Monthly Archives

May 2016

The strength in marketing "Nordic".

Commentary, Finnish Culture

Storytelling the “Nordic” to Asian consumers is currently somewhat lacklustre. The region’s strength in general, is in “nature”, and possibly “heritage”. But pretty mild stuffs, not as dramatic as the rest of Europe.

In short, no bored person gives a damn about non-dramatic stuffs. It’s the instagram and snapchat era we live in currently, afterall. Give people some reasons to put insta-worthy photos on instagram, and they would purchase.

Of course I’m talking superficially about the “seen”, and not “unseen” like ideals. But I don’t think current Asian consumers care specifically about the ideals, when they tackle the “seen” first.

It’s a huge pity that current marketers aren’t really tapping on the deepest desires of Asian consumers.

Do you know about yin and yang? It’s the same logic. Do you know about “qian” and “kun”? It’s the same logic too. it’s impossible to not succeed when both elements are compatible with each other.

To market “Nordic” to Asians, I think we need to bear in mind these things:

  • To take note of what’s rare in Asia, in visible terms;
  • To contrast the intensitiy of light–Light Vs darkness, Sun Vs Snow;
  • To take note of what is the said country’s societal structure and current environment of social media;
  • To follow the money (aka ask yourself, is there an existing market?)
  • To define “luxury” and common work ethos;
  • To feel the “pace” of things, fast Vs slow;
  • To feel the “weight” of things, light Vs heavy;
  • To take note of current popular mass media–Norwegian Woods? Game of Thrones? Song Jihyo and Chen Bo-Lin? LOL.
  • To market the “superior” vs the “inferior”. To move the “inferior” up to the superior. To make references to The White Man’s Burden.
  • Do we know what sort of fantasies and ideals Asians have been fed with since they were little boys and girls? I do. Can I read their hearts now that they are grooms and brides? I can.



Preserving the excellent connection between Finland and Singapore through the young generation.

Commentary, Finnish People, Finnish Politics, Finnish Society

Moikka!~ Today, we have the huge privilege of publishing an excellent piece by Tuukka Väisänen. It is an optimistic piece about how the outstanding connection between Finland and Singapore can be preserved through the young generation. Enjoy!~

[From Tuukka, 2016] As my essay was written already in 2014–almost two years ago–I think it would be good to provide a few updated thoughts to the book chapter. Things have naturally partly changed since 2014. For instance, indicators now suggest that Finland would finally be beating the everlasting recession and getting back to a slow but steady growth path already during this year, and Nokia is once again a major industry leader through its Alcatel-Lucent acquisition. Related to the Finnish start-up world I was discussing, Supercell become the first European technology start-up with a valuation above 10 billion dollars just a few weeks ago.

In Singapore, the founding father of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, passed away during the SG50 celebratory year in 2015, which has had a grand mental impact on the country. Finland is entering its own anniversary year in 2017 for Finland as an independent nation will be turning 100 years old. I’m curious to see whether the festivities will be as grandiose as they were in Singapore last year, even though I sadly didn’t have the opportunity to witness them with my own eyes last August.

“Preserving the Excellent Connection between Finland and Singapore through the Young Generation.”


Excellent ties between Finland and Singapore date back to the beginning of Singapore’s path as a sovereign nation. Since then, the ties have been gradually blossoming and started blooming in 1990s. Both countries, of course, are small by population and there are many other countries which are more significant partners to them. Nevertheless, even with the small populations and their geographical locations almost 10,000 km apart, ties can be described as excellent.

In this essay I will reflect on how these excellent ties can be preserved as the generations change, and which topics might be the new shared areas of interest between Singapore and Finland.

Economic ties between Finland and Singapore can be characterised as reasonably tight and economic activity is vivid, but more importantly rich in opportunities. There are many areas of cooperation underway and even more in the planning stage. Besides more traditional prominent fields which include, for example, healthcare and education, one possible area of cooperation and shared interest is the start-up enterprise sector which is slowly challenging the more traditional industries, at least in terms of publicity and hype, but also due to structural change taking place in many advanced economies. Especially, start-ups in the technology sector are becoming more prevalent all around the world due to ever-growing importance of all types of electronic gadgets and increased accessibility to devices and internet even in poorer countries.

