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Weekly Works: Working in a start-up is a liberating experience

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Weekly Works series presents creative communities on the lookout for new talents. This is first part of the series introducing MaaS Global that recently launched Whim, a transport application for the Helsinki area that now has 20,000 registered users. What is design’s role in building a completely new type of service?

© Erkka Malkavaara

This took place once upon a time on Lönnrotinkatu in Helsinki. An elderly gentleman buzzed at the door of MaaS Global to interview the developers of Whim application in person. After thorough questioning of the service and receiving satisfactory answers, the gentleman promised to become a client. Hands were shook on that. The service encountered one of its end-users perhaps in a more concrete manner than ever.

Apaar Tuli and Kaj Pyyhtiä from MaaS Global want to change the way people move around in the city. © Erkka Malkavaara

Start-ups involve fascinating potential for growth

MaaS Global’s Design Lead is Apaar Tuli whose roots lie in both India and Finland – and whose long career has led from large enterprises to a small start-up.

“I was looking for something new and different. I had 15 years of design experience from large companies like Nokia, Microsoft and KONE, and I wanted to shift my focus and point of view. Instead of specific product categories I wanted to create something larger and more meaningful. To influence the way the society works,” Tuli says.

It’s a giant leap from stable corporate world to the start-up sphere. Nevertheless, Apaar Tuli believes start-ups offer a great opportunity for a designer to grow.

“Making the change was liberating and empowering. There are many processes in large companies, and the individual only plays a small role. In a company like MaaS people can define their roles and have potential for much more impact.”

Results, too, can be seen faster. Tuli has worked at MaaS Global since August 2016, and although he had an opportunity to work in a large company in Seattle, he chose the new start-up in Helsinki.

“Helsinki is more humane as a city and as a working environment. Moreover, working for MaaS felt exciting and energizing. I started to see the scope of the change we’re trying to make. Something in me resonated with MaaS objectives.”

Apaar Tuli graduated as an architect, and he has done further studies in design management while in Finland. 

“I’m interested in the interaction and usability of design. In this position, I’m able to use all of my skills. Cities are complex creatures, and small changes can lead to major transformations.”

© Erkka Malkavaara

MaaS Global has been acknowledged for its design and its design approach. Thanks to skillful and dedicated designers.

“We design the whole flow of the application, including human interaction and all the different aspects of the service. Of course it’s all based on research and observations, but intuition also plays a role. We do tests, and if something goes wrong, we learn and improve. The version is good enough when most of the users feel that it’s good. We can never please everyone at once. And there may be surprising situations in which user experience does not depend on our design.”

Looking for a passionate change-maker

MaaS Global is currently on the lookout for new people to design roles. Open positions include Senior UX Designer with some experience in visual design. In addition to professional skills, success in the position requires a passion for cities and transformation.

“We’re looking for talents and expertise, but it’s also important for the person to question the existence of cities as they are now. The person must be able to recognize the potential of cities and be willing to learn.”

One of the founders of MaaS Global, Kaj Pyyhtiä, is in charge of customer experience. He says the global HQ of MaaS on Lönnrotinkatu, Helsinki, is a place for a vantage-point seeker.

“We want to change the way people move around in the city. We’re combining environmental views with transport transformation. People want more time for themselves and less traffic jams. It’s a bigger transition than just figuring out how to get from A to B or how to buy a ticket. We’re offering an unprecedented vantage point to make the change happen.”

MaaS currently employs 25 persons who represent 12 different nationalities. In Pyyhtiä’s opinion, internationality brings in many kinds of expertise and breadth.

“With us, you can start on something new from scratch and face all the challenges. For designers, this means that they can see the impact of their work in the daily lives of people worldwide.”

It’s not easy to find the right people. The techies are all recruited outside Finland, and it’s a challenge to find user interface designers in this small country, too. “As we’re creating something new and specific, like mobile interfaces, the graduates are hired straight from school.”

Passion. Vision. Ideology. When creating something completely new, a cult-like faith seems to be a prerequisite for success. And when creating something purely on one’s own merits, there is no feeling of pressure.

“We don’t carry a burden of the past. We see the transformation as a positive thing and want to apply it to transport. We’re being recognized as the torchbearers and global ambassadors. We’re high on ambition, and we want to make this a genuinely worldwide movement,” Pyyhtiä concludes.

© Erkka Malkavaara

The Whim service recently received the Design from Finland mark.

Is your work community looking for new team members? Do you want to be featured in this series? Contact us at info@helsinkidesignweek.com.

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