Running a Start Up vs Working for a Multinational

This week, I had an opportunity to be a speaker at the Nocash event in Bucharest, Romania. I am always grateful for chances like that, – because of the conversations they bring and because the other presenters introduce topics, or certain angles of topics, I did not think about before. (And I like presenting, too, fine). As every respectable event in the Financial Services industry these days, Nocash was largely about the Open API Economy – which ultimately means fintechs. Watching many of them in the room and on the stage, I could not help thinking about my own experience of running a company, and, listening to the Nocash fintechs stories, comparing my past to my current situation: starting a business versus working for a multinational.

Funny enough, most people do these two things in the reverse order: start in large corporations and then switch to their own business. So I thought I would lay out my two experiences, comparing them on a number of parameters that matter to me in a wholeheartedly biased way.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

I have a moment to tune in to the Weekly Photo Challenge contests that brought me so many great impressions (and yet so many great friends). This week’s theme is Earth: and as you would understand if you have ever opened my blog, I just could not pass such a topic.

My love for outdoors was not inborn. I am coming from the heart of a 5 million city, and for many years nature was something I mostly saw in books and on TV, something very theoretical. For a long time, landscape beauty for me equaled city skyline and fine architecture. The only sunsets I saw were that over the cities. Apart from my summer time in a Southern city where my grandmother lived, I have never seen the stars.

And then I moved to Finland, to the capital city smaller than my hometown’s central island. Finland has taught me many things, for which I will be forever grateful. Appreciation of (and introduction to) nature was one of them.

I have traveled a lot since then, and have seen many amazing cities. I fell in love with New York, Berlin, Lisbon, Rome and Havana. I gave my heart to Paris. But when I think about all my travels, the images that come to mind first are that of nature: the sunset over Oia, the turquoise waters of Crete, Morocco desertIguazu Falls. Cities make imagination wander, nature captures hearts. Even for a die-hard urban person that I am.

And Rio, Rio has it all. ❤

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Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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Weekly Photo Challenge: The Road Taken

Today’s photo challenge is about The Road Taken. Just as I was reading the description, one thought flashed through my mind: Cuba! This country has won me over – at once and, I have to say, unexpectedly, because I was not looking to coming to the Cuban countryside. At all.

Before my trip, I could understand the fascination of Havana, with its infamous gorgeous buildings in catastrophic conditions, its music and rum. But the countryside? I was not sure what to expect. To get there, we had to literally take the road, driving under the Cuban sun for hours with Juan Carlos, telling us (for hours as well) the history of his country. All we had to do was ask why Fidel and the Revolution had won.

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Vinales Valley in Cuba

Vinales was stunning. And so was the road to it. In fact, being on the road in Cuba is a lot like watching a movie: thrilling, ever-changing, fascinating, evolving. An experience of its own, compared to the joy of discovering the Old Havana.

Fuel is hard to find in Cuba, most gas stations you find are empty. That makes traffic, especially in this part of the island, virtually non existent. All is left is yourself, the sky, your thoughts, detailed history of the Cuban Revolution – and the endless road.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: A Good Match

The theme of this week’s photo challenge is A Good Match. I was first thinking about all the combinations of things we get used to in our daily lives, like coffee and milk (even though I only have my coffee black), whisky and cigars (saw that in the movies), salt and pepper, and all other sugar and spice. Anchoring is strong in human mind, once the author of the photo challenge gives a food example, you can’t help but think along the same lines.

And then I thought, life has far more wisdom than we do – especially when it comes matching. Life creates couples.

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A romantic painting on the wall of La Boca neightbourhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina

I came across this wall painting in quite a dodgy area of Buenos Aires (one step away from colorful touristic Caminito, and La Boca feels borderline safe). One look at this, and all the imperfections of the neighborhood stopped to exist (along with safety considerations). I stood there for a moment, impressed by this human creation – and by life that had inspired it. Then I moved on, but my day was marked but something kind, beautiful, authentic and unique – by something magical.