There are a number of clusters, so-called hubs, in the world of which Silicon Valley is definitely the most influential by a great margin. On the European scale, Helsinki’s recent success as a global city has unquestionably shaken the mindsets of Finns and created new hope amid the extending economic recession.

The entrepreneurial start-up boom in Finland is very recent. To a great extent, it has been concretely created by young students, and this is due to a range of reasons, among them the end of the Nokia era in Finland. Nokia used to account for a great deal of the Finnish GDP, and consequently the whole nation was too dependent on the company, at least emotionally. Nokia used to be the dream company for many university graduates, and practically none was interested in an entrepreneurial career which was regarded as some kind of a failure those days. Many thought it was only for people who were not able to secure a “real job”.

Furthermore, in the mid-2000s, an idea of a multidisciplinary university became alive in Finland. It was realised in 2010 when Aalto University, a merger of top Finnish universities, Helsinki University of Technology, Helsinki School of Economics, and University of Art and Design Helsinki, started operations. The coincidental timing of these two, and some other factors, led to rapid development that had never been seen in Finland.

Concretely, things started to evolve when an individual student from the former Helsinki School of Economics experienced a “eureka moment” while visiting the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) during an economics club’s excursion to Boston. He was seriously impressed by the atmosphere at MIT when it comes to entrepreneurial spirit. In contrast to Finland, entrepreneurs at MIT were treated like rock stars and heroes, and many top students wanted to become entrepreneurs instead of choosing a more typical investment banking or consulting career, for example. Once this gentleman returned to Finland, he set up an entrepreneurship society named Aalto Entrepreneurship Society for the students of the forthcoming Aalto University.

At the beginning, everything was really small-scale and events were small with people talking to each other about entrepreneurship and just pitching ideas to a bunch of interested listeners. The university supported the initiatives by providing the space, for instance. The reception was positive since the idea supported the core mission of the university: bringing technology, business and design together.

Now, a few years later, the Aalto Entrepreneurship Society has sparked many by-products, seeding accelerator programmes, internship programmes including a programme sending young bright students to work in Silicon Valley, and last but not least, a start-up conference, Slush, bringing more than 10,000 visitors and more than a thousand new companies and big venture capital investors to rainy and dark Helsinki in November every year.

The event, the CEO of which is a 25-year-old student, has become the target of interest of many influential persons around the world recently. Thus, things have changed in the past 10 years. Recently, these “entrepreneurial societies” have been established in connection with many major Finnish universities.

Singapore is fast becoming a sort of start-up hub as well and its efforts have not gone unnoticed in Europe. The business friendly environment, low taxation, educated people and efforts to boost innovation make it an ideal location for start-ups, especially to those aiming for fast growth in Asian markets. The universities in Singapore, such as NUS and NTU, are world-class and their quality surpasses the Finnish universities on average. NUS has even established overseas colleges in the US, China and Sweden with the aim of fostering entrepreneurship.

What then prevents Singapore from becoming another Silicon Valley, when the premises to run a new company are outstanding, and there are plenty of high net worth investors in the region?

It may be the same case as it was in Finland a decade ago. People want and expect a secure career, and failure is frowned upon. Especially, when tuition fees of tertiary education are high, choosing a financially secure path is lucrative. Mindsets in Finland have changed; they can change in Singapore too. What if the cooperation that already exists on the level of student exchange at the universities, would also be implemented on this level?

These “entrepreneur societies”, though independent, are often closely linked to their respective universities. It does not take many additional steps, and there are plenty of best practices to learn from each other. On the bigger picture, Finland can learn how to create an environment where business could thrive, whereas Singapore could in turn study how to use its current resources to make innovation flourish.

