Globally, the banking sector is developing very fast. Trends that arose in 2021 are setting the stage for a digitally focused banking future that’s arriving somewhat earlier than imagined. The fourth industrial revolution promises to revolutionize the way the banking and finance sector operates from online payments and digital loans to cryptocurrency and online forex trading.
Jussi Teeriaho is a Finnish businessman, the founder and CEO of MobiBank, and a global digital activist. He invented the backup system for Nokia phones and successfully sold his business before Nokia Mobile lost its position of world leadership. He now plans to revolutionize the mobile banking industry by launching an app that will be much more technologically advanced than the global giants like Revolut and Monzo.
Along with being the CEO, Jussi is also an avid philanthropist and a construction enthusiast who built his dream castle with his own hands in just 11 months. He believes that his work normally starts when everyone says: ‘It’s impossible.’
He recently joined me for an insightful talk on his career, business leadership, and also:
What it takes to develop a ‘one-stop-shop’ app for all banking services
Why Scandinavia is the leading European ‘laboratory’ for global unicorns
Why a wide distribution channel is key for a new product launch
What are the basics of successful fundraising
How to invent a disruptive backup app for Nokia and intuitively sell it two years before the market collapse
What are the main habits and mindsets that help to be successful
Why a ‘work-life’ balance is the foundation for personal well-being
And why the fast reading is crucial to learning and personal productivity
IK: You have over a decade of experience in large multinational ICT corporations and have held various senior management positions in launching and managing software companies. Can you give us an overview of your business journey?
JT: I was born in to a very good family with a strong entrepreneurial background in Finland. My father worked as an architect and founded his own construction company. My older brother has established 20 companies in Estonia, the US, and Finland. And my journey has been fascinating to see how the world has been changing and make my business contribution to this global change.
When the internet was born, and Nokia started producing its first phones, my brother advised me to focus on computer science and software business. History has shown the greatness of this idea.
When I was studying computer science, economics and law, I could not imagine that 20 years later, the world would be totally different: everything will be mobilized, people will be free to move around, and all they need to work will be a mobile phone and a laptop.
So I started to work in this area, first, at different enterprise companies, then as a vice president and country manager for a computer-based learning and brain training center, where we developed innovative learning tools. I ended up as a founder, investor, and CEO of several high-tech startups.
IK: Currently, you’re focused on a startup called MobiBank. How did you get your idea or concept for this business? What is unique about it?
JT: Before it all started, I was a partner and vice president at a company that owned more than 100 technology patents. One of its patents was a clever SMS system that could do a customer flight check-in in 3 seconds - the fastest check-in in the world. This system was a revolutionary technology at that time. So I wanted to make the same revolution in the banking industry.
I spent a lot of time having discussions with my team and potential customers who understood the high importance of creating a global multipurpose banking system.
When Apple came into the global market, it was a few steps ahead of the rest of the market players. Product simplicity was at the core of their success. So we approached the banking world with the same principle - our MobiBank is a few steps ahead of the rest of the modern banking systems.
The complexity and scattering of the banking world were the main challenges for us - customers needed several different apps to take care of their daily errands and simple tasks. They also needed to remember several passwords and use different accounts for various services.
So my idea was to create an app that will allow you in three to five seconds to pay your bills, transfer your money, lend money to your friends - do whatever you want to do in a single banking system. It had to be as easy as Google.
As a result, we spent six months with nine people in seven countries, making a competitive analysis to understand the market and the environment. These people were united by a single idea to find out if there is a ‘blue ocean’ in the traditional global banking market. We ended up bringing together more features and functions in a simple mobile app to revolutionize the banking industry by offering companies, their customers, and individuals an easier, more effective system wrapped in blockchain technology.
For example, we want to offer five times more features than the biggest market players like Revolut and Monzo, so our users won’t need extra apps installed on their phones.
If these giants can be successful with very few features, you can imagine what we can achieve by having an ‘all-in-one’ solution.
Our competitive advantage revolves around its inherent comprehensiveness - it offers a far superior service for people and companies. Online payment services alone have no inherent value over regular credit cards. True competitive advantage is achieved through a wider variety of interconnected services - the result is more valuable than the sum of the system’s parts.
We want to be a ‘one-stop-shop’ for all banking services. Globally.
IK: What markets do you target?
JT: Scandinavia is our laboratory and R&D hub to test the product. Finland is a high-tech country and a great place to start building a company. Huge global unicorns like Supercell and Angry Birds originated from our region, proving that there is a tech background in the Northern countries that gives us a possibility to create unique solutions that can be used globally.
Our core focus is the US, Europe, and Africa.
IK: What kind of technology will you use to eliminate the local country regulations and restrictions and become global? Is it blockchain? How are you going to pioneer the global market?
JT: Including blockchain, but not limited to. We will use an open platform that will be flexible to work globally.
What’s more, we are focused on building a wide distribution channel. We strive to develop the best app and to find a way to distribute this software all over the world fast.
We will begin operations in Nordic and Baltic countries, and a global reach will be achieved through a new distribution model. MobiBank software is roughly a combination of BaaS (banking as a service) and EaaS (exchange as a service). Both systems will be fully configurable to enable quick adoption to various technological and legal environments.
While the beta version of the app is still being tested, we have signed an agreement with an American mobile phone manufacturer that will pre-install it onto its phones, and this will give us access to the lion’s share of the market. Plus, we are already involved in negotiations about a possible IPO and becoming a stock-listed company.
