Zalando stays agile by launching technology centre in Helsinki

“A great education system. Plenty of skilled workers. An active growth company sector. These are the main reasons why German online fashion store Zalando opened a technology centre in Helsinki, the Zalando Tech Hub, at the end of August,” says the centre’s director Tuomas Kytömaa.

In an open-plan office located in Punavuori, a group of young men and women focus on coding future e-commerce applications. A depressing drizzle falls outside, but this does nothing to dampen the mood of the employees in their brightly lit office.

Tuomas Kytömaa points out that around 30 people now work at the technology centre and more are being continuously recruited. It is expected that the centre will eventually employ up to 200 people, from coders to service designers.

“We came to Helsinki because of the people. Finland’s education level is very high: you can find both technical experts and good designers here,” he says.

According to Kytömaa, attracting additional, high-quality workforce to the city is easy, particularly from Eastern Europe, due to the can-do atmosphere in Helsinki’s technology sector.


Generation Y is not afraid to try things out

When Tuomas Kytömaa graduated as an engineer in the 1990s, all of his school friends were keen to work for Nokia. So too was Kytömaa, whose 18 years with the company took him to Germany, Silicon Valley, San Diego and Boston at the head of a range of technical development teams.

Kytömaa views Helsinki’s current crop of youngsters as different. They are more eager to try their hand at business than previous generations and are not afraid of failure.

“Generation Y youngsters are motivated when they get to do something of their own and decide for themselves.”

Tuomas Kytömaa aims to foster this kind of entrepreneurial spirit when Zalando launches a growth company programme, based on a Startup Residency, at the beginning of the year – the first such venture in the company’s history.

Kytömaa and his team are selecting one or two promising e-commerce firms for the programme. They will be invited to work at the Zalando Tech Hub for three months.

“Our company is full of experts who will mentor them,” says Kytömaa, the head coach of the Programme.


A growth company’s heritage

Tuomas Kytömaa signed off his move as being permanent when he left Finland many years ago. However, as time went by he noticed that he missed the Finnish way of life.

“Despite its current difficulties, Finnish society works. A certain trust exists between people. Here, we think about the common good rather than just playing our own game,” he adds.

From his position in Zalando, he wants to do his part to build an ecosystem for flourishing growth companies in Helsinki.

Zalando, which was established in Berlin in 2008, has rapidly grown into Europe’s largest fashion e-store and has 17 million active users. At the fast-growing Zalando, agility is still viewed as important.

“We want to use business models similar to those deployed by agile growth companies, in order to avoid becoming a large and cumbersome company. Small growth companies lack large resources, which frequently leads to process and product innovations,” says Kytömaa.



Text and picture: Venla Pystynen



Tuomas Kytömaa chose Mikko Kauppinen as a maker of the Helsinki of the future.