An Entrepreneurial Chat: Ramine Darabiha of MySites

Now that I’m starting a business of my own [remember them alpacas] I’m very interested about learning more about things around making business, leadership etc. What I also want to achieve is to share and pass the word forward to those who are thinking of entrepreneurship themselves or are otherwise interested about these issues. And I can also say that in Finland, we have still a lot of things to do in these matters.

So, this is the first post of hopefully many to come, where I chat a while with an entrepreneur that has seemed an interesting fellow to me and has had the time to give some of their precious time to tell some insights for what it’s like to be an entrepreneur or a start-up.

About a week ago I had the pleasure of chatting with Ramine Darabiha, CEO of MySites, a web service where you can share files with your friends. Here’s his thoughts about entrepreneurship.

Marko Teräs: So, why did you want to start a business in the first place?
Ramine Darabiha:
Well, I’ve been doing these things as a hobby for 12 years already. For example I’ve been an active member of the gaming community.

I studied as an exchange student in TAMK (Tampere University of Applied Sciences) and we often had these problems with having your files in the school network and not having a good way of accessing and sharing them. We had Citrix, but it wasn’t that good.

We also had many parties and people clearly needed an easier way to share lots of party photos and other content and there wasn’t that good choices at that time. So the idea of MySites got it’s start there.

MT: What do you want to achieve with your company, the major goals?
RD: Simply put, make it easier for people to share their files.

MT: What are the major qualities you believe a starting entrepreneur should have or what you believe are helping you?
RD: Big set of balls and a lot of luck.

Love and persistence in what you do. Being ‘your own boss’ is equal to more hours than in normal work and you can’t do it just for the money.

You’re gonna be under a lot of pressure and if you believe you have a great idea, you have to continue believing in it no matter what and engage yourself in doing it. It’s worth of doing if you have the passion for it.

MT: What were the major obstacles you had when trying to establish your company?
RD: It wasn’t the easiest thing to start. I was a French student who didn’t speak Finnish, in Tampere Finland, trying to start an international project on Internet! (laughter) It doesn’t get much more difficult than that.

It’s also been difficult on few other aspects. One is bureaucracy. Because every single official paper is in Finnish and that’s annoying.

The second thing is more about the mentality of business here. We decided to not to pursue a lot of effort in making deals in Finland because Finns don’t like taking risks and that’s been a bit of a barrier in my opinion. So lot of the stuff we have done have been with foreigners who have loved the idea.

I’d like to see more of start-ups and new business in Finland, but the overall atmosphere isn’t always that supportive. However, we have had support from Finnvera for example. They were super helpful. But in the end I would say that the infrastructure here isn’t made easy for entrepreneurs.

MT: You kind of answered the next question already but, Where did you get help for your company?
RD: First of all from my dad. It was really great that, although he wasn’t super excited, he still supported me.

Also from TAMK (Tampere University of Applied Sciences), not so much in the sense of the courses, but they helped me get good contacts and were super flexible with my schedule. In some way they also pointed ways of what courses to do and who to talk with in the light of the business idea.

And finally of course finding your great team and being with these people.

MT: How do you feel now and what are the greatest / worst things about being the one in charge?
RD: Well, it’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a good thing that I can execute the things I come up with but at the same time I’m in a deeper way responsible for the things I do where as if I worked in another company in a day job.

I do feel it’s the best job in the world. I can express myself and have this weight in what I do. I like that really much. And what I really love is that I feel very free. Of course you still have the uncertainty, but you still free doing your thing.

MT: Why still in Finland? (Note: Ramine is the only one of the MySites team still located in Finland)
RD: Combination of things; I like working here. There’s this good mixture of people who aren’t that scared of tech. And I like that people give each other more space also.

Also the competition here is a bit more healthy than in other countries. It’s not as hectic as you would have for example in Paris.

MT: Where do you see yourself and your company after 3-5 years from now?
RD: For the company: I hope it will become a way people share files, I hope it’ll make easy for people to share files with their mobile and I hope there will become a point were this whole issue of sharing content is solved. You know like video online is basically solved.

I just hope we become a good way of sharing content. As for myself, I’d just love to continue that, making it bigger.

MT: What would you say to those who think of starting up their own companies?

RD: It’s is doable.

I have even heard a one teacher of economics telling new entrepreneurs “Don’t start a company”. I told him later after the class that it’s because of stupid people like you that the economy in Finland isn’t growing. He didn’t like it that much. (laughter) This country needs more Internet success stories, more entrepreneurs. You can’t drive the economy with not having entrepreneurs.

My point is that, you hear a lot of people telling you things like “it’s not possible”, “why would you do it” or “No one hasn’t done anything like that here before”. People are trying to put you down with lots of different reasonings and instead of establishing a business they want you to have a comfy job, family and two dogs.

It may be a dumb idea you’re having, you never know. But at least you tried and don’t have to think it later on how it could’ve been. So basically you should just go ahead and “do it”. It’s a leap of faith; you don’t know if it’s gonna work. It keeps banging in your head and you just have to do it.

There are also those people who are thinking of having millions, telling other people what to do, want to become Bill Gates or whatever. A lot of people want to have a business because of that and they don’t understand what it is.

MT: For the final question, From who do you think that starting entrepreneurs should learn from?
RD: I have no one specifically. I don’t want to send people learning from Guy Kawasaki or watching Steve Jobs presentations, everyone’s telling that.

I admire people who had balls to go direction where no one has gone before. Generally people who made bold decisions, sticked to their idea and made it work.

For example people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. When he started the company he didn’t have any idea of being a savvy business guy, but he made decisions that brought more users.

In other words, he made users happy.

