Harri Tallinn, team leader of Ajujaht: Ajujaht is the best place for testing the feasibility of one’s business idea and to accelerate bringing the idea to life
Harri Tallinn, the cornerstone and team leader of the organising team of the Ajujaht competition talks about Ajujaht and explains what is needed to succeed in the biggest competition of business ideas in Estonia.
What good has Ajujaht brought to a regular person living in Estonia who does not take part in Ajujaht or have any friends who do?
How do define this good? On the one hand, Ajujaht has generated quite a few Estonian companies which are employing people. Bolt (formerly Taxify), Click’n’Grow. Especially GoWorkaBit which is mediating very different jobs for Estonians. Several new services have also been developed which people can use. For example, athletes love the sports gels of HoneyPower because the gels are not synthetic. Timbeter makes measuring the volume of timber in the forest much easier than it used to be. There are many other examples.
Please name three specific things which make Ajujaht most beneficial for the participants?
The network. Access to all kind of cooperation partners, accelerators, angel investors. Several sponsors and organisers of Ajujaht are capable of exporting good teams to foreign markets.
The development plan or accelerator and the training courses organised within the framework of the programme.
The attention. Making the TOP 100 of Ajujaht alone brings a lot of attention, not to mention making it further and reaching the final. Ajujaht also has its own TV show, but this is not the most important part of Ajujaht.
Which weaknesses have you most commonly helped to find in the beginning companies participating in Ajujaht?
For some reason, people often believe that they are the only one who came up with a specific idea. In other words, they fail to do enough homework. The easiest way to test whether or not your idea may be good is simply googling it. You need to check what is going on around you.
Entrepreneurs also tend to think that there are many technical solutions and apps, but none include the cool tool which I have come up with. They believe that solutions must thus be very unique and could be hugely successful. This won’t bring success in practice. Someone else can easily add it to their application or production model at any time. And then your business goes wheels up.
We also see hasting as one of the greatest weaknesses. People often want to do everything and at the same time. They do not think what their priorities are. This means that they fail to think through what is the most important and what is less important but focus on things which might make good additions, while the core of the idea has not yet been properly defined. This is what separates the weak from the strong: the ability to realise faster what works and what does not. And to make changes in the product or service on the go, if necessary.
What separates the most successful teams of Ajujaht from the weaker ones?
The ability, skills, and knowledge of the team. The best are able to skillfully combine various different skills, their teams include people of different backgrounds and competencies. They know how to involve external specialists and specific know-how for certain details. Based on the teams which have taken part in Ajujaht, this is of decisive importance.
One of the things which are deemed very important by the jury of Ajujaht is the ability of the team to move on and learn from their mistakes. Ajujaht is a relatively safe environment for testing one’s business idea. Thus, it is a good idea to take risks and take advance of the possibility when participating in the programme. This won’t remain unnoticed by the decision-makers.
How important is this network of contacts? Especially in Estonia where everyone knows everyone through their mother’s school friend’s buddy’s sister?
Every year, we conduct a feedback survey among the participants in Ajujaht, asking what they see as the most important things which helped them in building their businesses. The development or accelerator programme of Ajujaht which provides top-level training, mentoring, and access to our very expansive network of contacts for top 30 has been appreciated most. Thereat, this network has been highlighted most in the feedback.
Estonians tend to believe that everyone here is easily accessible due to the small size of the country. In a way, this is probably true, if you work hard to achieve this. Ajujaht, however, is a place where you can shoot several birds with one arrow.
Does it also take some luck to become successful?
Yes, luck plays its part. Especially with respect to the timing of the idea. The idea which won the very first Ajujaht competition was a solution which would have to enable to dictate calendar entries to one’s phone. The technology required for this has not yet been invented – today, you open Siri on your iPhone and can do it. And sometimes you just get lucky and meet the right people at the right time, but this chance should not have relied on too much. A lot depends on contacts these days. And we have also seen it as one of the priorities in building and developing the programme of Ajujaht.
What would you say to a person who believes to have a decent idea and would like to take part in Ajujaht but is afraid to take this step because “there is so little time and they do not really have the energy”?
