An interesting startup, called Balancion, has been in the talks of the startup circles here in Finland. Partly due to the fact that Balancion is commonly referred to as the Finnish Mint.com. Mint.com was of course sold to Intuit for a very nice amount of money, $170 million USD to be exact. The CEO, Jussi Muurikainen has decided to keep the team small and agile and relies heavily on partners for production.
From this setting, a company that has been in the build for 2 years is surely of interest. I had the chance to talk to Muurikainen about the various issues and what has been the run up to the current state of the company.
Antti: Just to get things clear, in your own words, describe Balancion.
Jussi: Balancion is a service for the management of personal finance. Our service answers to questions such as "How am I doing financially?", "Where is my money going?", "Where can I begin to save from?" and "How is my personal finance situation developing"? We're trying to create a service that forms an accurate image of one's personal finances. People have recently relied on spreadsheets, pen and paper, but the overall picture is difficult to understand as the data lies in many places (banks, credit card companies, etc.).
A: It's commonly known that you've kept the team small and relied heavily on partners, what were the decisions behind this?
J: I believe in expertise. The expertise needed to build a service like this cannot be found in one place. I also believe that the ideas by themselves won't get you far and it´s all about execution. This is the reason why we are building our company in co-operation with partners. The process to get these partners on board was long. On the other hand you have costs and on the other hand recruiting these people to your company would have been overly expensive and difficult. There are not so many great interaction designers, project managers, etc. available and just waiting for a startup like us. I believe this sort of co-operative model where companies are built in a network of professionals is the model of future. Outsourcing is no easy route as you have to be very sure that the partners are right.
A: So if the company is small and you rely on others how do you get to debate your ideas?
J: Everything starts with your family. If your spouse and family believes in you, start with that. Then you advance to your friends, friends of friends and so on. Also tap on people's business connections if possible.
People will want to help you if you're open and honest. I know, for example, that the quick 30 minute discussion with my former boss was the discussion that took our business model where it is today. I believe in the fact that the more and more you are able to question your own thoughts and take influence into them from others the better they will become. Regarding the method: call first and ask time for a 30 minute meeting. Even busy people have 30 minutes to spare, if not in person - then on the phone.
A: Banks and financial institutions aren't regarded as the most dynamic of companies at least in business practices. How have they felt your presence, as a competitor or a partner in the field?
J: To be direct, I'm actually surprised of the banks positive attitude towards us. It seems that many banks believe in the fact that this sort of service does add value for their customers but they also understand that it's very difficult for one bank to offer it as the information is laid out in many places. For example, a person in charge of consumer banking in one top 5 banks in Finland told me that "I've been waiting for a service like this for quite some time in Finland". So in short, we're not seen as a competitor.
A: So what kind of internationalization plans does Balancion have in mind?
J: There are many answers to this question. On the other hand I see that let's just make the service and then think about internationalization. Then again, if we do succeed the way we intent to, we won't hesitate to expand the concept overseas. Though before that let's just make the service ready; launch it and then talk more. For example I know that many people have high expectations towards us after the Mint.com acquisition. However, I will do everything so that my feet are firmly on the ground and I don't get too carried away in hype.
A: Any greetings for the other entrepreneurs out there?
J: For those who have already taken the steps to register their company: congrats! For you who are thinking of entrepreneurship as an alternative: don't look at my example and ponder about the possibility too long. Take care of the small bureaucratic issues first - as you don't need to have the product ready when your company is established. Balancion is a great example: we have had the idea since 2002, the company was registered in 2008 and we'll start our first year of operations in 2010.
A: Thank you very much and the best of luck with Balancion!