How was Valo Motion founded, Raine?

Written by
Prakhar Sharma
October 18, 2023
# min read
Raine Kajastila and kids enjoying ValoArena, a full-body mixed reality game for up to six players

“How to get people excited about exercising and movement using technology?”

This was the big question Raine Kajastila had at Aalto University as a postdoctoral researcher. Inspired by his long background in climbing, that question led him to found Valo Motion in 2016. This is the story about how Valo Motion ended up revolutionizing movement with the help of tech and immersive games.

On a mission to get people moving with the help of technology 

Dr. Raine Kajastila, CEO and founder of Valo Motion, has always been curious about sports, games, and human–computer interactions. When he got an opportunity to continue research as postdoctoral researcher in the field at Aalto University, he did not hesitate.

“My research position in Prof. Perttu Hämäläinen’s world-leading game research group focused on how to get people inspired to move and exercise with the help of games and technology. That same vision is still true at Valo Motion today”, he says.

After his kid, born in 2011, became old enough to stand on their feet to test the games, the vision became even clearer: “To create games and technology that motivate people to move regardless of age or skill level  – and have fun while doing it.”

What really tickled Raine’s fancy in the research project was that he got to choose any sports activity that he wished and start exploring opportunities around that. As climbing had been a dear hobby to him for over 15 years, he naturally chose that. “When I got to do research on a subject that I was personally very interested in, it was even more inspiring and exciting. Also, expertise in the sport helped to do impactful research ”

“When I got to do research on a subject that I was personally very interested in, it was even more inspiring and exciting.”

How do you do research on a subject like that? You build a climbing wall to the university’s garage and start building the software and components around it. 

“The prototypes I made back then were well-tested by my own kids and also fellow climbers. The project had a certain personal feeling to it because of that. Also when prototypes are as exciting for a 2-year-old and also to a skilled adult climber then you know that you are onto something”, Raine reminisces. 

As you might have already guessed, Raine was not planning to stay forever in the garage. 

As the first research videos came out in 2014, the feedback was positive and the research and videos got posted by media such as TechCrunch, Gizmodo, and Wired. A handful of climbing gym owners globally reached out and encouraged Raine to continue developing it into a product. 

As an active, curious, and easily excited person, Raine was determined to turn this research that combined his dear hobby and meaningful mission into a profitable business.

“That’s when I realized that we should make this a product and commercialize this”, Raine says. 

Although ValoClimb prototypes were tested by Raine in a local climbing gym, there was still a long way from turning a prototype into a commercial product. Luckily, Raine was able to acquire governmental funding to be used inside the university for a year-long commercialization project. Funding enabled to recruit other sports and games enthusiasts such as Leo Holsti and Joni Vähämäki, to join the team and Raine started to plan to spin off a proper company from the research. 

In 2015–2016 the team commercialized the product with the help of Aalto University’s internal funding, further developed the product, and finally took it out of Aalto University's garage to a big outdoor expo in Germany to promote ValoClimb. 

In August 2016 the hard work paid off and Valo Motion was officially founded by these three friends. Also, others from the team continued working in the company. After that many skilled game developers, designers, and other professionals joined the team and made what Valo Motion is today! 

Born global  

Only two months after Valo Motion was founded, something that one might call “beginner’s luck” happened. A Facebook video of a new two-player game went viral in one weekend – with 8 million views around the world in a single weekend.

“Suddenly everybody wanted to buy our product. Before the video, we had already interested customers, but nothing prepared us for this. For three months we spent our days answering emails and inquiries”, Raine smiles. 

They made a decision to go straight to the global market. 

After the first year, they were operating in 30 different countries. Becoming global also meant that the company culture and team were built to be international from day one. Today, there are 11 different nationalities and 35 employees around the world in the Valo Motion team. 

Because of the massive global interest, the founder team made a decision to not apply for external funding. After commercializing the product at Aalto University, Valo Motion has grown solely by sales with no outside funding.