‘Tweet this’

tweet_this2

We all have possibly noticed the social bookmark buttons that even the most boring sites have nowadays [even this one]. At socialmedia.com [the post behind the link has also some good points in it] I noticed how there was ‘Tweet this’ button in addition to the AddThis button and I began to ponder the benefits in this, or was there any. Well, once again it went to be a bit philosophical.

The Possible Sunny Benefits of ‘Tweet This’

In a perfect world, everyone is using Twitter, checking their network’s updates regularly, following their favorite brands [who already can be found in Twitter…] and even tweeting about them thus spreading the viral word about their doings – and the brand managers are happily rubbing their hands or crying ‘How anyone can control this humiliation!’ behind the scenes.

The concrete benefit in this kind of a button would naturally be that people wouldn’t always have to use copy/paste to get the URL to Twitter or use URL shortening services like TinyUrl – although when you press the ‘Tweet this’ button, the URL that is sent to Twitter is the original address and most likely a bit long one.

Should there then be a button called ‘Tweet this through TinyUrl’ button to get over this problem, I’m not that sure.

Realism in ‘Tweet This’

If people would always work as the best referee and advertisor in their social circle, messaging what to know about something right here and now, this little button would work well and benefit the community.

For example, I can see how this could possibly be used in really fast special offers; “Buy Halo 4 from us advance, only 1 hour lasting offer!” or “New models of (your brand here) shoes have arrived to the store, Come get them before they run out. Only 20 pairs to be sold.”, or in forwarding news if user would like to rapidly message to his community that something really relevant has happened in the world and you have to know it right now.

But this isn’t a perfect world, filled with only happy web 2.0 people. You need a reciever for you message.

Most people I know using microblogging services like Twitter, are people who work in the web/advertising/marketing/new media field or are otherwise interested in using services like these, and understand the benefits in these and thus are some kind of web forerunners in their social network.

But, there are still many people who I know, who don’t even know what Twitter is, how it works or what are the possible advantages in using it.

Maybe one day we all have an inner IM service we can use straight from our brains, but now there are many regular ordinary people out there believing it all ends in Facebook and Skype, and it can’t possibly get better from that.

We have people who don’t understand the benefits of using blogs or Twitter as tools for advancing their careers or in comparing what they could buy or what magnificent travelling experiences they could have and how they could do it without destroying the planet some more.

And, here’s a surprise, there are people who don’t need these services for those aforementioned things. People who want to buy, let’s say, car parts. Some of them won’t even like computers and the benefit for them in using Twitter to market themselves in getting a new job is still firmly in the future. We, those in the business, have that benefit.

I’m not saying that this will last for ever like this, generations change and people get more used to things. I’m merely advising people to think outside the box called ‘Social Media’.

This is a good reminder to the ‘professionals’ who may think that, even without doing any background search or afterwards measuring the results, if you just socialize it, it will automatically raise the revenue.

And yes, you can and have to measure results, if you think otherwise, you are not that smart. Human beings are so inventive when it comes to finding different ways to measure things that you can count on that when there’s someone inventing something new and innovative, there’s already someone inventing a way to measure its rate or how it affects on pregnant women aged 26-32 who eat 150 kilograms chocolate at 14 pm.

And once again I’m amazed how much lines can one get out from a single button. I think I’ll now take a walk in the real world outside, where there’s lots of potential people to tell what Twitter is. And I’ll tweet this post too.

Business card: Name, Address, Email, Website, [Blog?]

jeffsparts_businesscard
I bet that nowadays in many corporations you can find someone who is blogging in their free time about stuff they are interested in. I was just thinking, do companies use this as their benefit? Is it even possible or wise? There could be many ways to benefit from a blog, but of course also risks. One potential situation could be something like this.

Our guy Mike is working as a car repair parts salesman and he is a total car enthusiast in his free time, building up beautiful hot rods. He also likes to share his love for this hobby to the rest of the world in the web by writing a blog.

Various people who are customers where he works, the ‘Jeff’s Car and Parts’ [yeah I know, what an inventive name], find his personal blog and become its readers.

I tried to think a couple of effects this could have on both of the parties, the company and Mike. Here’s some I came up with:

  • People feel that ‘Jeff’s Car and Parts’ has a guy working in the company who knows his business and really loves the thing he’s doing.
  • People love to do business with familiar people. This feeling of Mike being a real human being and an ordinary guy we all know, could make the company a bit more personal and sympathetic, and could even lower the threshold to come to the store and ask information about cars and parts. –This is an important point in which I believe the web 2.0 or the social web can be totally priceless: it has a potential to show a company in its true form – a community run by people like you and me.
  • People begin to feel this is a stunt and the company feels phony to them. They try to find some hidden agenda buried in the blog’s writings, and because people have a tendency to find what they are looking for, they eventually most likely do. Even when there wasn’t one. –Personally I hope these kinds of corporate hoaxes are history, because eventually you will get caught.
  • Other companies see Mike as a real jewel and they try to recruit him.

Of course there are other potential risks in making people know about the blog. For example, if the company and Mike were having hard time with each other, Mike could go write that Jeff’s Car and Parts stinks, is a bad employer and keeps the prices too high although the parts are imported from Bangladesh.

Be this true or not, this could have a bad effect on the company’s image. But it might be a problem to Mike too. The company’s brand may suffer, but so can Mike’s. Why? Well, do people want to hire a person who may tarnish your corporate image by throwing dirt?

In this kind of situation Mike has a responsibility and one should think his actions carefully. It is a question of a personal netiquette and what is worthwhile. These things could backfire so that in the future potentially less people are willing to hire you.

I believe when your actions in the Internet may stay there forever, you begin to think what you put in there – if not, you should begin right now.

Should you ever mix your personal and work life like in this example, I’m not sure, but this was just a play of a situation where the company and Mike were both willing to try out something like this.

Examples and comments, anyone?