Tiina Zilliacus sums up her 18 years of work experience by saying that she has come of age in terms of working life. She spent 11 years working for large companies – Nokia and Sonera. This was followed by CEO positions in several small companies, and now she has been an entrepreneur for four years.
Although the companies have changed, she has always been involved with digital and mobile services. The products are different but the basic logic remains the same: the customers are consumers and services are delivered via a digital channel.
Zilliacus majored in international business at the School of Business and ended up in her first real job at Sonera after taking part in the ITP – Interactive Telecommunications Program. Once at Sonera, she became involved in developing the Sonera Zed mobile service, which, with its international postings, she considers to be her real-life MBA school. Zilliacus laughs and says that this was her personal Startup Sauna. She recalls her student days with warmth.
‘However, I only actually understood income statements and balance sheets after I began working.’
A lot of irons in the fire
Although Tiina Zilliacus considers herself a serial entrepreneur, she doesn't really like the term. In addition to one majority ownership, she has been a partner and advisor in many other companies.
‘According to my definition, an entrepreneur gets to be involved in many ventures and have a lot of irons in the fire. It's always a big risk to concentrate on a single area.’
Zilliacus now has three companies, with Gajatri Studios producing mobile and smart watch applications. This growth company was recognised for developing the world's first digital yoga game.
Within the scope of her consulting company, Zilliacus serves as an advisor to small and large companies that develop their own new services. She is also working on something else that isn't public yet. More information will be available early next year, and the new project is also related to health and digitalisation.
Technology or customer needs?
‘Self measurement and well-being bracelets are really interesting,’ says Zilliacus.
‘For example, five years ago people didn't know that taking 10 000 steps per day is good for you. Many companies now consider how to use different mobile applications to activate people.’
Zilliacus calculates that increasing the number of people who take care of their fitness by 10% would have a significant impact on public health.
‘Determining whether technology or customer needs will be the driving force in this sector is a bit of a chicken and egg question. Change is often the result of a link between the two.’
Zilliacus describes herself by saying that she creates new services and things. All her actions are characterised by the fact that a digital product or service concept is at the heart of everything she does. Bringing them to the market is her core competence, but she also admits sometimes venturing into design. In other words, Zilliacus also takes photographs and does modelling and does service design work.
‘I mainly do design work in my own projects. Nowadays, it's impossible to differentiate between the work of a designer and a merchandiser.’
People learn through trial and error,' states Zilliacus. She doesn't agree with the view that we don't have room for failure.
‘I don't think that Finland's environment is any more negative towards making mistakes than other places. People here may have a higher threshold to risk-taking. And when you put yourself on the line, it's no fun to admit that you're not perfect.’
A head full of ideas
Tiina Zilliacus has also become familiar with meditation, mindfulness and yoga. She says that she has practised techniques that help organise the ideas that are bouncing around in her head.
‘These exercises have been incredibly beneficial to me. They create new connections in my mind that may lead to problem solving.’
The most creative time is in the morning after a good night of sleep. The solution to a problem that couldn't be resolved in the evening can often be found in the morning.
Zilliacus began studying solution-focused coaching when she was still working short-term jobs. She says that solution-focused team leadership was very beneficial in areas that were not part of the employer's core activities and in which changes occurred on a daily basis.
Entrepreneurship requires concrete actions
Zilliacus believes that entrepreneurship in which people employ themselves and pay their own expenses is a completely different work model than working for someone else. Personal tolerance for uncertainty and the means to rethink issues that could develop into business are key when a person is on their own.
According to Zilliacus, a sufficient transition period is needed when establishing a company. This provides the time to learn new ways of working, risk-based thinking, and sales from a completely different perspective than earlier. She says that this should be a focus right from the start.
‘Too little is written about establishing a company. People need concrete information. Although entrepreneurship is not for everyone, anyone can learn it.’
Growth entrepreneurship is a hot topic right now, and Zilliacus believes that it is the duty of every company to grow. However, she also mentions that growth does not create new jobs in every sector. In fact, she thinks it would be interesting to examine what large companies could learn from small ones. Large companies can also try out new ideas with a different brand or in other countries.
‘Freedom and responsibility are in your own hands – that is the subconscious nature of this work. On the other hand, it can be easier to bring ideas to market in a small company. Nothing is more rewarding than the moment when you launch something new to the entire world!’
Entrepreneur and consultant Tiina Zilliacus graduated from Helsinki School of Economics in 1997 with a Master of Science in Economics. She founded Gajatri Studios (2011) and has also worked as the CEO of many small companies since 2008. Prior to that, she worked for Nokia in 2001–2007, and for Sonera in 1997–2001.
Zilliacus likes to read and she makes diverse use of media also during her leisure time.
Text: Antti J. Lagus
Photo: Jussi Särkilahti
The original article is published in the Aalto University Magazine issue 15.