In the second episode of Leap, a brand new podcast series by Startuplifers, we caught up with Ilari Niitamo. Ilari is a triple threat – developer, designer, and illustrator, specialized in educational content for kids. He is the partner and founder of two companies developing apps and games for kids YATATOY and Pintxo Creative. Here is a sneak peek from Ilari’s story.

A choice between Costa Rica and California

Ilari was juggling his studies at Aalto University, a job, and his own company when he decided to go after some international experience. With this intention, he set things in motion by first applying for a study exchange in Costa Rica. While he was preparing to make the move, he first heard about the Startuplifers program from his friend Vuokko. Shout out to great friends! Long story short, Ilari applied for and got interviews with three startups through Startuplifers. What’s even better is he got an offer from his first pick, Findery. It’s a geotagging social media platform, founded by Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr and Hunch. So leaving the idea of Costa Rica behind, Ilari took the leap to California in June 2013 to work as a Software Developer.

Finding a startup that puts employees first

Ilari’s colleagues at Findery were a group of intelligent, passionate, and well-rounded people, who came from big-name brands. However, what’s really special is the work-life balance the team achieved. They went out of their way to get to know and include even the newest interns like Ilari. As a result, this created an open, welcoming, and transparent company culture. Ilari admits he sometimes felt a little spoiled as an intern, which is not a bad thing. Even after 6 years since moving on to new projects, Ilari recalls his time at Findery with great fondness and gratitude.

Winning the Apple Design Award

Before leaving for California, Ilari was already in the business of making kids’ apps. In fact, even had his own company. Therefore, after returning to Finland he continued to create games and apps, mainly in iOS. All this hard work didn’t go unnoticed. In June 2018 Ilari and his team won the Apple Design Award for their app BANDMAL. One of the biggest career highlights for Ilari was attending the Apple WWDC conference in San Jose to accept the award and meet the Apple executives.

Ilari’s story is full of colorful tangents, plot twists, and fun anecdotes – from running into Hollywood stars to working together with Linda Liukas. Tune in now to listen to the full episode.