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Havana: Winds of Communism and Love

Havana is a city which is very much alive. Like the other cities that leave their mark on you forever – Paris, New York, London, Moscow, – it is a city of contrasts. Buildings of breathtaking architecture falling apart. People on the street, asking sincerely whether you like their city. Classic designs in brightest colors ever invented, gorgeous antiques in palace-like apartments where rooms are rented at 50 EUR per night. Family details, left for tourists to observe, share and make part of their own story. Pictures on the walls with the owner’s father energetically shaking hands with every political leader of the last century, from Fidel to Nixon. Smiling triumphantly, full of confidence and national pride. Tiny pizza stores, where you as a tourist you can still buy food in local currency (and at local prices), seller helping you out sort out CUCs and pesos. A very honest city. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was right when he said that Havana had been and remained one of the most beautiful cities of Earth.

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Prepared to explore Havana, Cuba on my first morning there: thrilled, untanned, not sure what to expect

You can love Havana or hate it, what you absolutely can’t do is stay indifferent to this city. I had heard many contrasting opinions before I went, from astonishing delight of people comparing it to Paris and Rome, to bitter analogy with St Petersburg of the 1990s, the early days of post-communism in Russia when classic architecture, food supply and confidence in tomorrow were all falling apart.

Communism is still strong in Havana but it doesn’t have this larger than life feeling it had in the Soviet Union I remember. As I wrote in 10 Facts About Cuba You Did Not Know, adherence to communism was more of a forced choice for Cubans and has never been absolute. Love for Cuba, on the other hand, was – and still remains the dominant feeling on the island, in Havana as well. Love for the country was the link between the Cubans and their leader and kept Fidel popular for 64 years (and still popular even after his death). His secret? Even though Castro controlled all of the important decisions in the country’s life, the revolutionary genius made Cubans part of them. For example, once a Mexican president was not sure whether to invite Fidel or not to the event with the other political leaders. In the telephone conversation, which Fidel had recorded and later played on the national television (I love the term, as if Cuba ever had any other television), he told the Cuban President to show up to the earlier part of the reception, quickly eat and then tactfully disappear before the American politicians arrive. Did Fidel do it? Absolutely not. And his country backed him up, every one of them. This national unity is still felt on the streets of Havana.

And at the same time, Havana was the last city that fell for Fidel and his movement of 26th of July. While Cuba was suffering under the endless Batista rule, its capital flourished. Those close to power could always enjoy the perks of the Olympus, and Havana was offering plenty at the time. Generous support of the U.S. to maintain the political power they could control together with more than generous cash flows from the Miami gangsters turning Cuba into the land where all illegal dreams come true, created a privileged class. A class enjoying the wonders of the imperial world, a class building new Havana and effectively shifting the city center towards Malecon with its pompous hotels and casinos. A class nourished by politics, vice and entertainment, dancing the nights away and living the life just 10 min car ride away from the Old City with its colonial good manners, Art Deco and antiques. Havana was a city of contrasts already then.

I let the pictures of Havana speak for this city, each capturing one of the million things that makes it city so magically special. Each telling a part of its story.

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Why I Love Working in Tech

I keep this blog to remind myself that life does not boil down to a job no matter how much you enjoy what you do. So I write about my travels, happiness hacks, my attempts on photography and almost never about work. However, I was reflecting a lot recently on what I do and where I want to get, and I have tapped myself on a back (as much as it is technically possible to tap oneself on a back) for having chosen the most amazing industry to work in. So here is why I love tech.

Level playing field. No need for the bar exam. No need for an MBA. No industry elite. You should just be good at what you do and be passionate about it. Some of the best coders (and CEOs of unicorns, the most valued startups of the Silicon Valley) are school dropouts. Steve Jobs was a school dropout. So were Bill Gates and Larry Ellison (the founder of Oracle and, in case it does not ring a bell, the world’s third richest man at some point). What is common about people in tech though, they are smart. Some academically smart, some consultant-smart, hyper tech savvy and some just know how to market and sell. You learn a lot from them, every day.

Great if you can code. If you can’t, there is still plenty for you to do. Caveat to the point above (and a personal example): it sure does help to have an MBA to get in. However, that means that what you are good at is connecting the moving parts of an ever shifting puzzle. That’s by far not the only thing you can do in tech. It is not even the key part. You can love Sales, Marketing (and I am not even talking digital!), HR, Business Development – and do great stuff in tech.

Never boring, always changing. Nothing is what it used to be half a year ago. Business plans are scrapped after several months, projects get 360 degrees makeover in the middle. Small experimental projects catapult to new business. It is exciting and it is life. Some people call it ambiguity (which to some extent is fair). I just love the pace. And you do learn a lot managing all this complexity to reach your goals, as well.

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