This is a series of posts, written in co-operation with the Finnish Software Entrepreneurs to promote entrepreneurs working with software. This post is about Teppo Kattilakoski, the CEO of Granite Partners. The company develops enterprise risk and security management software.
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 you work currently and what were the steps that got you there?
Teppo Kattilakoski (TK): I’m a founder, CEO and information security specialist of Granite Partners. I was studying information and knowledge management at Tampere University of Technology in 2004 when I got an idea for a potential startup company. The idea was based on information security eLearning (web based training) that was targeted to the whole personnel of the client organizations. The eLearning could be used in large organizations where usual training methods are hard and expensive to utilize.
I asked two of my closest student friends – Anssi Väisänen and Timo Valonen – to join my venture. Timo was the salesman and Anssi was the software guru. We used multiple courses at the university as a base to test and develop the original idea and business plan. We developed a pilot version of the product/service in early 2005 and got great feedback from couple of potential customers. Being young and enthusiastic we did the required paperwork required for company registration and founded the Granite Partners at summer 2005. Since that I’ve been working at Granite Partners.
AS: What is your company trying to achieve, why did you pick this offering?
TK: I realized that companies are struggling with information security issues and their employees are not properly trained to recognize potential risks. We scouted the market and found couple of companies which offered more or less the same service. Competitors’ products were not very sophisticated so we rationalized that three students from Hervanta – part of Tampere city where we all lived – will easily beat them.
In 2007 we expanded the ownership base and got three new owners. New owners brought in a concept of a web based risk management software. We had been doing such a good work on our eLearning software so we just needed to expand the architecture a bit and create new modules for new functionalities.
Nowadays we offer fully customizable risk management software to our clients. The concept is Granite ERSM (Enterprise Risk and Security Management). We have only one product/platform – Granite ERSM – and we use that to produce ready made software services (SaaS) such as information security eLearning and different types of risk management models.
AS: How easy has it been to grow your company to the current position?
TK: Not easy – after starting we realized that companies’ processes are still quite immature and undeveloped in the area of risk management and information security. At the beginning we targeted our limited resources to too small customers and we had to sell the idea of proper management model as well. Now we have learned the lesson and do business usually with larger companies (+1000 employees).
Another issue is that our platform has required a lot of hard work to develop it to the point where it is today. We started the company with our own money and for example I had to take the student loan to gather the required sum. So there has always been shortage of resources but we have made the very best with the resources we have had.
AS: As a software entrepreneur, what is the best part of your job and why?
TK: I can do (almost) what ever I want and I have enough responsibility to keep the game interesting. One of the main advantages is that you can see your own software and business growing – you are building something which you are passionate about.
Also the great feedback we receive from our customers on weekly basis is really rewarding. We are doing something that no-one else can do and it feels really good. No doubt about it.
AS: What about the most challenging? Why?
TK: Sales, getting the customers in. We are still quite a young company and it takes time to potential customers to start trusting us in this trust-based business area. We are constantly developing our sales process and business model but it is a marathon rather than sprint, so it takes time.
We have had only a few service contracts that have discontinued the partnership with us after the initial period (usually 12 months). Not a single customer has ever terminated our contract. This proves that when a customer starts to use our services, it is usually for a long term partnership. Our longest service contracts are as old as the company is.
AS: What is it like creating software and scalable services in Finland?
TK: For my point of view it is quite easy. There is a good student/employee base in the software industry. IT infrastructure is also well developed and it is easy to buy the needed server capacity from trusted suppliers. I can’t comment much about the VC field because I don’t have the experience.
AS: What kind of a role do organisations like Finnish Software Entrepreneurs play in your possibility to grow?
TK: I think the best what these organizations can do is to help the startups to meet the right people like business angels and help to get familiar with government’s innovation funding actors. There are hundreds of different programs where you can seek help and resources but it is really difficult to know which ones are the suitable ones and how to get started.
AS: What are the plans with your company, where do you plan to take it?
TK: I think we should get the yearly sales up to 2-4M€ in Finland and about the same in international markets. Now we are doing about 5-10% of that level in Finland and no international sales at all so there is lots of work to be done before we see how big the company can actually grow. The overall potential is much bigger but you have to keep your plans realistic because it is too easy to just throw in numbers or goals that have no base what so ever.
We have built the business model and software platform to reach those targets so it is more or less up to the sales if we can make it. If someone has good idea how to make the sales easier I’ll buy a round of good Trappist beer or Islay single malt!