Guest: Tuomas Toivonen, Co-Founder of Holvi OY

Tuoma Toivonen is Co-Founder of Holvi OY. Tuoma will tell Chris Pyak about English jobs at Holvi OY – and one secret job that is not even on the Holvi career website. Elina Räsänen will join the conversation as well. Elina is the Head of Marketing and Communications at Holvi. Elina is searching for a VP of Customer Success for Holvi.

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Transcript of the interview with Tuomas Toivonen and Elina Räsänen about English jobs at Holvi OY

Announcer: The Immigrant Spirit podcast with Chris Pyak. No pretense, no bullshit, just Chris and an employer talking about a real life business problem, offer a solution, and get a job. And here is your host, Chris Pyak.

Chris Pyak: Welcome to the show. I am very glad that you joined me here tonight live, because I have a very, very interesting group of two people joining me here in the podcast. This evening we go far, far in the north up to Finland, up to Helsinki. With me are Elina Rasanen. She's the head of marketing and communications at Holvi OY, and Tuomas Toivonen, the co-founder of Holvi OY. Hello.

Elina Räsänen: Hello. Nice to meet you.

Tuomas Toivonen: Hello.

Elina Räsänen: Nice to be here on your podcast.

Chris Pyak: I'm very, very glad that you joined us here today as well. Elina, maybe we start with you. Tell us a little bit of what makes Holvi OY so special. What is your mission?

Elina Räsänen: Yes. At Holvi, what we've been doing for the past year is that we have been building a banking service for European entrepreneurs. Our own background as an entrepreneur has laid the path for us in terms of defining what are the actual challenges these entrepreneurs have in their daily lives.
Through that, we've built a service that actually combines banking with business management tools. With Holvi, our customers can easily send, for example, invoices, they can accept payments online, and they can manage their expenses and get easy cashflow reports out of the service. Basically, the mission is that we combine everything a modern entrepreneur needs in a very simple, simple platform.
Since 2016, we've been part of BBVA which is one of the leading innovator banks in Europe. Of course, through that we are just strengthening our mission to actually bring the opportunity of entrepreneurship to everyone in Europe.

Chris Pyak: I see that you actually, you take full advantage of digitalization. We spoke in the conversation before we started the podcast a little bit. I used to live in Estonia for five years. You even include the Estonian e-Citizenship into your service.

Elina Räsänen: Yeah, that's correct. For around 10 months now, we've been collaborating with Estonia's e-Residency program. Nowadays, we are actually truly global in the sense that any e-Resident who has a business registered in Estonia is welcome to open a business account with Holvi as well. Through that, of course we can give access to banking for entrepreneurs outside Europe as well.

Chris Pyak: This is a really great opportunity for many entrepreneurs who are nowadays often global citizens and move from one place to the other. By the way, for you the listeners, I hope you'll stay tuned. We will talk about three jobs that Holvi has to offer at the moment right now. We will talk in depth about all three of them. At the end, you will have an opportunity to ask questions to Elina and to Tuomas about these jobs.
So it really pays to pay close attention and maybe you can find out a little bit that could help you present you to Tuomas and to Elina as a potential new colleague in a more unique, more fitting way than just to send an application and say, “Hey, I have this and this kind of experience and I did this and this for these many years.” Try to understand what is the goals that Elina and Tuomas try to achieve, and then why don't you try to address them in your application when you apply for a job at Holvi.

Chris Pyak: Tuomas, you are the co-founder of Holvi and you are also in charge of IT. Is that correct?

Tuomas Toivonen: Yeah, that's correct.

Chris Pyak: You have two different jobs that you would like to talk about. Tell us about the first one.

Tuomas Toivonen: Yeah, absolutely. A little bit, kind of, the background of Holvi as a company from a technology point of view. Elina already described what we do, but from a technology point of view, we have really build a full stack banking service from the ground up. We've build kind of everything you expect from a banking service and it's all our own code. So we started from scratch and built a service.
The reason why we thought that we really want to and need to build this from scratch is that we wanted to build a fully digital bank. We wanted to build a service that we can take to multiple markets, be fully online only banking service.

Chris Pyak: Can I ask something about it because I can't really understand? First of all, my first thought when you said you built everything from scratch, I was, this must have been a nightmare for you to get this challenge technologically done. At the same time, of course it means a huge advantage for Holvi because you're not held back by any legacy. I wanted to ask, when you think about this process so far, is there one achievement that you have that you are especially proud of?
Tuomas Toivonen: Maybe the one achievement, when we started, it was not at all proven that you could build a banking service fully in the Cloud. We fully run on the Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure, and it was not done in Finland before. It was not done in most European countries, so it was quite a bit of work to have our regulator accept the possibility that you could build a banking service fully in the Cloud.
That required quite a bit of upfront investment from us in terms of money and time, both, but has been, really, the right choice. As we own fully the technology, we built it with mortar and architecture, mortar and tooling, it gives us the advantage of moving fast, that we can build new services, we can make the service scale, it's all in our hands. It's not that we need to rely on 30 years old technology which we wouldn't be able to kind of really have met the requirements that our customers have for fully digital services.

