The name of the company that #ebbfmember Mika Korhonen co-founded with a few friends is both intriguing and a hint at the kind of radical new thinking typical of this firm: Discovery Street.
We sat (virtually) with Mika and two colleagues Mari Stenman and Siiri Naukkarinen to understand how they translated their mission to bring together values-based business and the needs of society into their mindset and their actions.
We started by asking Mika Korhonen how the whole idea started:
Mika Korhonen: “In the beginning there were just two of us who had resigned from our corporate positions and jumped totally off the grid, not knowing what to do next, but had all those crazy-to-others-and-normal-to-us ideas on how business should be run and on the role of business in society.
We just met every day and asked our friends to come over and join our daily discussions on various topics. We noticed quickly that we were on the same page. And we just kept having those long conversations day after day.
Some gravity was created around us and soon we were three people instead of two.
We had the belief that we do not need to replicate how business is run today
That putting values always at the centre of our doing is a better way forward. Half a year later we had created Discovery Street.”
Q: “But how did the idea of creating innovative scenarios of the future and business models to support them move from coffee meetings with friends into a business?”
Mika: “Our town is not very big, and our business contacts started to hear about our creative meetings, and they started to ask about our ideas on how we would address some of their challenges. Then they started to ask us to work for them and then we realized that our crazy meaningful conversations could actually become a business.”
Q: “Mari, when you were invited to join as a key partner of this startup I am sure you were also attracted by the initial idea of Discovery Street that people should not focus on wealth and the profit of a company but on creating value. But how do you translate that concept into your daily decisions on what to do and not do?”
Mari: “Indeed I right away connected with that vision after experiencing frustration in some corporates where profit and growth were king to every decision. We start from the premise that we want to create impact, positive impact for the world, and then we believe that we will all somehow manage to make a living out of that.”
Mika adds a quote that means a lot in this set up and that helps the necessary rethink on the concept of wealth; moving from servitude to wealth, to wealth as a distribution of justice:
“Wealth is most commendable when everyone is wealthy”
Q: “So you make sure that your internal retribution reflects your priority away from financial goals, whilst ensuring the wellbeing of the company’s team members. What about your projects? What principles do you apply there?”
Mika: “For example one of our current projects got its inspiration from the latest global coronavirus health crisis. We chose it as it is one of the most urgent needs of the society that surrounds us right now and fits perfectly with our mission — but also the way we framed the business model reflects our thinking.
The project will use AI and cloud computing to alert users before they get sick. It uses the data from all the sports/wellness devices we currently are wearing and munches all that data, asks the user some more, and starts to find correlations between things maybe currently unknown to the scientists!
It is digital revolution to health — from isolated, single measurements to actual health monitoring!
It might look like an exciting business opportunity to some but to us, its first and foremost target is to maximise impact on society.
We don’t start our thinking by analyzing the business model, nor do we focus on finding customers. Instead we want to focus on impact and if it has value to society. Once that is achieved, we believe that institutions and investors will then be interested to step in, in whichever way will make the solution reache the masses.
It seems that there is a growing number of venture capitalists, call them impact investors if you like, who are eager to collaborate and to get the right people involved to make sure this solution come to fruition, because society needs it. Profit comes second (or third). In the end of that list, anyway.”
Q: “Can you tell me more about your investor philosophy, Mika?”
Mika: “We are looking for people who are deeply attracted by these principles and want to create well-being with the resources at their disposal.
We are very careful about the kinds of investors we want to involve: if an investor asks in the initial conversations how fast can I get my money back, then we know they are probably the wrong person. Instead, if they ask “how can we make this happen as fast as we can to fight these global problems and help those in greatest need” then we are in business!
Whoever is investing should not invest solely because of the equity in our company, because the idea is not for sale, it must belong to the world and cannot be sold or bought. And we, as people in Discovery Street, cannot be sold or bought either. Unrestrained as the wind!”
Q. “How far would you take your choices?”
Mika: “We have decided that if we don’t find the right kind of investor, we are not going to take any investor and dump the project we are working on. But we also discussed about then releasing it as open source, contribute, and allowing it to move on, to have some kind of ripple effect even if we would not be owning it anymore.”
Q: “Siiri, people, and your relationships with people and their values have been mentioned as a fundamental part of Discovery Street, so how do you choose people to work here and how do you reward them?”
Siiri: “It’s funny because we have done zero recruiting, we don’t choose people, people choose us.
They recognise the values and want to be part of this very eagerly.
Each new person comes in and will have equal equity in the company; so the seventh person would enter and we would all get one seventh of the capital of the company. Everyone is a member of the board and everyone has the right to sign contracts and official papers.”
Q: “Mari, what about the structure? Do you have any organizational charts? Who reports to whom?”
Mari: “We don’t have any structure, we don’t have any CEO or set positions.
If you want to fulfil your own potential, you don’t ask anyone to tell you what to do. You want to wake up every morning: what is the most important thing I want to do? You do it.
You need to release your full potential by looking at yourself and how you can best contribute.
Of course it is not an individual lonely journey: you can throw ideas and interact with others but no one else can tell you what is the priority for you; each person self-assigns there is no task assignment.”
