My Entrepreneurial Story

Introduction

Here is .NET Consultants’ co-founder and CEO’s short story about how he changed his mind on getting a PhD in computer science and instead, starting his own IT company in Finland. The story has been written to get you familiar with him and his past. Hopefully, it will encourage you to get in touch with us. If you liked the story don’t forget to leave your comments down below.

Inspiration phase

In 2012 I took some mandatory courses from the Aalto Venture Program (AVP) at Aalto University, Finland for my master’s degree where we studied innovation and entrepreneurship under the supervision of Olli-Pekka Mutanen and Timo Nyberg. Being from an academic family where both my parents are professors in top technical universities back home, I never envisioned myself to become an entrepreneur. As a matter a fact I came to Finland in 2009 to pursue the same path as my parents to get my PhD. But taking those courses made a complete turn in my life.

First day in Finland at Lappeenranta University of Technology, 2009.

First and foremost, the thing I loved the most about the AVP courses was that instead of filling our brains with theoretical BS about starting an IT company (which I’m sure how it would have been if there was such a program back home), they were only teaching us the things that we really needed to know. We always had guests at the university from Nokia to small startups where they were telling us their stories of how they started and the challenges they overcame, and this was where the magic happened. All those stories were conveying the correct messages to us:

  1. Unlike what many employee-minded people think, there are so many good ideas that are not in the market. So, we learned to dare to innovate!
  2. Starting an IT company is easy, you just have to be persistent and strong. If you are, YOU WILL SUCCEED.
  3. There is no need for a very huge amount of knowledge. JUST START and you will learn the rest along the way.

Changing gears

Seeing the impact of all those startups, I noticed I want a bit more than publishing scientific papers and teaching at the university. I want to create jobs for top-notch engineers and designers in developing countries; not having to worry about their delayed salaries or the bad economy and instead, focusing on what they love the most, software development; let them have a good life and salary while doing cutting-edge projects that they don’t often get to do. I thought that is something I can look back at later in my life and feel good that I made a positive impact in this world.

On the other hand, I would also use my diverse background as an entrepreneur. While I loved software development, I always liked to be in a position where I could use my unique background that came with a lot of pain and effort. Starting a company allowed me to put all the multi-cultural, interpersonal and language skills I gained after living in Japan, Australia, and Finland for 19 years. I could also use my innovation and design skills to design new products. None of which, I could use as a plain developer that does nothing but coding.

First entrepreneurial attempt

In 2014, I started my first company, Edufun, with my best friend. We had reasonable success in the company and managed to raise some good funds and proceed with the implementation of the idea with our developers. But there was one big obstacle in the way. At the time I had the student visa in Finland where every year I had to inform the government how many courses I have passed and so on. Naturally, spending time on the company was going to result in not passing the courses which was going to expire my residence permit. Had that happened, I had to leave Finland which was not something I wanted because I like living in Finland a lot. There was a special entrepreneur residence permit, but you needed to have some criteria that no student ever has. Besides, I also felt that I need to have a bit more professional work experience. Shortcutting to the top might be a tempting move but all your seasoned employees can easily see that you are not a good fit for your role. Then you make wrong decisions and automatically lose your respect in the company (as I saw a living example later in one workplace).

Going to industry

As a result, I decided to put my entrepreneurial ambitions on hold for a couple of years until I have the necessary experience. Going to the industry for 6+ years in leading Finnish companies and organizations turned out to be much better than I was hoping for. Not only it gave me the knowledge and experience, I also got to take a key role in redesigning some of their solutions with the state-of-the-art technologies which was surreal! Most importantly, I met some of the most amazing people and friends that took all the pain of years of hard work away. I was also constantly monitoring the pros and cons of their processes and high-level decisions which gave me a good insight about how to run a successful software company.

Photo from SQL Saturday at Microsoft HQ, Finland.
Juha Kuittinen, Stefan Nyman and myself from left to right at SQL Saturday event at Microsoft HQ, Espoo, Finland.

I think the peak of this was at Turck Vilant Systems where they were using older technologies that was running on Windows CE RFID handheld devices and panel PCs. After a short work, I spent my private time to find a better solution that would not only use newer technologies but also save time and avoid additional costs for the company. At the end, I proposed using Microsoft’s cross-platform technology that runs on Android RFID handheld devices and PC. The suggestion seemed logical for the company, but they had a few concerns about using the technology. In return, I suggested making a checklist of all the concerns and doing a proof-of-concept project and migrating to the proposed technology only if all those items in the list have been checked. 

After proving the concept with great efforts by our excellent architect and myself we migrated to my suggested technology and we managed to deliver the first software to one of our biggest customers. After that, we migrated and rewrote many parts of the product from scratch. When the migration was done, I suggested taking unit testing more into use; It might take more time to develop but the software will have higher quality, easier to change afterwards and less costly in the maintenance phase. Consequently, the suggestion was approved, and I covered many important parts of the product with advanced unit tests. Since then, I also brought in the use of Google’s Material Design, 3rd party UI components, professional prototyping tool, etc. In addition to R&D I also developed software for some of the biggest companies in the world.

Xamarin team
Discussing the architecture of Turck Vilant System's new solution with the R&D team consisting, from left to right, myself, Max Sandberg (software developer), Matti Paavola (software development director) and Paulus Selin (software architect)

Second entrepreneurial attempt

Late 2019, I came to realize that now I have the experience and confidence to pursue my dream of becoming an entrepreneur. So, in January 2020, I quit my fulltime work to start a software consulting company, .NET Consultants. But as things never go as expected in this world, neither did this one. The day I officially quit my work was the exact same day that the news came out on BBC that ”a mysterious virus has started to spread in China and 200 people have been infected over the last two days”. Yes, Coronavirus was here! At first, we did not know the scale of the virus but over time, it came to light and started to affect many businesses, including ours.

However, we are trying to move on strong. After all, many of the successful businesses have also started during challenging times like this. The reason being that such conditions always bring new demands and opportunities to the market. After all, our offer is to develop premium smart apps with the cutting-edge Microsoft technologies in developing countries is going to end up much cheaper for our customers; exactly what would be needed at this time, right? Plus, they have someone like me in Finland who knows software development, UX design and most importantly the culture of both countries. Being near the customers will help to get fast and early feedback from the customer and communicating it to the developers.

Experience so far

Apart from the unanticipated Coronavirus, I can say that so far this journey has been quite amazing. It has not been long since we started, and I have already learned some great new things and met some extraordinary people. We are already about to finish one project for our customers and there is already some good talk for future work with them. We have also dedicated some time per week to more educate ourselves about business and everything around it. Some friends and relatives that share my passion for developing jobs in developing countries have also helped which meant a lot to me.

Meeting with entrepreneurs, Morad Boukhari founder of Everywave (on my left) and Abdul Rehman (on my right) in the sun to discuss about our companies while keeping the safe distance because of Covid-19

All in all, I can say that I could have not been happier about becoming an entrepreneur and excited to where this journey will lead to. I wish one day I can add new paragraphs to this story about our financial growth and the number of people we have employed and the impact of that on their lives.

At the end, we would like to send a big love to you all for reading my entrepreneurial story. If you like to support our mission, please leave us a message, and join us on social media.

Alireza Kahaei

Co-founder & CEO of .NET Consultants

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