10.3. 2017 Kuukauden kasvo

Encouraging growth

Teemu Malinen has steered his IT service company Sofokus to rapid growth as well as helping many other growth businesses. That has been achieved through continuous learning.

Developing new web and mobile services is the daily work of Teemu Malinen. He compares it to a boat maker who builds individual boats carefully by hand, always improving his skills. In Sofokus the key thing is understanding the customer’s business on the whole and generating competitive advantage through new services.

“We are one of the most experienced developers of electronic business on the market and have been doing it since the year 2000. The services are tailored tightly around the customer’s business operations. We have not tied ourselves to any finished product”, Mr Malinen says.

A continuous process

Teemu Malinen thinks that digital services are not yet sufficiently used in Finland, and it’s time to focus more on them. Investments are not made in digital services and the way of thinking is not digital enough. The obstacles are often found at the mental level, in attitudes.

”Digital services are governed by the same logic as real economy, and I have not yet come across activities that could not be improved by digitalisation. Competitive advantage is generated from the services designed for the customer’s needs which may create new business or earning models. I don’t believe in purely digital services, however, but a functioning combination of the real world with the digital world, and a natural approach in building the business.”

Good examples of new earning models on the market include Slack, Houzz and Dropbox as well as the Finnish service Liveto which is revolutionising the event ticket purchasing logic by offering a ticket shop embedded directly on a website as the first in the world.

”I see customer relations as a continuous process, although many people would still like to buy just individual projects. If you aim at providing services that others don’t have, the use of new opportunities should be studied and developed all the time. If you have the courage to put all you have at stake, there’s plenty to win. Internationalisation is also easier.”

Developing the corporate culture

Mr Malinen is currently focusing especially on Sofokus’ analytics expertise which can help the customer to move on and allocate the planning to the right places. The company hired around ten new employees last year, and the recruitments will continue this year. A couple of years ago Sofokus expanded to Helsinki and the number of personnel is now 41.

“Building the corporate culture plays a key role. It’s important to find people who fit the staff and have 360-degree understanding. It means that they also understand the business, and everyone needs to crave for something new. That’s much more important to me in recruitment than CV, education or age. We hire the people who understand that it’s the only way to stay at the leading edge of the development.”

New information can be found through own networks, from the latest business literature, and of course online, and it is followed closely. In addition, events are arranged for sharing experiences and adopting new phenomena. For example, Teemu Malinen is one of the mentors of The Shift event and a popular sparrer who tweets actively, writes blog entries and e.g. recently spoke to start-up companies at Turku Science Park’s SparkUp workshop.

You can sense the positive atmosphere as soon as you enter. The employees walk cosily on their socks in the office and everyone nods at you happily. At the heart of the office lies a common space where the employees eat lunch and talk and every now and then gather on the comfortable sofas to think about things and learn something new. Friday afternoons are reserved for free activities. There’s a shared chat channel with the Helsinki office which is also used for other than work-related communication, and teams include people from both offices. Sometimes all employees gather together.

“For example, this spring we are travelling to Sweden to visit local companies, and there will be other programme, too. Sometimes the staff proposes various activities, e.g. a gentleman club where we of course had a dress code. Sometimes we play billiards or arrange an NHL tournament on PlayStation.”

Management of growth

Teemu Malinen founded Sofokus in the year 2000 and grew the operations gradually at first. In the last four years the turnover has grown by 71 per cent at an increasing rate, and two years ago the company opened an office in Helsinki. Turnover currently stands at around 1.7 million euros, and fast growth is also targeted in the future. Mr Malinen is still the principal shareholder. A few key employees are minority shareholders.

“The growth has been generated with cash flow financing since the beginning. It’s natural and controlled and I strongly believe in it. It builds character and creates a sustainable basis for the operations. Another alternative is to acquire risk financing, but then you will not necessarily learn to act in difficult situations which will inevitably occur.”

Mr Malinen has often had moments of disbelief, but he has always managed to move forward.

“Growth is only generated when you are continuously ready to enter your own uncomfort zone, otherwise it’s hard to achieve anything new. It demands a little effort and is not suited to everyone. Growth entrepreneurship requires a certain attitude to which you have to force yourself.”

At present, the greatest number of new opportunities seem to be available in the utilisation of artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality, as well as chat applications that improve personal service online.

Becoming an entrepreneur by chance

The door to the digital world opened to Teemu Malinen with the internet which he first encountered in 1994. He came from Rauma to Turku to study statistics and took information technology as a minor subject, but wasn’t yet aiming at the IT industry at that point. He started as an entrepreneur at the suggestions of his friends, although he had a nice workplace and an interesting job in the new media department of an advertising agency.

“I started completely unprepared, but maybe it was because of my genes. I later found out that there was a serial entrepreneur in our family already in the 1950s.”

Mr Malinen has clearly found his place as a trailblazer in the industry and in using the opportunities. He also has the energy to help new start-ups and is or has been involved in around 10 new enterprises, such as Someco and Liveto.

“I can find the time, as I’ve learned to focus on just sparring and leave the actual work to others. I also try not to do everything by myself in my own company.”

Letting loose

Teemu Malinen considers the eight-to-five working hours a made-up thing for which there are no grounds, because the energy levels of people may vary, but he aims at keeping his own workload reasonable and values good sleep very highly.

”My sleeping is also efficient, because for some reason I often notice in the morning that I’ve solved a problem. It’s not conscious.”

To counterbalance the work you need family, friends and leisure activities. Mr Malinen lives with his wife and dog in Raisio and does various sports with his colleagues, at present crossfit style exercises on two mornings per week. He sometimes goes jogging with the dog and does tour skating. He also reads a lot, although it’s often work-related. He likes to eat good food in a restaurant, mostly Asian and sometimes Italian.

Mr Malinen has set a goal to travel abroad four times a year, because it is the best way to have time off on holidays. It does not always go as planned.

”We travel places based on feelings, Asia and the USA are our regular destinations. I particularly like Hong Kong in Asia and Miami in the USA. Other places of interest include Thailand, Vietnam, Shanghai and Singapore.”

Text and photos: Anne Kortela

Teemu Malinen

  • Multi-entrepreneur in electronic business
  • Born in 1973 in the Helsinki region
  • Went to school in Rauma
  • Came to Turku to study in 1994
  • Lives in Raisio with his wife and dog (American Hairless Terrier)
  • Education: M.Sc., 2000, University of Turku, major subject: statistics, minor subject: information technology

Selections from career:

  • 1996–1997 UPM-Kymmene, IT Trainer
  • 1998–2000 Advertising Agency Lahtinen & Mantere, Project Manager, web services
  • 2000– Sofokus Oy, founder and CEO
  • Different roles in several start-ups, e.g. Sofokus, Liveto, Viversion

Other:

  • One of the mentors in The Shift event
  • One of the founders of Varsinais-Suomen IT-Yrittäjät ry association (now part of the Finnish Software Industry and Entrepreneur Association)
  • Member of the jury of the KasvuOpen Southwest Finland programme
  • ICT consultative committee of the Turku University of Applied Sciences

Leisure activities:

  • Travelling, reading, tour skating, fitness exercise (different sports)