Miikka Rosendahl – a creative tech pioneer from Finland and the founder and CEO of ZOAN– started out as a freelance graphic designer when he was 13 years old, and created his first company with his brother at the age of 19. Six years later in 2010 he founded ZOAN and he has been working with interactive 3D media ever since.
Since then ZOAN has grown into a 75-person global company with offices in five different continents and keeps scaling its operations further. ZOAN has attracted globally recognized awards and keeps transforming industries by leading them towards the hybrid era.
1. How did you get your idea or concept for the business?
Combining high-quality graphics with technology has always been a passion for me. When I started Zoan 10 years ago, I wanted to pursue that dream of being able to create hyper-realistic 3D environments that could be experienced as real as the real world. We’ve been constantly developing as a team and a company, and learning with every new project which has opened new doors in different industries. We always aim to create something that has never been done before, and that’s how we’ve built our path towards the things we do today.
2. What’s your company’s vision?
In brief, our vision is to lead industries for the hybrid era – meaning that we are facilitating the virtualization wave for companies and organizations.
3. What is unique about your business?
Most companies focus either on the latest technology or creating something extremely visual. We combine these two and mix that with a little bit of craziness. We are a team with super high standards and very passionate about what we do. We have put a lot of effort into our environment where top talent in the industry can flourish. We always want to keep on testing our limits and try out even the craziest things, and this is something that creates our unique twist.
4. What is your biggest achievement so far?
Our biggest achievement so far is the Virtual Helsinki project, creating an entire virtual city with lots of different applications. In the beginning, when we started out just with an idea, most people said it would be crazy and that there is no way that it would work. But today one of the most viral applications is virtual concerts and our first pilot gig got an audience of 1,4 million people.
5. How do you see your company in 10 years?
I believe that by 2030, Zoan consists of a group of companies: startups, scale-ups and more established companies that are focused on different solutions in the XR industry.
These ”powered by Zoan” companies will provide solutions for different areas like education, virtual events, concerts, and real estate. I see Zoan as a Google of the Virtual World. A very important thing for us as we are based in Finland, a country that is known for its quality education, is to start providing free, accessible education through virtual reality.
6. What are you like as an employer?
I believe in a company culture that is passion-driven. I want to find the people that have the same passion that aligns with our company’s vision, and also to help them achieve their personal dreams. We want to give the freedom to create new things that we can’t even imagine. In addition, we want to create a safe and supportive work environment. Same time when we’re doing amazing projects, products and services in our industry, we want to do it with amazing people.
7. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the XR industry? How do you deal with them?
There has always been this discussion in the XR industry that there are not enough headsets or that people won’t understand the technology. Our approach has always been that if the technology seems too difficult for people to understand we need to make it more understandable. If there are not enough devices in people’s homes, let’s do VR for museums, let’s do that for the places where people do have access to the needed equipment. We don’t want to get stuck by the challenges but rather find a way to deal with them and still be able to continue and push what we want to do further. For example: in our first virtual concert, we wanted it to be accessible for every citizen in Helsinki, even the ones without VR headsets, so we made the experience available for web browsers and mobile phones. So we always aim to find ways to react to the raising challenges.
8. How do you handle adversity and doubt?
It is part of the business, and this innovation industry you always live with a little bit of doubt. It is very important to talk about your ideas very openly and transparently. So that the people with whom you surround yourself can encourage but at the same time, they are ready to give constructive criticism when it’s needed. When you’re open to putting your ideas out there openly, you start to get feedback and you can start testing your idea while developing it, rather than building it in a black box. So, keep on communicating your idea and what you want to build. That’s the way I believe you get over the doubts.
9. If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in VR/AR, what would it be?
It’s gonna be a long road, so you need to be prepared. If you really are passionate about that media, go for it. If you only think that it is trendy or it’s something that is now rising technology, I’m not sure if it’s for you. If you believe you can offer real solutions, then you’re willing to go through all these different things along the road. Also, if you’re working in a company where VR can add extra value, I encourage you to go for it if you believe that it is a solution to solve something bigger. When I tried Oculus Rift Development Kit number 1 when it came out as a kick-starter, I fell in love with this technology. I knew that this is the ultimate technology where I can combine tech with high-quality graphics. I was willing to go all in.
10. What is one habit you wish you could break?
Filling my calendar with lots and lots of meetings. I try to be better with that but I often forget and I then have 10-12 meetings in one day and I won’t have any time to actually think and plan. That’s probably my bad habit.
11. What does creativity mean to you?
I think that such a powerful word and it means so much to me. Creativity is an important force in life, you can use it in so many areas. It’s not just for business or visual industry or creating technology but in everything. I love the concept of creativity, I want to think of myself as a creative person so it’s something that’s a part of my DNA.
12. What book has inspired you the most?
I really like biographies, like Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, their life story has been really impactful and powerful. Also for me where I find peace is in the Bible, there’s a lot of wisdom in there. It inspires me to find a lot of things from such an old book that can be relevant today if you have the patience to go deep enough.
13. What do you do when you’re not at work?
I mostly spend time with my family. I have a wife and a 2,5-year-old girl. Our little girl definitely keeps us very busy, when we’re at home. Also here in Finland, a huge part of our culture is going to the sauna, so that’s one of my favourite things to do in my free time.
14. Who do you see as an inspiration in the industry?
There’s a lot of people. But for me, it’s not just one person, because I know it’s teamwork. When creative minds come together and you see very inspiring projects, for me that’s what I like about this industry.