An Un­ex­pected Jour­ney

ONE-ON-ONE IN­TER­VIEW WITH TUIRE SI­IRI­AINEN, FOUNDER OF LUX­EM­BOURG-BASED PUB­LISH­ING STARTUP BLUE­BERRY & PIE

Silicon Luxembourg - - ENTREPRENEURS -

She was ex­pect­ing to pur­sue a ca­reer in ad­ver­tis­ing while cre­at­ing chil­dren's books as a side project un­til she re­al­ized that her child­hood pas­sion for draw­ing was even closer to her heart than ad­ver­tis­ing. So, Tuire Si­iri­ainen de­cided to go straight into chil­dren's pub­lish­ing, launch­ing her startup two years ago. Her first print-on-de­mand book Mes­sage in a Bot­tle is now avail­able in six lan­guages on­line and at book­stores. An­other Kiki story is in the works, as well as a new story that will be re­leased in early 2018. We sat with this cre­ative, young il­lus­tra­tor to learn more about her new life as an en­tre­pre­neur.

WHY DID YOU CRE­ATE YOUR STARTUP?

Many things hap­pened at once. I grad­u­ated with an ad­ver­tis­ing de­gree and wanted to work in that field.

I'm a Finn, and I ad­mit it's a very Fin­nish men­tal­ity that once you study some­thing, you are ex­pected to have a ca­reer in it. Dur­ing my stud­ies I also went deeper into il­lus­tra­tion and re­al­ized that's what I needed to do. I was par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nated by chil­dren's books, but I re­ally didn't know how to deal with the busi­ness side. My part­ner wanted to launch a busi­ness and in the sum­mer of 2015, dur­ing one of our usual hikes in the for­est, we got the idea for Mes­sage in a Bot­tle. We were both ex­pats in Lux­em­bourg and wanted to find a way to stay con­nected with the kids in our fam­i­lies in Fin­land and Poland.

Our idea, Mes­sage in a Bot­tle, was a per­son­al­ized book for kids. Hav­ing the story de­liv­ered to the child is like your mes­sage in a bot­tle! There was no other per­son­al­ized book out there with the same con­cept. So, with­out know­ing any­thing about chil­dren's pub­lish­ing or on-de­mand print­ing, we cre­ated the com­pany in au­tumn 2015 and launched our first book the year af­ter.

“It's funny be­cause I had never thought about en­trepreneur­ship be­fore as I didn't have any ex­am­ple in my life of how to be an en­tre­pre­neur.”

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE AN EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR?

It's funny be­cause I had never thought about en­trepreneur­ship be­fore as I didn't have any ex­am­ple in my life of how to be an en­tre­pre­neur. I came to re­al­ize that so many sides of my per­son­al­ity fit per­fectly with what en­trepreneur­ship re­quires: dis­ci­pline, “spongi­ness” (I just want to learn more and more) and stub­born­ness (I re­ally don't give up eas­ily). To­day, I love be­ing in­de­pen­dent and it's hard for me to imag­ine my life any other way. Of course, it's not al­ways an easy road, but I'm happy with my choice.

WHAT'S THE MOST DIF­FI­CULT AS­PECT OF YOUR JOUR­NEY?

Un­cer­tainty is the most dif­fi­cult part. Noth­ing is for sure af­ter one month, six months or two years, and I had to learn to live with that. I've been lucky to have a lot of sup­port from my part­ner. We are a team. Build­ing your own busi­ness can be very lonely, and it's re­ally im­por­tant to have some­one who be­lieves in you.

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO LAUNCH A BUSI­NESS IN LUX­EM­BOURG?

I don't know how it com­pares to other coun­tries, but my ex­pe­ri­ence with launch­ing a busi­ness in Lux­em­bourg was pos­i­tive. It was a very easy process. There is a lot of in­for­ma­tion out there if you just ask around (Cham­ber of Com­merce, nyuko, etc.).

LET'S COME BACK TO YOUR BOOK AND KIKI, THE THIRD PER­SON ON YOUR TEAM. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THIS CHAR­AC­TER?

We didn't want bor­ing an­i­mals like the ones you find in chil­dren's books to­day. We reached out to a PHD in evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy who se­lected a list of some very ex­cit­ing an­i­mals around the world. Kiki, the quirky lit­tle red bird, is ac­tu­ally na­tive to Hawaii and a very poor flyer, so it was “ob­vi­ous” she would be our main char­ac­ter for de­liv­er­ing a mes­sage in a bot­tle. It gave us a chance to show how be­ing per­sis­tent and hav­ing a goal can help you over­come any dif­fi­cul­ties faced along the way.

