Start-up Advice: Ulla Engestrom


28 Jul 201618 Shares

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Ulla Engestrom is the founder and CEO of ThingLink.

ThingLink is an interactive media platform that adds hyperlinks and call-to-action on images, video and virtual reality, which Ulla Engestrom founded in 2010.

Engestrom is also an accomplished speaker and writer on the subjects of the internet of things and social objects, and she has featured in Wired and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

Engestrom, a native of Helsinki in Finland who now resides in California, was in Dublin earlier this year for MojoCon, which explored mobile journalism.

In your opinion, which areas of technology hold the greatest scope for opportunities?

At the moment, I’m fascinated about the potential of 360-degree images and videos in visual storytelling, especially in the areas of journalism and education. As 360-degree content can be viewed with virtual reality (VR) headsets, it creates the feeling of physically being ‘in there’. This is a powerful way for people to connect, and a new way for us to experience places that are featured in the news, places where our friends live and work, or places we always wanted to visit.

New publishing platforms emerge when anyone can become a content creator and we are just reaching this point with virtual reality. In the next years, we will see a shift towards wearable screens.

Are good entrepreneurs born or can they be made?

I believe good entrepreneurs can be made, but you need to start early, in kindergarten. If you grow up in an environment that encourages creativity and making your ideas come true, there is a better chance you will become an entrepreneur.

What are the qualities of a good founder?

A good founder sets a clear direction for the company and builds an organisational culture that offers each individual both support and growth opportunities. The worst is if the team gets caught in internal power struggles. You want to avoid that at any cost. I like to give each team member lots of space as long as things go well.

‘If you grow up in an environment that encourages creativity and making your ideas come true, there is a better chance you will become an entrepreneur’
– ULLA ENGESTROM, THINGLINK

What does a successful entrepreneur need to do every day?

Talking to their clients via phone or social media is a good reality check every day.

What resources and tools are an absolute must for your arsenal?

Flowdock for daily communication with the team, HubSpot for user communication and lead generation, and First Officer and Mixpanel for stats.

How do you assemble a good team?

This is one of the hardest things to do, and I’m not sure if there is one good recipe. Sometimes we have found amazing people ourselves, other times we got a good recommendation for someone, and a couple of times we have hired people who have contacted ThingLink themselves. It is often good to have a three-to-four month interim period to see if it’s a good match both ways. I personally don’t like or have time to micromanage people, so everyone gets time to find their own rhythm.

‘Maximise time with product and clients, minimise time with investors and advisers’
– ULLA ENGESTROM, THINGLINK

What is the critical ingredient to start-up success?

Persistence to wait and recognise your wave and then get on the board when it’s time.

What are the biggest mistakes that founders make?

Focus on raising capital instead of building a healthy business model. Not managing the company based on key KPIs from the beginning.

Who is your business hero and why?

Anybody who has managed to build a profitable business selling new disruptive technology. Growing a large community of users is easier than monetising that community.

Whats the No 1 piece of advice you have for entrepreneurs?

Maximise time with product and clients, minimise time with investors and advisers.

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