The core idea of Sportspot changed remarkably along the way, before the final idea of making sports personalities’ competence, know-how and stories more easily available to the world of business was crystallised. How can sports contribute to business – both in terms of services provided by Sportspot, as well as in the development of other companies?
The founders of Sportspot Teemu Harinen and Juho Nenonen met at the university when Juho lectured on sports management. With a background in sports, Teemu had been playing with an idea about an application which would help people find new pals to exercise with when moving to a new place and having no established team to play in. After one lecture, Teemu approached Juho – and this kicked off mutual innovation, which led to setting up a joint enterprise in 2014.
Teemu and Juho expanded their original idea together by adding location data, so that users could see where and with whom to exercise, irrespective of the location. The two men took this idea to the Business Incubator at Joensuu Science Park for business coaching.
–By that time, we had already applied for, and received, a small amount of funding for the idea. The best thing about the Science Park was the environment, in which you could have spontaneous conversations with other like-minded entrepreneurs. Of course, support provided by people at the Business Incubator in concrete matters, such as ELY and TEKES related issues, was also fantastic. Juho and I worked together all around Finland. It was important to meet people instead of simply working in the home office.
Those days, Juho played basketball professionally (and he still does), and he was well-known in his own field. As a result, he was often invited to talk at various events and be in charge of different activities. Since he is so kind, he never refused, not even if the speaker’s fee was just a bottle of wine – if even that. Despite the positive feedback, and although helping other people made him feel good, Juho also understood that his time should be worth something in money.
At the same time, Teemu and Juho came to realise that other people might also benefit if they shared the ideas generated during sports – just like sportsmen, business people also struggle with the issues of how to overcome difficulties, group dynamics, motivation and team play. Of course, the extremes of sports cannot be applied to ordinary people as such, but the similarities can teach people a lot, if presented by an experienced sportsman in an inspiring and credible manner.
After understanding this, Sportspot did a U-turn.
After changing the direction, Teemu and Juho told the investors who had promised to fund their previous idea that they would not do what they had been planning to do in the first place.
– It was a fairly riveting moment: we had just received the money and defined our idea, and then we did a complete U-turn. It was, however, great to notice that all the investors were strongly on our side and said they trusted in our ability to finish what we had started.
Teemu’s best tip for vetting good ideas is to avoid falling in love with them too much.
– You have to stay open-minded and ready to change direction, if need be.
Of course, this doesn’t mean running back and forth like a headless chicken, but your decisions have to be justified. I tend to have fairly strong opinions, and it is good if somebody questions me, so that I have to justify my ideas.
When the first version of Sportspot was launched in October 2017, the company had 24 sports personalities.
– We waited for the phones to start ringing, but nothing happened straight away, Teemu says.
Little by little, more and more well-known sports personalities from Leo-Pekka Tähti to Alpo Suhonen joined the pool, and now there are approximately one hundred published persons and over 200 other interesting experts in the network. We have had a lot of sales and the team has grown by three salespersons and a sales director. Teemu’s role as a CEO now involves an increased responsibility.
– We now have a very professional team, and I have to act consciously more responsibly in my role as a CEO. The most important thing is to preserve the spirit of working together for a joint cause. This way, good energy spreads and the company stays innovative.
Now, as a 33-year-old, Teemu has a diverse study and work background, which he thinks is nothing but beneficial for an entrepreneur.
– I have done all sorts of things for short periods of time: BBA studies, a master’s degree in service management, studies in adult pedagogy, and working in between. I think this has been the only right way for me, and this way, I have got a lot more out of my studies. It really is a tough requirement to expect young people to know at the beginning of upper secondary school what they want to do later in life. I certainly didn’t know. You shouldn’t get stuck on your own perception of who you are or what you want to be. You can always develop.
However, it is beneficial for teamwork if you know your own character and strengths.
– Juho and I make a perfect combination. I am very direct, clear and controlling, and I want to stick to facts instead of feelings in decision-making. Juho, on the other hand, is extremely good with people and he charms everyone with his storytelling skills. When you know the strengths of the other person and yourself, you simply have to nurture them. The worst thing would be to take the wind out of the other person’s sails by burdening him or her with things that do not feel natural.
The rest of Sportspot’s team is based in Helsinki, and Teemu’s weekly travels to Helsinki from Joensuu have demanded a lot from his family.
– I owe big thanks to my family for making this possible. Balancing work and daily life with children is what causes the most amount of work at the moment. In this equation, you tend to first compromise something else, such as spending time with your friends. Family is crucially important, and you can never have too much discussion, Teemu emphasises.
On the other hand, travelling is not difficult when you do what you really enjoy doing.
– I am grateful every day for being able to work with something that combines my passions of working with people, sports and business. Of course, there are setbacks sometimes, but you learn from them. You should be allowed to fail. To me, the most important thing is to be able to influence things in reality instead of in appearance only.
How can you find the courage to set up an enterprise?
– When you think about innovations and business activities, you can always consider: what is the worst thing that could happen? The answer tends to be something a lot milder than the worst nightmare scenario. This, in turn, may remove obstacles and encourage you to try. You can only find out by doing and experimenting! A good idea does not lead to anything if you do not put it into practice.