Invest Like an Angel

Text: Roosa Laaksonen. Photo: Roope Lehmuslehto/ Betta Digital Oy.

Timo Ketonen is an entrepreneur and angel investor whose aim is to create as much success for startups as possible. As the CEO and Founder of the family-run Aboa Advest investment company, a member of the Finnish Business Angels Network (FiBAN) and one of the members of SHIFT Investor Network, Timo will be seen everywhere at this year’s SHIFT Business Festival. We met with Ketonen to discuss an angel´s attitude, investing strategy, and enthusiasm.

Why do you work with startups? ”It’s a ‘give back’ thing. I come from a 112-year-old family enterprise. My family is entrepreneurial from both sides of my family. I see it that I have been in a very privileged position my whole life. I also like to believe that startups need angel investors in order to really make it. We bring our know-hows, experiences and networks along. Personally, I don’t like the term ‘angel investor’ too much, but it has become a general term, like aspirin. However, I too in some way’s feel I’m an angel: I do a lot of pro bono work with startups. I can work from 60 to 80 hours a week, spending two-thirds of that time for them. There hasn’t been a single charmed year, but many good moments and the best ones are yet to come.”

”In this day and at my age, I get more joy out of others’ success. When younger, it was always me first. But, at the same time I feel that it’s even wrong to judge today’s youth. I see the yuppies of my generation as much worse. Today’s youngsters have a lot of energy and entrepreneurial spirit.”

”A couple of years ago, I joined the Finnish Business Angels Network because I was asked to. We’d like to activate the local business angels. SHIFT could work as a good umbrella term for this local business angel movement. I urge investors to come at SHIFT to learn and get new ideas as well as to expand their network. Last year, I especially liked the keynotes and the pitching competition. (I was strongly cheering for Belightful Design.)”

Do you have any tips for investing? ”I think the young should invest in learning and capacity-building, at the same time, to do new things. I myself have always been curious, you should too. Another point, invest in one’s communication skills! When a team has a problem, the angel investor has a problem also. Then, there might be cases when you may need to change the team. One of the main criteria’s I always check, is that the team has cross-disciplinary know-how’s and is preferably also multicultural. The people should have multiple competences and represent different ages and genders. And of course, team chemistry is essential – it shows in the results and the team spirit.

”Currently, I’m involved in 12 startups, of which I have an active role in six. My investment decisions are based on the ecological handprint that the startups have. Through my investments I can really have an influence on my surroundings and environment. For example, as I have Plantui Smart Gardens at home to grow my greens, trucks don’t need to hurtle on the roads for my herbs. All my start-ups need to have an ecological or social dimension in their agenda as well. This is what we call impactful investment.”

In this 60-80-hour mainly-startup work, you need to be creative and quite a perfectionist, needn’t you. ”My creativity is built on reading, listening, curiosity and travelling, especially in Asia. There people mustinnovate simply because there are so many of them. I think creativity is a trait of some kind, but you can pick it up also. I can’t reach perfection; however I can aim for the next best thing. I am a humane human. Humanity is born from empathy, listening and respect for others.”

What do you believe to be the next SHIFT in this country? ”It’s the change in one’s attitude. People should understand that an old lord’s attitude is a disappearing thing; You need to have an open mind and be willing to cooperate. To change, one needs to go inside their own head. Today’s leadership is built on listening. Companies also need different kinds of personalities in the teams at the start, growth and exit stages.”

“To close the gap between generations it’s good to rotate oneself in different gangs. My children are from 21 to 32 years old, through them I meet various kind of people in startups and when I worked at Palmu (Service Design agency) I collaborated with the ’hipster’ generation. When it comes to the naivety of youth, I would better call it enthusiasm. The more you have faith and enthusiasm, the better.

Is there someone you look up to? “I do have an idol, Elon Musk. He has said a sentence that I use also in my work with startups: ‘If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it.’ And indeed, it’s Musk that I would like to see at this year’s SHIFT.”

Check out Ketonen’s SHIFT video message (in Finnish).

Learn more about the Aboa Advest investment company’s team.

