Company culture carried HUONE through the pandemic—it’s a critical resilience factor investors and business leaders should pay attention to

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Within the meetings and events industry, the lockdowns caused by the pandemic ended the story of many successful companies. At Takeoff Partners’ portfolio company HUONE, CEO Evon Blomstedt and her team steered their business through this challenging period and came out as more resilient and determinate than ever before. Blomstedt believes that above all, company culture was the reason why HUONE persisted.

November 2021

A year ago, we interviewed Evon Blomstedt to discuss how the pandemic is shaping the future of office spaces and how she and her team were hard at work trying to keep HUONE above the water when lockdowns kept freezing their business in Finland, Denmark as well as Singapore.

Back then, she said that if HUONE survives this period of time, it’ll survive anything.

Now, in 2021, with the vaccines driving down the need for lockdowns and the world slowly returning to normality, it looks like it did.

“I don’t want to jinx it but at the moment it really looks like we fought the battle and came out as a winner,” she says.

There was a price to pay, of course. Before the pandemic, a total of 65 people worked for HUONE. Today, that figure is down to 35.

“We held on to everybody as long as we could. Singapore was difficult because furloughing is not possible there. People accepted pay cuts but we reached a point where we had to let go of six out of ten people,” she describes, adding that the two-year period has been full of difficult, emotional moments for both her and her employees.

But there is a silver lining: the team that remained is a close-knit group now, and having gone through together what they have, Blomstedt has absolute trust in their commitment.

“They are real superheroes. They didn’t stay with HUONE because they didn’t get offers of work elsewhere because they certainly did. They stayed because they believe in us and what we’re set on achieving.”

HUONE is a Finnish startup offering inspiring, full-service meetings and events venues for groups and organizations. Takeoff Partners’ Kim Väisänen and Markko Vaarnas are investors of the company with Markko Vaarnas also serving as the Chairman of the Board.

Investors, take notice of the company culture

HUONE’s survival story comes with a lesson Evon Blomstedt believes should be better understood by not just business leaders but also investors.

“Granted, what we went through was extreme. But every startup faces difficult periods of time. How do you know which company is resilient enough to pull through them and which isn’t? The biggest unicorn to ever fail did so because of bad leadership and company culture,” she says.

The reason why culture is often overlooked when assessing a company is obvious: it is a “soft” metric, hard to measure. But the difficulty of measuring something has absolutely nothing to do with the importance of it.

“When I speak to new investors, they tend to spend 90% of their time with the balance sheet. But no matter how good the figures look like, if a crisis hits and you fail at keeping people committed, your business will also fail.”

For companies facing a crisis, then, Blomstedt has one key piece of advice: honesty.

“I think it’s what made us strong. I never tried to downplay the difficulties. There was a lot of insecurity and a lot of the time I just didn’t know the answers to the questions they had. So I said I don’t know. And I didn’t try to hide how badly I was hit emotionally by the situation, which I think showed them that I genuinely care for them. Open communication is a lot better than forced positivity.”

Luckily for HUONE, things are picking up now in all three locations the company operates in, if at different paces. They are, once again, also hiring.

According to Blomstedt, a good company culture is doubly important for the meetings and events industry at the moment, because the pandemic caused a critical shortage of labor as many seized the opportunity to change their line of work completely.  

“A lot of the applications we receive state that they have heard HUONE has a great team spirit, that it’s a nice company to work for,” she describes.

More information

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