Finns in Greece: Erik Polus works at Beat, sees Finnish culture in his ideal working style and promotes Greece as a great place for a career in tech
Erik Polus was born and spent his early childhood years in Finland, grew up in California and studied at UC Berkeley. After nearly a decade in New York’s start-up scene, he ended up in Athens to work at TaxiBeat (now Beat), which represents the field of digital businesses that is in high demand as the follow-up of the Covid outbreak. Despite much of his life in the US, he considers his practical, dry, logical, and business-first attitude to represent the Finnishness in him. During the Greek lockdown in the spring, he spent four months with his family in Finland and refreshed his Finnish language skills and mindset.
1. What is your background? Where did you grow-up and study?
I was born in Helsinki, the oldest of four children. We lived in the city center for nearly a decade, but ultimately moved to San Francisco when I was in elementary school. High school was in San Francisco and Los Angeles. I studied Environmental Economics and Policy at UC Berkeley and graduated in 2011.
2. How did you end up in Greece? Where do you live?
After college in California, I took a job at a performance marketing startup in San Francisco. Within 2 years I had moved to New York City to open their East Coast offices. I eventually became the Director of their gaming business unit, leading the company's top clients (including being the exclusive acquisition partner for Finnish Supercell), but was looking for a change of scenery after having spent 8 years in NYC. I wanted to move back to the EU, and through a mutual friend discovered opportunities at Intelligent Apps GmbH, the mobility suite acquired by Daimler in 2014. One of these opportunities was with a subsidiary called Taxibeat, and after a short interview process I decided to move to a country that I'd never considered in my search. I first resided in Pagrati for a couple years, but currently live in Plaka, the old town of Athens.
3. You are working for Taxi Beat: What do you do more specifically?
As Vice President of Growth, I oversee Beat's efforts to maximize the size of our passenger and driver userbases through Acquisition, Retention, and Re-engagement efforts, leveraging Marketing (from top of funnel awareness to performance acquisition related), CRM, Incentives (coupons and bonuses), and Referral programs. Success is defined by how quickly and efficiently we can acquire and retain passengers and drivers with the tools just described.
4. How often do you take a Beat ride?
Before COVID, I would take approximately 10 rides weekly, whether to/from the office or to enjoy social activities in the evenings and weekends. I prefer to walk to work, but with a busy schedule, it is a luxury to be able to spend the 40 minutes walking from home to the office and back. After COVID, I'm taking an average of 1 Beat ride daily.
5. What is the added value of Beat app to taxi service?
There is a clear distinction in the quality of ride when comparing Beat with traditional taxi operations. Beat has minimum requirements for car age, cleanliness, and services provided (like speaking English). Beat provides a platform that is cashless, is fully transparent and upfront when it comes to fares, and requires limited to no communication, all with a standard in quality that makes for a comfortable and seamless ride. Taxis are cash first and communication is difficult (if not impossible), thus the trust in getting to where you need to go for the right price without hassle is difficult to gain.
6. How do you see the market for digitalized services in Greece and the impact of Covid outbreak on them?
Greece is entering a golden age of sorts for digital transformation and the attraction of the right talent to support a thriving tech scene. Not only has COVID led authorities to become far more digital-first than they've been in the past, but with tech talent more distributed thanks to "working remotely" becoming acceptable (or even expected), the decision of having to move to London or Berlin to pursue a career in tech as an up-and-coming talent in Greece is no longer a blocker. In the past, one would have to sacrifice career growth to take advantage of everything Greece has to offer. Now, either with a remote work setup or thanks to a budding local tech scene that has seen investment interest and success grow more rapidly (even as we enter 2021), Greece is a highly underrated market for those seeking a rewarding career in tech.
7. How has Covid lockdown affected the taxi traffic in Greece?
Naturally, with restrictions surrounding movement and the number of passengers per car, rides volume has decreased dramatically as lockdowns are enforced. While reaching pre-COVID levels of traffic is unrealistic, the market has recovered as people reshape their movement needs to fit a new normal. Gone are the days where requesting a cab during rush hour was painful.
8. What do you do in your free time?
There's so much to explore in Greece. Between meaningful vacations abroad in summer and/or New Years, I'm using the occasional long weekends to find new places to discover, whether to the north in Zagori, west throughout the Peloponnese, or a quick ferry ride to neighboring islands. I like driving with friends, and we've recently done road trips beyond Greece, including a trip from Athens to Helsinki through Eastern Europe. Skiing and hiking are my go-to physical activities.
9. What is your favorite place in Greece so far?
Beyond the obvious choices, like spending a Spring weekend finding new beaches in any direction from Attica, my favorite location has been Zagori, particularly the Vikos Gorge, which is the most impressive gorge I have ever seen (and is relatively unknown or underprioritized to locals and tourists alike). The villages of Zagorochoria are hospitable as ever, and the adventure of finding your way, hiking, enjoying nature, and taking in the landscape is well worth the (surprisingly easy) 5 hour drive from Athens.
10. How do you keep contact with Finland?
My parents live in Kanta-Häme, while my youngest brother (pictured) lives in Pirkanmaa. I go to Finland at least twice a year to enjoy a weekend at the summer cottage or simply say hello during the winter. Visiting old and new friends in Helsinki is normal during these trips. In mid-2020, I spent 4 consecutive months in Tampere as Greece was in the midst of their most restrictive lockdown. My grandfather lives in Janakkala, and a majority of my communication with him and my extended family takes place in Finnish. Despite losing the fluency I had when I was a child, I have managed to maintain some Finnish language ability thanks to my family, but even going so far as to taking 4 years of Finnish grammar courses at Berkeley.
11. What is the most Finnish feature in you?
An underappreciated aspect of Finnish culture is how it shapes work culture. The no-nonsense, candid, efficient, apolitical working style is something employees, particularly those coming from the US, tend to be pleasantly surprised by when working with or for a Finnish company. I've somewhat unintentionally brought what some consider a practical, dry, logical, and business-first attitude to the workplace, and am continuously looking for opportunities to find the right balance between inspirational, motivational leadership and emotional or mental efficiency; exposure to Finnish colleagues and partners has been particularly valuable in setting a high bar.
On a more casual note, it's assumed that I am introverted (and perhaps on the surface this is my default), but it doesn't take much for me to be impressively social and outgoing. I could probably be more communicative in my personal life, I hear :).
Editor: Eili Andersson