Welcome to another edition of our interview series where we introduce the mentors behind the University of Helsinki's Helsinki Incubators entrepreneurship programmes. Here we meet Andreas Roos, Head of Design Strategy at Visa and a master of changing perspective to solve human challenges.
If you start out printing t-shirts while at university and eventually land a top design job at Visa, then you must know a thing or two about entrepreneurship, communication and good old hard work. Andreas Roos has spent most of his career at the intersection of creativity and business, figuring out ways to make things better for people. "When I was studying graphic design, I thought it was too fluffy. Then I went into business and I thought it was too structured. So from early on I’ve been blending the creative side with the business side. I’m most passionate about solving problems that we didn't think we could solve,” he explains.
Before Roos joined Visa, he spent six years in creative strategy and innovation at Google. Here his team developed a machine-learning technique to decipher hieroglyphics, laying the foundation for an open-source library in the field. Another notable project Roos worked on is a voluntary collaborative initiative to make the lesser-known symptoms of Alzheimer's and dementia familiar to the general public.
The red thread through all his work is an emphasis on defining the real problem to be solved – an aspect that Roos believes is often overlooked during product development.
“I think a lot of the time people actually solve the wrong problems. It’s easy to think that you're solving a tech problem when you develop something new. But the technology can always be solved! The real problem is defining the value you’re creating for people by addressing their needs with the technology. That’s much harder to define,” says Roos.
“It's uncomfortable to sit in the problem space and feel like you're not achieving anything. But you're achieving a lot, because getting to a better problem leads to a better solution.”
“Reframing is basically the key to work success and life happiness. ‘Deliberately designing behaviour’ – that’s what I call it,” he explains.
Roos believes that startups often overestimate the value of their initial idea at the expense of solving these real problems. He sees innovation as being about bridging different things that appear unconnected to make solutions that are accessible for people.
“Ideas are relatively easy. It's also easy to build a product and fall in love with it. But if nobody else wants it, you don't have a business. So you should do zero development work until you’ve proven desirability.”
“People know what they want, but they don’t always know what they need,” he observes.
Roos acknowledges that most startups do not succeed, but that the experience entrepreneurs gain can be immensely valuable later in life. He encourages founders to stay focused and make decisions based on their own aspirations and goals.
“The difference between a massive success and a massive failure is really just about persistence. People give up a bit too soon sometimes,” says Roos. “Others will give you advice and direction based on the lens that they have. I'm not saying you should disregard this advice, but take it with a huge pinch of salt.”
“It’s very important to trust yourself,” he emphasises.
Roos is working as a rotating mentor for Helsinki Incubators, going between different startup teams to provide help where it’s needed. He appreciates how the programme is giving him the opportunity to engage with a diverse group of entrepreneurs.
“I've always been impressed by the work that happens at Helsinki Incubators. I think it's a very interesting group of people and mentors. There’s some excellent stuff happening in the fields of material innovation and sustainability,” he says.
“I think what the incubator is doing right is connecting people who have completely different background and ideas. These connections are very valuable for everyone.”
“There are a lot of mistakes you don’t have to make after being part of something like this,” he notes.
Roos emphasises the importance of providing feedback in a constructive manner that motivates people to act. He’s mindful that when poorly delivered, feedback can discourage team members and be detrimental to their growth. “I can give the same feedback in 1000 different ways. Some of those ways would help people to act on the feedback, and some of those ways would make people feel demotivated and deflated. People have different ways of thinking, so you need to find the right way to get the best out of someone,” he observes. “It's very easy to micromanage people and to take away their autonomy. It’s technically easier than giving them freedom and letting them grow,” he says. “People need a vision and some kind of direction, but you should really be training them to be responsible citizens in whatever organisation they work in. That way they end up driving their agenda to fit with the overall agenda.”
Roos observes that creativity often strikes at unexpected moments, far from the confines of an office desk or an inbox. He points out that many people have their best ideas while exercising, driving, or taking a shower. In this way Roos challenges us to be mindful about our own focus and make sure you know how you function.
“If you go to a knee surgeon, he examines you for one minute to make a correct diagnosis. There is very little effort but a huge amount of skills deployed to do this diagnosis. Humanity sometimes seems to overprioritise effort instead of skill “that surgeon examined you for 3 hours, wow he’s working really hard”. Both skill and effort are important but in different ways for delivering an end goal. In peoples careers these concepts should be deployed carefully with respect for the complexity that deliberate effort over time leads to skills that will reduce future effort” he says.
Finally, Roos stresses the importance being wary of so-called ‘hustle culture’ and its glorification of long hours with scant regard for individual wellbeing.
"Have respect for your unique rhythm and needs. Do you need to go for a run in the mornings to make sure that your work gets better later? Then do that,” he recommends. "Sometimes you definitely need to put in the extra hours. But there’s always an alternative cost for time, so be deliberate about what you focus your efforts on and make sure it isn’t a false economy where you’re investing time wrong and become less impactful.”
The University of Helsinki's entrepreneurship programmes, the Helsinki Incubators, provides support and opportunities for bold thinkers in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area interested in taking their ideas and turning them into impactful ventures. Interested in getting involved in our pre-incubators and incubators? Subscribe to our newsletter for updates on when the next calls open.