Interview by Marija Butkovic @MarijaButkovic
Caritta Seppa is the co-founder and COO at Tespack, a Finnish company based in Helsinki, Finland. Tespack is specialized in mobile energy, in creating different Smart Wear products by combining latest tech (ultra-fast charging), IoT, solar and design. Their customers currently include Vodafone, Intersport, the UN and Defence Forces while they work with TomTom and GE. Caritta has an academic background in IR and public diplomacy and has written research publications for the Finnish Foreign Ministry about renewable energy prior to Tespack. Caritta is passionate about technology and supporting local startup ecosystems and she has been invited as a speaker to different tech events including I am Tomorrow 2017 and European Women in Technology 2016. During her free time, Caritta loves to mentor and help youth entrepreneurs and she was one of the organisers for the first Women in Tech event held in Valencia in 2016. Caritta has been awarded as one of the Top 10 Under 30 Entrepreneurs 2017 by YE Global Youth Entrepreneur organisation, while she was selected as one of the Top 10 Women in Tech by WSC and Craig Newmark in 2017.
What is the idea behind your project / product and how did you come up with it?
Our lives have become dependent on our mobile devices, like our smartphones and laptops, and most of us cannot imagine living without them (including me). Our devices, on the other hand, depend on energy, just like pretty much everything does. Energy is like water and just like our devices, we cannot live without it. We all know the feeling of running out of battery when we really needed it the most and on average, 50% of us will experience this dreadful feeling once a day. This is in the city but imagine in the outdoors and for people on deployment and on rescue missions, access to energy becomes vital, something our CEO and founder Mario Aguilera experienced first-hand back in Special Forces. So there is a problem and the solution is not simply creating new storage solutions as in the end, if you cannot create your own energy, you will end up simply carrying more devices that need recharging. So this is something we realised, that the future of energy is not about storage solutions but coming up with a new solution where everyone, all of us, could be energy independent and create our own energy on-the-go. This is when Tespack was born, with the vision that we all should be the master of our own energy, to be able to live mobile live, to stay charged and to create energy from sustainable sources whether it is from the sun, heat or wind.
When did all start and do you have other members in your team?
Tespack was founded in Finland in 2013 and I started working with Mario in a tiny office with no windows and barely enough space for us and for all the products and stock we had (actually the office was more like the size of a closet). However, I am happy to say that we have grown from 2 people into a talented team of 11 including two other co-founders. And yes, we have expanded from our first office to having our HQ in the same building with GE in Helsinki and RD offices in sunny Valencia. Today, our core team includes CTO and partner Matti Naskali who is one of Nokia’s ex-lead engineers and a true MacGyver who can build anything from scratch (this happens almost every day at our RD offices!), Chief Sales Officer and fellow co-founder Sami Pfaler who is the next Ricky Roma (he can sell even solar products in a country where there is almost no sun for most of the year and yep, that’s Finland), and our Business Development Officer and co-founder Yesika Robles who creates and nurtures our business relationships like no other. In addition to this, we have an amazing development and sales team working day in, day out to make sure that we have the most beautiful and most innovative mobile energy products in the market. One of the reasons behind Tespack’s success is our team as in the end, no matter how great the idea or product is, if you don’t have the right team pushing together and sharing the same vision, an idea remains an idea with no value.
How long did it take you to be where you are now?
The road has definitely been rocky with a lot of ups and downs since we founded Tespack in 2013. There were times when our friends and family did not believe in us, a lot of people telling us that we are never going to make it, different investors and customers saying no after no. But as the saying goes, what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger so we kept pushing forward, one step at a time. It took us some years to get where we are today and there was a lot of losses but also a lot of happiness and achievements. I still remember the day when Intersport made their first order and we became the first startup in Finland to have their products being sold in Intersport, in one of the leading mainstream sport stores. Or the day when we closed our first investment round, launched a new product for rescue forces and military, or when we developed a completely new, innovative ultra-fast charging technology (charge a power bank full in 12 minutes only, equivalent to 3 phone charges). So yes, sometimes it might take years rather than months to make it, but what matters, is that you never stop and never give in, and especially if you have a hardware and/or wearables company, it does take time from the initial launch to market expansion.
