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Woman of Zeal: Nancy Ahola

Working for Z Instruments, a company in Finland for the last 3 years and with multiple partners around world as a consultant, Nancy Ahola has multiple experiences in strategic partnerships, product development, fundraising and market entry in Asia, Europe and USA. She will share her passion as a startup employee and what will it take to be one.

1. What were you doing before joining your current company?

I was working in the U.S. corporate environment in IT and in Product Management. When I moved to Europe 11 years ago, I ended up shifting towards business development.  I was pulled into my current company a bit reluctantly but I really believed in the founder and the product.

2. What motivates you to work for a startup?

It can be in areas such as being part of the employee share option scheme, more challenges, faster career advancement, experience startup culture and more. I love the experience of being more in charge of how a company grows, develops and expands.

I know it is a gamble – a crapshoot and it can fail.  But I guess I am a risk-taker at heart and understand that it could possibly pay off in the long run.

3. As we know that 97% of businesses tend to fail and working for a startup generally is deemed to be more risky, how did you decide on which startup to work for?

I already had a very good relationship with the founder before we work together. Also, I truly had to believe in the product.

If you do not believe in what you are selling, how can you sell it?  You have to brand it, develop it, push it to your partners or distributors, and eventually, your end customers.  I also had to believe in the investors and ecosystem around it.

4. Have you considered starting your own business? What stops you from beginning your entrepreneurship journey?

I really want to have a good partner that can be a sounding board and a person to bounce my ideas off of to see whether if I am crazy or not. I have not been able to find another person yet beyond the partner I have now that can handle my craziness.

I do want to be an entrepreneur because I love the adrenaline. But I want great backers that believe in me and what I am doing.

5. What are the unwritten rules of working at a startup and what are the challenges you face working in a startup?

You are 100% responsible – the payroll, bills, what if the business fails and how do the employees produce and how do you fare. You will have many sleepless nights and even nightmares during the bad times. Crappy dinners, limited or no free time and huge sacrifices for your family will be the prices to pay.  But it is a great journey even if you do not succeed.

The challenges faced can be dealing with clients, managing people, networking, getting your customers and obtaining funds. When you work in a company with an established brand and group of customers, it is fairly easy to get new sales.  But when you are in a startup, most likely you do not have any brand recognition or reputation.  You do not have money for advertising, so you will be doing a substantial amount of bootstrapping.  Managing people can also be difficult because they have different mindsets and motivations to work there.  They are here for the paycheck while the entrepreneur is there for the passion.

6. How do you balance your startup life with friends who may not understand the challenges you are experiencing?

Sometimes, you cannot balance it. My family has been a priority, but sometimes I have missed important events or not gone for a short family trip due to work.  But I do make up in giving them quality time by being fully engaged, both mentally and physically.  I do not check my messaging apps or emails during important times with my loved ones.  My friends also understand my passion, so I do make it a priority if they ask me to do something.

7. What advice would you give people who wants to work in a startup?

Some factors can be considered such as how to ace in an interview with a startup, how to fit into the corporate culture and what should you consider before joining a startup. Always understand that startups can fail as well as succeed. Many startups do not last beyond a few years, but do not let that discourage you. See it as an adventure and learning experience.  If you are offered with equity or a certain salary, get it in writing. A conversation “he said, she said” will not be admissible in court.

Do not ever take abuse from people in a startup.  If it is toxic, do not be afraid to leave. Make sure that your stake is clear if you take a lower salary in the beginning, otherwise they are more than happy to keep paying you lower in the future without making up for the past.

About BlackStorm Consulting

BlackStorm Consulting is a boutique growth consultancy firm that specialises in corporate strategy, profit management and investment management. We mainly serve clients in four sectors: FinTech, Gaming, Technology, Media and Telecommunications (TMT), and manufacturing.

Our clients and connections are internationally present and range from small and medium sized businesses, MNCs, to government agencies.