Startup Spotlight: Karoliina Kauhanen The Power of Social Sustainability

Startup Spotlight: Karoliina Kauhanen The Power of Social Sustainability
Startup Spotlight: Karoliina Kauhanen The Power of Social Sustainability

Did you know that loneliness is as deadly as smoking? One of the things we’ve learnt from lockdown culture during the pandemic is the importance of social connections and the power of the community. This week we talk about Social Sustainability with our new friend Karoliina Kauhanen and Co-Founder of Commu, a Finnish-based app designed to connect you more easily with help within your neighbourhood.

First of all Karoliina, tell us how you got into this?

I used to work on the angel investor side and so was always exposed to founders and pitching culture. Straight after that I found Commu so I guess the culture rubbed off on me. I remember hearing a lot of voices from other investors on their positioning on corporate social responsibility and remember finding them so vague. This was what initially pushed me into the space. I saw a lot of corporate greenwashing and found that it not only didn’t reflect my values, but that doing something about it was becoming increasingly important to me.

Where did the idea come from?

The idea came from our grandmothers. I’m sure this happens elsewhere too but here in Finland our grandmothers know everyone within a 10 block radius and it’s a system that has been around forever. The average grandmother if you think about it has been nurturing an extensive and diverse network for usually more than 50 years. So if you needed a doctor or someone to help you with your shopping or gardening or anything at all, your grandmother's neighbourhood network would kick in. So social sustainability as an idea and a practice has been around us for a long time. It’s only now in this new digital age we’re seeing a rise in isolation and loneliness, that the need for reinstating social sustainability has become important.

Why now?

People today have more digital connections than physical connections. You can have a million followers on Facebook or Instagram and yet not know your next door neighbour or how they might be needing your help today. One of the examples we’ve been studying are Ukrainian refugees and how difficult it is for them to acclimate to a new and foreign community. Asking for help is no longer as easy as it was once for our grandmothers. You have to consider safety, language barriers and just plain confidence. With Commu our hope is to empower people to ask for and receive help again. We protect the safety of our users by verifying if they are trustworthy through bank ID’s and badges and we give them access to a network of local help in their neighbourhoods. We match-make on wording and categories so you can see profiles before you decide to engage.

Who has been an unexpected champion for you?

Haloo Helsinki! Word of mouth through our users has been huge for us in our growth. Because of them, we have achieved in a year what our competitors did in seven. It’s an incredible achievement and as a consequence our users have now taken ownership on our platform. It’s taken a lot of courage to hand over the power, but it’s in the right direction for us and our users and in the end, is exactly what should be happening when social sustainability is winning.

What else have you been doing that’s helped your growth?

Fundraising. Most of our investor interest came from inbound enquiries because we started talking about Commu way before it was ready. Before we even had code. Our first investors saw the issue in their own lives or around them and they wanted to see what impact the app could have in and around Scandinavia. Since then we have successfully launched in Germany and Norway as well. So our advice would be to start brand-building at day zero. It takes courage to do that, but you have to think of the counter cost of not doing it and waiting to market only when you have a viable product and the loss of building a customer base

What would be the endgame?

I would love to see Commu be useful for large companies. Corporate culture is a new space for us but one that is equally in need of building internal communities and nurturing socially sustainable cultures. We want to be the best social sustainability and social impact solution out there!

What’s it like being a Co-Founder?

Co-founding culture is dynamic. We fight a lot. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The worst thing that can happen is the talking stops. You have to remember that startups are solving problems that corporate’s haven’t and startups do this fast and with capital-efficiency. Founders can only do this through interrogative conversations knowing they’re in a safe space with their co-founder(s).

What haven’t you liked about being a Co-Founder?

Founder loneliness. Even within that I’d say there is a specific loneliness to being a female founder. As a young woman, fundraising has at times been really hard on my mental health. I have had situations where I’ve not been judged as someone with business capabilities because of my gender. I’ve been in pitching rounds where I was ignored and questions were asked to my male Co-Founder. There have even been some occasions where investors didn’t shake my hands. Even in this day and age, there is a quietness around this because female founders don’t want to seem difficult and then not be invested in. It’s a huge issue but the good news is more female founders are opening up about this. It’s making the conversation easier to have and raising awareness around a different aspect of social sustainability that also deserves our attention and help.

If you are interested in connecting with Karoliina or finding out more about Commu, feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn. Check out and download Commu today!

If you are a female founder and would like to network with other entrepreneurs and investors like you, please do reach out to us! In keeping with the spirit of Commu, we’d love to help:)

Recommended reading: Loneliness is a health crisis comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day. Here’s how to combat it

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