What was the biggest obstacle?
From the beginning, creating wearables and dealing with solar energy in a country where there is no sun, I heard a lot of people telling us no or asking us what are we doing. Dealing with the industry (market) and finding the right partners and funding has been hard. Wearables was (and still is) a new field so when we got started, many people wouldn’t simply understand what we were doing as they were so focused in trying to figure out whether we were doing backpacks or solar panels or electronics. Not to mention for many consumers, solar energy and more specifically solar panels, have typically been known to be very expensive and fragile and not something for consumer use. So we had to educate a lot of our customers in regards to showing how our panels are durable, efficient and light, and how they can be used even in half cloudy weather. The solution in the end was not be known for the products we do but for the solution we provide, staying charged and creating your own energy anytime, anywhere. Growth let us then looking for funding and in mid 2015, there was only a handful of investors and VC funds who first of all understood about wearables and energy but who also would invest in hardware as even today, the VC/investor scene is completely run by people and funds who focus on software solutions only. But we never let any of the obstacles stop us as in the end, every obstacle is an opportunity. That might sound like a cliche, but in all honesty, no matter what the obstacle is, there is always a solution, sometimes it might not be what you like but there is always a way.
What are your biggest achievements to date?
As a wearable company, working in a field that is still relative new, some of the biggest achievements for us have been to get customers like Intersport, Scandinavian Outdoor Store, Vodafone, KPN and even defence forces. We are also cooperating with well-known brands like TomTom, GE and Austrian Space Forum with whom we are developing the first solar smartpacks for a Mars mission. Not to mention, being named by the European Parliament and European Commission as the Top Energy Startup in EU in 2017. Also, I feel extremely proud that we have closed two different investment rounds and developed a new, innovative ultra-fast charging technology which we will introduce to the market this year. However, on a personal level, one of the biggest achievements for me have been simply starting with Tespack, with a wearables company in a new market that most people didn’t (and still dont) understand and going through all the hard times without giving up and having the team to make this possible. One of the reasons behind Tespack’s success is our team as in the end, no matter how great the idea or product is, if you don’t have the right team pushing together and sharing the same vision, an idea remains an idea with no value.
We also recently closed 2€ Million investment round led by WOW Ventures from Saudi Arabia represented by Asaad Jamjoom and Yousef Hamidaddin. The round has also been joined by Silicon Valley, Forbes Midas List billion dollar company maker Neal Dempsey of Bay partners in San Francisco.
What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in the niche you are in? How about being a female founder / entrepreneur?
Wearables as a market is something rather new, especially when your company focuses in combining electronics, renewables and textiles, so from the beginning, one of the biggest challenges have been to go through a lot of no-answers. We have heard countless of times conservative investors and old-fashioned VCs and companies telling us how we should focus, how we should either do backpacks, electronics or solar panels but not all together as that would be crazy. In the beginning you are of course explaining to these people how wearables is a new field and how you wouldn’t be asking from Pebble or from Fitbit whether they are doing watches or computers when in reality, they are doing smartwatches. But then you learn that it is these people that are left behind and like Henry Ford said, if he would have listened to the people, they would have asked from him faster horses. So learning not to listen to everyone and simply believing in what we are doing, was something we had to learn and face from the beginning. As an entrepreneur in technology field with no engineer background and as a young woman with long blonde hair, I have had to deal my fair part with male engineers and older people looking down on me because of my age and background. Of course not having a technical background has meant that I have had to learn a lot and fast but I have never seen this as an obstacle but rather as a motivator and driver to become better. Also, working in the wearables and hardware industry definitely has brought its own challenges, something a software company does not have to deal with, as we need to take into accountthe stock, the production, logistics, warehouses, insurances, packagings, etc. The list goes on and I guess there is a reason it is called “hard”ware as yes, it can for sure get tough.
Is #WomenInTech movement important to you and if yes, why?
