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Alumnus Ville Vahteri: The opportunity cost of becoming an entrepreneur as a student is often at its lowest level

Our alumnus Ville Vahteri, who studied marketing at the School of Business, was actively involved in organizing the startup event Slush throughout his studies. Emboldened by the experience, he co-founded Bou, a brand company, together with his Slush colleagues.
Kauppakorkeakoulun alumni Ville Vahteri
School of Business alumnus Ville Vahteri. Photo: Ville Vahteri

I am Ville Vahteri – an entrepreneur, writer, runner, and Aalto alumnus from Helsinki. At Aalto University I majored in marketing, with a focus on brands. For my minors I chose management, visual communications, and philosophy. While on exchange I studied communications, and international business. I began my studies in 2012 and graduated in 2018.

Why did you want to study marketing?

Originally, I was supposed to become an architect. I wanted to design something big, visual, experiential, and impactful. In the entrance examinations I fell short of that path by one point, but I was more successful in the business and economics exam. I was accepted into the School of Business and chose marketing as my major – which bore at least some resemblance to architecture. So, instead of designing buildings and landscapes, I started studying the design of mental images – brands.

How’s your career path been?

My career path has been experimental, winding, and one that follows my own interests. Although I am usually very calculating and deliberate in my decisions, I have trusted my intuition when taking on jobs, and have been very quick to grasp onto opportunities. This might not look good on a CV, but it has felt good to me.

During my studies I worked in sales and marketing, but the most excited I was about organising the startup event Slush. First, I worked as a volunteer and a team leader, then continued as the Head of Volunteers, and finally worked on the year-round marketing team in 2016-17. Before we founded our own brand company with that same team, I had worked at two slightly more focused agencies as a marketer and as a writer.

You are one of the founders of the brand company Bou. What does Bou do, how was it born, and how did you end up in it?

The idea of founding a brand company – or agency if you will – started forming when the Slush CEO was asked on morning TV about which agencies Slush uses for its brand building. She answered that we have our own small team for that. At that moment, we realised that there might be larger demand for our skills and expertise. Encouraged by that realisation, we closed our first customer, and in January 2019 we became full-time entrepreneurs.

Bou builds brands through marketing, communications, design, and development. This means that we specialise in a brand as a whole – not exclusively on one of its aspects.

In practice we can design a visual identity for a company, product, or service, code a website that follows it, write correctly toned content on the pages, direct the target audience to the site with an advertising campaign, and get featured in international media through PR. When one and the same agency can do all of this, the desired brand image is communicated effectively and consistently.

Although our brands vary from quantum computers to coffee roasteries and the public sector, we focus primarily on serving the European technology field. From there our founding team has grown together, and from there we can find a huge amount of potential solutions to the most serious problems facing the world. These companies deserve to be heard, remembered, and admired.

We have noticed that Bou's service model and tech-focused positioning work excellently. So far we have worked already with more than 70 brands, and by the end of the year, the size of our team will grow to double digits – assuming that we find the right talents by then.

Ultimately, success always depends on the team and on the cooperation between people.

Ville Vahteri, Founding Partner of Bou, a brand company

In your opinion, what has been particularly important in your studies or what has been most useful?

The dynamics of group work applies both to school projects and the building of a company. Although it keeps getting repeated, I will repeat it again: ultimately, success always depends on the team and on the cooperation between people. I got a lot of training in this during my studies, and the same training continues now as an entrepreneur.

Looking at specific courses, the Capstone marketing courses were excellently concrete summaries of what was learned in other courses. In these courses, the assignments and their standards were closest to the requirements of real working life, and the professors gave critical enough feedback.

The fluency in English that I attained during my exchange studies also proved to be an absolute prerequisite for entrepreneurship. More than 80 percent of Bou’s brand building efforts are directed at the international market, and consequently English skills need to be good enough for everything from client meetings to creative writing.

What kind of advice would you give to students who are interested in starting a company?

The opportunity cost of becoming an entrepreneur as a student is often at its lowest level. When in working life it might be painful to relinquish a fixed monthly pay, a modern office, and a clear job description to found a company of one's own.

In addition, study time is the optimal time to find a founding team. There are plenty of ideas and market niches available, but suitable co-founders are harder to find. While I do not encourage anyone to get to know people for this reason alone, it might not hurt to see if a suitable team might be found among people that one knows. Now that all of Aalto University students are studying on the same campus, founding teams might form very spontaneously, which is what happened to me at Slush.

And if you do not want to found a company as a student, you can still take part in entrepreneurial activities. For example, when volunteering for student clubs and guilds, one can – instead of maintaining already existing operations – come up with something completely new. With our friends we founded a beer club at KY and launched our own beer for the First of May. I suppose one could regard this as some sort of light entrepreneurship.

After all, my most important advice would be to take action and experiment. Because it is quite a long way to go from deciding to become an entrepreneur to founding a company – especially if there is no team, no idea, nor a market niche in sight.

Would you do something different in your studies?

I would have started my current reflection routine already as an undergraduate, as it has helped me to better recognise my own strengths, weaknesses, goals, and identity as an entrepreneur. Each year I list the questions to which I then give answers every month. When writing my answers, and especially when reading through them at the end of the year, the overall picture is clarified in a way that soothes the mind.

So I would ask my student-self a few probing questions at the end of each period – for example: ‘What did you learn?’, ‘What didn't you learn so well?’, ‘What would you like to learn next?’, ‘What was your role in group work?’, ‘Are you studying in the right field?’, etc.

In connection with the theme here, I might slip in questions such as ‘With whom could you imagine setting up a business?’ and ‘What is your next step towards entrepreneurship?’

Find out more about Ville's career path in LinkedIn!

Learn more about Bou, their cases, and their job openings: https://bou.co.

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