Zelos team management app was chosen for the top prize of the Nordic Angel Program by EstBAN competition at Latitude59 tech conference 2019, that was being held in Tallinn on May 15th and 16th. Nordic Angel Program is a business angel training and investment program led by startup investors, where they invest into the startups chosen by themselves.
Roman Pototski from DeltaHeroes met with Johanna-Mai Riismaa, founder and CEO of Zelos, a popular team management app:
Fast, fix-as-you-go approach
Johanna has been coordinating volunteers at large festivals for over 15 years. She can already boast an impressive list of clients, who are the largest film festival in Estonia PÖFF or short for Black Nights Film Festival, the biggest robotics festival in the world Robotex which is also being held in Tallinn, and Viljandi Folk Music Festival, Latitude59 tech conference and many others.
Johanna remembered how she was helping PÖFF film festival to build their community of volunteers:
“I was impressed by how the team of volunteers was forming during the festival: two desks became four, then it turned to twenty-four people at the festival, and then fifty people were involved. The team grew by itself and I was good at managing it; growing with the team was natural to me.
Then other teams started asking her for help with their events. This is when she understood that she has to do something: “I got bored of things I’ve been doing. This was the type of “let’s do something silly” boredom. Hence the prototype was created, but we needed 24/7 support for the website.”
Value of Accelerators
As other events started approaching for help, startups followed. Johanna went to receive consulting in Storytek accelerator. “At Storytek, we got a mentor for the whole week. We sat in front of three smart people from the industry and made them listen to our stories. That was super valuable. The accelerator had a really free atmosphere.”
The product was ready on the first of October, with first test clients on-board. “Then we were thinking about what’s wrong with this version, and that was just 6 months ago. At the time, we were already working with the Startup Wise Guys accelerator. Participation in the accelerators was a very valuable experience. Startup Wise Guys just threw quality people at us. On the second week into the program, the app was launched into the stores” — Johanna adds.
“The value of accelerator is that you get to see the world of startups; you get to understand the playground. One gets money in exchange for something — be it share of a company or else. One aspect that helped me, is that as a participant you get to understand the use of lingo. For example, what does Valuation cap of a company mean? You get to understand how to use these words in your future talks.”
But also personal experience is important — it is your real life adventure, so you can dive into the digital world by yourself. That is why sometimes people with Harvard degrees can’t beat high school kids.
I don’t know how to complain
When asked about the gender pay gap, Johanna replies: “I am always privileged; I have higher education. I don’t work the type of jobs that cause the pay gap. Not too young, not too old. Because I am the privileged a***ole. I totally acknowledge that there are not many people who are in prime spot of achieving something. If you have no education, you end up in a job that doesn’t pay too well.” After a while she adds: “I don’t know how to complain.”
People — scary
“It’s very hard to build a community in a sense of belonging and motivation to be there. Tools for community building aren’t very strong. I know that unpractical fluff around seems unnecessary but it’s not. On one hand, it is too American; why do I need personal relationship with people, if we are just here to work?! On the other hand, lack of communication maybe just part of the Nordic nature; people aren’t very approachable with volunteers. In Estonia, community is super practical — one comes and then buggers off.
You can work with 5 friends, but that’s it; it’s very hard for us Estonians to work with more people. How do you make 500 people feel welcomed personally? Since they might leave now if they don’t feel welcomed. People — scary.”
About the platform
“Ideally, I’d like to see Zelos as a global platform. If you don’t know how it works, you need to sign up on the platform and receive the working format on how to engage people. It is no longer local — people don’t even have to be in the same building with you any more.
For example, you save sea turtles. You will find people who are interested in helping you with saving the turtles. Or Estonian fans residing in China or New Zealand — perhaps they want to do something in Estonia, or participate in an Estonian culture event. They arrive to Estonia and volunteer at twelve different places. For example, Vabatahtlike värav is an amazing organisation, however it operates only in the Estonian language. They help with volunteering all around the world, like, for example, in Canada.”
“People like to try new things, like street cleaning for a day. They do it for the experience. Just for a day, not being employed. Others want to know what it’s like to sell pancakes at a children’s party. Our main message is the same as always: engage your communities and don’t be afraid. You might think that others just can be motivated with food and money. But no, you don’t have to pay everyone. It is not working for free, it’s working for a common goal — it’s easy to confuse the two terms. Engaging the community is not the same as exploiting people. In part, the confusion arises because after the USSR times ended, nobody wanted to hear about working for free anymore.”
Johanna gave another example of how Zelos app can be used: you are a producer at a film company and you need to find three goats by the next morning’s filming. Zelos app would help you with that — apparently, there are more than enough farms around Tallinn. “Do it with the community - that’s what we are here for” — adds Johanna .
Discover Zelos app: http://zelos-app.com/
Visit Latitude59 conference: https://latitude59.ee/
Find out about Estban: http://www.estban.ee/
Learn about Nordic Angel Program: https://www.nordicangelprogram.com/
Participate in Storytek accelerator: https://storytek.eu/
Take part in Startup Wise Guys accelerator: https://startupwiseguys.com/