“Let’s go drive around and we’ll show you Warsaw!”
Tomi Virtanen and his flatmate, both in their early 20s, were excited yet a little apprehensive about the suggestion posed to them by three young men in a café in the Polish capital. The two were on an interrail trip, and they had caught the trio’s attention by speaking a weird-sounding language (Finnish, that is).
“We were outnumbered and in a city we didn’t know,” Virtanen explains. “But we weren’t going to say no!”
For hours, the young men drove around Warsaw, communicating in broken English and even paying a visit to one of the boys’ grandmother. At the end of the day, Virtanen and his mate tried chipping in some money. The Polish guys turned down the offer, saying they just wanted to hear about an exotic culture and practise their English.
“That really blew my mind,” Virtanen remembers. “After that, I’ve always wanted to meet up and hang out with locals when I’ve travelled, as I understood it makes all the difference.”
This is the very core idea of Virtanen’s company, Doerz. Through Doerz, locals can offer experiences for travellers, tourists – and why not other locals, too. The goal is to let people share their passion(s) with others, such as writing music, birdwatching or cooking with refugees. Doerz offers a platform for selling and buying experiences, as well as monitors their quality.
Sharing is here to stay
Virtanen didn’t jump into Doerz right after his trip to Poland. Instead, he studied business and made a career in the world of money.
During his studies, he was actively involved in the student union, as well as about a million others hobbies. He says he has a tendency to always start forming a group around whatever he’s up to.
“If I train for a triathlon, suddenly I’ll have six friends I’ve talked into it, too,” he says laughingly. “It’s not that I need the support; it’s that if I’m excited about it and I find it cool, I want to share it.”
Sharing is caring – and a growing business model, of which companies the likes of Airbnb are living proofs.
Virtanen shares in other ways, too.
“When I have an idea I want to go for, I tell everyone else about it,” he tells. “This way, I’ve got no excuse to bail out on it. I just have to do it, because everyone expects me to.”
This happened with Doerz. Virtanen posted a video on his social media channels explaining the idea to ensure he can’t turn back. It worked: in April 2016, Doerz’s Paypal account received its first commission of one euro.
“I didn’t want to be that person”
This single euro had Virtanen toasting with coffee cups in the office. People were laughing, but to him, the euro meant more than its worth in currency – particularly looking back to his life pre-Doerz.
“In my last job my salary was just absolutely ridiculous and I was driving a new Audi,” he describes. “I’m not sure if I’d have picked up a one-euro coin from the ground, thinking it might be dirty. I realised I was turning into a prick, someone I didn’t want to become.”
The life after jumping off the payslip to the world of entrepreneurship has been much more unstable financially, but Virtanen doesn’t hesitate for a split second when he says it was the absolute right thing to do.
“Now, I remember again what really matters.”
The euro was only the beginning. At the moment, Doerz delivers experiences in some Finnish cities, with plans to expand to several European cities one by one. The destinations aren’t the obvious tourist traps like London and Paris. Rather, Doerz prefers to focus on the emerging locations and their hidden gems. The catch is to either be one of the 100 coolest people in the city, or to do one of the 100 coolest things.
There’s no need to be a professional or have a company set up: all one needs is a passion for something, or the willingness to learn more about someone else’s.
Keeping up the community spirit
To Virtanen, it’s important to be able to do what he finds worthy. When working for others, he wanted to do something to support the integration of refugees – but he was given a solid ‘no’ by his superiors. Now, Doerz has done charity work with refugees, providing them with a chance to test out their business ideas.
This isn’t a money honey pot for Doerz, as the profits go to Red Cross. However, to Virtanen it’s important to be able to do what feels right.
“If the company benefits from this, it’ll be in forms other than money.”
Keeping in line with their focus on community, new investors will be sought through a crowdfunding campaign this coming summer. The plans don’t end there: in the long run, Virtanen hopes to see Doerz as a comprehensive service for travellers.
“The vision is that my phone would be able to suggest things and activities to me based on where I’m going, what I’ve been interested in previously and when I’ve got spare time in my calendar,” he says. “Instead of a passive marketplace, Doerz can become a proactive service.”
Who knows: maybe the three Polish guys could get their tour on Doerz, too.