Inspirational Woman: Mira and Stina Ovaskainen | Co-Founders of VALO lifestyle/Valo Group Ltd

What inspired you to start a business?

inspirational-woman-mira-and-stina-ovaskainen-co-founders-of-valo-lifestylevalo-group-ltdMira & Stina: Our mother has been an entrepreneur for as long as we can remember. She always had some business she was working on. Stina has spent her entire professional career working for our mother’s businesses while Mira spent her first few jobs working at cafes and restaurants, then decided to go work for our mother’s company to learn about running a business. We ended up spending over a decade helping our mother build her business and growing our skill set on the side. Her business started out as a course centre for wellbeing which organically evolved into an on- and offline gem shop at the heart of Helsinki, Finland, retailing all things made of gems as well as books and such on wellbeing, most of which she had written and published. In 2010 craving a change, Stina first got the idea to apply to London College of Communication to study graphic design, as we’d all previously lived here for a short while. Mira decided to join her and applied to study product design at Central Saint Martins, we were both accepted and made the move to London together.

All the while living in London, we were also working part-time for our mother’s company and saw a real gap in the international marketplace for a new unique lifestyle brand that would utilise our skill set. This new concept, VALO lifestyle, we have been working on and further refining over the past 1,5 years to come to where we are today. The both of us wanted to do something we love while putting to use the skills we have honed over the years from building a brand, working in all areas involved from admin to making the products, shooting the products, graphic look of all materials and everything and anything in between.

What is the greatest challenge and the greatest reward in being your own boss?

M: The greatest challenge for me would be prioritising the to-do list which, with us being a two-woman operation, is very long. We do everything in-house from photography to copywriting, marketing, social media, graphic design, product design and so on, between the two of us. This and figuring out which tasks are most essential to keep the wheels in motion is a constant balancing act. Hands down the greatest rewards are getting to do what you love and getting to do that with my best friend, Stina. The fact that my success is all in my own hands is a great motivator.

S: I would agree that the amount of work is the most challenging, as your to-do list is all the time changing depending on what the priority is that day or week. Also keeping up to date with what is going on in the field is both challenging and one of the best parts, as I love to learn. Working with Mira is a great reward, we have similar tastes and get what each others visions are, both learning and teaching each other. And who wouldn’t want to work with their best friend.

What motivational tips can you give to our members about goal setting and managing both successes and failures?

M: Being a bit of a perfectionist and slightly impatient by nature, I’ve recently come to learn that setting a big goal that is laid out in smaller steps, like mini goals, leading up to the main one, is important. Otherwise you might soon find yourself overwhelmed by the workload and struggling for motivation. Setting the plan out in smaller steps is achievable and you’ll find yourself getting a greater sense of achievement when you can tick the completed steps off your to-do list. Another thing I have learned is to always overestimate the time you need per task, optimism in this is not your friend in time management. Then if you end up finishing a task faster than expected you will get an additional sense of accomplishment for being quicker than you thought.

For keeping up the daily motivation I also really like to look up some motivational quotes and mostly use those as my phone screensaver and background image to remind myself. As for failures, I don’t necessarily think of anything as a failure per se, there is always a lesson in something that didn’t go the way you expected or yield the result you were hoping for. Failures are lessons, they need to be assessed in why this happened, what can I learn from it and what will I do in a similar situation in the future to prevent the same thing happening again. Success doesn’t happen without some failures along the way but maybe instead of calling them failures start calling them lessons, learn the lesson, get back up and start over.

S: Goals are important but I find that the journey to them is the best part. I would advice others to aim for the goal but understand if getting there takes longer than expected and celebrate the smaller milestones along the way, they are what will keep you motivated to reach your end goal. Failures might make you feel like you want to give up but if you can step back a little, you will see that there is always something to learn or do better. They are never the end, you can always improve and try again.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a business owner?

M: There are constantly challenges that you are faced with, which force you to be constantly curious to learn more. The biggest challenge is in my eyes, are the numbers. I was never too fond of math and trying to prioritise our expenditure while still running things smoothly is a real challenge. Being a startup, our budget is so tight, yet we still need to spend money on certain things which can be bit of a gamble as well. As they say, to make money, you have to spend money. The key is to spend and gamble on the right things, this is something we are constantly learning to become better at.

S: Unfortunately struggling with numbers seems to be a family thing and I have never been great at it either. For me I would say that deciding what is important, is the biggest challenge, as I can get stuck in perfecting one area and then not having time for the other things that need to get done too.

How have you benefited from mentoring or coaching?

M: Thus far, we have not had much mentoring, but with that said I feel this is something we do need to seek out more as this can really help a business grow. When you spend your days working on your business you are sometimes too close to see the big picture or things that need improving. Having someone who knows the industry and is successful in their own right, help us would for sure benefit our business. We hired Rebecca Coutts earlier this year to help us streamline and get a better grasp of our direction which was very helpful. We have also gotten helpful advice from Fashion Angel who helped us secure a startup loan at the end of this summer. Having someone to lean on for questions or share ideas with helps you improve them and your business.

S: I definitely agree that outside advice is always a great way to improve and would love to learn from more experienced people in the future.

What advice can you give about the benefits of networking?

M: It’s an important part of becoming a successful entrepreneur but definitely an area I really need to improve on. Meeting the right people can take you to your goals faster and easier but at the same time finding where and how to meet these key people is a challenge I have yet to solve.

S: Networking is crucial but something that I am working on myself. Being Finnish, we can be quiet and shy, which is not the best for networking and growing our brand. I think just being nice and sociable when meeting people is a great first step, always treat others how you want to be treated.

What are your tips for scaling a business and how do you plan for and manage growth?

M: Probably a bit of a startup cliche but running a very lean operation with minimal costs is key in the beginning. This is the reason why most businesses start out from the homes of their founders, like ours. Having a skill set to run all aspects involved in your business is also useful as it keeps costs down in the beginning and also makes it easier for you to hire the right people when the time comes, because you already have at least some grasp of what the duties they will be taking on entail. Managing growth is particularly challenging in a business like ours, where we run the entire operation, including some of the manufacturing. Having a blueprint of some sorts on all the tasks within the company and the tasks and personnel needed when you grow, will help.

When the company finances allow, hiring part-time workers for the tasks that aren’t 100% dependant on you is what we expect to be key. For example, the creative side of our business is not easily transferred for someone else to do but we can easily advise how to run many other day to day tasks such as admin, manufacture, basic upkeep of our online shop and such which will give us more time to focus on the creative aspects of our business as well as where we want to take it in the future. Just ensure that you are spending your money wisely and do not sign up any permanent employees too early on.

S: I would say, start as small as you can and keep the costs low. When you grow you can hire more people to help manage the daily tasks and then free your time to focus on the vision and key aspects of the business that only you can do. In the future we are looking to get help with this but for the moment I enjoy being able to run the whole operation between the two of us.

What does the future hold for you?

M: For the time being, we are a small brand with some big dreams. In five years time we hope to be a successful international lifestyle brand, sold on- and offline at established and design-led bigger and smaller retailers. Our aim is to organically grow our product lines to include homewares, lighting, women- & men’s accessories, to work with interesting people on collaborations for these collections and be able to execute a few pop-up shops around the world every year. Keeping production local and making high quality products with a Nordic flair will always be a key ingredient of our brand DNA.

S: I hope to grow our product range, delving into all areas of lifestyle design, from accessories to home. In the further future, we hope to sell worldwide and have our products stocked in boutiques around the globe, making VALO lifestyle a global Nordic brand recognised for great design and quality.

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