Forward: “When I came to Finland, I only had 1,500 euros in my pocket” – Jesse Tran, Co-Founder and CEO of Rens Original
Born in Vietnam, Jesse Khanh Tran started his entrepreneurial journey in 2015, after studying at Aalto University. After his first startup called FactoryFinder failed, Jesse took another shot at entrepreneurship on another lane: with sneakers. He co-founded Rens together with Son Chu, a friend with a similar background. Rens quickly gathered together a massively successful Kickstarter campaign to build a more environmentally friendly sneaker industry – through sustainable kicks made from 21 cups of used coffee grounds and 6 recycled plastic bottles.
Tell us what your company does and why you do it without talking about your product?
At Rens Original, we turn coffee waste and plastic bottles into something that is both sexy and innovative. We are taking the garbage out of the landfills, trash out of the ocean, and… putting them on your feet.
Tell us something unexpected within your entrepreneurial journey?
When I came to Finland, I only had 1,500 euros in my pocket. My first job was shoveling snow off of roofs. And now, eight years later, I’m leading a growing sustainable fashion startup making shoes out of coffee and plastic waste. Prime Minister Sanna Marin spoke at the World Economic Forum earlier this year and said: “I feel that the American Dream can be achieved best in the Nordic countries.” It’s true, and I couldn’t agree more. I’m actually convinced Finland is the only country where Rens could have been born.
What is the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
One of our investors – who is the leader of the biggest gaming company in Finland – told me, “an organization’s culture is integral to its success.” When it was just my co-founder, Son Chu, and I, we were already friends and had worked together for years. Our team culture wasn’t intentional then—it just happened naturally. As our team has grown, I have realized that in order to grow sustainably, we need to build a healthy workplace culture. People working together don’t have to agree on everything but need to be able to work towards a shared vision.
What can you do today that you were not capable of a year ago?
It takes a long time for me to feel comfortable managing a growing company. A year ago, there is no way that I would have been able to keep up with the speed that Rens is growing. I’ve been humbled more times than I would like to admit; hence I’ve had to learn how to be the leader that my team needs and grow myself professionally at a “sustainably breakneck” pace, day in day out.
Where do you find inspiration?
I find inspiration from my co-founder and colleagues every single day. Honestly, what we are doing every day is just so cool that it’s been a few years, and I’m still not sick of it, actually the exact opposite. Outside of work, I get inspired by reading about history and learning about different countries and cultures. Oh, and memes! I really love memes!
Where do you want to be in the next 5 years?
I want to be right here in Finland, building the first Finnish fashion unicorn. 🦄
If you found Jesse Tran’s story inspiring, join us by spreading positivity and sharing the story on social media with the hashtag #MovingForward.
Forward is a 6-part short blog series highlighting inspirational founders in the Finnish startup ecosystem. In every post, we ask these founders to share their perspectives, hopes, and biggest dreams with others – all in 6 questions. Our goal is to uplift and inspire the ecosystem – now more than ever, we need great, positive entrepreneurial stories that make us look forward to the future. The series is co-created by Slush and Maria 01.