Mika offers an example: “We all have a level of maturity and experience that means we trust each other and only do things that matter and know how to make that choice.
For example, we had no webpage for almost two years, because no one felt the wish or need to do it, but when we decided it was important to create a webpage, it was ready in two hours.
When we finally felt we should do it, we did it.
And that also applies to the projects we choose to do: if it is not useful, we don’t do it, if it does not progress easily, you push it for a couple of months and then do somethings else.”
Q: “That does sound quite radical and am not sure how many people would really get that, Mika?”
Mika: “We have an internal joke that if the person does not understand what we are talking about, it is the wrong person, or the wrong client. Or it is at least too early.
It is not arrogance. We understand that what we do is not very common, but at the same time we don’t want to dilute our message.
We really mean what we say. There is something very special about understanding each other on the same level, and if the understanding is found, the results are pure dynamite!”
Mari adds: “It’s not a binary conversation to contribute to society OR have a business model, it is one coherent one.
Connect with needs and discourses of society, not only what you do but also how you do projects. Both need to be coherently linked.”
Q: “Siiri, what about your own journey into Discovery Street?”
Siiri: “Well, I joined relatively recently. I found that it’s incredible to enter a team that is going very fast but also allows me personally to think of how I can contribute, what am I good at, and there is absolutely no rush to do anything right now.
I don’t sense any pressure, instead, there is the psychological safety that I feel supported, I feel I am cared for.”
Mika continues: “You can spend half a year, or however long you need, seeking your own path.
We may push you to think bigger, in terms of personal growth and personal impact, not company growth.
If you don’t keep encouraging people’s self-development their scope and possibility will be shrinking and that’s a terrible missed opportunity.”
Q: “So Siiri, you mentioned that you joined relatively recently, and as this is a conversation with ebbf (ethical business building the future), this question is a must: do you think you are building the future?”
After a short pause Siiri smiles: “YES ! A better future! I joined exactly for this reason,
the idea is so great: everyone can be who they are, say what they want, do what they want, without any fears, we can be ourselves, our best selves.”
Q: “What about you Mari why did you join?”
Mari: “Three reasons why I joined: impact before money, people in Discovery Street have very humane and strong values, and people respect each other, and we can all be imperfect at the same time.”
Q: “What about your relationships with your clients? What is Discovery Street’s way of developing those relationships, Mika?”
Mika: “In many situations negotiations with people kind of evolve. They come to us with an initial challenge or idea but then we uplift it together, and we often decide together to go for a different priority. A meeting is also a chance for us to demonstrate our values-based thinking and we try to make sure that we create common understanding on the topic. It is definitely not the usual way to hold a business negotiation, I guess.
And after each negotiation there is a team moment of reflection: how can we do this better? How can we better reflect our values next time? But also celebrating how good it felt to have these levels of negotiations, how good everyone, including the client, feels when they leave the room.”
Q: “What is the role of trust at Discovery Street?”
Mari shares: “Well my job interview (if you can call it that) was a good example in itself.
I met Mika over lunch to share my story of how I burnt out, how imperfect I am, and Mika said, ‘hey you should join Discovery Street’.
I was shocked because I just shared with you how burnt out I felt, how low and without any idea on what to do next, and you want to hire me? He somehow trusted that I was the right person.”
Siiri adds: “Same here! I had a coffee with Mari we started to talk, and found we had the same values and ideas about leadership, and we trusted each other. There was a fit and I joined.”
Mika: “Leadership is at Discovery Street is a synonym for trust, and it is also a key daily element. There is no one person who will lead all the time. It is kind of cool to wait and see. Like now everyone is eagerly waiting what Siiri will say and what direction and where will she take us!
That is the power of leadership: people take roles of being led and leading others all keen and curious to see what everyone else will bring.”
Siiri adds: “Yes, that’s what I felt: there is something that others see in me that I don’t see yet. And that pushed me positively to discover and then fulfil what others expected from me. And they were right: there was a lot more of me to contribute.”
Mika continues: “The truth is that we barely know each other, and we immediately trust each other — this is quite extraordinary.
Trust is a key to unlock potential, I am the first one to handover the keys. From day one you enter Discovery Street you are given admin level rights to all platforms.
That single thing is paving the road to releasing potential. It all starts with trust. I like having fun with trust and say to a new colleague: ‘now you can do whatever you want, here is our bank account’ and the result has always been great.”
Q: “What would be a final comment you would like to share with readers who might be tempted to experiment and follow your path?”
Siiri: “For the last 15 years I did not listen to my values and I did not lead with my values. I had to start step by step and gradually live into a much happier state of mind and being.”
Mari: “Find out your values and live them thoroughly. Find and surround yourself with supportive people and don’t be too afraid to step out of your comfort zone.”
Mika: “What we do is our attempt to put principles into practice, and it is very work-in-progress. We are not copying anyone, and we don’t think anyone should copy us.
Just set clear principles that resonate with yourself and act accordingly. Don’t be afraid to swim against the stream, because when the tide finally changes you will be first.”