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Veli-Pekka Julkunen: “Entrepreneurship is a very interesting way to apply my own know-how to a completely new world”

In this series, we sit down with some prönös to learn more about them and how they have found opportunities for growth.

Being an entrepreneur and having a business of my own was never a dream for me. My family consists of teachers and medical doctors, so there wasn’t much I knew about entrepreneurship. For me, ‘entrepreneur’ sounded like someone who just tries to do things (‘entrepreneur’ in Finnish is ‘yrittäjä’ or ‘a trier’)”, recalls Veli-Pekka Julkunen. However, he ended up becoming a successful one. Let’s find out how that happened! 

Who are you?

A very deep question! I feel that first of all, I am a dad. I have 4 small kids, and a large part of my life is related to them in different ways. So, one could say that I am a family man. I’m also a “builder” – I like to build things and make things work better than they did before.

What three things are you most proud of in your career?

I think the first is the fact that I had the courage to jump into a career path that I thought that I would never try. I have a master’s degree in economics, and I always thought that I would pursue a scientific career or work in a bank. But my first real job was actually as a marketing analyst/consultant, even though I have never actually studied marketing. 

This opened up a lot of totally new opportunities, and without them, I would have never taken the next step, which is number 2 on my list. I am proud that I had the courage to jump from a totally decent job to found my own company. The third thing that I am proud of is that together with my other founders we have been able to offer decent jobs for over 20 people for many years now.

How did you get the idea of starting your own company?

Actually, I got the idea of GameRefinery while taking care of my kids. I used to play video games on consoles and PC, but then my life got so busy that I didn’t have time for them anymore. Then, when my kids were small, I realized I had some time to spare while they were sleeping, so I thought I could get familiar with mobile games.

(He quickly discovered that there were new mechanics in mobile games that were completely different from conventional ones. For example, there are games that are free-to-play, but you can get some extra benefits with micropayments. Or sometimes the playing time is limited, but you can play as much as you like if you pay.)

When I learned that the top-performing games had some common mechanisms, I thought it would be possible to analyze and forecast them. I noticed that there were lots of similarities between my work as a consultant and forecasting the success of new games.

I shared this idea with my brother, and then we built our first forecasting algorithms. We decided to contact mobile game companies, and we got some really good feedback. 

(From this experience, they got many things, among them was their first client and third business partner, who had been an entrepreneur before.)

How was the jump from employment to entrepreneurship?

I had to think about it carefully because I had a family to raise. I also liked my job, so there was a lot to go through. However, we had tested our idea, and we believed in it. When Markus Råmark joined and we knew that we had the knowledge we needed, we decided to establish GameRefinery.

For me, entrepreneurship was a very interesting way to apply my own know-how to a completely new world. The topic was trending, and there was not that much competition, so I thought it’s a good decision business-wise as well. I loved the freedom I had as an entrepreneur, but of course, it was balanced with big responsibilities. In the beginning, the scale of emotions was very wide, just like at the beginning of a relationship. 

Who and what helped you with starting your own business?

Our CEO Markus has a background as an entrepreneur, so his knowledge was very useful for all of us. There are all kinds of administrative tasks, funding, and all sorts of other things that come with entrepreneurship. Also, at the company where I had worked previously, I saw almost tenfold growth. This helped me realize how to grow a business and as a matter of fact, I was the one responsible for developing one of our business areas and building the team around it. So, even though I wasn’t an entrepreneur myself, I learned some really valuable lessons.

How do you face uncertainty as an entrepreneur?

First, it’s important to understand that there are different lifecycle stages for companies. In the beginning, it’s the financial risk that is the biggest threat. Especially for a SaaS business, it’s crucial to have enough time to develop the product because it can take years before it’s even possible to have any sales. At later stages, when the business is settled, the risks are different: you are typically responsible for your employees and their well-being. Then, of course, there are things like Covid-19 that are difficult to foresee.

For me, when facing uncertainty, the way forwards is to roll up the sleeves. Many new entrepreneurs might think that when facing uncertainty, they should focus on carefully planning everything they do. And to some extent, it’s true. But quite soon that time you spend planning is really apart from more valuable things: actually working in a way that gives your business a chance to survive. As a rule of thumb, I’d say don’t plan too far ahead. You must feel the pulse and be sensitive to changes. 

If you could give a tip to a younger version of yourself or someone who is planning on starting a business, what would it be?

Trust yourself. I have always been self-confident, and I have trusted the things I have done. I think that self-confidence provides more space for doing things. Work hard and keep developing the company. You can’t fight uncertainty with calculations. 

One thing I have learned is that you should pay extra attention to the team; who do you work with? The team is the most important. Gather a group of different people who think differently. If you get along with someone in civil life, they don’t necessarily make the best business partners because if you all think alike, there probably will be some blind spots, and then you can’t make decisions quickly enough. 

When you talk about machine learning with people who are not familiar with the topic, what surprises them most?

Maybe that it is still seen as somehow magical or a thing that is too complicated for a normal human being to understand – which is not true! If you know the basic logic, which I think everyone should know, then you understand that it is just one additional tool to solve real-life problems.

When somebody wants to learn about machine learning, what are your tips for them (books, videos, etc.)?

Get to know the basic logic. Aalto University’s Elements of AI web course is quite good for this. After that, I would quite soon jump directly to some easy-to-use tools for machine learning and try them out by yourself (for example, RapidMiner, Azure machine learning studio, or even XLStat, which is an Excel plugin that has some machine learning models). I wouldn’t start by learning python or other coding languages at this point because it might be too long of a road, and you can easily do that afterward.

What are you passionate about? 

Learning more and being able to apply my skills to solve new types of problems

What do you think is special/good about Prönö?

I think the best thing is that it is based on trust. It is a strong base for building many great things. 

What are your values at Prönö? 

Curiosity, Creativity, Being on the “light side”

How would you complete these statements?

I love the fact that….Prönö is now live!

I’m afraid that….I will lose the passion to learn more.

The last time I was sad was whenI heard some problems that one old friend of mine had recently.

The last time I felt happiness was whenin the morning, our 5-year-old said that I have nice hair.

I’m curious about learninggraphic design.  

The last book I read and recommend isWarhammer 40k, the Horus Heresy trilogy. (I would especially recommend it if you like sci-fi.) 

Read the previous Prönö series interviews: Marko Rantanen and Liisa Paasio.

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