Markus Kauppinen, a software entrepreneur, used to go to all sorts of events related to business and entrepreneurship. Most of the time they were, at least in theory, interesting, but there was one problem: at the end of the day, he had his hands full of flyers and brochures, but no phone numbers or concrete proposals.
“For example, if you’re looking for someone who could mentor you to take the next step with your business but don’t have anyone specific in mind, finding the right person in the crowd is pretty much an impossible task,” he says. “This is especially the case when you keep running into people you know and start exchanging courtesies. It’s time-consuming and not the reason you went to the event in the first place.”
Back in 2012, Kauppinen started contemplating ways in which participants could cut to the chase. Initially, thinking was all there was, as Kauppinen was focusing on his former business and finishing his studies.
The idea is to give event organisers a tool to serve attendees and, at the same time, give people more incentives to pop by.
“There are two reasons to go to a business event: the content or the programme and the people,” Kauppinen explains. “In general, the most important value comes from the people you meet. Conferences and fairs are essentially just really big markets of people.”
Find your fellow geeks
To use Brella, an event organiser needs to create a profile for the happening on the platform. The app can serve as the event’s handbook, too, by including schedules, maps and introductions.
Then, the participants add their personal profiles, telling others what they have to offer and what they are looking for.
“For example, if you’re really passionate about a certain programming language, Brella will help you find fellow enthusiasts,” Kauppinen tells.
This saves a lot of time for everyone, as people can book meetings and start chatting well before the event even starts. It works in a lot of cultures, too – just for different reasons.
“In Finland, people don’t tend to approach strangers as openly, whereas in the US, you end up shaking hands with absolutely everybody. In Finland it can be difficult to meet people, and in the US it can be difficult to meet the right people.”
Although Brella has no means to monitor the end results of the agreed meetings, some success stories have made their way to the headquarters. Kauppinen has heard about people who’ve found their dream job or made their record in daily sales with Brella’s help.
“I also know someone who sold their company at a meeting set up through Brella, without ever having planned to do so.”
On the way to a global standard
It’s not just individual participants that reap benefits out of Brella; the app boosts business for event organisers and their sponsors as well.
“Brella is a new channel for visibility and systematic networking,” Kauppinen says. “It helps event organisers understand what their audience is interested in and how to serve them in the most meaningful manner.”
Event organisers pay Brella an annual license fee for using the software. At the moment, there are users in over 40 countries – and counting. The list of customers includes names such as Tech Crunch, Microsoft and Samsung.
The largest markets are Europe and the US, where Brella has offices in New York and San Francisco and where most of its sales efforts now focus on. This strategy will hold until 2020, but in a few years’ time, Brella will start eyeing Asia in a more serious manner.
Kauppinen also hopes to see the current 14-strong team double in size within a year – and this is not the only number on Brella’s target list.
“Our vision is to become a global networking standard,” Kauppinen says. “By 2020, Brella will have been used at 10 000 events and enabled 100 000 000 business contacts.”