But it definitely wasn’t just beginner's luck that made Valo Motion a growing and profitable company in a relatively short time. The bottom line for Valo Motion’s success is to create unique products that have not existed before, grow with reasonable speed, and stay open to new ideas.

“We put a lot of emphasis on evaluating how we want to grow and what is needed to do that -- we don’t want to limit ourselves.”

“We put a lot of emphasis on evaluating how we want to grow and what is needed to do that. All the possible cards are still on the table because we don’t want to limit ourselves”, Raine says. 

Moving the future – literally

Would you like to have a next-level experience of the classic game “The Floor Is Lava” or race in space? Or maybe you have always wanted to be a flying superhero to beat the bad guys? All of these are possible with Valo Motion products: ValoArena, ValoClimb and ValoJump.

The original plan was to place Valo Motion’s products in indoor climbing areas. “We even went to a big outdoor fair in Germany to promote ValoClimb. We stayed at a camper in the yard in a very DIY way and made it work”, Raine laughs.

In the end, it appeared that the biggest interest for Valo Motion’s products was in family entertainment centres and indoor activity parks. That’s where Valo Motion products are mainly found globally. The latest product, ValoArena, was developed for three years and launched in 2022. The first installation was done at SuperPark, Finland.

Raine with Sales team at the 2022 IAAPA Expo in Orlando, US, celebrating our win for the best new product with Valo Arena

ValoArena is a full-body mixed reality game for up to six players. You can play games where you, for example, immerse yourself in a Hollywood heist operation or join a space battle with lightsabers. Who could say no to this? 

Then there is ValoJump, an interactive trampoline that combines jumping and highly entertaining exercise. “It’s a full workout”, Raine points out. Gamifying trampolines – that’s not something you would think one could do in the first place. But that out-of-the-box thinking to create products you didn’t even know you needed has been the main strategy for Valo Motion. 

Today, Raine and his team are literally moving the future – Valo Motion games can get over 195,000 plays per day around the world. That is an actual person jumping, climbing, and playing the games. This is the most important metric on how we measure the success of the company! The goal is to have 1 million plays per day in 2030.

The goal is to have 1 million plays per day in 2030.

“The most rewarding feeling to our whole team is when you see kids and families with exhilarated laughter, cheering for friends, and having fun with our products. It’s what keeps us moving”, Raine says enthusiastically. 

Serious about fun 

The imaginative and enthusiastic team with a child-minded, curious attitude is the key to the success of Valo Motion. Everyone is excited about the mission: to get people moving. 

“We believe in fun but also take it seriously. Every team member gets to take a lot of ownership of their actions and have an impact on where the company is going. And how their careers are growing within the company”, Raine says. 

When wondering about what kind of workplace Valo Motion would be, all the founders had the same vision. “We spend a big part of our time at work, so we should build a company where that time is fun but also inspiring in a way that there are opportunities for growth”, Raine says.

“We spend a big part of our time at work, so we should build a company where that time is fun but also inspiring in a way that there are opportunities for growth.”

Right now, Valo Motion is at its scale-up phase of growth. Even though growth is done in a reasonable and thoughtful way, it does come with its own pains. 

“We are trying to be one step ahead when it comes to the well-being of our team. As the team grows, there will be a bigger need for HR and internal processes. So right now, we are building a solid basis for that”, Raine says. In the near future, they are planning to hire new colleagues for R&D, warehouse, and sales and financial teams. 

How would you describe your team members, Raine? 

“Open-minded, curious, and empathetic team players. This growth journey is 100 % a joint effort and we couldn’t be here without a team that believes in our mission and is working hard to achieve it”, he sums thoughtfully. 

Part of Valo Motion team at the 2023 IAAPA Expo Europe in Vienna, Austria

6 facts about Valo Motion, in a nutshell:

  • Founded in 2016 
  • In the first year, ValoClimb was shipped to 30 countries 
  • 35 employees globally from 11 different nationalities 
  • In 2023 Valo Motion products are operated in more than 65 countries
  • 220,000+ Valo Motion games are played daily around the world
  • The goal for 2030 is to have 1 million plays per day around the world

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