Compared to previous generations who had far less opportunities to travel and go on exchange programmes, today’s generations and future ones can preserve the strong people-to-people connections between our countries also through our travels and studies. Speaking from the Finnish point of view, I actually consider traveling as one of the focal connection points of younger Finns to Singapore. Both for leisure and studies, Singapore is really popular among Finnish university students as an exchange destination; it is exotic, warm and far away, but at the same time really safe with high standards of living. Later on, these people will enter business life and always have Singapore in their heart.

It also works the opposite way, as young Singaporeans are encouraged to go on exchange and the Nordic countries, including Finland, have been popular destinations for many young Singaporeans. This development is truly beneficial for both sides.

The daily direct flight connection between Helsinki and Singapore has increased Singapore’s visibility in Finland. Southeast Asia is a popular region especially among the independent, born-global generation of under-35s, and many come to the region for a mixture of city and beach holiday. Bangkok used to be the entry point for many, but as the security situation in Thailand has had its ups and downs, Finns have started to flock to Singapore. Instead of just being a necessary transit point on the way to Australia, it has become a holiday destination of its own, and for good reasons.

Also at the same time, more Singaporean tourists can be seen on the snowy streets of Helsinki. Finland may not have the appeal of some great European nations with their grand capitals full of history, but is still an exotic destination which has not yet been spoiled by mass tourism. What sets Finland apart from its most European counterparts is the distinct culture and untouched nature with true wilderness. For many Asians however, Finland is only seen from the airport transit area window when transferring to a connection heading for other European cities.

The beautiful nature would be one of the selling points for them to stay for a bit longer. Iceland, for example, has marketed very well the possibility of having free stopovers on the way between Europe and North America with their flag carrier, and many people end up visiting Iceland this way.

Singapore is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015. Finland as an independent nation is turning 100 years old in 2017. These are really big celebrations, marking a significant milestone in both countries. What unites us is that we are young societies which have previously been controlled by someone else, and our identities are still developing. We both have however come far from where we started, and left our footprints on this world. Our roles might be different in the future world order, and thus, it will be interesting to see what the future brings us.

Hopefully, it includes ever-strengthening cooperation between Finland and Singapore.

The Hieno! would like to express its gratitude to Tuukka and World Scientific Books for its permission to republish this article here. 

Tuukka Väisänen is a former student of Aalto University, who was doing internship at the Embassy of Finland in Singapore in the fall of 2014. Currently he is working as a strategy consultant and enjoys travelling during his free time. During his time at the Embassy of Finland in Singapore, Tuukka wrote this essay about Finnish-Singaporean relations, which was published in the book “50 Years of Singapore–Europe Relations: Celebrating Singapore’s Connections with Europe”.

Citations: Väisänen, Tuukka. “Preserving the Excellent Connection between Finland and Singapore through the Young Generation.” 50 Years of Singapore-Europe Relations: Celebrating Singapore’s Connections with Europe. 2015. 61-64.

Finland can be for the ambitious: The 3 things I'd learnt from Peter Vesterbacka.

Commentary, Finnish Education

Today I will write briefly about the 3 things I’d learnt from my interview here with Peter Vesterbacka. Yeow and I were invited to Innovfest 2016 as part of the media, and Peter was one of the featured speakers. That’s how we got to interview him.

I always reflect on nuggets of wisdom from interviewees whom I find interesting, and because I’m a bit slow, I would only write down learnings randomly whenever stuffs are internalised.

But what surprised even myself was that I really liked Peter as a person. You see, given his huge success with Rovio and Angry Birds, he’s actually still very, very humble and kind, and I think he spent more than 5 hours with the NUS enterprise youngsters on Day 1 of Innovfest. He doesn’t have to, but he did. He just spent close to one afternoon talking to the student ambassadors on his own will.

I don’t see other speakers doing that. So, I interpret that as his heart for young prospective entrepreneurs and the global entrepreneurship eco-system.

Nugget of Wisdom #1: Who you (choose to) surround yourself with is fucking important, and makes a difference to how you view the world.

