Founder Stories: Meet Toni Paju from Crowdsorsa

Some Risks Are Worth Taking

Image: Toni Paju (pictured) pitching Crowdsorsa at TechChill event in Riga, 2022

Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to “Founder Stories” series, where we celebrate and showcase different startup founders who were taking part in Red Brick Accelerator. Hope you enjoy reading them!

This story features Crowdsorsa’s founder, Toni Paju, who gives us a peek into the life of a crowdsourcing startup founder in Finland.

Toni is an environmentalist, an engineer by training and an entrepreneur at heart. His background is in the road sector and has worked as a road-specialist and environmentalist abroad with the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, to name a few. He returned to Finland during COVID and started Crowdsorsa then.

Crowdsorsa is a developed mobile game aimed for collecting information on road conditions by citizens. The idea came from Toni’s experience in road work, and to describe how the journey started, he says, “When you’re doing something for the first time, it feels like you’ve done this magic trick… but it’s not enough. And now you have to do ten other similar magic tricks to keep it going.”

Keep reading to learn about the journey of Crowdsorsa from idea to execution, the risk-taking, and the motivation along the way.

Emily: How did you come up with the idea for your startup? Why is it important for you?

Toni: There’s a problem that I know well through my work in the road sector. I noticed there is a gap in how frequent data collection would benefit road maintenance. If you collect more frequently, you’re able to do more preventative maintenance which is way safer and cheaper.

Roads are the most valuable asset that cities own.

It would be extremely relevant for them to start doing preventative maintenance, which means they need to do some lighter actions on the roads, to maintain the well-being and economies of the municipalities. Pavement decay and degradation are like an inverted S-curve, slowly degrading in the beginning and then it starts speeding up. So, if you don’t fix it quickly when it starts showing cracks, it then immediately deteriorates, especially in Finland with this climate.

Emily: Are municipalities or public sector bodies responsive when you approach them about these issues? Is it difficult to sell to those organizations?

Toni: They have been responsive. The current trend in Finland is that the public sector wants more data-driven decision-making. In the past, decisions have been somewhat subjective. The recognized problem is, when you have multiple people evaluating the same network, you can’t really calibrate people to see things in the same way. Even yourself, if you’re assessing something from one day to the next, depending on your mood, the way you perceive the damage might change. This is why the shift to more data-driven solutions is happening, which is great. Crowdsorsa is data-driven, aimed at making the cities better places to live, and that is what the governmental bodies want as well at the end of the day.

Emily: What are your most difficult decisions?

Toni: When you have to let someone go, that’s the most difficult decision. I don’t like bookkeeping and budget decisions as well.

Emily: How did you build your team and what, in your opinion, makes a team successful?

Toni: You just have to get people who are good enough to do the job, who are excited and believe in the experience so that they grow into the world-class people you surround yourself with. I dislike the idea that you need to always have a “world-class team,” you cannot have a world-class team unless you happen to live in a world-class city and you happen to bump into world-class people, it just doesn’t happen.

So, just try to get smart people and grow together, and I think I’ve been lucky in that area. We are three years in, five team members onboard and still building.

Back in 2021 during Red Brick accelerator program, Crowdsorsa team Toni Paju and Juhani Poutanen got their first co-working office space at Platform6 from the City of Tampere. Image credits: EMIL BOBYREV, AAMULEHTI.

Emily: What role did participating in a startup accelerator play for you?

Toni: It had a crucial role. Without it, we wouldn’t have gone anywhere. It was mainly because of the push we got for us raising our first round of funding, good peer support, getting an office space, tips on how you can work systematically in the customer discovery process, and more coaching to get started. I really recommend it.

Emily: What helps you not give up and keep your motivation?

Toni: I like it. It is a really tough job, you have to be able to tolerate stress, you have to do it adequately well.

Those small victories along the way help you stay motivated. We have this momentum going on and we’re genuinely moving forward because we’re taking risks. The impact and the small victories that risks bring are my motivators.

Emily: Do you have any advice for first-time founders?

Toni: Be persistent. There’s a limit to how much time you should spend in accelerators or listening to mentors. Pick up your phone and start calling your customers, their answers are the best understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

At the end of the day, sales are what takes the company forward!

I was the first investor in my idea, I put all of my savings into it while the others did not want to take the risk. I am now reaping the fruits of that decision. Being able to go from 10,000 € turnover in the first year to 100,000 € in the next year and this year around 300,000 €; that proves something about the value of the product, and how that risk was worth taking, really. Sometimes you just have to jump in the water, either you swim or you drown. Take the risks, do the magic.

Red Brick Accelerator is supporting the growth of early-stage startups, ready to make an impact with their ideas. Check out the programs from our website and apply now!💚