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27.04.2021

Six questions with Harri Iisakka, the CEO of Wave Ventures

In the latest Six Questions -series we introduce Wave Ventures' freshly appointed CEO Harri Iisakka. Wave's team consists of a diverse group of students and is supported by experienced investors and serial entrepreneurs around the Nordics.



Meet Harri, the newly-appointed CEO of student-led VC team Wave Ventures. In our newest Six Questions -series we ask Harri about his route from a student to the world of venture, why asking help is crucial and why finding a co-founder is much like finding a romantic partner.

1.Who are you and how did you end up as the CEO of Wave?

I’m Harri, an avid sportsperson and interested in all things tech. Outside Wave and sports, I am feeding my hungry mind with finance and strategy studies at Aalto BIZ and SCI. Additionally, I love random discussions ranging from the best restaurant menus in Helsinki to the newest unicorn ideas.

I stumbled into the Finnish startup ecosystem a few years ago through Aaltoes after meeting amazing like-minded youngsters and brilliant founders (and founders-to-be). After that, I’ve been involved in multiple ecosystem projects like Kiuas and Slush, where I got a glimpse of what it really takes to thrive in the startup ecosystem.

When the opportunity of joining as an investment manager Wave arose, I had no other choice but to join. The opportunity to meet and work with founders was interesting then – and continues to be one of the best parts of my work now. Starting as the operational lead at the beginning of this year was the perfect next step for me to continue working with Wave while developing my leadership skills with our highly talented and ambitious team. 

 

2. What is the investment ethos of Wave? What have you invested in lately and why? 

As before, Wave continues to back ambitious founders arising from the university ecosystem climbing their first peaks. More specifically, we enjoy supporting first-time and millennial founders who have bold ideas to shape the future in their early steps.  In practice, we help educate the next-generation founders while investing in them and joining their journeys long-term. 

Our latest investments include companies from the health and pet industry. In the first case, we got excited about the founder’s extensive knowledge of the company and ambition to reshape the industry even though she didn’t have prior experience in entrepreneurship. In the latter case, the D2C business model combined with untapped market potential and talented millennial founders made the investment clear for us.

 

3. What’s something you’ve learned so far in your journey as the CEO of Wave?

Be ready to ask for help. While I believe there’s something to be learned every day – ranging from the details on how to build a go-to-market strategy plan to fundraising tricks – my biggest learning so far has been to ask for help from the wiser when in doubt.

Asking for help can be tough. People are hardwired to want to do things on their own, especially here in the Nordics. We don’t want to come across as incompetent, but the truth is that there’s always someone who knows more than you or can give you a different perspective. Be open and vulnerable with your ideas and ask proactively for advice. Asking for help takes you a step – or more – forward in your work.

Luckily, I’ve had this opportunity from the start. Our alumni and advisors are tremendously experienced and knowledgeable, and always ready to spar things out with me and the team. 


4. What foundational step is most critical to building a startup worth investing in?

Build a product you would enjoy using yourself. If you need and want to use the product yourself, there are likely others as well — a great way to recognize potential market needs.

On top of finding the right product to build, you need the right people in your team. It’s a no-brainer: when you surround yourself with the right people, it’s easier to succeed in building something from the ground up. The right people can come in the form of a co-founder, advisor or investor.

But how to know who the right people are? For me, it’s about sharing the same ambition level (i.e. is your company national or global in 12 months) and having the same goals. You need to have the same North Star in your minds. 

 

5. What is your best advice for any millennials and generation Z’s wanting to tap into the startup ecosystem?

Be active and curious. In the startup ecosystem you need a certain amount of networking, like having a call with a seasoned venture capitalist or founder – they are always happy to help newbies into the scene.

It also makes sense to do your research by staying up to date with the hottest startups and most current deals, especially if you’re thinking of a career as a VC.

Additionally, deepen expertise and demonstrate interest through writing an academic thesis about venture capital or entrepreneurship. For students, this is a logical route to dive deeper into the ecosystem and potentially connect you already with some of the people in the field. If you want to know more or connect, shoot me a message! We want to help the next VC superstars by kick-starting their career at the coolest (student-run) VC in the Nordics, so I’m always looking to talk with anyone interested in the work. 

 

6. Your latest…

Book recommendation?

High Output Management by Andy Grove, a comprehensive guide on leading enterprises, teams, and individuals from Intel ex-CEO. Whether you are leading people or starting your own venture, this one is highly recommended. My biggest learning from this one was the importance of setting long-term goals and how to split them into subgoals. An easy task of paper, but much more challenging – and rewarding – in practice. 

Podcast recommendation?

In general, Village Global’s Venture Stories. It’s an insightful podcast covering all things tech and entrepreneurship hosted by the partner and co-founder of Village Global. More specifically, one of my favorite episodes is What the Science of Relationships Can Teach Founders. The episode covers co-founder (and romantic partner) dating and other fundamental topics 

Article recommendation?

The Founder Dating Playbook – Here’s the Process I Used to Find My Co-Founder was excellent. Continuing with the same theme as in the podcast, it’s about finding the right co-founder and checking the fit with the help of 50 questions covered in the article. It also has some accompanying materials, which are a must-read. 

Bonus point: Check out my post about the upcoming year from Wave’s medium.