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May 14, 2024

The Beginning of Lukiolaisten Kirjakauppa: Riku Asikainen reveals how he turned an ingenious idea into a successful business venture at the age of 22

By Evli Growth Partners
Riku Asikainen
Managing Partner
Riku Asikainen grew up surrounded by computers, courtesy of his father’s IT business. However, instead of following his father’s tech-savvy footsteps to become an IT entrepreneur, Asikainen took the Bezos route (before Jeff himself) by becoming a book salesman.

This blog post is part of The Founder Files series, exploring the human side of entrepreneurship, where the distinction between success and failure is often a fine line. From founding and scaling, all the way to the exit, we reveal the unfiltered, authentic stories behind entrepreneurial journeys. Ready to hear the truth?

The image of a successful, self-made individual is often glamorized, leading to an almost mystical belief that entrepreneurship is an inherent trait. Growing up with an IT entrepreneur father, Riku Asikainen knew from a young age what it took to run your own business. Embracing risks, navigating setbacks with resilience, and working long hours away from home were familiar to him. Yet, the desire to be the boss of his own life and create something meaningful ultimately drew Asikainen into the world of entrepreneurship as well.

“As a child, I missed having my father at home a lot, so I declared to my mom that I would never become an entrepreneur. But as I grew up, I realized that taking matters into your own hands is often the easiest way to get things done”, Asikainen says. “Entrepreneurship then became not just an option but the only path to take.” 

Fun times and hard work at the Posti warehouse hub in Pasila, Helsinki.

This is also how Lukiolaisten Kirjakauppa, Asikainen’s first company and most well-known venture, came to be. It all began when Asikainen was elected as the student body president just two weeks into his high school career, a somewhat unusual position for a freshman. He had been questioning the high prices of school books, and with the help of his high school friends, he set up a schoolbook agency. Even though all the older students wondered, "Who the hell is this kid?", as he recalls, Asikainen managed to convince the student body with his business idea.

“My time at the student council served as an excellent lesson on how to motivate people, especially when you lack tangible resources or concrete incentives in the beginning. As a leader, you have to bring positive energy to the table.”

The business model of Lukiolaisten Kirjakauppa was simple yet ingenious: collect book orders from the student body, purchase the required books directly from the publisher at a good price, and deliver them to the school on the first day of the school year. In this way, students could easily collect their pre-ordered books from the school lobby at the beginning of the semester and get them at a better price, too. Local student councils also benefited from the business model, as they earned good commissions from all the books sold. 

“I never should have settled, even for the amount I was initially asking.”

Throughout his high school years, Asikainen dedicated his summers to working on the book business. The venture, initially selling books only to Asikainen’s high school, rapidly expanded to neighboring schools as well. As the 90’s depression hit, Asikainen began his business studies at the university. Faced with challenges in securing a summer job, he turned to his high school business endeavor.

“That summer, we teamed up with 16 schools and made way more cash than we expected. I thought we had to do this bigger and better, so in 1992, we expanded it nationwide.”

Soon, the company unexpectedly received its first takeover bid of 150,000 Mk from a book wholesaler. Asikainen thought that he could settle for 1,000,000 Mk, but in the end, no deals were done. 

“It turned out to be a stroke of luck that no sales were made, as I later managed to sell it for multiple times the initial price. I never should have settled, even for the amount I was initially asking.”

“And that’s how businesses should operate: providing real added value to customers without scamming anyone.”

Lukiolaisten Kirjakauppa wasn't really started at a specific moment; rather, it was piloted from the start over several summers. Leveraging Asikainen’s student council background and networks, collaborations with student councils unfolded seamlessly, and the company turned a profit right from the beginning. 

“Our business model made the ordeal of ordering and delivering books so easy – it was simply the smartest way to do it. We could genuinely claim that our book deals were unbeatable. And that’s how businesses should operate: providing real added value to customers without scamming anyone.”

As the company grew, Asikainen began offering summer jobs to active student council members, entrusting them with a lot of responsibilities and big business problems to tackle. For him, working with the brightest and most ambitious peers each summer was immensely rewarding.

Getting set for the important stretch when the year's sales peak during the back-to-school season.

“At times, there could be situations where 100,000 books had to be delivered over the weekend. The kids worked together to solve the problems and thrived – it resembled something akin to the Slush phenomenon."

Asikainen shares the idea that entrepreneurship is often unnecessarily mystified. Like many others, his path to entrepreneurship was a matter of choice rather than a predetermined destiny.

"When I launched my company at the age of 22, I received a lot of support from my peers, even though there were hardly any other fellow entrepreneurs in business school at that time. Sure, for some people being an entrepreneur is probably easier than for others, but it’s not that you are either born to be an entrepreneur or not. I have witnessed people who don't necessarily come across as the typical extroverted entrepreneurs found their own companies and do extremely well.”

In the next part of the series, we will delve deeper into what hurdles Lukiolaisten Kirjakauppa, a new and disruptive business, faced in the market.

Main online store operations were complemented by brick-and-mortar bookstores. One of the stores in Kamppi, Helsinki in 1999.

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Riku Asikainen grew up surrounded by computers, courtesy of his father’s IT business. However, instead of following his father’s tech-savvy footsteps to become an IT entrepreneur, Asikainen took the Bezos route (before Jeff himself) by becoming a book salesman.

READ MORE