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! 🙂

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  • Reply
    markku ikonen
    May 19, 2016 at 5:30 am

    All teachers wishes their students will surpass the teacher, that’s what Finnish education is all about. Yes I am those that thought that your comments about Finns not being ambitious was and is way of the mark. Finns are very ambitious but they don’t punch their chest and stand on top the building and scream look at me I am the greatest, they just work away quietly and allow their work do the talking. What I don’t agree with Peter is that he does not recognize the importance of the existing large Finnish companies that were borne after the war and are still working on the leading edge of the known technologies including paper mills and steel manufactures. Yes the new startups will make trillions but someone still needs to build your mansions.

    • Reply
      May 19, 2016 at 5:37 am

      Lol my original post was about a culture, not about its people :p

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