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Cities for People - Paloma Bautista (CHAOS)

Paloma Bautista explains how technology is being used in city [planning](/stories/construction-planning-david-nash) in 2020. Learn how CHAOS are developing technology that helps architects create cities for citizens.

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Smart Cities

This week’s show comes from Helsinki, Finland. I sat down with Paloma Bautista, the Chief Operating Officer at CHAOS. CHAOS is building a smart city intelligence platform and working closely with a number of high-profile clients here in the Nordic countries, as you will hear.

In this episode, we’ll be answering some big question like:

  • How can we ensure human feedback is central to any smart city platform?
  • How do we create sustainable cities, for everyone?
  • How can we measure the social impact of a development project?

Full Transcript

Okay. I'm here today in Helsinki again, and I'm joined by Paloma Bautista, who is the COO of CHAOS Architects. Welcome, Paloma. Hi.

Hey. Hello. Thank you for having me. I'm great.

Good. Good. Excellent. And if you could just start by giving us a brief introduction to yourself, your career, and how you came to be at CHAOS Architects.

So I'm originally from Spain, from the very south part of Spain from Canary Islands. And I came to Finland around five winters ago. So back there, I studied architecture so my background is... I'm an architect by profession. But then in Finland, when I arrived here, I was also doing some freelancing jobs related to design and related to events and some other things of that kind.

But then I came across who is the CEO of the company, Natalia. This was in Tampere, still, and I remember she was having this speech. It was in the week of the architecture. I was volunteering there and she was having this speech about her hometown. She's from Mexico. All of our team is very international, by the way. And it was about the human scale inside the city of Juárez, and that caught my attention. And since there, we were meeting several times randomly around the city in these kind of events, and I got to hear her pitching about this idea of how humans are a very important part of the urban developing development process and how we should do something to include them in this process at the moment where they actually have something, that what they say, it's actually comes at a moment where it can make a difference.

So since there, I was like, "Yes, this is something that I want to belong to." And it just came casually like as she was building a team. And then she offered me and I started actually as branding and marketing. This was two years ago. Then we moved to Helsinki. We established here in Maria**,** and since then, like, a lot of stuff has happened. We... Well, I'm now the COO as you're mentioning. We have still our great vision. We have grown the team. We have gotten investments. We have gone some won some international competitions. We have fresh recurring customers. No, it's great.

Wow. So it's a very exciting time for CHAOS. It seems like you've been very busy. Yeah, since... I think I first heard about you on Arnie Esteban's podcast -- a very famous podcaster and blogger here in Finland, and also internationally. So you mentioned a few things about some of the progress that you've made in the last 12 months. So you received investments; you've got paying customers.

Can you talk about some of the mile stones that you've achieved over the last 12 months?

So I would say one of them, if we speak about the product, is that we built an MVP of the core of our product. I'm actually not aware if people know what we do.

Yeah. If you could quickly give an overview, that would be great.

Yes, I can do that. So what we're doing is combining this data coming from crowds. So this is the essence of what was CHAOS in its first very idea, with urban data coming from other aspects of the city. So we combine these two in a platform so we get a better understanding of the current status of a city, the needs of a city, and also those towards the future. So how is a city going to change and what is it going to need?

To speak a bit more about how it actually looks, because a platform is a very abstract thing nowadays, so in an interface, it's a dashboard. So we're actually selling licenses. It's as simple as that at the end of the day. Behind the license, there's a lot of complexity on all the data that we're gathering. Not only that, but in how to visualize in a simple way that data because our end customer it's not necessarily a data person. It's just a person that has to make some decisions based on whatever they're seeing.

As we mentioned before, our core is crowds. So we have different packages. The basic, we call CHAOS essentials, is starting from what we already mentioned, like engagements and demographics. So social demographics. But it also has some add-ons that we are now developing, which is in partnership with an operator about people behavior. So how people are moving in the city, and so on. And we have also the vision that we want to achieve that is to include sentiments as well. That's in the pipeline. Let's see. We first have to analyze. It sounds cool when you mention and all the customers get very excited about it, but what business value does it bring at the end of the day? So if you could analyze trends on sentiments based on sentiments, what people are feeling now, what they're commenting now, what are trends are coming tomorrow? There's a huge potential there, but it's so complex. That's one thing.

And then the other package that we offer is more related to the built environment, so what kind of decisions you should make related to how to upgrade the assets that you already have or where to invest; where to get, actually, if you're building some offices, which are your tenants, who should you target, what are the services in the area that are actually bringing value into your properties? This kind of thought. These always combine to the previous package, so there's always the crowd insights there, like, being the core of the whole thing.

