She was expecting to pursue a career in advertising while creating children’s books as a side project until she realized that her childhood passion for drawing was even closer to her heart than advertising. So, Tuire Siiriainen decided to go straight into children’s publishing, launching her startup two years ago. Her first print-on-demand book Message in a Bottle is now available in six languages online and at bookstores. Another Kiki story is in the works, as well as a new story that will be released in early 2018. We sat with this creative, young illustrator to learn more about her new life as an entrepreneur.
Why did you create your startup?
Many things happened at once. I graduated with an advertising degree and wanted to work in that field.
I’m a Finn, and I admit it’s a very Finnish mentality that once you study something, you are expected to have a career in it. During my studies I also went deeper into illustration and realized that’s what I needed to do. I was particularly fascinated by children’s books, but I really didn’t know how to deal with the business side. My partner wanted to launch a business and in the summer of 2015, during one of our usual hikes in the forest, we got the idea for Message in a Bottle. We were both expats in Luxembourg and wanted to find a way to stay connected with the kids in our families in Finland and Poland.
Our idea, Message in a Bottle, was a personalized book for kids. Having the story delivered to the child is like your message in a bottle! There was no other personalized book out there with the same concept. So, without knowing anything about children’s publishing or on-demand printing, we created the company in autumn 2015 and launched our first book the year after.
“It’s funny because I had never thought about entrepreneurship before as I didn’t have any example in my life of how to be an entrepreneur.”
What does it take to be an entrepreneur?
It’s funny because I had never thought about entrepreneurship before as I didn’t have any example in my life of how to be an entrepreneur. I came to realize that so many sides of my personality fit perfectly with what entrepreneurship requires: discipline, “sponginess” (I just want to learn more and more) and stubbornness (I really don’t give up easily). Today, I love being independent and it’s hard for me to imagine my life any other way. Of course, it’s not always an easy road, but I’m happy with my choice.
What’s the most difficult aspect of your journey?
Uncertainty is the most difficult part. Nothing is for sure after one month, six months or two years, and I had to learn to live with that. I’ve been lucky to have a lot of support from my partner. We are a team. Building your own business can be very lonely, and it’s really important to have someone who believes in you.
“My experience with launching a business in Luxembourg was positive. It was a very easy process.”
What does it take to launch a business in Luxembourg?
I don’t know how it compares to other countries, but my experience with launching a business in Luxembourg was positive. It was a very easy process. There is a lot of information out there if you just ask around (Chamber of Commerce, nyuko, etc.).
Let’s come back to your book and Kiki, the third person on your team. How did you come up with this character?
We didn’t want boring animals like the ones you find in children’s books today. We reached out to a PhD in evolutionary biology who selected a list of some very exciting animals around the world. Kiki, the quirky little red bird, is actually native to Hawaii and a very poor flyer, so it was “obvious” she would be our main character for delivering a message in a bottle. It gave us a chance to show how being persistent and having a goal can help you overcome any difficulties faced along the way.
Why did you choose that title?
Message in a Bottle means many things, but above all it’s a fantasy or a myth about connecting with another person by sending a message tucked inside of a bottle. My partner and I are both living far away from our home countries, which gave us the idea of sending a message in a bottle to our nieces and nephews in the form of a storybook.
“David Schrieberg has been very important so far as a supporter, but also on a personal development level. We talk about what choices to make in my business, and I listen to his perspective, too.”
Where can we find your book?
The one we personalize and print for you can be designed and bought online. We also have a retail version that you personalize at home and write the message in by hand. You can find it, along with the Kiki cuddly toy, in most of the bookstores in Luxembourg. The book is available in six languages: English, Luxembourgish, German, French, Polish and Finnish.
You’re mentored by David Schrieberg – Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper journalist and digital media entrepreneur. What does this mentoring association bring to you?
I started the Business Mentoring program because I had no example of an entrepreneur in my life and I really wanted – from the very beginning – to have someone I could tell my experiences to – and vice versa – and to hear if what I’m doing makes sense. He’s been very important so far as a supporter, but also on a personal development level. We talk about what choices to make in my business and I listen to his perspective, too. The whole mentorship experience has been extremely valuable.
“It doesn’t matter if you have no experience in the field you’re innovating in. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that it is something you know nothing about, and just go with an open mind to learn.”
How would you describe your journey so far?
Unexpected. I remember working on a business plan, trying to figure out how it would go, but the project turned in another direction. You’re constantly in a situation where you ask yourself tons of questions: “How did I get here? How do I get out of here? How do I solve this?”
It happens every single day. There are a lot of surprises during which you’re just learning how things work. There is no magic formula. You have to find your place in all that.
I would add that it doesn’t matter if you have no experience in the field you’re innovating in. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you know nothing about it, and just go with an open mind to learn. Talk with people. Be able to be a dummy. Figure out how it works. For example, I had to figure out how to make children’s books: how to organize the printing and shipping, create a website, personalize and order the book, and market it.
“So far we have sold 1,000 books! We are now working on our second book, to be released early next year: a children’s book about fruits and vegetables.”
I learned that it’s ok if you have no experience in something. I had no professional experience when I started since I had just graduated, and I was terrified. But I trusted that I would learn, every day, one step at a time. Sometimes I took a step backwards, but it’s part of the process.
So far we have sold 1,000 books! We are now working on our second book, to be released early next year: a children’s book about fruits and vegetables. This one is introducing a new character called DeeDee. We have another book with Kiki coming soon, too. For now, we are running from one book fair to another – from Finland, to Germany, to Italy – in order to meet the publishers I’ve been in touch with over the past months. Stay tuned. We have more super-cool news coming up soon!