WW: HAHAHAHA. On a side note, just now you mentioned that it’s possible to do fantastic marketing in Finland. But my impression is that Finns are a bit shy. Do you think culture is an impediment to companies doing fantastic marketing in Finland?

I think it’s dangerous to make stereotypes. Because you would always find people who don’t fit into the stereotype. For example, I am not like the stereotypical Finn, but I am still like a Finn.

And it’s the same for a lot of people in Singapore, in Japan, all over the world. ☺

I mean I can always say that “Finnish people are the best marketers in the world”. And when I say this in Finland, people would laugh because they don’t think it’s true, but there really is no reason why it wouldn’t be true.

So I think it’s like, an attitude thing. We can do anything in Finland, and we can do anything in Singapore. ☺ There’s nobody stopping us. It’s an attitude thing. If you are doing a startup, you gotta believe that you can change the world.”

What he’s saying here is that “entrepreneurship is a global movement not restricted by race, nationality, gender, or whatever.”

I was then surprised why the way he saw Finland and the way I saw Finland is so different. So I asked:

WW: Hmm then why is the culture in Finland a bit…

Hmm the culture in Finland is no better or worse than in Singapore…

WW: Yeah, exactly. I do think we have some similar challenges. 

Yes, there are a lot of challenges, but again, I think if you look at the communities around Slush, and Startup Sauna, there are a lot of very passionate, very driven people. And when you are surrounded with people full of passion and energy, it becomes normal.

And of course, passion and excitement is very contagious. And that’s when you get into the mentality of “Of course you can do anything”. And that’s when it becomes easy.

That’s why I always tell people in Singapore, that it’s easy. I mean, it’s super easy.

WW: Okay, I need to digest that.

No, no. I think the point is that it is easy because I say so. I could also take the opposite attitude and say that “Singapore is so difficult, there is shortage of talent, can’t get funding, blablabla, it’s like so difficult”, and both attitudes could be true. But as an entrepreneur, you have to take the approach of “Yes, I can do it.”

So you see, it’s really the psychology and the attitude. You have to believe that you can. And don’t believe people who tell you that you can’t. It’s an attitude game.

Slush is this bottom-up, fully volunteer-based entrepreneurship event btw. Maybe we will have it in Singapore…soon? 😛 Fingers crossed!

Wow! Isn’t that such an amazing sharing? He’s saying that no matter where you are in the world, it’s the people who surround yourself with that determines your “attitude game”.

It’s really not about the imagined national culture, or whatever. It’s about who you choose to surround yourself with!! 

Screenshot 2016-05-19 09.21.31.png


After our interview, I told Peter that I was the person who wrote the post “Finland is not for the ambitious”. Then he frowned and said that he read the post. I asked him what he thought–and he quipped– “it’s superficial, but a great starting point for further discussion.”

I actually 200% agree with Peter. I have no idea exactly why my rant post went super viral–I wrote it when I was very angry that day. I can tell you that only a total of less than 5 people knew the exact context of what the post was referring to. But because I write in a vague way, people start assuming shit and my name gets dragged in mud.

A blogger wrote a reply “Finland is for the balanced”, which bashed Singapore quite a bit, lol–but isn’t that title precisely complementing my post that “Finland is not for the ambitious”? 😛 By the way, you can read my response here since I was addressed directly: “In Praise of Ambition, Slush 2015 and Vision”, which I think is also pretty much in line with what Peter was saying in our interview, that people tend not to be ambitious enough.

Anyway, so Peter was jesting– “haha, hey, you can title our interview as “Finland is for the ambitious”.”

So I was like–“Do you want me to? I can do it.”

And Peter was like, “It’s up to you.”

HE IS SO NICE RIGHT. 😀 -melts-

Okay I shall not go into a fangirl mode here. But hey, but if super viral posts can get high-profile and inspiring people to read my blog, then I don’t regret writing that post even though I’d been misquoted like hell. LOL.

