How can foreigners start their own businesses in Finland? Ramón Crespí (Spain, 1987) has launched his career as a businessman by creating Nordinen, which he describes as a non-tourist travel company to show the “real Finland” to travelers.
Ramon came to the country one year ago with his wife, who is Finnish, after studying in ThePowerMBA, a “non-traditional Master in Business Administration focused on Startups”. The coronavirus also affected him: he was going to receive the first clients when the pandemic started and he had to refund all the money. Even though, Crespí saw an opportunity to keep innovating and he is designing a new firm to combine artificial intelligence and personalized travel experiences around the world.
QUESTION: How did you end up in Finland?
ANSWER: Back in 2015 I met my wife, who is Finnish. We lived in Mallorca (Spain) almost four years, but during this period I have always been commuting between Helsinki and Palma. I have been visiting Finland an average of seven times per year, so I already did a pretty good training on the Finnish language and the Finnish culture before I moved here. A year ago we became parents and we decided to move because we believed it could be better for the child and also for my entrepreneur career. We feel it is more interesting to be here because of the great entrepreneur environment in Finland.
Q: You started your business in Finland. How is the initial stage of the process?
A: I started visiting the NewCo offices in Helsinki for entrepreneurs. There you get training about which is the right form that your company should have for example. They also invite you to explain them your idea, so they can see what is your potential, things you may need, etc. They give you a very nice guidance to start your business. In addition, I asked Finnish friends who already have a company in Finland to explain how you have to start.
Photo: Ramón Crespí.
Q: Is it hard for a foreigner to start doing business in Finland?
A: In Finland it is necessary to get a Finnish ID. If not, you won't open a bank account, you won't get a mobile phone... In the pandemic time it has been the most complicated thing, because there were no appointments to get the Finnish ID. After you have it, you can start your business as any other citizen of the European Union.
Finnish business environment
Q: What does someone need to know about Finland and Finnish culture to be successful?
A: Finland has, among many fantastic things, a system of sales called 'soft selling'. Finns do not like aggressive sales. You can't start calling companies from nowhere and offer your services. You must follow a series of steps that are crucial to establishing trust. Trust doesn't come by trying many times, it comes by connections, networking, showing how professional you are and your previous work.
These are things that if you move to Finland and you don't know, you may feel slower. Before coming here, you need to start networking. Finns are extremely polite, so you can even email a person to tell them that you plan to move here and they will probably reply. They have an average time to respond to emails from strangers of about five days.
Q: How do you create your network?
A: In Finland there is a thing that many places in Europe don't have, the entrepreneurial Societies. Normally those organizations are created by university students. There are always services for free that anybody in Finland can use in exchange for being active in the organization.
Q: Could you give us an example of those services?
A: Yes. Aalto University has the Startup Sauna, founded by a group of entrepreneurs, who later on helped to run Slush, the world’s leading startup and tech event. I don't have any straight relation with the University or Startup Sauna, but I can go there to work, sit with my laptop, I don't have to pay anything and I can talk with people around. If you go once, the probability that you will interact with somebody is so low, but if you go three times every week, there will be day when you see the same faces and you start to talk with somebody. There are other examples: XES in Haaga-Helia University, there is LaureaES, in Laurea University, OuluES... All of them are doing networking events. You are always free to go. In this kind of events is where you start to know people.
Q: How much money would someone need to found a company?
A: This always depends on the kind of business you are starting. If it is going to be some digital thing that you are making by yourself and from home, you are your key resource. In that matter, you don't need a lot of money. For moving to Finland, you must take into account the prices. First of all, you have to know where you are going to live and the cost of your house. Starting from that, you have to calculate at least a year of total expenses. That means housing, moving on local transport or buying a car... Coming from Southern Europe, I wouldn't move with less than 15.000-18.000 euros.
Q: Why do you think a foreigner would not be successful in Finland?
A: Finland has a very sharp understanding about businesses and new technologies. What is already created in Finland may not have reached many parts of the world. That means that if you have been thinking about an innovative business in your home country, it could be already working in Finland. The quality, uniqueness and the problem that you are solving with what you offer has to be very, very high. The level in Finland is huge, and so is the education, the workers and the entrepreneurs are really experienced. The reason number one why somebody may fail is because has created something nobody wants to buy.
Q: What would you tell to a foreign in Finland who wants to become an entrepreneur?
A: The most important thing is to have a very well based business education. In Finland you can study it, but I recommend you to read books about business or to study on ThePowerMBA, the most disruptive and innovative business school in the world. If I hadn't done it and moved to Finland, we wouldn't be here, my career would be quite dead. You have to learn something every day. You’re coming to a jungle of super experienced people and if you don't have anything to say, you are out.
Photo: Ramón Crespí.
Q: How did you start Nordinen?
A: I created Nordinen during 2018 as a result of my trips to Finland. I realized that the value proposition for the travel itself was very poor and focused only in Lapland. Finland is much more: lakes, architecture, sustainability, efficiency, nature... I don't think anyone is valuing those things properly. My obsession is to let travelers discover the real Finland through local experiences in a level that they haven't seen yet. Nordinen hosts travellers who want to know the real Finland and we give them the best experience that you can buy today.
Q: What happened during the pandemic?
A: At the beginning of this year, we had a lot of bookings. By the last week of March, I was returning the money because it wasn't possible to travel due to the pandemic. It made me rethink about my business model.
I decided to take an ultra scalable approach to the business. So I had to identify what is possible to digitize and deliver massive value to our future customers. It is something really new. If you think old-fashioned, we generally fix what we can see, but to fix what we can't see we have to read millions of data and imagine. Now I am creating a new company that is going to help travelers from all over the world to discover places based on their interests, and this will also be an engine to generate customers for Nordinen, so even the model has pivoted, the main thing is still the main thing.
Pablo Morilla is a journalist, author of the blog Michan en Finlandia.