app. After experiencing first-hand the trouble of bookmarking multiple open houses from different real estate sites while looking for a new home, Juha and his co-founders decided to create an app to make life easier for those wanting to collect place/event listings from any website onto their phones or to discover new places and events while on the go.
Before founding Grafetee, Juha Huttunen founded a personalized travel guide website, Tripsay, and led mobile application sales at Sybase Finland. Prior to working at Sybase, he was VP of European sales for Novintel (now Global Intelligence Alliance), where he was responsible for the company’s business development and sales to new customers. In 2000, Juha founded Matchem, a wireless entertainment company that pioneered interactive SMS TV shows. He successfully raised financing, managed the company and ultimately sold the company. He received a master’s of science in engineering from Helsinki University of Technology and has been a speaker on mobile solutions and the social web at numerous events.
What are you working on right now?
Now I’m working on a mobile app called Grafetee. It’s a location-based bulletin board with plenty of third-party content, as well as a tool for you to bookmark real-world locations from the web onto your mobile (e.g. bookmarking the hotel you booked on one site and all the sights you want to see on a number of other sites and creating a a single guide on your phone that links back to the original sources). It enables the user to collect places on their phones, along with any content and links related to those places. It’s very handy when you’re going on a trip, buying a home, organizing bachelor party schedules, telling friends where to meet, and so on.
Where did the idea for Grafetee come from?
My wife and I were buying a new home, and it was a pain to go through a dozen candidates each Sunday; we had to type out all of our appointment times and addresses where we needed to be. With Grafetee, it was easy to create a list of the places and to find them at the right time. We could also use it to review which places we had visited and what we thought of them.
What does your typical day look like?
I wake up pretty early these days–thanks to our son–and work until about 7:00 p.m. when our son goes to bed. Afterward, I go to the gym (four days per week). I used to do a lot more sports activities before my son was born; I was active ten times per week when running my first startup in 2000, but now I reserve time for the family as well, so I don’t exercise every day anymore. I might work a few hours in the evening, depending on the situation. On weekends I try to avoid work and do only truly critical things. With age, I’ve learned that not all things are critical all the time.
Days can still be long, but because my work is fun, it doesn’t feel like I work long hours. I enjoy the freedom of an entrepreneur. I work quite a lot from home. I can do personal stuff during the day, like play a badminton match with a friend if I want to. All that matters is that the work gets done–not when or where I do it. Entrepreneurs have bosses despite what some may think, and so do I. The freedom comes from being able to set your own schedule, as long as you deliver the results needed.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Usually through my own need. Obviously, I have a lot of needs (as we all do), but I try to spot the ones that have a larger potential. Part of this process is pitching the idea to my friends, and especially my teammates, who can actually build the app/website/software. If the idea is good enough, they will like it and we can start building a prototype. Otherwise the idea is not good enough or I’m not good enough at selling it–both instances are detrimental to business success. To be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be able to convince some people of the idea’s viability to make it happen. It also makes for a nice acid test for the idea and your own sales skills.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Mobile ubiquitous computing, in all its forms, interests me a lot. I love wearable computers, smartphones, tablets, Project Glass, etc. I got my first computer (a Vic-20) back in early ’80s when I was about 7 or 8 years old. Looking back, the past 30 years has been huge for the development of computers. Mobile ubiquitous computing is in its very early stages, and I’m eager to see what it brings in the next 10-20 years. It’s going to have a huge impact on us all, and I hope I’m here to witness it.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
One summer, while studying, I worked at a factory that produced all kinds of stuff out of metal, like tin cans and can tops. It was pretty boring, but it taught me a lot, as it was a rather big factory and had workers, engineers, managers, etc. all under the same roof. I had the chance to observe how things on the factory floor don’t often go as engineers plan them. It also taught me that I’m lucky to now work on things that I love.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Grafetee hasn’t been going on for too long, so we probably haven’t yet made all the mistakes we will have to make. Thus, I wouldn’t yet change much. In regards to my whole professional career, I would obviously be grateful to start off with the experience I have now. That’s not a very realistic wish, though.
I was also very lucky with timing. I graduated from university in 1999, at the height of the global tech bubble. I was able to raise significant funds for a startup a year later, and was thus propelled onto an entrepreneurial career almost by chance. Had I graduated a few years earlier or later, I probably would’ve ended up working for some large corporation like so many others. If I were to start again under different circumstances, I’d make sure to get exposed to startups one way or another. I hadn’t planned that at all while studying, and ended up as an entrepreneur more or less by a very happy accident.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I advise reserving enough time to do things you love outside of work. For me, it’s sports, computer games and family. If I go without any of those for too long, it affects my work a lot in a negative way. Sports are especially important. You need to be in good physical shape to stay focused mentally and to have the stamina to go on when times are tough. There’s no getting around that. If you feel that you are tired or stressed, I suggest you try exercising more.
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
It’s so easy for people to say they don’t like your idea. It’s also easy to say, “I’d use this if it had [insert your feature of choice]”. Opinions are like ideas; they don’t matter. The only thing that matters is how people actually use your product or service. I’ve encountered this reality with every venture, and with all kinds of people from customers to investors to media personnel. There’s not a lack of people who will tell you why your idea won’t work, and that can be pretty discouraging.
