Kristofer Korhonen was used to waiting for the call from his father, Mikko Korhonen, although he had never really looked forward to it. He faced the ever-present Sunday ritual, which had been going on for years: preparing the menu for his father’s lunch restaurant and then posting it on the website and in social media. Korhonen gradually tired of the routine and began to look for solutions to the problem. Indeed, this was a problem that most lunch restaurants faced. The standard operating procedure for making menus in the business ranged from using Word and Excel files to hand writing them on posterboard. Finally, Korhonen and his team came up with a solution, which morphed into a startup enterprise with an eye toward Nordic expansion.
It all started with lunch restaurants, where the young Korhonen and his cook/chef father worked various stints. On occasion, they even brought the work home with them, enlisting the entire family to fry up 800 whitefish sultsinas (a traditional Karelian dish) and crepes. The passion for work as well as for enterprise and the unique opportunities it affords was positively bubbling over. Korhonen also began noticing such opportunities all around him. His entrepreneurial career kicked off when he started developing and maintaining a popular Minecraft game server among Finns. In order to make the handling of his finances easier, the 17-year-old Korhonen established himself as a sole proprietor.
Korhonen decided not to follow in his parents’ footsteps in the restaurant sector after graduating from upper secondary school, with his passion for online services leading him in a different direction. He began studying ICT at the Karelia University of Applied Sciences in 2014. However, he retained his inherited enthusiasm for enterprise, keeping his business running alongside his studies by doing various hourly jobs for companies, such as working on websites, company image projects and graphic materials.
– I used as much of my company as possible in my studies. For example, I did a majority of my internship in my own company, and my thesis was Ten-Week Journal on a Single Entrepreneur’s Working Life. My goal was always to work full time in my own company when I finished my studies. I was never interested in working for a salary – I actually quit my initial internship when I realised I could use that time working for my own company and get paid for it, too,” explains Korhonen.
– I came to work for the Joensuu Science Park by chance. In 2017, I participated in a training programme, where I met an acquaintance of mine. I started working for his company, helping him maintain his website. My work was fairly fragmented – I was doing work for one or even two different companies at one time. But, I was making a living. One of the biggest challenges I faced was productising my own services,” says Korhonen, describing his life as a sole proprietor.
From inside joke to startup
One of Korhonen’s clients at that time was his father Mikko Korhonen, who had just opened his own business, lunch restaurant Cafe Pepé. Korhonen, who had been following his father’s business over time, noticed that the difficulty in making lunch menus was just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, the problem seemed to stem from a number of things.
– I spent a few hours every Sunday working out the lunch menu. Making changes to the menu was a pain – I always had to call Kristofer to make updates. It took hours and hours. It was also a challenge to make rotating lunch menus – I always had to go looking for whatever we had been serving at any given time,” explains Mikko Korhonen.
Kristofer Korhonen’s classmate Jani Gröhn followed the weekly lunch menu operation on the website and asked if there was no other alternative. The idea of developing code for a lunch menu service was actually initially a joke between Korhonen and Gröhn. However, in the spring of 2019, the two friends began looking for more information and doing background work. The idea was refined and reworked until the autumn, at which time Korhonen contacted the business mentors at Business Joensuu.
– Because Business Joensuu was located right next door in Joensuu Science Park, it was easy for me to go and ask what they thought about this idea. They gave the green light and we started planning the financing and prospective team in the pre-accelerator,” Korhonen says.
Operating under the name “Lounastaja”, the duo soon nailed down their team with the hiring of a sales head. This was also Korhonen’s first time serving in a supervisory capacity. Lounastaja moved from the pre-accelerator to the accelerator phase, and Korhonen also took part in GROW growth coaching, where the company’s growth plan was fine-tuned and Korhonen honed his leadership skills. Work in the accelerator continues for as long as is needed. During that time, Lounastaja will be given regular support by the business coach and the access to the facilities and conference rooms of Joensuu Science Park.
– Without the support of Business Joensuu, Jani and I would’ve surely tried to bring in each restaurant, one at a time – just the two of us. The business coaches see the potential for expanding our operations. They have the financial know-how that we don’t. And, we were given clear steps on how to proceed and thought about possible stumbling blocks so we would be able to prepare for them in advance,” explains Korhonen.
Building a far-reaching future
The Tempo financing from Business Finland made thorough customer piloting possible. The pilot testing involved three Joensuu restaurant businesses, with which Lounastaja “The aim is to make Lounastaja the go-to service in Finland and then conquer the Nordic countries.
– The lunch culture is largely the same all over the Nordic countries. We conducted a preliminary study in Sweden, and the market seems promising. However, the restaurant sector is very traditional, and it can sometimes be difficult to convince people when they are used to doing things a certain way. We’ve gotten feedback saying that using Lounastaja can save up to 20 working hours a month,” explains Korhonen, adding that the best thing about entrepreneurship is the ability to offer help for the right problem.
– We need visionaries, people with a feel for development. We managed to find one: Matti Jämsén, one of Finland’s most respected chefs, joined us as an advisor and partner. But, the food business suffered a great loss when he suddenly passed away early this fall,” says Korhonen.
The shock of losing the business mentor or the decline in the restaurant sector caused by the COVID-19 pandemic did not put a damper on operations, but more time has been given to coping after such terrible news. Belief in the future and the opportunities for Lounastaja to succeed serve as a source of inspiration. Korhonen wants to be build a business for the long haul and, above all, to change the operating practices of the sector. In his vision, Korhonen sees Lounastaja with a staff of around twenty, while also paving the way for other features that may facilitate future business in the restaurant sector.
Lounastaja was chosen as a finalist for the Innovation category at the PRO Gala. It is clear that Lounastaja is just the right fit for Korhonen, thanks to his childhood experiences in commercial kitchens, his passion for technology and online services, his entrepreneurial activity and his ability to come up with something completely new and groundbreaking..
Without the support of Business Joensuu, Jani and I would’ve surely tried to bring in each restaurant, one at a time – just the two of us.
- Application for making and publishing lunch menus
- Application developers: Kristofer Korhonen and Niko Gröhn
- Accelerator phase startup company
- Employs 3 people
START and GROW coaching:
START offers a way to develop a business idea or startup enterprise with the help of coaches and a peer group.
- The end result is a high-quality business plan and calculations.
- Offers a path to the Business Joensuu business accelerator (ACCELERATE).
- Interested? Contact: Janne Pakarinen, +358 (0)50 575 8859 or Lasse Immonen, +358 (0)400 378 777
GROW is intended for entrepreneurs and corporate managers interested in goal-oriented business development.
- 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? Further information and test (in Finnish): https://www.businessjoensuu.fi/kasvuvalmennus/tee-testi/
- Coaching development partners: European Union, European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and Regional Council of North Karelia