One woman’s journey from first-time host to entrepreneur
Roost, a thriving Helsinki-based company that offers hassle-free hosting services for property owners, got started almost by accident five years ago when its founder, Mari Tikkanen, realized she needed to shake things up.
A driven and successful entrepreneur, Mari had been going nonstop since the age of 23, when she started a successful advertising agency. A few years later, she became CEO of Denmark’s public transportation agency, where the daily pressures were even greater. Eventually, Mari realized she needed a break.
“I took one year off, and my point was that I’m not going to do anything long-term for that year,” Mari says. It so happened that, at the time, Mari was recently divorced. On days when her kids were with their father, she found herself with plenty of extra space. “I was alone in a big house and thought, ‘How about Airbnb?’” she says. Mari was driven mostly by curiosity “to see how it works,” she says. She also had the instinct, common among Finns, to be something of an ambassador for their small country.
Novice host learns the ropes
Mari had never used Airbnb and didn’t really know how it worked. She snapped a few photos of her home and uploaded them to the hosting platform. And before she even realized her listing was published, a booking request rolled in from Japan. “What the heck!” Mari thought at first. Then, without missing a beat, she seized the opportunity, telling herself, “Let’s do this.”
That summer, Mari hosted 10 guests. Because she rented her whole house, she would go stay with old friends and relatives she hadn’t seen much because of her busy life. Little by little, the allure of hosting became more evident. “I could both meet new people from around the world and spend more time with my closest friends and relatives,” Mari says. “Of course, the extra money for my year off work wasn’t bad either.”
Before the season was over, a friend invited her to lunch to ask for help listing an apartment he owned. Ever the businesswoman, Mari showed up with the draft of a contract—one she still uses with property owners. She also sketched an early version of what would become the Roost website.
When Mari agreed to list her friend’s place, she didn’t know she’d be getting some unexpected publicity. Her friend, a reporter at Helsinki’s biggest paper, had suggested to an editor that they feature Mari in a story about Airbnb. The profile that resulted, under the headline, “Hostess for the new age,” highlighted that she was not only hosting in her own place, but also helping others to become hosts. It called her the first professional Airbnb host in Finland. The rest, as Mari puts it, is history.
Airbnb, the Nordic way
Four years later, Roost manages more than 90 apartments in Helsinki, as well as properties in two other cities in Finland and in Tallinn, Estonia. “We mainly focus our service to people who don’t have the time or possibility to host their apartments,” Mari says. That includes people who are too busy, or people who work or live abroad but have a property in Finland.
Roost’s value proposition is compelling and succinct: “If you have a space, we can turn it into a profitable business for you—with no recurring costs.” Mari personally meets with first-time hosts to evaluate their apartment’s earning potential and to reinforce the message: All the owners have to do is go on their vacation or work trip, and the rest is left in the capable hands of Roost’s team. That includes taking care of the decor and amenities so that the apartments share a Nordic style. And it includes professional cleaning, concierge, and guest support services.
An all-women team brings special touch
Roost is run by a tight-knit, all-women team of four, which Mari says helps to differentiate the company from other property managers.
“We do all we can with a warm heart and Nordic style,” Mari says. “And we also want to talk about really important things with our guests, like how we recycle our garbage, how our park systems operate, or how public transit [allows] you free travel with the kids. I think it’s important.”
Roost promises guests will be “local for a day, friend for life” and that “we’ll guide you through the soul of the city, revealing the most secluded spots that typical travel guides don’t share,” its website says. Recommendations range from neighborhood pubs and bistros to unique saunas, ferry rides to remote islands, and hidden galleries and architectural gems.
Mari hopes her latest entrepreneurial success, built on her roll-up-the-proverbial-sleeves persona, is not only an enduring company, but also a lesson, of sorts, for her children.
“I think I give the kids a good model,” she says. “You know you can choose the things you do, and you don’t need to have expert education for an executive role, that you can smoothly go to another industry or things like that,” Mari says. There’s one thing, however, that Roost hasn’t quite helped her achieve: a noticeably slower pace. “I work a bit too much,” she admits.
Information contained in this article may have changed since publication.