Event-tech start-up Brella is doing so well that they need to hire new talents to keep up with the demand. In the middle of a global pandemic.

How did they manage to capture the newfound opportunity in hybrid and virtual events? As it often is the case, the secret is in the company culture. To find out more, we interviewed Hanna Kontinen, Brella’s Head of Talent & Culture.

In the wide-ranging conversation, we go deep into Brella’s humble approach to developing diversity and inclusion. But also, inside look into the state of the event industry, how to recruit A-players and tips to people starting out in the tech sector.


The interview

Brella is one of the leading event networking platforms in the world. This year, however, has not been business as usual for the event industry. So my first question would be simple: how is Brella doing right now? 

Better than ever. 🙂 The industry was pretty much in a state of shock in March, but our company was in a better position to cater to virtual environments than many others. 

We were fortunate enough to have a quick turnaround in production and thus gain quite aggressive traction within the virtual event space. The bottle-neck was actually handling the volume of interest coming our way, thus we’re now in need of new hires.


What did you learn as a company this year while tackling all of the challenges?

I think we’ve learned a lot about our capability to make an impact whilst working together as a team. The company hadn’t had to face as significant hardship before, so this one really brought the team together. The crisis took a measure of our culture, processes and ability to be agile, all of which thankfully have been important topics for us over the past few years. 

Our most significant learning was that we need to continue to cherish and invest in our people and culture, as it is the only reason we’re doing so well at the moment.


The growing amount of evidence suggests that we will be in this partly closed economy for a while, maybe even for the next few years. This means a lot of soul-searching for the event industry, as there is a need for new virtual and hybrid event concepts. How do you see the future of the industry at Brella?

We can already see from the industry research and movement that at least hybrid event experiences are here to stay. Large conferences are on a pause for at least a couple of years, global attendee gatherings maybe even more. 

We as people will still be drawn to F2F experiences in the future, and the live elements of events are coming back. However, there is a lot of innovation that needs to happen meanwhile. Attendees and event sponsors will become more accustomed to the new virtual offerings, thus demanding a different set of expectations from the organizers. How the event organizers can adapt to those requirements and create a business out of it is the real challenge. 


You recently started hiring again for quite a few roles. And with that, you have renewed your focus on building a diverse and inclusive workplace. Why do you see it as a key to your future success? 

Yes, it has been pretty busy recruiting fall for us, and we have also started our D&I journey along the way. We are still at the very beginning of this journey, but the goal is to start building a strong foundation for our future growth!

We have 14 different nationalities and people from very different kinds of backgrounds, so diversity has always been part of our daily work. However, we understand that diversity is so much more than just different nationalities, so we are now planning to take a more proactive approach to embrace both diversity and inclusion.

We believe that diversity unlocks innovation by creating an environment where “outside the box” ideas are heard. Also, diversity and inclusion in the workplace make all employees feel accepted and valued. When employees feel accepted and valued, they are also happier in their workplace. Put the people first, and good things will follow. 💜

We believe that diversity unlocks innovation by creating an environment where “outside the box” ideas are heard.

How do you measure success when it comes to a diverse team and inclusive working culture at Brella? Do you have long term goals and KPIs for that?

We are still at the beginning of our journey, and this will most probably be a lifelong journey for Brella. I mean, can you ever really be ready with these themes? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. 

We are planning to launch anonymous D&I survey to measure these themes. We want to give our Brellaneers the voice so that we know how we could develop Brella as a company. Our long term goal is that D&I would not be a ‘thing’, but just a normal part of our daily work.


Could you share some key learnings from your experience in building a diverse and inclusive work culture so far?

1. D&I is something that both employees and candidates value a lot.
2. D&I is a very sensitive topic, and companies should be quite humble when developing these areas.
3. D&I is definitely a competitive advantage.
4. Companies should participate and listen to their employees. It’s all about collaboration!
5. Employees are asking a lot of questions, and they will challenge you, which is great! Just make sure you are ready to discuss it with an open mind. 


How does Brella take D&I aspect into consideration when making a new hire, including during the recruiting and onboarding process?

This is a million-dollar question! We are talking a lot about this topic, and we are planning on organizing unconscious bias training for both our Brellaneers and our hiring managers. We have a lot of people participating in the hiring process, which hopefully makes the decision-making more transparent. Also, we want to ensure that psychological safety is always there, starting from the very first interview round. Earn and extend trust. Build it, keep it, and be an example for others.


How do you usually find the candidates to hire in the first place? Do you publish a job offer and just wait? What % of hired candidates has been sourced and headhunted?

The dynamic has changed a lot during the past few years as the candidates often have the power to choose between companies. Employer branding is everything: companies which can communicate their “WHY” throughout the recruiting process will win the war for attraction.

Our Brellaneers have excellent networks, A players know other A players. 😉 So at the moment, the sourcing percentage is only around 5-10%.


Do you use any other channels for finding different talent? Do you have a different approach to hiring for specific roles?

Absolutely, different roles need different approaches, especially in tech fields. A company needs to reach out to the technical people, not the other way around, which is why we have partnerships such as with Junction and Dash. 💫

Also, our working language is English which provides us with a great opportunity to hire globally!


What advice would you give to people looking to get hired in a fast-growing tech company like Brella?

1. Be active and try to build good networks. People are usually ready to help, but you need to be proactive.
2. Do you lack relevant experience? Be open to volunteer works as well! These are usually great experiences and give you a glimpse of what it’s like to work in a fast-paced growth company.
3. Know where to look. For example, platforms like MeetFrank and TheHub are great places if you are looking for a job in a growth company.


To end the interview, let us focus on the state of diversity at a workplace in Finland for a moment. The international evidence seems to suggest that diverse teams perform better. For example, some studies have found that these teams are more innovative and generate higher profits. If D&I is, at some level, just good for the business, then why do you think there is still a need for a lot of educating and progress in the area?

Great question! Sometimes change is slow, and unfortunately, not everyone has realized this competitive advantage. Also, we have a lot of historical baggage on our shoulders, so it takes some time to change the habits of our working life.

However, we truly believe that inclusion encourages success. We trust that if employees feel welcomed into a work environment where success seems attainable for everyone, it encourages them to bring their best selves to work. And every employer wants that, right? This is also one of Brella’s values – humility, respect, and integrity are all easier to carry than a large ego.

We truly believe that inclusion encourages success.

Thank you very much for your time! At the end of every interview, we ask five rapid-fire questions.


What is your favourite question to ask at interviews?

“Can you tell us about a work project you are most proud of? What made you succeed?” 


What is the biggest mistake that job-seekers make when applying to a new job?

For some reason, most people still seem to write very generic job applications. Show your personality! 💫  Also, use concrete examples instead of just fancy words. 👌


What is the biggest challenge when hiring people to Brella?

We want to keep the bar high when it comes to culture, so we have to find people who are ready to live our Brella values. Innovation, Growth mindset, Brella spirit & Collaboration are the magic words. The biggest challenge is assessing these values during the relatively short hiring process.


What are your favourite recruitment tools and channels?

LinkedIn, MeetFrank, and the amazing networks of our Brellaneers. 💜


If you weren’t a recruiter, what would you do?

That’s a tricky one, I love my job! 😅 I would most likely work in a role where I could somehow develop today’s working life. We are on a good track, but there are still many things we could do better. 🙏