Entrepreneurship was not an obvious choice for Joona Kotilainen. The path from a small photography business to becoming an entrepreneur and partner in Tovari marketing agency also took him outside Finland. A brand-new growth plan summarises what Tovari wants to do most: Surprise people.

Photography, Russia and a coincidence. That was all Joona Kotilainen needed to get started as an entrepreneur. The personal 366 photography project that began while he was completing a bachelor’s degree in business administration gave Kotilainen visibility as a photographer, and word soon spread about his skills in that area. Kotilainen’s weekends soon began to fill up with bookings that ranged from family celebrations to portraits, weddings and even corporate photo shoots.

– I had no choice but to set up a business so that I could invoice my customers. I also thought that it would be a good addition to my CV when I started looking for a job after graduation, says Kotilainen.

The photography project continued in Russia with the 120 days of Russia photo series. Kotilainen was studying innovation and technology management at St. Petersburg State University and working on projects with fellow student Jussi Pirhonen. Pirhonen’s forward-looking bulldozer personality and Kotilainen’s professorial patience along with a shared set of values proved to be a productive combination. The idea of continuing that cooperation as entrepreneurs began to interest both of them.

– Our first joint company focused on offering fishing trips to Russian tourists. We had noticed how many Russians travel in Finland and how much tourism was growing all the time. Unfortunately, that market nearly disappeared in late 2014 when Russia occupied the Crimea and the exchange rate for the rouble dropped by 50%. However, we didn’t give up. That company showed us that there was demand for our competence in digital marketing. That’s when we decided to set the Russian business aside and focus on digital marketing in Finland, says Kotilainen as he recalls the history.

More than just money

For the last six months, Joona Kotilainen’s schedule has revolved around Business Joensuu’s GROW growth coaching programme and the related group and one-on-one meetings. The Kosiosusi (wooing wolf) courting trip and World Championships of Heavy Metal Knitting are examples of projects that Tovari would like to do more of in the future. Memorable, unique and surprising. Tovari has even set its sights on outer space. The growth plan developed during the GROW coaching programme provided Kotilainen with more tools to achieve his dreams.

– Our growth plan involves a greater focus on creating surprising implementations and developing our team’s skills in that area. Money is not the only way to measure growth. It’s also important to ensure that my own way of thinking or skills don’t slow the company down. Discussion and reflection, which were part of the one-on-one meetings in the GROW coaching programme, were very important to me. I’ve learned that they are also essential in terms of personal growth, sums up Kotilainen.

– Without coaching, it would have been difficult to find time to build a plan. Every session was preceded by a reflection task that forced me to stop and think before the meeting. My coach Mervi Leminen challenged me to think and pushed me enough to ensure that the plan won’t just be a document but will really be put into practice, explains Kotilainen.

– The growth plan also involves refining Tovari’s profile more in the direction of a creative agency. This is why we can always adapt to situations in a suitable way, also during challenging times, rather than concentrating on individual tools and services. When we’ve succeeded in our work and surprised people, you can see the enthusiasm throughout the team and we reminisce about these projects for a long time after they end.

– We’ve also studied different technologies and considered how they could be utilised in surprising ways – one idea would enable a reasonably-priced visit to the frontiers of space. And that’s just because inventing new solutions is interesting, continues Kotilainen as he outlines his visions and hopes that a suitable project will come up someday.

Our growth plan involves a greater focus on creating surprising implementations and developing our team’s skills in that area.

The joy and pain of growth

Signs of Russia are still visible at the Tovari office. Photos of St Petersburg taken by Kotilainen decorate the walls, Russian objects are displayed in his office and the range of services includes Russia expertise. However, Russia is only a sub-heading in the growth plan. Kotilainen doesn’t take the photos any more or do much other creative production, because the company now has about 10 competent professionals for that purpose.

– I used to do nearly all of our productions myself. That included coding, photography, editing, designing and writing. Some of these tasks I was happy to hand over to others, but giving up the photography part was painful. Sometimes I still feel like getting involved in interesting productions, but then I remind myself that we’ve always hired someone who is better at the job, says Kotilainen.

– My job is to work with Jussi and develop Tovari. We now have a two-year growth plan. I have to study how I can best lead Tovari and myself. Whenever we hire a new employee, Tovari becomes the largest company where I’ve ever worked, says Kotilainen, who has spent nearly his entire career as an entrepreneur.

– Photography has become part of my life again, but now It’s a hobby rather than work. I photograph everyday life, which is just how it all started.

Tovari marketing agency
– Founded in 2014
– Entrepreneurs Joona Kotilainen and Jussi Pirhonen
– Locations in Joensuu and Pori
– Employs approximately 15 people

FACT: GROW growth coaching programme

Intended for entrepreneurs and responsible persons with an interest in developing their company in a target-oriented manner.

  • The coaching involves identifying the most important growth factors and compiling a growth plan.
  • The outcome is a clear overall understanding of the current state of the company and its opportunities for growth.
  • Is Growth coaching the right choice for you? Find more information and take a test: https://www.businessjoensuu.fi/kasvuvalmennus/tee-testi/
  • Development partners: European Union, European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Regional Council of North Karelia

Interested? Read more about Growth coaching programme

Themes: Story