Could one startup from Tampere help thousands of people in Finland?
Hey there, this is Emily from Red Brick. Welcome to “Founders’ 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 Karoliina Kauhanen — co-founder of Commu. On their mission, Commu aims to simplify asking for help and bringing people together.
Karoliina comes from an entrepreneurial family. However, she was not encouraged to become an entrepreneur herself. She was told to be careful, and she says she would not have founded a company if it weren’t for her co-founders, Sami Ekmark and Ronnie Nygren.
Founded during COVID times, Commu’s goal is to help people help each other. Humans are social beings, and social isolation is often overlooked. This is what makes Commu’s vision stand out as a simple app for a simple purpose: it brings people together.
We sat down with Karoliina who got real about how the core team operates, investor challenges, and the pros and cons of Commu’s large community.
Emily: Commu is now a significant app helping thousands of people in Finland. But how did it come to be?
Karoliina: We were asking a lot of questions. How do we lower the threshold for people asking for help? How do we get to know more about our neighborhoods, and the community we live in?
I experienced really bad loneliness during my studies in Helsinki. My family lived hundreds of kilometers away, and I didn’t have anyone I could fully rely on.
Loneliness is a ticking time bomb that always causes problems. Every second adult suffers from loneliness frequently. The capacity of our public sector is limited — it cannot treat everybody all the time.
We do not need complicated solutions when people can find help themselves.
Emily: How are the founder roles split? What are the key skills you look for in the Commu team?
Karoliina: Sami is a straight-up sales person. No shame, but very empathetic, which makes it a nice package. Ronnie is notoriously precise, which is sometimes annoying, but really good for business.
I deal with marketing and investor relations. Sami sells like crazy and he is also a psychiatric nurse, and Ronnie is a software developer so he has built the app. In short, in the founder team we have all the necessary skills. Now, we have three more employees and a couple of interns.
Emily: What do you look for when hiring?
Karoliina: We look for a similar kind of vibe in new members — people who want to do the future instead of just dreaming it.
Everyone is purpose-driven.
We are not requiring this, but it seems that people who want to work with us have experienced loneliness as well and do not want other people to feel the same way they did.
Emily: What makes a startup team perform well, in your opinion?
We live in different cities. We are not always working at the same table. We need to be able to trust that everyone is doing their share. Also, the team should be embracing the uncertainty, and ready to sell all the time. Add to that marketing and effective communication, even with a low budget… Especially with a low budget.
Emily: In parallel, can you give us a peek into the challenges Commu has had to overcome?
Karoliina: We’ve had plenty of challenges. We’re creating a platform that deals with people — and when there’s people there are always problems. How can we keep our users as safe as possible? There have been a few incidents of harassment, which is unfortunate but it happens. Luckily, we solved those super fast, which is one upside to the team and our users being active and always ready to solve the issues.
Also, when we realized that this job should be full-time, we had to really sit down and calculate and make the decision to resign from our jobs to do this. It was a high but also a low because of the uncertainty.
Another challenge was during our first funding round: we had a bit of hardships when one investor backed out so we had to find a new one.
Emily: That sounds like a big obstacle. How do you deal with investor challenges? Do you have any tips for other teams?
Karoliina: It was during the pre-seed investment rounds. At some point we were missing a few investors and we were looking at the list and assessing our options. That was when our real personality traits came out. Sami and I were very hopeful and positive, while Ronnie was more pessimistic and practical. We actually went and knocked at one of our potential investor’s door, because we needed an answer and they haven’t gotten back to us in weeks. So then we just drove there, knocked at the door, and asked for the CEO. They told us to come back in an hour. We came back in an hour and they ended up investing.
The key learning here is to just do it. Go out there and ask.
Emily: What is the driving-force behind your work?
Karoliina: Our community. When I have a bad day I open Commu and I read the notices our users have made. What kind of help they are giving and the help they are getting. That helps me keep the motivation high.
Our biggest success so far have been the thousands and thousands of helpings that have happened on the platform. Our users use the platform, find value in it, find help and get meaningful connections in helping others. Just listening to their experiences and hearing those stories gives me goosebumps. Just today, a user told us what they do in Commu and how it has changed her perception about meeting new people, and that she is not so anxious anymore around people. That is the best thing.
Emily: What or who inspires you the most? And why?
Karoliina: I wish that no one had to go through the same troubles I had to go through during my teenage years and during my studies.
If someone tells me something I have done has been helpful, that makes me feel good and it inspires me to keep doing what I’m doing.
Emily: What do you do for fun, any hobbies?
Karoliina: I read fiction. Fantasy books, adventure books. I am a support-adult for children, I meet them weekly and that energizes me a lot. Hanging out with them and listening to their not-so-major troubles. In comparison, when I tell them I have so many emails and messages they’re like “that’s so nice we wish we had those!” And I also play with my cat.
Emily: One last advice for future startup teams?
Karoliina: Fail fast and fail cheap! And also, negotiate all the time. Learn to be a better negotiator. Pick up the phone and ask! Whether it is just selling or asking for feedback, just pick up the phone and start calling.
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!💚