I’ve handled this in two ways. First, I have learned to disregard such comments, as I’ve realized that opinions on untested ideas don’t matter. The world is full of thriving companies I would have thought would be destined for doom. So don’t mind what people say. The second thing is that you should care about what people do with your product or service–and you should care fanatically. Measure all important parameters, analyze them, and tweak and tweak and tweak to get better. Most importantly, start with a rough prototype, gather feedback (from the usage) and adjust as necessary. If you think that you need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and that you need to spend a year before you have a decent prototype, you’re in dangerous waters.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think human interaction with TV shows via mobile devices is still quite poorly done but holds big potential, as the majority of tablet owners use their tablets while watching television.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
Star Trek transporters would be cool. The internet has made the world a smaller place, but where you are physically is still very important in terms of business, personal health, education, etc. It would be very cool if you could live where you wanted while being able to commute to someplace else in a second, whenever you needed to. Naturally, the transporters would have a built-in solution to tackle jet lag too.
Tell us a secret.
I don’t know if this is really a secret, but entrepreneurs often tend to emphasize how hard they work and how smart they are as being critical to their success. This might unnecessarily turn some people away from trying entrepreneurship. The truth is that for every great success there are dozens of hard-working and smart entrepreneurs who didn’t succeed.
The media just likes to write about the successful ones, and the successful entrepreneurs often fall into the trap of thinking that their personal qualities made the difference, when in fact, the critical ingredient was luck. Of course, the more you try, the luckier you get. There is no bullet-proof formula for success. You need to keep trying until you succeed. I think perseverance is the most critical ingredient to becoming a successful entrepreneur.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
- Zite. It’s the way I discover interesting articles to read these days, and is one of the best apps on the iPad.
- Google Reader. I subscribe to a fairly large number of RSS feeds and use Google reader on my laptop, tablet and phone to scan the headlines when I have the time. It’s not very fun, but it’s very useful.
- Facebook. I’ve got a fairly large number of friends on Facebook, and many of them are involved with technology and startups. Often I find news and info through them that I would’ve otherwise missed.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. The author is a behavioral scientist guru and nobelist who shows us how people are easily misguided by intuition when they make critical decisions. He also shows us how little things can have a huge impact on decisions. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to better understand how people make decisions.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
I guess this could be the personal secret I couldn’t come up with before. I don’t care much about Twitter, although I guess I should, given the fact that I work in a startup. It’s just too much of a mess. I follow about a thousand people in the technology and startup arena, but I find it extremely difficult to find useful stuff not by accident. I only occasionally read Twitter but almost always use Flipboard instead, as it makes the experience more visual by opening all of the shortened links that tend to contain the bulk of the content on Twitter. I can’t really differentiate one Twitter user from another in terms of who to follow, and I just look at the links/articles I see via Flipboard and forget who posted what.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I’m the type of guy who laughs out loud daily. These days, the cause is most often my son, who is a bit under two years old. He’s crazy funny all day long. Also, my co-founder, Arttu, is a pretty fun guy to work with. We have lots of fun at work too.
Who is your hero?
I don’t know if I have any real heroes, to be honest. There are obviously people whom I admire for their personal qualities. Lauri Törni comes to mind. In the U.S. he’s known as Larry Thorne, the Finnish military hero who was driven out of the country after World War II and later joined the U.S. Army, becoming a green beret major who died in Vietnam. He represents the epitome of courage and perseverance against terrible odds. From the corporate world, Steve Jobs is an obvious choice. You just have to admire how he pushed hard for what he believed in and how he got truly impressive results, even though he didn’t necessarily make many friends in the process. His belief in his vision was admirable.
What’s your advice to someone who’s thinking about entrepreneurship for the first time?
I say go ahead and jump. It’ll be a fun ride. Even if you end up not liking it, you’ll be one experience wiser and will learn a lot about how companies are run. It makes working for someone else easier, as you’ll know what matters (sales and cost control). Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but it’s also not reserved for some mystical, small group of super-humans–even though that’s what some entrepreneurs would like you to believe. Perhaps they just want to reduce competition.
Do you have some general guidelines that you try follow?
I have a code of sorts, which is only half a joke: I want to be stronger than anyone who’s smarter than me, and smarter than anyone who’s stronger than me. Thus, I dedicate quite a lot of time to the gym and sports in general. I used to do a lot of kickboxing, which I think is the greatest sport ever when paired with trips to the gym. It’ll keep you fit for anything, including work. I have a very broad range of interests to keep my brain active outside of work, and tend to read quite a lot of popular science books and magazines. I especially like solving brain puzzles. I measure how well I do in both areas, although I’m not obsessive about it. I also like movie quotes. My favorite is from Yoda: “Do or do not… there is no try.” I also like Dolph Lundgren and his quote as Ivan Drago on Rocky IV: “I must break you.”
Juha Huttunen on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/juha-huttunen/0/27/81
Juha Huttunen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juhah
Juha Huttunen on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/juha.huttunen2
Juha Huttunen on Skype: juha_juttunen