On the 31st of May, FiBAN holds the Pitch Finland competition at SHIFT 2017.
More information here.

P.S. Public crowdfunding for Plantui starts in week 21, and continues until 30.6. 

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Entrepreneurial Leadership and Startups

Entrepreneurial Leadership is in demand in both Startups and established firms. ”Entrepreneurial leadership involves influencing and directing the group members toward achieving those organizational goals that involve recognizing and exploiting entrepreneurial opportunities.” (Ref: Understanding and Measuring Entrepreneurial Leadership Style by Maija Renko, Ayman El Tarabishy, Alan L. Carsrud, and Malin Brännback, Journal of Small Business Management, 2015).

Personally I recognize the need for entrepreneurial leadership in order to achieve success in any organization. My work experience is both from a Family Business, a big financial institution as well as working as Partner at a Service Design agency. More recently I have been working as advisor and investor in a good number of Finnish startups. The style of leadership may vary in different organizations, but a startup is no different from an established firm. The reasons for success of Apple are often listed to include the innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of its late CEO Steve Jobs. The same can be said about Tesla Motors and its CEO Elon Musk. Both of these CEO’s have been extremely innovative and demanding. Elon Musk has been quoted as saying: ”Work like hell. I mean you just have to put in 80 to 100 hour weeks every week. This improves the odds of success. If other people are putting in 40 hour weeks… you will achieve in 4 months what it takes them a year to achieve.” Obviously this kind of entrepreneurial leadership implies that the whole workforce must be inspired to put in their best effort and believe in the vision shared by its leader. No firm is a one-man band.

The same principles apply to startups, where the founders must be innovative in order to build the business from scratch, whilst managing to obtain funding from business angels or seed investors. In his book ’The Lean Startup’ first published in 2011 Eric Ries defines a newly started company as follows: “A startup is a human institution designed to create a new product or service under conditions of extreme uncertainty.”

Entrepreneurship is management. It is only a myth that a startup could blossom in total chaos, it never happens and most startups actually fail for many reasons, e.g. they cannot construct the right product or service in order to find enough customers to secure cashflow and profitability. A startup requires a new kind of management specifically geared to its context of extreme uncertainty. I am particularly fond of the Lean Startup method (Build – Measure – Learn) as it is a proper tool ”to build capital-efficient companies because it allows startups to recognize that it’s time to pivot sooner, creating less waste of time and money”.

The figure below illustrates what the term ’validated learning’ means in practice. “Validated learning is the process of demonstrating empirically that a team has discovered valuable truths about a startup’s present and future business prospects.“ (Ref: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, 2011).


I am currently actively involved in several Finnish startups in different fields of business. My investments focus mainly on Greentech, Corporate Responsibility, as well as ecological products and services based on sustainable business. In any startup the core team is the most important asset. A unique idea is a good start, but its implementation and timing are crucial to success. It is here that the Lean Startup method and validated learning can help the startup find success sooner rather than later. This method is applied in the business development of Plantui, a Design & Food Tech company. Certainly we have made a few mistakes in the case of Plantui since it was founded in 2012, however, we are trying to learn as fast as we can and hopefully it will bring us good results in the near future. Last week team Plantui gave a keynote held at Creative Business Camp. At the event we actually managed to engage the audience and received many useful ideas that we will evaluate. Co-creation of new products and services always involves working with current and potential customers. Co-design should be a working practice in every company.




In the media industry, the subject of my previous research, we can see the same kind of entrepreneurial leadership in those firms that are successful in building new services in the digital ecosystem. Some media startups like The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed have already grown to established publishers in their own right, alongside old and well respected media brands like The Economist and The New York Times. Even a startup like Snapchat (photo-messaging app) is now hiring journalists to cover the 2016 presidential race and other news events. New media startups are often faster in developing new services than established media firms. This may be a reason why established Nordic media firms like Alma Media, Bonnier and Sanoma have started their own accelerator and venture programs in order to help build new products and services. Some other Nordic media groups like Aller Media, Otava and Schibsted have acquired startup companies in order to build their digital business and social media marketing competence. More about this in a later blog post on my ’MEDIANOMICS’ blog.

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