And then there's a 3rd one that's called CHAOS impact, and it's about social impacts. So this is targeted more to maybe cities or players that are as well caring about the livability of an area. So it determines, for example, what actions should I perform that are actually going to increase the appeal of an area for people to move in here so they don't go to the big city or whatever it is; for areas to be more accessible with more diversity of services like this kind of insight that has a social impact behind it.

And I also want to highlight that we bring this human perspective, like these data coming from crowds into the mix, because normally when you ask somebody about what is a smart city, it normally goes very, like, tech-oriented, very IoT, very sensors, so on and stuff like that. And for us, like people are... We could call it like it's like the human sensor as well. So we do that. We combine it in that way. So we build the platform; we build the IT architecture; and then build the MVP of the first insights that we provide to our customers. So then we got our customers on board.

We have quite big names actually in Finland and internationally, like, well... One of the first ones was the city of Helsinki, then also on the private sector, we have companies such as Skanska and ... but these are the Finnish names. And they are on the construction side. And then also on the real estate investment side. So our customers are basically in the real estate business in if you think about the development of a city and how, like, the chain on the different steps -- from the first moment where you're thinking, "Where should I invest? Some land analysis? Where should I invest in office building or should I invest in leisure or what? How is the city changing from that moment?" So when it's actually that goes into a contest and it's given to somebody to actually build when it's designed, and then what's actually occupied. So this whole process, yes. So those, like, kind of customers we have gotten through this year.

Yeah, absolutely. So customers and using your platform day in day out is definitely a good sign of validation. And also the fact you've got investment, enough investments to scale up, I presume. So that's what a positive step. I'd like to speak bit more about that human aspect you mentioned.

In cities, how are you gathering data from humans? This human sensor?

So there is multiple ways, and that's one of the things that on one side is great and on the other side, drives everybody crazy but there's so many sources of data so what to take and what not to? So that's also part of our role here. So, digital for sure. Whatever means it is, it's digita. It doesn't necessarily have to be. Well, we have our own source. For example, we developed an app for that purpose because we think that it's important to have the human insight not only by tracking people but by hearing them out. So people are able to voice their ideas out. Of course, this has to be done in a way that it's scalable, as you're mentioning.

So traditionally, it's always been done as in workshops. For example, this goes to the next level that since it's digital, you can do it from any part of the world at any moments and most importantly, it's a continuous thing. So it's not anymore, "We want ideas for a project." It's knowing people are participating in the creation of their cities every day in their daily routines, with whatever happens to them. That's when they get creative and they can give the input. Yes.

And then on the other side, there's also very, like, other sources, which we got through partnerships. For example, with operators. There is through partnerships with the other shop's apps. So there's so many ways of giving your opinion like, for example, from this kind of buttons where you give your impression after a purchase, for example. People are rating everything that they do. That would be an example of it, like that kind of data, but then also demographics in general. So also from open data, open sources. And of course, we also welcome whatever source of data the customer coming might already have that we can add onto and then enhance, like, its value.

Yeah. Okay, yeah. That sounds really interesting.

Do you have an example that you can talk us through with a client that you're working with, of putting this into action?

Yes, I can mention a case with a service provider, you can put it like that. And how we're helping them to enhance their sales through knowing better the demographics that they're targeting. So it's the human perspective and the human insight put into a mixture where they are also using their own data of their own business. But the human insight is allowing them to localize the efforts on sales in specific areas where they know they're going to have a higher hit rate in general. So we can provide information in this case, for example, on the age of, like, the age group, because every age group has different needs. So they're actually able to understand how population is changing in the areas and which areas of the city are going to be in need for their service.

So this is how it works with many customers. So the magic comes when we're, of course, helping them to develop further their business but taking into consideration the population. So they're making business but fitting the needs, the current needs so then that's beautiful.

Yeah. That's a good example. It shows that you've got a wide range of expertise and services that you're providing.

What kind of team makeup do you have that allows you to work on these projects?

So we have a team that has experience in urban planning. That's to start with, but then also in data science, machine learning, and of course, like, developers for frontend, backend, and so on. So in the platform part of the offering that we do is that you are able to forecast. So you are needing to understand the trends, like, the data trends. You're needing to understand past data, to actually be able to detect patterns and be able to think towards the future. So that's a very important knowledge that we have to have in in-house. There's a lot of data things, as you have heard many times now. So, data engineer. That's something that we have been outsourcing for the moment and it's very common in a startup that you have to choose. Like at first, "Okay, we cannot have everything because we have limited resources." So it's strategic. But that's one of the things that is coming in-house then this year. So, that. But then I have to say that then also the business team. That is core because whatever we're developing, if it's not a fit for the market that we are in and the customers that we are serving, there's no sense. So we have, of course, sales and marketing, and then, well, ourselves, like Natalia and myself overseeing the operation and so on.

