On the Promoting Enterprise portal we are talking to the entrepreneurs on the 33 Under 33 list. This Secrets of Success initiative aims to shine the spotlight on a selection of successful young entrepreneurs, documenting their stories in an effort to inspire others to consider entrepreneurship as a career path. Today it is the turn of young Estonian Anna-Liisa Palatu.
Anna-Liisa is from Estonia and has a BA in Business Administration from Rotterdam Business School. Her heroes are all the Estonian start-up founders throughout the 2010s who made her realize what she wants to do with her life. Anna grew up in a small village in the Estonian countryside where there weren't many opportunities, forcing her to create her own.
When in college, she founded an e-commerce company to earn money. When it was time to find her mission in life, she didn't have the struggle of leaving behind a secure life because she had never really experienced one – which was a good thing, because it took 10 failed attempts at entrepreneurship before she founded her company Woola.
Tell us about your business
Woola uses waste wool to replace plastic bubble wrap. In total, 64 billion parcels are shipped in bubble wrap every year - adding to the demand for fossil fuels and our reliance on single use plastic. At the same time, 90% of sheep wool goes to waste in Europe. This wool could replace all plastic bubble wrap globally and this is what Woola is doing. We are an Estonian based company, making protective envelopes from leftover sheep wool.
Where did you get the idea from?
I used to run an online store myself and experienced the packaging problem first hand. There were no scalable and sustainable alternatives to bubble wrap, so I set out to find a solution and I found it in wool.
How old were you when you first decided you would start your own business?
I was 15 when I first decided to start my own business.
How did you get it off the ground?
I had around seven years of experience on what not to do - from my previous ventures that failed. I also had a fear of ending up with having to get a meaningless job if the company didn’t succeed - and that pushed me to take risks and move fast. We started selling the product from day one for actual money and that gave us significant leverage. The venture landscape has many visionaries who never end up launching a product - we had actual proof that our product works.
Who did you turn to for help?
The Estonian startup ecosystem. It really is as great as they say. I probably gained 10 years of knowledge in one year, since I had access to some of the brightest minds in the ecosystem, who had been through the same.
Describe some of the obstacles you faced as a young person starting out in this business.
A lack of startup capital mainly. I started Woola a few years after graduating and I had no savings or plan B. I lived on around 600 euros a month and had to eat instant noodles with mayo to survive in the early days of the company.
How do you define success?
It's linked to impact, not money. Success for us will be when fossil fuel companies become obsolete.
What was the most challenging aspect of setting up your business?
The transition from an entrepreneur to a CEO. Once the team grew, my task was not just to create a business strategy and achieve it. My task was to understand and manage people, learn about patience, empathy and compromise. This was by far the biggest challenge.
What has been the most rewarding part of your journey so far?
Knowing that every single package we are shipping decreases the demand for fossil fuels.
What are the future goals of your business, and how will you go about achieving them?
Our goal is that 50% of plastic bubble wrap should be replaced by a sustainable material by 2030.
What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
Don't think, just do it. You can always get a job if your business idea doesn't work out. Don't worry about not having things like a mortgage, a car or money.
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- Publication date
- 7 March 2023
- Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs
- Promoting Enterprise - categories
- Secrets of Success
- Promoting Enterprise - tags