From Intern to Founder in the Concrete Jungle

This post is written by Panu Keski-Pukkila, who was a part of Startup Life 1/2013 in New York City. Quite a lot has happened since last time we heard of him, so it’s time to catch up!
It has been a while since I last wrote a blog post and a lot has happened since. I left to New York last February to work as a Startup Life intern in a cool startup called Kollabora. However, I did not come to the Big Apple just simply to do my internship. I also had a plan to get familiar with the NYC startup scene (which is very vibrant, BTW), get connected to as many people as possible and explore for different opportunities. I wanted to pave way for my own small project, which me and three other dudes from Aalto started meddling with last fall. Over the winter we were slowly doing product development and market research, but the project did not really rush forward at that time. But things were about to change.
The Beginning:

During my time at Kollabora I was working long days, and was often the first one in the office and the last one to leave. Not that it mattered, since late evenings were often a good time to be working on my own startup. After experiencing the embracing atmosphere at Kollabora and seeing what it was like for Nora (my ex-boss and founder the company) to bring her own “baby” to life, I got more and more assured that I want to do the same very soon.
That wish was granted sooner than I thought. In the beginning of April I got an email from a New Jersey based technology accelerator TechLaunch I had applied for. They invited me to semifinal screenings. And a few weeks later I got that very pleasant call. It was time to tell my team members in Finland that we are going to spend a summer of our lives in the US building our own business!
The next months were full of hassle, and I must say I have never been so neck-deep in legal matters. The easy part was incorporating to the US (Delaware, of course). The hard part was getting visas for our team. Startup accelerators don’t really fall under any visa category, and that caused problems and delays in the schedule. The learning point here; always prepare for the worst, and also remember to leverage your contact network when problems arise. Someone just might have the solution for you! Oh, and for that to happen you must use all the opportunities available to grow your network.
Now our team is happily in the US and working our asses off to bring our baby to life. The experience of taking part in the Techlaunch accelerator is excellent. The scale of the whole startup ecosystem here is something quite different to Finland, especially the connections to mentors and investors we make during the program are worth a fortune (hopefully also literally…!). And the training we get, oh boy! The woman who is giving us business training has founded 17 (!) startups and raised over $50M from investors. Talk about experience. However, there are some downsides to living in NYC as well. One of the hardest things is to try to bootstrap your own living expenses in one of the most expensive cities in the world. And it becomes even harder when not getting any salary.

This is where we work: TechLaunch accelerator is based on Montclair State University campus in Montclair, NJ.

The time at Kollabora taught me the power of working for an idea and a business you truly embrace and believe in. It can be very motivating, but that motivation gets elevated to a new level when starting to build something of your own. It’s not a walk in the park, though. The last months running our own startup here has shown me that building a proper business from scratch takes a lot more time and effort than I never would have imagined, even when working long hours with the other three co-founders (and a handful of interns). It also sort of twists the concept of prioritizing: there are 10 very important things on my plate every day, but I only have time to do three or four. I just try to get that thought out of my mind when leaving the office in the evening. But hands down, this is still the best “job” that I’ve ever had.

Hands down, this is still the best “job” that I’ve ever had.

I do understand that founding a company is not for everyone. But working in a startup is as close as it gets to actually founding and running one, and Startuplife is a great opportunity to try the former option. And might open you a possibility for the latter!
And don’t think that I would not take this opportunity to showcase my startup. That’s the problem with founders; they usually tend to talk about their businesses everywhere and all the time. You never know who you might bump into, especially here in NYC!
My startup Caktus wants to help you perform and feel better. We are building a solution for optimizing personal hydration, because we believe that feeling better is just a sip away. The solution is a combination of a smart sensor measuring water intake and a companion mobile app working as your personal hydration coach. Our goal is to launch our product later this year, and now we are looking for partners and investors to team up with on our journey. And most of all, future customers! Go to www.caktus.me and sign up to be among the first ones to hear more. We embrace all questions, feedback and contacts at info@caktus.me

Caktus team in the summer of 2012, holding their early prototypes.
Caktus team in the summer of 2012, holding their early prototypes.

So, what are you still waiting for? Go sign up to Caktus landerpage and then you can start scraping together that application for Startup Life!
Startuplife glory, here you come!
//Panu

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