But then I would say also that something that I'm very proud of is that the whole team has this kind of business mindset that no matter who you ask, if you're saying, "Okay, we should implement this kind of thing," they're going to question, "What business value does that bring?" And you feel like, "Yes, we have created these little monsters!" I feel very proud of that.

And how have you, as COO, contributed to that? Do you have a very well defined hiring process? Do you look for key values in people when you're hiring? Listing?

Yes. The first interview... Actually, we're currently, like, hiring and I actually after this, I have an interview so I'm glad that you're making me think about this. But the first thing is that it has to be a match. And that sounds maybe very cliché, but so true overall in the startup like business, where things don't work as you would expect like in a corporate where everything is already settled. But you have to be, you have to be very passionate. You have to be very hands on. You have to have a critical mind and be able to accept feedback and give feedback and to contribute to everybody's, like, role as well. That's very important. And then to understand that we have a high vision, an ambitious vision that is here and that we're going towards. But for that, we need to do this right now. So then looking from the high vision to the operation. That is something that not able everybody is able to do because it's hard to see, like, there's still a lot to do. So that is the most important thing that I look for.

Okay. Yeah, very interesting. And good luck to whoever's getting interviewed. Yeah, you mentioned the vision there. I don't think we've talked about that much. We've talked a lot about what it is today.

But can you maybe paint a picture of what the big vision is for CHAOS in a few years down the line?

Yes, So the big vision since the beginning is that we want to create more sustainable cities and better cities and we are certain that that has to happen through digital means; it has to happen with people; and it has to happen through data as well. Because it has to be... This decision making that occurs in cities has to happen in a way that it's not based on assumptions anymore. Like, it has been like that for a really long time and it's... In general, urban planning and the construction industry, like, it's really, really, really old and traditional. But it has come to moments where if you really want to be able to make sure your impact, you have to go down to the numbers and you have to go down to the facts. And that's what data brings on. And, of course, data, also including people when we're speaking here.

So being able to create these cities that are, first, that are connected so that all the data that is there available, is actually being used to understand the complexity of the city before taking a decision. So... And this decision could be, for example, allocating budgets. So what should we do? This was the case of the city of Helsinki. It's another customer. So should we allocate budget to develop leisure or to develop culture? There's so many questions that you have to answer before answering that question, that you're head explodes. And it's so complex for a human mind to analyze all that in a period of time that's reasonable to take action in. That's why, like, they were in touch with us.

So the idea is that your able to understand the demographics of a place and their needs, but also how they're going to change and that it's not... Building a sustainable city doesn't mean that it has to be just green city. Let's say, like, it's very... Sustainable goes very in hand with that. It has to be a city that attends to the needs of the people in it while they change. And it has to be a city that it's okay with having character, different areas with different characters in the city, and respecting that. Not all the city has to be, "We have to have swimming pools everywhere!" Like, it's not necessary. There might be a certain area with a character that people in there are just very eager, like, I don't know, maybe they're students and they go a lot to libraries. Let's say this is an assumption and then they're more oriented like to that kind of cultural service or something. So it's understanding, like, that's what we provide. Understanding of the city.

Yeah. That's so important, that last point about, I guess it's inclusivity in... Your cities are so diverse.

How do you make sure that everyone's voices, no matter what background they come from, whether they're rich or poor, how do you ensure that all of these people will have a say in the future development of the city?

At the end of the day, it is about being represented in city decisions as citizens. What is essential that has to happen for citizens to be heard is that there has to be some visionary mind in this other side that is able to understand the value of listening to these people, and is going to try to get to them in whatever way it is.

I agree that sometimes it feels like, "Okay. Maybe digital, not everybody has a phone." You don't have to have a phone. Like, there's many ways. For example, let's go to the very basic, like if you go to a concert, you buy a ticket, there's already... That's already data. You're generating data in a way, so there's a million, let's call them like unusual ways or unofficial ways to get this data from and that's also the greatness of it. So I think it is possible, but the willingness to do so, the willingness to collect this data and to include it into the decision making process, is what is has to be there first.

**Definitely. Yeah. Really interesting. Yeah, I'm with you on that. I think before we sat down today, we mentioned about this building, the Maria startup space, the coworking space here for startups and small businesses, and you mentioned that you're working on a project to expand the campus here. I thought that was really interesting. Check out our other article for more information on how architects and engineers are using Coworking spaces.

Can you tell us a bit more about that project and what your role is as CHAOS kind of giving back to the community?

Yes. Yeah, that's actually something that we like a lot. Like this giving back to the community thing. I think in general, and that going back to the vision, it's exactly that. Like, we want to create more sustainable cities for everybody in the world. So it's like giving back in general. It's what moves us. But then here, yes. Here, we are both part of the consortium that is, like, leading the project with Maria -- the construction company -- and I'm the head of that. But we are also members of the community. So we have both the perspectives of the project development and then also of the community in itself.