MY EX­PE­RI­ENCE WITH LAUNCH­ING A BUSI­NESS IN LUX­EM­BOURG WAS POS­I­TIVE. IT WAS A VERY EASY PROCESS.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THAT TI­TLE?

Mes­sage in a Bot­tle means many things, but above all it's a fan­tasy or a myth about con­nect­ing with an­other per­son by send­ing a mes­sage tucked in­side of a bot­tle. My part­ner and I are both liv­ing far away from our home coun­tries, which gave us the idea of send­ing a mes­sage in a bot­tle to our nieces and neph­ews in the form of a sto­ry­book.

WHERE CAN WE FIND YOUR BOOK?

The one we per­son­al­ize and print for you can be de­signed and bought on­line. We also have a re­tail ver­sion that you per­son­al­ize at home and write the mes­sage in by hand. You can find it, along with the Kiki cud­dly toy, in most of the book­stores in Lux­em­bourg. The book is avail­able in six lan­guages: English, Luxembourgish, Ger­man, French, Pol­ish and Fin­nish.

YOU'RE MEN­TORED BY DAVID SCHRIEBERG – PULITZER PRIZE WIN­NING NEWS­PA­PER JOUR­NAL­IST AND DIG­I­TAL ME­DIA EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR. WHAT DOES THIS MEN­TOR­ING AS­SO­CI­A­TION BRING TO YOU?

I started the Busi­ness Men­tor­ing pro­gram be­cause I had no ex­am­ple of an en­tre­pre­neur in my life and I re­ally wanted – from the very be­gin­ning – to have some­one I could tell my ex­pe­ri­ences to – and vice versa – and to hear if what I'm do­ing makes sense. He's been very im­por­tant so far as a sup­porter, but also on a per­sonal de­vel­op­ment level. We talk about what choices to make in my busi­ness and I lis­ten to his per­spec­tive, too. The whole men­tor­ship ex­pe­ri­ence has been ex­tremely valu­able.

HOW WOULD YOU DE­SCRIBE YOUR JOUR­NEY SO FAR?

Un­ex­pected. I re­mem­ber work­ing on a busi­ness plan, try­ing to fig­ure out how it would go, but the project turned in an­other di­rec­tion. You're con­stantly in a sit­u­a­tion where you ask your­self tons of ques­tions: “How did I get here? How do I get out of here? How do I solve this?”

It hap­pens ev­ery sin­gle day. There are a lot of sur­prises dur­ing which you're just learn­ing how things work. There is no magic for­mula. You have to find your place in all that.

I would add that it doesn't mat­ter if you have no ex­pe­ri­ence in the field you're in­no­vat­ing in. It doesn't mean you can't do it. Don't be in­tim­i­dated by the fact that you know noth­ing about it, and just go with an open mind to learn. Talk with peo­ple. Be able to be a dummy. Fig­ure out how it works. For ex­am­ple, I had to fig­ure out how to make chil­dren's books: how to or­ga­nize the print­ing and ship­ping, cre­ate a web­site, per­son­al­ize and or­der the book, and mar­ket it. I learned that it's ok if you have no ex­pe­ri­ence in some­thing. I had no pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence when I started since I had just grad­u­ated, and I was ter­ri­fied. But I trusted that I would learn, ev­ery day, one step at a time. Some­times I took a step back­wards, but it's part of the process.

SO FAR WE HAVE SOLD 1,000 BOOKS! WE ARE NOW WORK­ING ON OUR SE­COND BOOK, TO BE RE­LEASED EARLY NEXT YEAR: A CHIL­DREN'S BOOK ABOUT FRUITS AND VEG­ETA­BLES.

So far we have sold 1,000 books! We are now work­ing on our se­cond book, to be re­leased early next year: a chil­dren's book about fruits and veg­eta­bles. This one is in­tro­duc­ing a new char­ac­ter called Deedee. We have an­other book with Kiki com­ing soon, too. For now, we are run­ning from one book fair to an­other – from Fin­land, to Ger­many, to Italy – in or­der to meet the pub­lish­ers I've been in touch with over the past months. Stay tuned. We have more su­per-cool news com­ing up soon!

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