This market is so hectic and hot that being a EUR 16 million company now, we can become a billion company in one night. N26 has perfectly proved it by growing its valuation from EUR 25 million to 1.1 billion in a year.
So there's a big interest around our company right now, which gives us a lot of opportunities to become a key global player.
IK: Can you share your experience in raising funds for your startups? What would be your advice for those who are currently in search of funding?
JT: First of all, you have to think big. Do not focus just on your country or region to find investments. For example, Finland is a small country, and its funding resources are limited. So to get investments, you should start looking globally.
Second, you should search for investors who understand your business and are interested in what you are doing.
Money is just a small part of a big pie. In the end, your success is measured by how good your team is, including employees and investors. I believe 50% of your success is the team behind you and another 50% - the innovation and software.
IK: That's right, but how do you find investors and persuade them to invest in your business?
JT: You need to have a very strong message and idea. Most investors get tons of requests daily, so the point is that you really should understand what you are doing.
And you have to gather a strong team that (preferably) has a network of connections in different industries. These people can create the foundation of your investment strategy. Therefore, a personal network is key.
IK: What’s the story behind your success with Nokia?
JT: Oh, it was a big, wild moment. I was skiing with my friends in Lapland many years ago, and we were discussing the challenge of losing a mobile phone along with the personal data on it. At that time, Nokia did not have a proper backup system for its phones. The only way to transfer the data from a phone to a computer was to do it through a cable. And it was clear that only a limited number of people used this function.
So I got caught up in an idea and, after the trip, I gathered my technical team, and we started looking at the possibility of developing an app to automatically back up the data. When you lose your phone (almost a mini-computer), you lose your contacts and valuable data. And if you lose this data, you lose a lot of time and money.
As a result, we’ve invented an app that can back up the mobile data in one click, recover it on the same phone, or transfer it to another device. When it was ready, we partnered with Nokia and it became available globally. It was a real innovation because Nokia didn't have a reliable global backup system for phones at that time.
Being in a close partnership, I tried to convince Nokia’s management to look at smartphones strategically and focus on developing smartphone applications. But they didn’t listen to us - according to them, smartphone penetration was just 10% at that time.
So I changed my strategy and sold my company to Nokia’s management and British investors: I understood that the market would radically change soon.
Ironically, in two years, Apple invaded the market with iPhones, and Nokia ended up as a market outsider. I was lucky to sell my company before this collapse happened.
IK: Are there any social or political causes you are advocating for?
JT: At MobiBank, we are not just building a financial business. We aim to help hundreds of millions of people who don't have a bank account. With new mobile technology that doesn’t have the traditional banking system limitations, we can serve a wider number of people worldwide.
In my childhood, my parents taught me that if we can help people around us, we can make this world a better place. So, it's not just pure business; it's also a charity.
IK: How has the recent pandemic changed the timetable of your goals?
JT: Despite the limitations of remote work, our business possibilities have grown multinationally. In one and a half years, we were able to create a product that would require two-three years of development in pre-COVID times. We were running at max capacity. These days, the world is rapidly changing, ‘working-from-home’ is becoming the new normal, and branchless banking is becoming more and more in demand.
We should also thank the Finnish government for its continued support in this hardship: we were able to work and travel with minimum restrictions. We also welcomed our business partners here, in Finland.
IK: What habits (and mindsets) helped make you successful?
JT: Well, I’m thankful to my parents, who gave me such a strong entrepreneurial spirit.
Ideally, you need to grow up in a creative environment and see talented people around you who are willing to change the world. Of course, you can do it alone. But for me, it was incrementally helpful to observe people with a positive mindset: creators, thinkers, dreamers, who do the right things and don’t compromise.
I also think that you need to have a strong will to build and create, and sometimes you need to work day and night to make things happen.
Your work should start when everyone says: “It’s impossible.”
IK: What’s your outlook on the ‘work-life’ balance concept?
JT: I think it’s important to balance work and life. I have seen quite a few people with burnout and their struggles.
It’s just so foundational to focus on something else other than just work. Often overworking is damaging and does not show any substantial results. So I’m advocating for the freedom of choice: you can work three-five-ten hours a day; however, the most important thing is the result.
When I sold my first company, I decided to work only eight hours a day and five days a week, so the weekends and evenings are free. And I felt that it was the right decision to allocate more time for people around me, hobbies, and myself.
Today, I do sports four-five times a week: my morning routine always starts from swimming in a cold pool (+5C) or the Vitträsk lake in front of my home. It’s important to keep fit, get together with friends, and have hobbies. So 50/50 is the magic formula of the ‘work-life’ balance. You desperately need both of them.
They say: “Work hard - play hard.” For me, it's difficult to say what is work and what is free time because my work is my hobby too.
IK: What’s your winning personal productivity advice?
JT: My strong advice to your readers would be to make a task list of the most important three to five things daily. Sometimes people tend to do too much work around the edges, and they don't focus on what they need to do. So, my advice would be to take just a few things and properly execute them.
Your productivity is all about the efficiency of your brain. At the beginning of my career, when I was building a brain training center, there was a need to develop a technique that allowed people to read faster.
People in Finland, for example, read too slowly. They read 200 words per minute because their eyes stop too many times in one row. Knowing this, our company developed a reading technique that allowed people to read 400 to 600 words per minute.
The insight is that our brain is very fast. If we read fast, it starts processing the content more efficiently. So, the quicker you read, the more you learn, and you remember up to 70% more of the content.
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