We talked to Tasha Tolmacheva, co-founder and Community Director at PropTech Finland on they are uniting the Finnish built environment startup community and here is what she said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Tasha Tolmacheva: We had it rather light here in Finland, compared to other countries. Of course, we had to adapt to some new routines of working from home, having all meetings online and wearing a mask in public transport, not so much travelling abroad for us and almost no tourists or visitors in Helsinki for a year. Nevertheless, all in all, 2020 was a good year in many respects. For me personally, it was a year of breaking through, I had more time to study a new language (Swedish) and have passed the National Language Test in November.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded PropTech Finland.
Tasha Tolmacheva: PropTech Finland is a non-profit association of property technology startups. We are building a community of real estate, construction and technology companies to help proptech startups grow their business in the Nordic region and internationally. We started the association in 2019 and have organized several local and international events, built a local community and established strong ties with various proptech hubs and initiatives all over the globe.
How does PropTech Finland innovate?
Tasha Tolmacheva: Our main focus is to help startups bring innovation to real estate and construction; one of the most conservative industries there is. We are researching the local market, helping startups get their message out there and showcase their solution, matchmake them with relevant stakeholders, support their marketing efforts, and organize events.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Tasha Tolmacheva: Surprisingly, the pandemic gave the industry a push to look for innovation and digital solutions more actively. Many members reported an increased interest and more proactive, more constructive approach from potential clients, which were partly unavailable or very slow in 2019. As one of our members said: “The guys I used to call for months, all in vain, are calling me now”. Another interesting trend is the growing interest in Finnish proptechs from different investors both in Finland and abroad. The pandemic didn’t stop their scouting activities. On the contrary, we see more and more interest from investors to understand the market, meet and talk with startups. Most of them have found ways to handle their processes online. This is a positive trend, which might quickly revolutionize the startup scene here in Finland.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Tasha Tolmacheva: During the first wave, in spring, some of our startups had to make difficult decisions. The main reason was that almost all the activities were frozen, the clients and investors were waiting for the situation to unfold, and startups just didn’t have enough cash flow to sustain the headcount. But already in summer, the situation became more clear, and most of the startups were hiring again. Some of them finally closed the investment rounds and now are expanding very quickly.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Tasha Tolmacheva: We had to figure out how to organize efficient networking online. Most event organizers were facing the same challenge – people don’t come to conferences just for the content; they want to build a network, meet someone, and establish a connection. Zoom webinars are good for giving information, but the networking part is just not there… During 2020 several new events platforms were born or developed, and we are very happy to see this trend growing. Online networking can be as efficient as a traditional face to face, if organized properly and if the platform has necessary features.
Did you benefit from any government grants and did that help keep your business afloat?
Tasha Tolmacheva: Finnish government provided a lot of support in 2020, and many startups were able to survive the pandemic only thanks to that. Already in spring, our government launched several programs to support small businesses, like Business Finland grants and local grants from municipalities. There are still some support packages available for the most affected events and HoReCa businesses.
Your final thoughts?
Tasha Tolmacheva: We had the interesting year 2020, which brought us lots of stress but at the same time showed us lots of new ways to live, to do business, to communicate. I believe we will face much more innovation coming in 2021.
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