Nugget of Wisdom #2: Have a role model.

I also previously wrote some stuffs about role models on this blog:

Let me quote a part I wrote:

“Do you know that I only learnt what a “vision” is when I was in Finland? And I learnt this concept not through textbooks, but by observation.

That is to say, before I went to Finland to do the masters, I had no life goals and I didn’t know what I had wanted (even though I worked really hard). My friends can all testify that the 25-year-old wanwei just does sales and marketing really well and benefits the company she works for without asking much for herself.

On hindsight, this can be called the “slave mentality”, if you will. So silly of ww.

I learnt the concept of “vision” only via observation of a shiny role model in Finland. Because I’d caught a glimpse of the said role model’s chosen life and career path, it left me awed and I thought, “Wow, so this is actually possible and actually meaningful…just wow!” “


To me, the function of a role model is to observe, copy and modify. Because I think I’m a rather unimaginative person, and it’s only in Finland where I first learnt the concept of a vision. Nobody in Singapore taught me how to have a vision, for example.

Interestingly, in the interview with Peter, he also referred to the importance of “role models”. I can reassure you that I didn’t even mention the term “role model” once in the interview because recently I’m allergic to this term–

WW: Do you think Finns and Singaporeans have the capabilities to be ambitious?

I don’t know about you, but we do.

WW: Hahaha!!

Haha, okay, jokes aside, of course. This is what I always tell people—Look. It’s not about Singaporean or Finnish or Chinese or American or like, whatever. There is nothing in the Finnish DNA that makes us better or worse at making games.

Or, better at marketing, or worse at marketing.

It’s really not about nationality, or anything like that? I think it’s more about the attitude. And that’s why I think it is very important to have role models. Because I think that when we were successful with Angry Birds, and then the guys at Supercell look at us, and think—“Oh the Rovio guys can do something like this, and of course, we can be even more successful.”

And now, look. They are making billions every year, and they are like one of the most successful game start-up companies ever.

And that’s why I think there is no reason why that would not happen in Singapore.”

It’s very interesting, isn’t it?

To Peter, the function of a role model is to benchmark AND surpass. 

Wow–just wow! What sort of person is this guy??

First, Peter encourages people to be more ambitious, then he tells people to find role models to surpass, because the best is yet to be. And THEN he spends so much time with the young Singaporeans NUS youths who are aspiring entrepreneurs, sharing his experiences and patiently answering questions.

In Chinese, there is the exact phrase for to describe this phenomenon– “青出于蓝而胜于蓝。” When translated, it means that “the student surpasses the teacher”. And I think Peter WANTS the students to surpass the teacher.

That’s like a totally humble attitude.

I think Peter’s very respectable. It reminds me of this quote by Marriane Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Nugget of Wisdom #3: Think global, feel local.

Peter mentioned that he wants Rovio to be more Chinese than Chinese brands, more Singaporean than Singaporean brands, more Finnish than Finnish brands, more American than American brands.

WW: That’s very true. On a sidenote, what are your hopes for the Chinese market?

We want to be the leading Chinese brand. As simple as that. We also want to be the leading Singaporean brand, the leading American brand. We want to be more Chinese than the Chinese, more American than Americans—that’s what we’re trying to do.

And then we start to think, what does that even mean? Who’s the current leading Chinese brand, and who’s the current leading American brand, who’s the current leading Singaporean brand? The answer is that we don’t know, because it’s impossible to measure, but that’s what we love to do.”

Actually, do you know what he means? My interpretation is to “think global, feel local”.

I think anything about localisation has to target the heart. But the overall vision, ambition and outlook has to be global and about the betterment of humanity.

So “global” is about strategic visions and brains, but “local” is about the heart and emotions and native language.

I think that’s very powerful! I encourage you to take some time to really think about what he is saying–“It’s impossible to measure, but that’s what we love to do.”

Okay! I’m off to work– hope this reflection post stirs up some emotions in you too. Have a good day and bye! 🙂