Iranthi Gomes, Sri Lanka. CEO & Co-founder
“Finland is great test market if you want to try something new.”
Sometimes one coffee cup can change everything. This was the case for Iranthi Gomes. Originally from Sri Lanka, Iranthi moved to Melbourne, Australia, to attend university. There she met a Finnish man, Jarkko, and they started a coffee business together. Sales were struggling to pick up when a satisfied customer asked if they could bring their coffee cart to an event. Iranthi and Jarkko said yes, and soon they focused entirely on promotional events.
To boost their coffee cart business, the duo created a dynamic enquiry form for their website. It sparked an idea for a software business, and Iranthi moved to Finland to take the business further. Four years on, Iranthi lives in Turku, Finland, and runs a rapidly growing business together with her now-husband Jarkko. It has been a major but happy life change. Iranthi still finds it extremely fun to discover new things about Finnish culture and working life.
My favourites thing about Finland is…there are multiple! Forests, mökki (summer cabin), sauna, drinkable tap water, reasonably priced lunches, Santa Claus, korvapuusti (cinnamon bun)… I grew up reading books about kids exploring and going on adventures in forests. I had always wanted to do that with my friends but never had forests or jungles anywhere close to where I grew up. It’s an amazing thing to now be able to take walks in Finnish forests and pluck blueberries.
Then there are mökki and sauna, which are super nice ways to disconnect from the world when you feel like you need to take a break. And I have to mention the tap water after living in quite a few countries where tap water isn’t drinkable. I have always felt weird about paying for water as I think it should be available to anyone and everyone for free. Finland has the best drinking water easily available on any tap.
How I created my current job is… by first running a different business. We were a two-person company and rented our coffee cart to different events. While we were busy at an event, we couldn’t reply to customer enquiries that came through our website. So we created a dynamic enquiry form that allowed us to serve potential customers faster and easily spot genuine leads. Then we realised the business potential of what we had created and started our current company.
Working as an entrepreneur in Finland is… easy to start. Incorporating a business and setting up a bank account takes only a few days and the majority of the paperwork can be done in English. There are streamlined systems in place.
The main differences in working life in Finland compared to other countries where I have worked are… bureaucratic processes are quite simple, straightforward and fast in Finland.
On the other hand, most businesses in Finland prefer to use Finnish as their working language and that can become a bit of a challenge.
Finland as a place for internet startups is… a great test market if you want to try something new. Finns aren’t new to technology, they embrace it.
Also, Finland has a very good reputation in other countries. If you say your company is based in Finland, they are quite excited to learn more about what you do. Finland is home to many innovative companies.
The qualities that international talents can bring to the Finnish workplace are… numerous.
Thinking about our startup and having spoken to other startup founders, there is a lot of demand for software developers and skilled workers. One big thing is that Finnish people tend to be very Finland-focused and it’s important to bring in different perspectives to help widen their world view. If a business ever plans to go international, it’s crucial to have people from different cultures integrated from day one. That way when you start to implement changes for international expansion, the team won’t feel there are major adjustments they have to go through.
My co-founder, Jarkko, and I always felt it was important to build a multicultural team from the get-go, and I believe we have done a very good job. We communicated our vision for the company very early and most importantly, we made sure all Finns in our team were comfortable speaking English and other languages as that is a big advantage when going international.
The words of advice I would have for someone thinking about moving here for work is… Finnish people can be very reserved, but they are lovely once you get to know them. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation, because once you start a conversation it flows naturally from there. Everyone speaks English very well and you don’t need to speak Finnish to manage your day-to-day life. Still, willingness to learn the local language even a little bit can take you a long way.
What I enjoy most about Turku is… I always tell everyone Turku is the best city to live in Finland and I feel like I have found my home in Finland. Although Turku is a small city, it’s a vibrant place and has a lot to offer.
People call every city in Finland a ‘summer city’, but I can honestly say Turku is on the top of that list. Walking by the river or sitting down for a picnic are some of my favourite things to do. And not to forget the boat bars where you can enjoy a beer or a glass of red wine.
You can get anywhere in less than 15 minutes and this, in particular, has made me feel like I really know this city.
Also, the food that Turku has to offer is amazing. You can find all types of cuisines, there is a huge variety to choose from, and they are quite authentic. My favourite Chinese restaurant in Finland is in Turku, and it’s called Yangtze. I highly recommend you try it.
The hobbies that I have really enjoyed practising in Finland are… cross-country skiing, golf, Lego building, padel and taking walks in Finnish nature. I started playing golf this summer after thinking about it for a couple of years. I’m not sure if I would have started it if I was somewhere else. Golf in Finland is very relaxed and the atmosphere is encouraging. Also, quite a few people in our team are into golf so it was easy to get started.
Then there’s padel, which has become very popular in Finland. It’s a fun social sport to play with three other people, and I’ve been playing with both friends and people from my team.
The organisations that have supported my networking and professional growth in Finland are… Startup Sauna and Kiuas Accelerator to start with. When we were starting off in Finland, we were accepted to Kiuas Accelerator. It was the first startup accelerator programme we joined. There were startups from many different verticals, and it helped us think about our business from different perspectives. Also, we had access to business coaches who were investors, other entrepreneurs or had experience in the corporate sector. This was truly the first place where we learnt how to do a solid investment pitch and what components matter when you present your business to someone. For someone starting off, Startup Sauna is a great place to join.
Another organisation to mention is Nordea bank’s startup and growth unit. They have helped us to connect with potential investors and provide a lot of business support. They also have all their banking services in English, which makes it very easy.
When we first started and applied for Business Finland’s Tempo funding, we didn’t only get it, but they really helped us look at the bigger picture from the get-go. Business Finland helped us to plan our next steps for growth, encouraged us to innovate with R&D efforts and also advised us on moving into new markets. I personally consider Business Finland to be a strategic partner.
The challenge that I have encountered and overcome while adjusting to my career life here in Finland is… the language. Everything else has felt quite natural and the Finnish culture is very easy to get into. For example, growing up in Sri Lanka, we removed shoes when entering a household, it’s the same in Finland and I love it.
Everyone speaks English, but when you are part of a larger group it’s very easy for the conversation to trail off to Finnish. And it’s not that anyone is doing it on purpose. I have learnt to do two things: to take my space when I’m a part of a group conversation and to learn a little bit of the language. I still don’t speak it well enough to have a long conversation but I know enough words to understand the context. This has helped me a lot to manage any conversation I’m part of.
Also, you’ll come across a few people here and there who aren’t comfortable with having a conversation in English. You need to remember and accept that it’s OK.