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Tomi Kaukinen

Going from asset management to the start-up world to hitting the wall and burning out, MSc alum Tomi Kaukinen has seen and done it all. Entrepreneur, Burnout survivor, Keynote Speaker and CMO at Cuckoo, he now dedicates his time to things that make people happy and encouraging others to prioritise their well-being.

Can you describe a bit your career journey and what led to what you do currently?

After graduating from SSE I started working in Real Estate Fund and Asset Management. It was a value-add fund and included active management and working as a local partner for larger European funds. In 2007, I decided to leave for Helsinki within the same company and stayed for an additional five years until eventually quitting. The main reason was lack of purpose and a slight existential crisis. I needed more than just working with money and returns so I started my own tech-startup. However, I had no experience whatsoever from the start-up world so my first and second companies didn’t work out well. But the learning curve was very steep; I felt alive. The third start-up focused on sports tech and it took my company to the Spanish market where I worked with some of the biggest sports clubs and medias. It felt surreal having clubs such as Malaga, Villarreal and others using our tech. Monetisation was hard and after years of struggle and expanding to Southeast Asia and the media sector, I experienced a hard burnout mixed with depression. Eventually I quit and the company filed for bankruptcy shortly after.

I was sitting at home aged 38 unable to work, workout and without purpose. It was a tough blow and it took almost a year to get back on my feet fully. Gradually, I started writing openly about entrepreneurship and burnout and got to speak at the start-up festival Slush, in Helsinki, about these topics. It paved the way for a career in speaking, which I thought was a fun thing to do. It rewarded me with a Top 3 in 'Speaker of the year' in the Storyteller category in Finland.

In the last four years, I have been speaking and mentoring in places such Nigeria, Kosovo, Finland and Estonia. I decided that if I were to return to the start-up world, the purpose would have to be something I could stand behind. So when my friend Veera at Cuckoo (a wellbeing app for companies) reached out and asked if I wanted to do some marketing for them, I decided to join as CMO. So my career has taken many turns!


Can you describe your current work and what it is that you do on a day-to-day basis?

Currently I focus on marketing, everything from inbound to outbound to brand and SEO/SEM, with a strong focus on content.

My marketing philosophy is to grow through high-quality content, and I admire Formula 1 for their work on Drive to Survive for example.


What is the most exciting/rewarding part of your work?

To be able to create. The creative work is what drives me. Create stories, narratives, brand building. And to make people smile. I want to do things that make people happy.


Where do you think the wellbeing/mental health fields are going in the next 5-10 years?

It is fortunately developing at a fast pace and more and more people are talking more openly about it. The start-up scene attracts a lot of dysfunctional individuals with an enormous drive and skewed view on a balanced life. The same thing that creates success however, is the same thing that destroys personal wellbeing, or at least contributes strongly to it. So it is a complex issue to solve. You want driven obsessed people to create new things but many of them end up burnt out and depressed.


What is it you’d like individuals and organizations to know about wellbeing and mental health? Or work/life balance?

To have the courage and to create a safe environment to talk about it. Many founders don’t have the courage to tell investors how they feel because they are scared they will be replaced. If organisations show with their actions that its ok to talk about, then many more will speak up and feel safe going on sick leave. And that will lead to a better work environment.

Work/life balance is hard in a world where many are driven by passion. I think you should not force anyone not to work, but you can encourage smart routines such as not taking your smart phone to the bedroom. Not checking mail in the morning. Turning off notifications. And adding small habits like that. Also make sure to get enough social interaction with friends and family; it is a good cushion against burning out.


You’ve found yourself in perhaps an atypical place after perhaps a more traditional SSE career, but how did your time/education at SSE help guide you in your career or to where you’ve found yourself today?

People always say you won't have much use of the things you study in your work life, but I don’t think that's true. I have had massive use of the things I learned at SSE. Studying finance gave a superb set of tools to understand value creation and business in general, which I have used a lot also in my career in the start-up world.

Also, the stellar reputation of SSE always makes it easy to reach out to people since its kind of a quality stamp. Enough boasting right? But honestly, it is the best school in Sweden. Period.


Following your time studying, do you have any words of wisdom or advice you would like to share with our current/prospective students?

Dare to walk your own way. A lot of people are scared of switching careers because of what other people think or judge. But it’s your life and life becomes much more exciting when you take some risks and walk on roads less traveled. I could have stayed in fund management, but then I would have never met with my idols in Spain or had the most amazing years working with football teams and getting to know fantastic start-up people.


What are three words that sum up your time at SSE?

Best career decision.