Interview with Saija Mahon, United Kingdom
Hi Saija, tell me what did you want to be when you grew up?
Definitely Police. I wanted to be a person of authority.
How do you feel about authority today?
Oh I'm not very good with it. That's why I started a business. I'm accountable for all the good decisions and bad decisions. They're all mine. But now my 10-year old is the boss of me.
Love is insane that way.
About love, what are the three loves in your life?
My daughter, my husband and music. Music is my alter ego. About 3 years ago, I wanted to find a way to be immersed in music and bought DJ decks to play vinyl records at home. Slowly people started asking me to play events and clubs. Now I'm playing venues and festivals. I can do it only on weekends. I run a digital marketing agency during the week.
That's unexpected. How did you get started in Digital Marketing?
I look for people with real passion, enthusiasm and ideas
I'm originally from Finland. When I came to London, I started working as a waitress to learn English. Eventually tried to find jobs in Marketing, which I loved and had a degree in. It wasn't easy. When hiring managers looked at me and my CV, all they saw was a waitress. Now, when I hire people to work in my company, I have a completely different method of interviewing. I look for people with real passion, enthusiasm and ideas about marketing. I found that I can get these people to flourish and find strengths they weren't aware of themselves.
Where are your team and your clients located?
Finland location was, at first, my way to keep a connection with home
Digital marketing is such an evolving world. This business brings me to different cultures and into very industries: fintech, beauty, retail and even construction industries. I'm always learning, which really keeps it interesting. We have an office here in London and also in Finland and Estonia. The Finland location was, at first, my way to keep a connection with home, but it turned into a strategic location to serve clients in Scandinavian countries.
Sounds fascinating. How many languages do you speak?
I speak Finnish, Swedish, English, and very bad Russian. Finland is a bilingual country. We have to learn Swedish in school. I also have family on my dad's side in Sweden.. aunties, uncles, cousins. But the two languages are completely different. If you go to Finland one day, which I hope you will, you'll see all the signs are first in Finnish and then in Swedish.
I look forward to being completely ignorant in two languages. But what’s your favorite place in the world?
The sound of the water is like a lullaby
There’s quite a few. Where I feel really free is the Archipelago of Finland. There are thousands of islands where I've been sailing with my dad and my brothers since I was little. The air is clean and it's such a beautiful place to be. I never sleep as well as I do when on the water. The sound of the water is like a lullaby. I’d sleep 12 hours in a row and wake up feeling 10 years younger.
And what about a place you haven't been - What's your dream destination?
I have to do it before I die.
Ah, I want to be in a yellow cab in NY! That’s my dream. Don’t laugh... I’ve never done it. Just want to ride around in a yellow cab. I have to do it before I die.
We'll hook you up when you come to NY. But tell me about the UK, what's the biggest difference between Finnish and British people?
After living in London a few years, I realized that people here are physically closer, open up easier, hug.. you know? Finnish people need lot more personal space than people in London.
British people open up easier...really? Wow.
Yeah, when I went back to Finland, I saw people were moving away from me because I was invading their personal space (ha ha). It's definitely a much more reserved nation. Don't get me wrong, Finnish people are really lovely but they do take their time to warm up to someone. I love London for all its diversity. I have friends from all over the world here. It just gives me energy and creativity.
Have you always been creative?
I didn’t even know I had that in me...
In a way I've become more creative through my business journey. Building websites and marketing is a creative process. I also love to write. I’ve written two books I never thought I would. One is about my journey as an entrepreneur. And the other is about taking action because I’m restless and like to "Do". I didn’t even know I had that in me... you know being an “author.”
Believe me, I understand. How did you get it done?
My friend who’s a proper author told me that you need to find a quiet place, open up your mind, and become the “receiver” or something like that....and the text will come. She said "Don’t force it. It’s already in your head. It’s your journey, your life." So I sat and waited to receive…I drank a bit of Prosecco and the books just came, ha ha!
So Prosecco and an open mind? Excellent! What are the titles of you books?
Actually I was going to call it “Getting Shit Done”
"The Modern Female Entrepreneur," and the “Art of Doing.” Actually I was going to call it “Getting Shit Done,” but my friend told me I can’t put that on Amazon.
I would absolutely buy a book called “Getting Shit Done.” Speaking of... tell me about operating in the business world as a woman.
Well I’ve had my situations. This is my 10th year as an entrepreneur. I’ve worked and studied really hard to get here. I’ve paid my dues. So "woman" shouldn’t come into it, but it does. It’s such a let down when I don’t get respect for my intelligence or knowledge...when it’s actually about something else altogether. It’s such a complete waste of time. But it happens to other women entrepreneurs.
Do you think there’s something to be gained in banding together as women entrepreneurs?
I thought it pretty clear from my photograph that I’m female, so I asked them to remove the "Female."
I don’t even like to be classified as a “woman entrepreneur." Why not just “entrepreneur?" I was interviewed for a magazine article about CEOs. The male CEO who was interviewed for the same article was called “CEO” and I was called “Female CEO.” I thought it pretty clear from my photograph that I’m female, so I asked them to remove the "Female." But there is another side to it. I am part of a few female founders groups. I’ve noticed it's beneficial to be in that environment, collaborate and share similar challenges. But it frustrates me still.
Since we're on the subject of frustration, how are you dealing with COVID?
... to be honest, it's pretty volatile
My life changed in 24 hrs when the UK was put into lock down. Look, I’m all up for change and it’s part of my work and life, but this change I just wasn’t ready. I couldn't accept it and there was nothing I could do. First two weeks I felt like a caged animal. It took that long until I learned to adapt and try to find opportunities. It's been a month for us, so for the past two weeks I’ve been much better, found a way to help current clients to pivot their businesses to a more digital format. These past two weeks have been a journey of discovery of how to change your life really rapidly. But I miss people and meetings and events. I try to find positive things and opportunities, but to be honest, it's pretty volatile. You can feel really good one minute because you’ve had a small win and then back down again. It's been really important to rely on my family and friends.
We are all coping and dealing best we can. But we are also at my favorite part of the interview. I'm going to give you 5 questions, which you have to answer very quickly with one or two words. Ready?
What offends you?
What’s one lesson do you feel most qualified to teach another person?
Empathy (because it's what I learned on my journey)
What makes you cringe?
When you're at your best, you're...
What change are you working on?
Accepting and adapting to the change with COVID at the moment.
Thanks so much, Saija. Where can people reach you?