This is a series of posts, written in co-operation with the Finnish Software Entrepreneurs to promote entrepreneurs working with software. The first post is about Jussi Muurikainen, the CEO of Balancion. Balancion is a personal finance management application that integrates with banks.

In this series, we try to dig deep into the backgrounds of the entrepreneurs and their companies. You can also win a ticket to Arctic15 by subscribing to the Finnish Software Entrepreneurs newsletter over here.

ArcticStartup (AS): Explain to us where do you currently work and what were the steps that got you there?

Jussi Muurikainen (JM): I’m the founder and CEO of Balancion – the first Finnish service for personal finance management. The thought of an easy-to-use home money management service was brought to my attention in 2002 by Mikko Mäki-Rahkola, the co-founder of Balancion. I got stuck with the idea after I had tried to manage my money with Microsoft Excel (since 2006) and had still received € 14.000 tax bill from the Finnish tax office. All in all, we saw the business potential after experiencing with “manual home money management” for years. We thought that it can’t be this difficult to manage one’s own money: there has to be a better solution.

Since 2008 I’ve been working with Balancion – it’s been a rewarding but challenging journey to make it work properly and smoothly – and this aggressive development phase is still going to continue for a year or two to make our original vision alive. Balancion is not just a “nice site”, it’s much more like a “complicated system” with a really strong backend. That’s why it has been a must to have a strong and clear vision, patient investors (both public and private), and professional partners. And 24/7 entrepreneurial spirit from the whole team, I’d like to add 🙂

The service is now up-and-running and we have very enthusiastic and loyal customers (we call them Balancion members) using and developing it with us to make it useful and smooth. It’s so nice to have the input from our customers and not only build things based on our own original thoughts. This is something I personally enjoy the most!

AS: What is your company trying to achieve and why did you pick this offering?

JM: Firstly, I think entrepreneurship is something You have in Your soul or You do not have. I personally have always considered myself as an entrepreneur also before being “a real one”. I said to my wife when taking this project that there is approximately 97 % probability of failure – maybe that’s why I picked it. There is something fascinating about seeing the future’s big potential and yet having clearly nothing but Your own excel and power point shows at first. Then, after years of work, finally getting the first real results (for me: happy and loyal customers).

A few words about our company goals: continue quick development, get the first deals with the Finnish banks, sign-up an important commercial partnership, and then enter the internationalization phase.

AS: How easy has it been to grow your company to the current status?

JM: Nothing but easy. A lot of technical, conceptual and other difficulties, the moments of frustration, listening to cynical talks, scratching enough financing etc. But as I said that’s what I was ready to take as a given already when I decided to take this challenging project. “The person who gets the farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.” – Dale Carnegie

AS: As a software entrepreneur, what is the best part of your job and why?

JM: To see the original vision become reality, day by day. Having nice conversations with patient, helpful and supportive customers. Being able to work with the most talented people in Finland. Enough?

AS: What about the most challenging? Why?

JM: Simply making our own vision reality fast enough to reach the service level “fantastic”. This is something that keeps me running. I´ve heard Jorma Ollila (former CEO, Nokia Oyj) say “Free or Fantastic”. So to be able to mute the cynical voices (“Jussi, no one will ever pay for digital services, keep it freemium”), You have to reach the level of being fantastic. Thank You Jorma and the founders of Spotify (1 million paying customers), Your words and example has given a lot of power when the sun doesn’t shine 😉 And to be clear, I personally think we have reached maybe only 40 % of this “fantastic” level at the moment. There’s still so much to do ahead of us. But then again: approximately 30 % of the Balancion registrations end up paying for the service. The average purchase is about €35, which means that most of our current customers have bought the license for 12 months (€48).

AS: What is it like creating software and scalable services in Finland?

JM: I think it’s both challenging and yet a good environment. Here You simply have such a small market that You just have to be really good to make it happen. So if we think positively: if You make it here, it really validates Your international potential better than when doing something on larger markets. Understood? I’ve sometimes said that a Finnish startup company should be measured by how long it lives 😉 So those who can struggle through their death valleys (financial, technical, commercial) have to be strong and therefore have a good potential to grow.

Finland has some relevant strengths: competent companies to partner with (programming, service design etc.), good innovation funding opportunities (Tekes NIY Program etc.) and so on. The only huge hole I see is the lack of local business angels to finance the most challenging projects (meaning: doing services with a backend, not just nice frontend) through these death valleys. We have been lucky and grateful but I see so many good stories not be able to execute their dreams because of financial problems they meet before even getting a real chance to show what they were doing.

AS: What kind of role do organizations like Finnish Software Entrepreneurs play in your possibility to grow?

JM: I see these organizations important especially when supporting the new startups that are taking the first baby steps of internationalization. These (Ohjelmistoyrittäjät, Verkkoteollisuus, Arctic Startup etc.) should build funding bridges with global business angels. This is something we can not underestimate: Finnish angel network is just so small, we should build new connections, programs, competitions etc. to literally bring the money in to those with the best ideas.

AS: What are the plans with your company, where do you plan to take it?

JM: First and foremost we want to reach the goal of being fantastic, sign one essential commercialization deal with a bigger media company this spring, sign the first white label deal with a Finnish bank, recruit a management team member for internationalization… concrete enough? My plan is now – after closing the next financing round – to finally get the opportunity to focus on what I think is the only lasting competitive edge: reaching the service level of “fantastic” before the end of year 2011.

A few words about our company goals: continue quick development, get the first deals with the Finnish banks, sign-up an important commercial partnership, and then enter the internationalization phase.

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