It's hard work - but I'm worth it

Be inspired by Mikko Vihersalo, a man who left a well-paid and respected job as a Hornet fighter pilot to become a tennis coach and ended up as the founder and manager of a trampoline park.

In Pitäjänmäki in Helsinki, deep in the bowels of a coalbunker, we are greeted by 2,800 square metres of colourful trampoline surfaces. You have your aerobic trampolines, your jump towers, foam pits and a dodge ball play area. This is RUSH TRAMPOLINE PARK, founded and masterminded by entrepreneur Mikko Vihersalo, and he has just put on his trademark neon orange non-slip socks, ready to jump on a trampoline.

"I had this idea that what if I could make a living from trampolines"

You can’t work just for money

Back in 2013, Mikko Vihersalo was working in the military staff of the Lapland Air Force wing. His 13-year contract with the Air Force was coming to an end, and though comfortable in his childhood dream job he felt something had to change. Three years earlier a neck injury had put an end to his flying days and forced him to continue his career behind the desk. Now, should he stay behind the desk until early retirement or leave and make his own destiny in the tennis sports arena? Mentally, he had made the move years ago. So, he felt confident and relieved the day he resigned.

- "You can't work just for money and I would no longer have had the same burning interest for the job if I had had to spend another 10 years doing paperwork."

The leap from tennis to trampolines

Mikko Vihersalo had great visions for his local tennis centre. He had spent the better part of 10 years in the military speculating and calculating on the profitability of the tennis centre; how it could improve if a badminton court or floor hockey court was added to the tennis centre, or if the entire place was turned into an adventure centre. His computer was full of visitor estimates and square metre and Euro calculations.

Eventually, he got to know an engineer from tennis circles, Harri Puhakka, and together they sparked the idea of a trampoline park.

- "Trampolines strengthen the neck and back muscles, which are exposed to the same g-forces when jumping as in the Hornet cockpit. And I had this idea that what if I could make a living from trampolines."

The two joined forces to come up with a profitable business idea. Once they felt comfortable about their concept, they decided it was time to turn the Excel figures into arena cubic metres.

You need to show faith to gain trust

Straightaway plans were set in motion to make RUSH TRAMPOLINE PARK become reality. Vihersalo and Puhakka flew from Rovaniemi to Helsinki, met with business angels and discussed financing with the banks. The men had faith in their own plan, but obtaining finance required a bit of patience. Some banks turned them down.

"They perhaps had faith in the business, but not in the people behind it. We were told we had too little experience of running a business."

But when a US trampoline manufacturer joined as a financial backer and with the help of the state owned financing company Finnvera, things quickly began to escalate. Nordea decided to back the project and according to Nordea account manager Pertti Kohonen, they did so because the financial package with Finnvera could be arranged satisfactorily. Nordea also had faith in the entrepreneurs, since they had invested their own money.

“They obviously had considered and discussed this thoroughly and had made serious calculations. They had looked at the financial side properly and prepared for meetings. We received well-prepared reports from them, as well as answers to our questions."

Another deciding factor, of course, was the two entrepreneurs' faith in their own idea. 

"My attitude has always been that challenges and setbacks slow you down, but they don't stop you.”

Let nothing stop you

To Vihersalo, the most challenging thing about making the leap to become an entrepreneur has been the hard work of managing the entire operation.

- "There have been so many variables, whether it has been IT, hiring staff or maintenance of rented premises, that we have had to find out about from scratch."

One thing is planning your business and budget another is planning a timetable. Theirs caused all sorts of problems, like the delayed delivery of trampoline parts that forced the trampoline park opening to be postponed. Or the need for Mikko Vihersalo to move his family – wife and two kids not yet at school – the 800 km from Rovaniemi to Helsinki. To top that Vihersalo’s private earnings temporarily dropped 75 %.

- "However, my attitude has always been that challenges and setbacks slow you down, but they don't stop you. What we originally set out to do, we have now eventually achieved.” 

Vihersalo and Puhakka have invested nearly EUR 1.5 million in the venture. The company now has 30 employees. In the end, construction of the park required eight sea containers of metal and springs.

RUSH TRAMPOLINE PARK also received invaluable coaching from Nordea. According to Pertti Kohonen, this primarily involved asking lots of questions.

- "We asked what the profitability threshold was, if things did not go according to plan, i.e. how much room for manoeuvre the company had? In this kind of project, you need to take equipment and conditions into account, and of course the safety aspect, which in this case had been given proper consideration.”

"In some ways running a business is all about having the courage to seize the moment.”

All the hard work has paid off

The doors to RUSH TRAMPOLINE PARK open at 12 noon on weekdays. It’s a popular venue attracting snowboarders, skaters and regular people. But trampoline parks are far from solely a Finnish trend. According to Vihersalo, there is a trampoline park in most towns in the USA, and multiple parks in New York and Los Angeles. Parks are currently being built in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, too. And plans for the near future RUSH TRAMPOLINE PARK include opening new parks, first in other areas in the capital region and later, elsewhere in Finland. But, for now, Vihersalo is jumping on a trampoline in Pitäjänmäki and in Vantaa. On his journey from pilot to businessman, he has to his surprise been able to put other skills learned during his flying career to good use.

- "In some ways running a business is all about having the courage to seize the moment. Just like flying a Hornet fighter jet. Situation appraisal, communication skills, and ability to cope under pressure were skills that were needed in my previous job and now they are invaluable."

The story of RUSH TRAMPOLINE PARK may show that starting your own business is a lot of hard work, but the pay-off makes it all worthwhile.

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