Interview: Johanna-Mai Riismaa, Zelos


Who are you, and what do you do?

I am a planner, manager, community-builder and connection-maker. I’m also a person who lives in a tiny house, and adopts pets that are too large to fit the lifestyle. All of this has led me to become the CEO of a startup company called Zelos. Zelos is a communication platform to realise the dream of self-organising communities. We help organisations engage and steer large groups of volunteers in a common direction without the usual management hassle.

What will you be talking about at the conference in Canada?

I’d love to share some true stories about human behaviour in large groups and communities. Before we launched Zelos, I was working with volunteer teams of 400-500 people, having emails, phone calls and spreadsheets as the main communication tools. Being a functional part of a large team is hard for everyone, but there are some common (and retrospectively very funny) problems that team managers usually cause themselves.

Why do you think Estonia is such a leader in technology?

My best guess is that it’s easier to adopt new things for small groups, and Estonia doesn’t have even a fraction of the population numbers of some larger countries.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in getting into this field?

All technology, however sophisticated, is ultimately as smart as its users are. Tech never does what you want it to do, it does what you ask it to do. Not everyone can be a power user from the beginning, but good tech has a path ready for you to become one. 

What excites you about coming to Canada?

I’ve never been to Canada before. One of my very best friends grew up in Canada, so I’ve heard a lot about it. Our sales team keeps getting extremely sweet and appreciative feedback from Canada, so I’m looking forward to meeting a few of the lovely people we’ve so far met on video call only.

Marika Mayfield