So our role here is to gather insights on the engagement, to engage the community that the actual one... There's already like thousand people working here, over a thousand people to provide insight on the current needs or not necessarily current, but the overall needs that as startup people, and as investors, and as service providers in this kind of hub, we will have to be able to shake the future project. So that's one thing.

So then we are doing this through our app tool. It's called CHAOS crowd and it's like, you can download it from wherever part in the world you are. And in this case, we're using it in this project, but it's also free to keep ideas related to whatever urban topic you're interested in. Yes, so it's like continues feedback that we were speaking about. But in this case, it's being used here. So the thing about this is that it's not only the ideas that people are having in a space, so whether they need certain like... Imagine it could be, "We need more bike racks because we normally come by bike. We don't come by car and there's a parking lot." Let's say that it could be that but it also tells you about the demographics of the people that are a part of that community. And that's also part of the understanding. Because as humans, we tend a lot to think that we know what we want. Or let's say, like, we think we know what we need, but it's normally what we want and it's not exactly the same. So the combination of both the demographics and the idea is what makes it powerful. It really gives the understanding of the community on how they behave and how to serve their needs, basically.

And then the campus is developing. In four or five years, it will be a 70,000 squared meter complex and it's not anymore, like, just the working hub. It's also like hosting people, like, for living. It's having these huge office spaces, but also, a concert hall. All kind of... I like to see it's like some kind of cluster or city player. It's not anymore just where people come to work. It's actually, it's dictating how the area around it in Helsinki works. It's dictating the services that there are; the people that are coming here; from where are they coming. It's being an icon as well, as in... Well, it's where all the innovation is happening. I want to visit... So it's hosting, like, the great innovations. But at the same time, it's an area and it's like Silicon Valley. Maybe this sounds again, like...

A Silicon hospital.

Yes. So it's not just a working hub. It's like a lifestyle. It's an area. It's a... Yeah.

I think it's a great example and a great case study for you by asking the current tenants and the people that are working here, you know, "What do you want?" and giving them the power to choose. And I presume that feedback will get given to the architects or the people that are designing the next phase to make sure that all those opinions are listened to. Okay, great. So we've spoken a lot about CHAOS and the work that you're doing and some of the interesting projects that you're working on. We're slowly running out of time but as I do with all of my interviews, we've got a quick fire round where I'm going to ask just three or four questions. And if you can just quickly give 30 seconds answers on the first thing that comes to your head. That sound okay?

Okay. I'll just try my best.

Okay. If you could change one thing about the Finnish architecture, engineering, and construction industry overnight, what would it be?

An understanding that digitalization and data is a way off enhancing their current business and it's not a competitor. It's a way for them to do business in a more efficient way and to save costs and to use the resources in there like in an optimized way, but that it's not something that goes against the traditional way of doing things. Still the same experts are necessary, and this is just a tool for those experts to use. So that kind of understanding.

The next question is about CHAOS. And you've spoken a lot about some of the interesting vision you've got, but what are the goals that you can mention for the next three years in your role and for the business generally?

So in three years, we would have broken even already. Yes, we would have grown the team. Not only as in more people, but grown the professionals that are in the team already. Everybody's a key person. So everybody's here as a part of their journey, like, in growing us in their own expertise as well. We would be have international presence. So we already have the eye on several markets around the Nordics like Sweden or Denmark, but as well in New York, in the US. We have actually... One of our members is there. So expansion, yes, for sure.

Okay. So, are you a reader? Do you have a book that you think everyone should be reading or a book you always go back to, maybe?

This is a funny question because I'm going to make the CEO proud here because she lent me a book. She read this, "Connecting the Dots" It's about the CEO of Cisco on his journey as a CEO, and the struggles and so on. And she was reading that and, well, as we grow as a startup, we see a lot of things that we were not maybe expecting. And then reading this kind of books make you understand, like, it's normal. Like, this is supposed to happen. This happens in every company at some points in many different levels. So that kind of book I recommend for everybody that's into this kind of environment and ecosystem, so they don't feel alone. And they feel like they're not weird because it's hard. It's hard for everybody and they're doing a great job.

Great. Thanks for that. Connecting the dots?


Okay, and final question. As you know, I'm traveling different cities, speaking to innovative people in the built environment sector. You must know some interesting people worldwide or maybe here in Finland. Who's the one person that you think I should go meet who's really innovative?

I think that in this building, there's a lot of people belonging into that industry and they're the bold and ambitious kind of people that you might want to speak to.

And with that, the interview is over. I want to say thank you so much for your answers today and for inviting me here into Maria, which is an amazing space. And I wish you all the best for growing your amazing company. You're doing some great work. Keep going and I wish you the best.

Thank you very much.