The story behind Funzi

Funzi Team

The story behind Funzi really starts with the people behind Funzi. Those that envision a world where there would be no wars, a world where everyone is living meaningfully and happily. Now you might be thinking, why don’t you add to that dream a world where it’s only sunshine, rainbows and unicorns, because it seems a little far-fetched. But, we believe that when you stop dreaming, or even dreaming the impossible, is when you stop making the impossible possible.

If you can dream it, you can do it - Walt Disney

There are many people that realize problems exist in the world, but there are far too few that question and challenge the current situation, and far fewer that take action. That’s not going to be us.

Before I share with you the story of how Funzi all began, here’s a quick introduction to some of our founding members. You might even learn something new about these gentlemen that you never knew.

  • Tero Salonen, Director - is a serial entrepreneur with a track record of building great international digital content and service companies. When not revolutionizing how quality learning is delivered, he’s defying the laws of ageing with yoga.

  • Aape Pohjavirta, Chief Evangelist- is a patent inventor and startup coach who has 20+ years in global digital service and technology development and evangelism. If you’re ever feeling uninspired or demotivated, Aape’s speeches and pep talks will have you up on your feet ready to change the world!

  • Miemo Penttinen, CXO - is a strategic thinker and designer with 15+ years in the digital industry. You might have seen his kick-ass drone shots floating somewhere online or on the cover of a magazine.

In addition to these three awesome men that we get to see on a daily basis, there are two other co-founders and several board members that helped us shape our ideas into what Funzi is today.

When did you realize that something needs to be done to change the current situation in the world?

Our founders have always been aware of the problems that inherently exist in society. They know that the world is not always fair. Sometimes it’s about where you’re born, what conditions you’re born into. Miemo mentioned that during his 20s, he had an enlightenment during a discussion on poverty and famine that these problems are all linked to education. With Aape’s experience working in the emerging markets, he also realized that the classic education system is not equipped to address the issues people are facing.

A year before Funzi was established, Tero was interested in exploring ways technology can be used for good. This led him to think about education. He realized that abundance of learning materials already exist, but the problem is with getting access to it.

How did Funzi come to being?

Funzi initially started as an idea Aape had. And being Aape with his limitless excitement and determination, he wanted to turn this idea into reality. That’s when Tero came on board. He was actually ready to leave the stressful startup world behind and focus on yoga, but once he heard what Aape had in mind, he couldn’t turn his back. Funzi’s vision is one that many can stand behind, so there wasn’t much persuasion needed when they approached Miemo either.

They believed that this was something worth pursuing, even if it will be a big challenge.

“While researching, it was evident that current solutions have been designed to fix local problems. What we needed was a global solution; a solution that scales. If we want to ensure quality learning for everyone, we need to start from scratch” says Aape.

Additionally, with various founding members having worked with mobile solutions and digital media, including our two co-founders Arjun & Bhanu, who worked on Nokia Life Tools, we had the data needed to start our exciting journey to revolutionize the way the world learns.

Did you ever feel like throwing in the towel? And if you did, how did you overcome it?

The feeling of defeat comes with the territory when you’re working at a startup. This is a feeling our founders have gotten used to, being entrepreneurs. But it certainly doesn’t mean that they would ever let these feelings affect their determination to make quality learning accessible to everyone.

Working at a startup is quite similar to going on a roller coaster. You have high points, and low points. Points when you’re strapped for money and the projects are not moving forward; where all you want to do is go home and eat comfort food. And then there are points when the projects are coming through and you start to see the positive impact your work has on the learners’ lives, and you feel like you’ve got this! It’s just about pushing through and staying focused says Tero. And I guess the yoga helps keep him cool, calm, and collected too (well, it works 80% of the time).

What keeps Aape and Miemo pushing forward is the feedback we receive from our users, customers, partners, and even from those we don’t work with. We’re at a stage where people who don’t know us are asking “why haven’t we heard of you before?” Not to mention, the unsolicited feedback we receive from our users. With only one simple link and no incentive for them to send us any feedback, the messages we receive are always overwhelmingly positive. It’s truly incredible to read how Funzi has helped our users realize what they can achieve.

“Feeling of wanting to throwing in the towel and analyzing that frustration, points us in the direction of where we need to go. Keeps us nimble and humble.” - Aape Pohjavirta

How incremental is Funzi’s success in your opinion in changing the world for the better?

Aape believes that we truly possess the power to change the way the world works. Mobile is accessed by the vast majority, and we have the proven ability to change individual behavior, which means that with Funzi, the world could learn. “We are seeing our influence in the feedback, in the interviews, surveys, and user testing”, says Miemo. So the impact is there, but it’s just about scaling it to reach the 7.6 billion people that live in this world.

“When working on a new project, it’s easy to think that your project is the most important thing in the world. And while I think that what we’re doing is extremely vital to improve the current education system, whether it is Funzi’s success that will change the world or another company’s, is a different story” says Tero.  

Prior to Funzi and during our design process, we analyzed 100s and 1000s of mobile learning projects, a lot of good things have been achieved, but they are not scalable. So what makes Funzi different from other companies doing impactful work you may ask? Well, at the core of impact is change of existing behavioural pattern, the process of unlearning and learning, and I don’t see another company where that can happen at a distance Aape notes.

Where do you see Funzi in the next 5 years?

In 5 years’ time, we hope and believe that we would have expanded our reach to address at least 1 billion people. We also hope that in the developing market, we would be the go to platform when people want to learn new skills. The spotify of learning as Aape would say. And we would also be able to keep everything free for the end-users. Forever.

According to Miemo, it’s rather black and white in a startup. You either fail miserably or succeed gloriously and bring prosperity and happiness to everyone. “I don’t see a middle ground where Funzi would just be in limbo.”

Back in 2015, our founders had an interview with our dear friend from Good News Finland to talk about our plans to educate billions worldwide. While our mobile app has turned into a web app, our learning service available in not 4 but 9 languages, and our team has grown from 7 to 12, our vision remains the same. We are still in the business of making sure that everyone has access to quality learning. Because to quote Nelson Mandela, education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Phuong Tran
Marketing & Communications at Funzi.
Passionate about sharing beautiful stories of inspiring people.