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10 years of Valona design – from artisan to an entrepreneur

Photo by Laura Reunanen

The Journey

Flexible working hours, be your own boss, take a day off whenever you feel like it, do the kind of work you want to do. Sounds appealing to be an entrepreneur, when you look at it like that. On the other hand not having fixed working hours means your day doesn’t always end at 5 pm sharp, sometimes it ends when you go to sleep. Taking a day off means not getting paid for that time and being your own boss often means demanding more from you than anyone else ever would. Plus there is the added excitement of whether your business will succeed or not. Still interested in being an entrepreneur? It’s no wonder some people never have the courage to become one, while others have to gather up their courage for a few years. Elina Mäntylä the CEO of Valona waited two years and worked as a free artist before she was ready to begin her career as an entrepreneur. A school teacher, who went to study design in Aalto University of Art, Design and Architecture, finally fulfilled her dream in 2006 when she founded Valona design – now turning 10 years. According to Elina it has been quite an adventure and the journey is not over. I interviewed Elina to get a closer insight on what it has been like to work as a CEO of her own company in the past decade.

To Elina being an entrepreneur means freedom of doing things in her own schedule, in her own way without having to restrain her creativity. Having such passion for her work and being able to do her own thing is what makes her happy. She believes that everyone should be able to do what they love in able to feel good and strengthen their inner selves, whether it is at work or on spare time. “When a person is stuck in a job they don’t enjoy, there is no room for growth”, says Elina. And what is life but constant learning. Elina herself has found her path along the way and feels she has grown alongside her company. She has changed her main material from metal wire to birch plywood and has shifted from making everything herself to having subcontractors. The constant willingness to learn is what drives her forward. The switch from artisan to entrepreneur also demanded on attaining a completely new mindset, when bringing in the business meant having to start thinking of money as well. On the other hand she has proved to others and herself that doing what you love can carry, if you have enough belief on your product and what you do.
One of the biggest challenges for an entrepreneur is to find the balance between work and everything else – especially in the beginning. Many fresh entrepreneurs work from home and having little income means doing everything yourself. Even if things get easier over time, escape from work might be challenging, as the late hours of the day are spent doing things you don’t have time to during the day like marketing. When your job is also your passion, your hobby (or it would be if it wasn’t your job), it is difficult to draw a line between working hours and leisure. For many what you would do in your spare time is what you do for a living. The same was for Elina at first. The spare time was used on coming up with new ideas or creating new designs. Eventually she had to draw the line and find ways on letting go of work. Naturally you can’t turn of your brain, but it’s important to keep in mind that “creativity needs some time off as well”.

Elina realizes that if she could’ve started doing what she does now straight from the beginning, her company would be a lot bigger than it is now. Still she has no regrets. She found her current material and product designs because of her previous one and feels that everything that happens will happen at the right time, as long as you allow it to. She feels that not only the design but she herself needed that time to grow, in able to prepare herself for what is now and what will be. If she’d be able to go back in time the only thing she would do differently, is to start going international already 4 years ago. But like she mentioned, there is a time and place for everything and to Valona that time is now. I asked her what she would say to Elina-10-years-ago and she replied “Don’t be afraid to seize things and worry less whether everything will work out, because it will”. A great guideline for us all, I’d say.

Photo by Tiina Lempiäinen-Trzaska

Valona design wants to thank all the customers, co-operators, subcontractors, fans, followers and friends for the past 10 years. Hang on tight, cause this is only the beginning!

Text by Maria Korpiniemi: Thesis Worker at Valona design, Marketing and Communications Student in Haaga-Helia UAS

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