INNOVATORS VS COVID 19
Miko Rytkönen of Lianox Tells Us About the World of Asian Fashion during the Pandemic
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Miko Rytkönen: Thank you for asking! We have attempted to remain at home since we are fortunate enough to be able to work remotely. While this may seem like an easy task at first glance, barely leaving the house for the last 6 months is starting to take its toll! Overall, we are doing fine.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Lianox.
Miko Rytkönen: I am a 22-year-old business operator and owner living in Germany. Four years ago, I was living on government welfare in my home country Finland and deciding what career path I want to follow the future. I had recently dropped out of high school and started dating my now fiancée. I decided to take a big leap, move to Germany, and start a business with her! We initially planned to start a subscription box service but later pivoted to starting a marketplace. We were both fans of K-Pop and had personally experienced how difficult it is to order Asian products to Europe, so we decided to fix the process and create a modern experience for anyone wanting to order authentic Asian stuff. We both had minimal experience in marketing and being a business owner, but lots of determination. We had no other choice but to make it work!
We lived in a 28m2 (300 sq ft) apartment while my fiancée finish her university degree. We had barely any money (we used to eat the cheapest spaghetti we could find with a little bit of cheese almost every day!), but by spending countless hours working, building the business, and developing the required skills, we somehow managed to make it profitable during the first few months. We kept growing and moved into an actual apartment after my fiancée was done with university. We got an office downtown and our first employees. To date, our website has been visited around 3 million times. We have tens of thousands of customers around the world and have maintained a growth rate of almost 300% YOY. Lianox initially sold merchandise related to Korean Pop music, but we have since pivoted to selling Asian Fashion items this September. We were a little scared of how our customers would react, but have now only in 2 months doubled our daily sales, and we are growing faster than ever!
How does Lianox innovate?
Miko Rytkönen: This is our process.
First, we need to discover problems as well as opportunities. Here are the two methods we primarily use to do that:
- We are obsessed with listening to our customers. Whether that is through monitoring the internet to see when someone mentions us publicly, conducting polls, or the founders going through customer support logs – we do it all, and we always keep our ears open. Most businesses want to improve, yet close their ears when their customers are shouting how and what they should be doing better. We are committed to always keeping our ears open! After all, our customers know what they want better than we do.
- We are also obsessed with data. By tracking what our customers do with our platform, we discover problems that may not be communicated to us through method 1.
Once we have identified a problem or an opportunity, we set a meeting and brainstorm ideas. We find out if others have identified the problem or opportunity and see what idea they harnessed. We read about the topic. After becoming informed about the subject and the problem or opportunity at hand, we put it aside for some time. Usually, during this time of passive problem solving, the best ideas arise. We then set another meeting to discuss the ideas that arose during the time of passive problem solving and begin implementing them. During implementation, we generally test multiple ideas to see which one would work the best.
As said by David Ogilvy:
“Big ideas come from the unconscious. This is true in art, science, and advertising. But your unconscious has to be well informed, or your idea will be irrelevant. Stuff your conscious mind with information, then unhook your rational thought process. You can help this process by going for a long walk, or taking a hot bath, or drinking half a pint of claret. Suddenly, if the telephone line from your unconscious is open, a big idea wells up within you.”
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Miko Rytkönen: It has been a stormy year. At the start of the year, we couldn’t ship orders for a few months. After shipping hubs were open again, half of our orders got lost during transit. Shipping times have been insanely long, but luckily our customers are incredibly understanding and patient. There have been times when our performance had gone through the roof due to various factors, like during the start of the pandemic when many advertisers pulled their advertising spend, which made advertising dirt cheap, and we acquired lots of new customers. But like I said, it has been stormy. Ups and downs. I personally haven’t had a single day off so far this year. Dreaming of taking a really long vacation whenever it is safe again is one dream pulling me through, as well as the thankfulness and understanding of our customers.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Miko Rytkönen: At the end of 2019, we launched a new swimwear brand to prepare for summer 2020. Even though the pandemic happened and there was no travel and fewer beachgoers, we still managed to get it off the ground and became profitable … Until our supplier announced that they are shutting down due to the pandemic. So, we decided also to shut the brand down. That was an incredibly difficult decision. The brand represented half a year of hard work and a 6-figure investment from our company. It was personally extremely difficult, but I believe we made the right choice. We directed our time to our main brand, and as a result, it began to flourish.
Having all eggs in one basket is stressful and risky. But sometimes, it’s better to focus entirely on one thing instead of many. Business is competitive, and it may be better to do one thing REALLY well than dividing your attention and doing many things pretty well.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you project yourself and Lianox in the future?
Miko Rytkönen: My performance thrives under stress! It’s a motivator for me. Even if things don’t end up going well, no work is ever wasted. You may feel like you go backwards or return to the starting line, but that is never the case. Each day you grow and learn, and next time, you’ll do an even better job and create something even more amazing. The biggest returns we gain as business owners are in experience, and no one can take that away from you. Not even a global pandemic! We are currently growing rapidly, and we expect to maintain our growth rate to become something even bigger and greater.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Miko Rytkönen: Fashion is an extremely competitive industry. At the same time, we face the goliaths like Shein, as well as the Davids like Minga. But I don’t consider competition an issue. Lianox is a brand, and all good brands are unique. There is only one Lianox that sells Lianox clothes. We have a unique appeal, an amazing team, and a few cards on our sleeve. We are not afraid!
Your final thoughts?
Miko Rytkönen: The times are difficult. But during the most difficult of times, the most important lessons are learned. This year might have felt like an eternity, and many of us have suffered terrible losses. But I believe many of us have also grown as people and business owners like never before.
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