Supporting and mentoring aspiring entrepreneurs and students, especially in technology field, is something I believe in and are passionate about. Statistically we all know how there are a lot fewer women in the teach field, especially in the hardware and wearables, so it feels great to see a lot of support and I would even say hype around supporting women in the tech field, however, for me personally, it is not only about pushing for women to go into tech field, but rather for helping and doing my best in providing the equal opportunities for everyone no matter their gender, background, age, etc. As a woman in tech I want to show to the world that yes, there are a lot of talented women that should have the chance to be valued for their talent. However, in order to make a change and see a change, we need to be different than the people around us who have for years been only promoting men and ignoring women. We need to push for equality and avoid any battle of sexes and rather build an environment, a community where talent gets rewarded regardless of gender, sex, background, etc.
What is the most important piece of advice you can give to all female founders and female entrepreneurs out there?
Believe in yourself and what you are doing. Don’t let others dictate you what you should or should not be doing, never settle for anything. I have heard many women saying how they had to dress more like men and look more “intelligent”, i.e. wear glasses, to be taken seriously. This is not the answer as we should never settle for something but push for a change. This road is of course harder and rockier but what I have learned is that no matter what, you are the best version of you so although you can always improve and get better in different things, don’t let anyone tell you how you should be or look. Sometimes this can be hard so it is extremely important to have those few people around you that you know you can count on during difficult times, people who you can talk to when it gets crazy and yes, it will get crazy and hectic! Being a founder, a tech entrepreneur, is always difficult and let’s face it, only crazy people choose this road as you will end up working 24/7, having countless of sleepless nights and going through a journey of emotional roller-coaster, but like Steve Jobs said, people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. But to make this journey easier, create a strong team and again, don’t settle but look for the people who share your passion and have the personality to stick around when it gets tough. Don’t look for the skills as skills can be taught but passion comes within.
What will be the key trends in the wearable tech and IoT industry in the next 5 years and where do you see it heading?
Wearable tech is still in its nappies and unfortunately most of the wearables we see are still smartwatches, smart jewellery or different health trackers with smart clothing making its introductions to the market. We have already seen how IoT, AI and VR are changing the way we live our lives and interact with people and there is definitely more to come for these fields. However, no matter the product or the solution, everything will always be linked to battery and energy. Many companies and designers have of course developed already a different array of smart clothing using solar panels such as solar jacket by Hilfiger and Pauline van Dongen’s solar dresses. However, we are still far from having good looking, price conscious smart clothing that we can wear every day as many of the current developments are still too expensive and something made for high fashion shows. The biggest issue remains to be how to combine latest technology and great design and make the products actually look good. However, I believe that smart clothing will be one of the industries where we are going too some of the biggest changes forward. There is already now a lot of new developments taking place in the solar industry so in few years time, we are going to see new type of solar cells and panels that not only will be flexible, light and efficient (faster charging time) and thus easily implemented seamlessly into clothing (something we are still lacking in the wearables industry), but solar cells that also will be colourful. Not to mention we are going to see big leaps taken forward in the battery (charging) technology field when batteries and power banks can charge faster, smarter and safer, something Tespack is also working on (new products to be launched later in 2017).
Who are your 3 inspirational women in wearable tech and IoT?
I love when I see wearables that actually look beautiful and you can see that the inventors and developers have emphasised the design as much as the technology as in the end, no one wants to wear anything ugly looking really. So I love how Rebecca Minkoff emphasises beautiful design in her clothing and bracelets while bringing the tech side alive as so many companies forget this when they make health trackers and bracelets. I also find Diana Palmer, founder of Awake Labs, as one of the inspirational women in wearables and health tech as she has developed a new wearable device that helps to track psychological symptoms of anxiety, specially made for autistic kids. She is a great person, working in a field that can be emotionally very tough but she has done amazingly and I feel happy to know her personally (we both won Start Tel Aviv competition in our own countries and met in Israel last year). Lastly, I love how Colleen Wong has developed a cool wearable tracker for children by founding her company Gator Watch. She is definitely helping and improving the lives of parents and their children and I find her lovely personality extremely inspiring!
This interview was conducted by Marija Butkovic, Digital Marketing and PR strategist, founder and CEO of Women of Wearables and Kisha Smart Umbrella. She regularly writes and speaks on topics of wearable tech, fashion tech, IoT, entrepreneurship and diversity. Visit marijabutkovic.co.uk or follow Marija on Twitter @MarijaButkovic @Women_Wearables @GetKisha.