No one ever has too much time to spare. You need to make this time – even at the expense of other things if you wish to get something done. The development programme of Ajujaht enables to use of time flexibly, especially from the perspective of logistics, by using Skype, for example.
When it comes to finding the energy, I can say that those who have participated in Ajujaht have always stated that they get more energy from this group of people (the jury, competitors, mentors, instructors, supporters of Ajujaht) that they spend on taking part in the competition.
You will simply need to make the decision – “I will give it a shot”. There is nothing to lose.
Ajujaht is the best place for testing the feasibility of one’s business idea and to accelerate bringing the idea to life. Even if you do not have a good business idea yet, Ajujaht is a good place for getting feedback for the initial idea and for testing it for the first time. Ajujaht is also an ideal place for a business idea which has already been honed. In the case of the latter, the development programme of Ajujaht helps to determine whether or not they have enough substance for a business model. If they do, the network and attention which come with Ajujaht will help to increase the chance of taking the idea further.
Do you really believe this, considering that many of the ideas which have been submitted to the Ajujaht competition have not matured into a specific product or service?
I do believe this. There are always more ideas than is possible to bring to life. This is not a peculiarity of Ajujaht, it’s the same everywhere. In the sauna, people also usually discuss may ideas which would make the world a better place, how many of the ideas are realised is a whole different matter. As a rule, none. Each and every one of us has a limited number of hours every week and it’s all about the priorities which you set for yourself. You are guaranteed not to get anywhere if you won’t even try.
Ajujaht has been organised for twelve years, the thirteenth year is beginning. How has Ajujaht grown in this period?
For the first five years, Ajujaht remained an idea competition which was above all designed for students and for ideas as such. Then it started to grow – undoubtedly thanks to the influence of the spreading of start-up entrepreneurship in general. But Ajujaht has also been a remarkable pioneer on its own. In my opinion, it has had a significant impact on the entire ecosystem of the Estonian economy.
Six years ago, we changed the direction of Ajujaht – it is no longer simply an idea competition, but also a practical experience – as much as possible – which equips as many people as possible with the tools, knowledge, and network required for growing their ideas into businesses. In all phases of the competition, the participants are monitored by people with a lot of practical experience.
This approach has attracted increasingly mature ideas to Ajujaht. 5-6 years ago, it was much easier to make the TOP 30 with no more than just an idea. Now, you need to have something to show – a prototype, a very good team, high-quality know-how or network based on your own speciality. Today, you won’t get far if you enter the competition merely with an idea which you came up while sipping a beer.
Are there any contrary examples?
Ver few, but yes. In such cases, however, the person behind the idea has been especially remarkable. There have been teams which were able to get over the first few obstacles thanks to the work of a very good salesman. But the jury won’t let them get too far – in the Ajujaht competition, it is important to shape the idea into something more in order to prove your development.
When might Ajujaht spread all over the Baltic states?
On the one hand, there is no reason why this should not happen. But how would the Baltics-wide cooperation work? What would be the purpose of a Baltics-wide competition? The purpose of Ajujaht is to promote entrepreneurship for all innovative people in Estonia and among Estonians. We have had participants from abroad – a Latvian team even reach the TV stage one year. But since Ajujaht is largely organised in Estonian (Editor: half of the events are also in English), every team requires a support person who speaks Estonian.
We have intentionally refrained from organising Ajujaht fully in the English language (there are private accelerators available for this purpose). In such a case, Ajujaht could be made global. This is not the purpose for which the state is organising Ajujaht. If Ajujaht would have another, Baltics-wide purpose which would unambiguously answer the question “Why should we do this?”, I do not see any specific obstacles. Ajujaht is a unique way of promoting entrepreneurship, especially as it is also broadcast on TV and online.
The Ajujaht development programme accepts ideas until 27 October. Everyone is welcome to submit their business ideas – from young people as well as those more experienced, students, working people, as well as those who already have experience in entrepreneurship, but would like to change the direction of their careers. Ideas can be submitted here.