Alicia Ngoc Le is the CEO and co-founder of Aurora Digital Oy, based in Finland. In her late 20’s, she already has a businesses under her belt. She loves to travel, both to known and unknown destinations. Alicia also loves music – sometimes she listens to Elvis Presley and other times only Veronica Maggio’s music could cheer her up. Making great food for her loved ones is her life-long passion and, as a result, she spends most evenings and weekends experimenting with food in her kitchen. She finds reading business books and Harvard Business Reviews super interesting, and while reading fullfils her desire to explore the world of knowledge, at the center of her heart, the joy and challenges of being an entrepreneur keeps her more alive than ever.
The Start of Aurora Digital and Alicia’s Entrepreneurial Journey
I started a digital agency named Aurora Digital Oy almost two years ago when I was a Master’s student in Industrial Engineering & Management at Aalto University. Looking back at myself and critically asking why I dared to step out of my comfort zone to open a business, the answer came quite clearly to me that it was a decision based on two main factors.
First of all, entrepreneurial spirit has been running for generations in my family. Both of my grandparents were entrepreneurs – my grandpa opened a factory when he was in his sixties and my grandma has been an entrepreneur her whole life. My father recently opened his own company too, and my aunt has been running her business for years. Therefore, my decision of placing myself into the world of entrepreneurship was well supported by my family. My finacé was so supportive that he decided to move from Sweden to Finland to work with me so that we could grow our business better. To be honest, without my family encouragement, blessing and support, I would have chosen a safer career choice.
Second of all, the startup environment in Finland, and particularly, Aalto University where I studied my Master’s degree was great. Entrepreneurship has been regarded as one of the most influencing fields in both education and in the society at large. At Aalto University, I found various useful courses for entrepreneurs which range from practical courses giving people real experiences how it is like running a business to more theoretical courses of entrepreneurial leadership and startup financing. I still remember seeing people of all ages coming to those entrepreneurship classes – the youngest was around 20 and one of my oldest fellow students was in their 60s. Studying with those bright and motivated individuals inspired me to take on the journey of being an entrepreneur outside of the course book.
Aurora Digital – the Business
With Aurora Digital’s service we cater to the various digital needs such as graphic design, web/app development and explainer video production to business owners of all sizes. Our long-term goal is to become a leading digital agency which is strong both in tech and creativity. Our original idea of Aurora Digital came from the realization of how unbalanced the supply-demand equation for digital services in the Nordics is. Though the Nordic countries like Finland and Sweden are leading the world with digitalisation and innovation, the aging population creates a gap in the market for human resources. Finding quality coders, and other types of digital workers such as graphic designers and digital marketers was not easy. Sometimes, the cost for hiring them in-house become way too expensive for small startups. That’s how we came up with our ambition – we want to bring high-quality, yet affordable digital services from carefully-selected digital workers from Vietnam to Nordic customers. Until date, we have supplied our services to various startups, established digital agencies and non-profit organizations within Finland and around Europe.
What has been the most challenging during your entrepreneurial journey?
Building a business from the ground up isn’t an easy task for anybody. For the difficult parts, I think getting the first customers is always one of the biggest challenges for new entrepreneurs, especially immigrant entrepreneurs who have a limited personal network like myself. It’s like the chicken-egg problem so it can be very challenging at the beginning – if you are completely new in the market, then you have no portfolio to show at first, and because you have no portfolio, customers will be afraid to choose you over the others. We solved this problem by putting our penetration price relatively low at first, although it hurts our profit badly. For some projects, we even had to do some parts to prove our quality and capability before we could sign an official contract with the clients. After all, if you are keen enough, determined enough and ambitious enough, you can push through, move boundaries and prove to the world that your service is trust-worthy! 🙂 That’s what happened to us. And now looking back, that ambition and hunger for proving ourselves were what moved us forward to where we are today.
If you were to start your journey over – what would you change?
If I had a chance to start over, I wouldn’t change a thing in my journey. As I started out fresh, I believe the silly mistakes I made in the early days were the sources for my personal improvement. In fact, I believe that entrepreneurs are required to have a certain level of naivety because naivety is something that makes you think outside of the box. Because you are completely unaware of all the challenges and difficulties you will meet in your entrepreneurial journey, nothing could stop you from moving forward. 🙂 If there is one thing that I could change in my past before moving into entrepreneurship though it is to start some small businesses by myself even earlier! My first venture was to sell Christmas gifts for highschool friends in my 10th grade. My brother and grandmother gave me the capital of 20 dollars to start that business and then I made double profits in 3 days! Now thinking back, I should have started with similar kind of small businesses during my university time too, so I could learn a lot more about running businesses. 🙂
What would you say is the downside of running your own company?
Being an entrepreneur, you always start with having to make lots of hard choices and sacrifices. For me, instead of having a stable job and a stable life, I chose entrepreneurship and being my own boss. This choice is already very risky in its own as running a business in a foreign country without any pre-established network is really challenging. Having to bootstrap my way through my first year of entrepreneurship also meant that I had to say no to many luxurious things that are often not too “luxurious” for others. I couldn’t afford things like partying with friends every weekend or meeting my family in Asia often enough. However, I learnt to be self-sufficient, be more down-to-earth and spend smartly. I also learnt to exploit a lot more creativity than usual while bootstrapping in my beginning year because you simply need to do a lot more with less.
What is your tip for other business owners/entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur, I think one of the most important skills you should have is the ability to network. Go out, attend events, talk to people and keep pitching about your business all the time! Who knows that sales can happen at the moment you least expected (I did meet an investor who happened to be interested in my business while hanging out with my friends in a coffee house). I also recommend you to search for startup guides which are available online to know the practical steps for opening a business. Lots of useful information like tax, business registrations and grants are available in there. Also, be confident in yourself and keep pushing forward. Being an entrepreneur is hard, but it is very rewarding, believe me! It’s all the hard-work, dedication and persistence that matter.