Chris Pyak: Yeah. From a level from one to ten, how important is this ability to scale fast?
Tuomas Toivonen: It is eight or nine. It's one of the most important things that, as we grow to additional European markets, to additional customer segments, to more customers, the technology to keep up with the … What Elina's theme in marketing is doing, we don't want to get customers in who we then wouldn't be able to service well.

Chris Pyak: I understand. I'm sorry, I went a little bit away from the original question. You wanted to say something about it, this [first 00:07:56] position.
Tuomas Toivonen: Yeah. What we're now recruiting on the technology side, we're recruiting for primarily Python engineers. We have built the service, the back-end is fully Python programming language, and we're looking for experienced senior Python developers for primarily two roles. One is on the data engineering side, and the other is Python engineers on the banking side of the business, as well as risk management, technical risk management of everything related to the banking side of the business.

Chris Pyak: Okay. About which of these two positions should we talk first?

Tuomas Toivonen: Well, I mean, we can talk about both at the same time because they have a little bit the same skillset that we're looking for. The first thing is that we're now really looking for senior engineers. We would hope the candidates to have three to five years of commercial programming expertise. It doesn't necessarily need to be in Python, but a scripting language in a web back-end environment would be something that we would like the candidate to have.
Then it's more on which area the candidate wants to focus more. Whether it's on the payments and banking, or whether it is on the data engineering side where the data engineering supports everything that we need, whether it is in services that we provide to customers or all the business stakeholders that they have, all the business intelligence data available as they need it.

Chris Pyak: If you contrast these two different positions for me, for each of them, what would you say from the many, many lists on your to-do-list, the many things on your to-do-list, right now, which one would be the most important one for each position and why exactly it is?

Tuomas Toivonen: On the payment side, we have interesting challenges in that there is couple of things that are driving big change within Europe at the moment in terms of payments. One is that bank-to-bank transfers are moving to be fully realtime. You can do payments 24/7, 365, so at any time of the year from bank to bank and the payment goes from your bank to the receiver's bank within 10 seconds.
That's a big change to how things have been done in the past. That requires quite a bit of engineering on our side as well to make that possible to participate in these realtime payment schemes. That's one.

Chris Pyak: Could you tell me, for me as an outsider, what would be one particular problem about it that you have to solve right now?
Tuomas Toivonen: Two problems in that. One is that as the payments are available 24/7, so reliability needs to be really, really high, so that's one. There is risk management as they are instant payments, so you need to be able to do all the risk management. So checking whether the payment is sent by the person who owns the account, all of that. It needs to be done in realtime.
Those are the two big challenges in that area.

Chris Pyak: You have 45 people in your company already in Helsinki you told me before. When you think for this position the people that you have experienced in your career, maybe the 12-year one the time before, and when you rank them in your mind, from the best person to the last one, what did the best Python engineers do different from the average?

Tuomas Toivonen: Well, I mean, a known truth about engineering is that the best engineers can be [inaudible 00:12:22] than the not so good engineers, but what overall … Kind of one of the key things that help engineers succeed at Holvi, of course they need to have the technical skills, but we also expect them to really understand the domain in which we … They need to understand the kind of the regulatory environment, they need to understand the service that we provide at the end of the day to our customers so that they can really think when they're doing the technical solutions that, how does this actually help our customers? How does it make their life better?
We like to think all of our engineers to be … and our product engineers in that sense that they first and foremost think about, what's the product, what's the service that we offer to our customers? And make sure that the technical solutions, not the other way around, though technology needs to be good to really service the customers, to be of maximum use. And that's kind of the key success criteria for engineers.
Also that they can keep the customer front and center on their mind since they're doing the technical development.

Chris Pyak: Is it important that they also keep the third interest party in all of this in their mind? You mentioned the regulatory rules which are of course very strict in the financial sector.
Tuomas Toivonen: No. I mean, that's of course industry … To earn the right to be in the industry, to provide the services, you need to have very strong regulatory compliance, that you do the payments or other services in a way that is compliant to a number of different regulations.
There is European level directives, there is local laws in different countries that we need to be compliant with, each different payment pipe will have its own operating rules that we need to be compliant with. So there is a lot of things to take into account, to take them into account in a way that we still kind of keep the agility that yes, we're developing for the customers. The regulator we need to keep them in mind, but they're not the customer. It's not that we're building this for the regulator.

Chris Pyak: I understand. Some of our listeners, they might want to apply for this position, of course they have a fitting background and they would be unsure if they should go for the banking position or the data engineering position. If you could contrast these two positions from inside, like okay, with a candidate for this position, this is the most important thing I would expect from him compared to a candidate in that position, that's what would be different with this position. Your dream candidate basically.
Tuomas Toivonen: I would basically say that, which one to apply for is which one are you more interested in. Like do you want to become a … And maybe you already are a data professional or a payments engineering professional, or whether one or the other is an area that you really want to become a world class expert. I think that's kind of the deciding factor.
Then for all candidates, we really like to see existing code. So if you have open source code contributions for example on GitHub or other social coding platform, we always like to see for all candidates some code that they've done. We of course have on all candidates a programing exercise as well.
Then if you have code that you can show us already at the point when you apply, that's a big plus.

Chris Pyak: Okay. Thank you. Which question about these two jobs did I not ask you yet that you wish I would have asked you?

Tuomas Toivonen: Good question.

Chris Pyak: You can take a moment. We can first of all-

Tuomas Toivonen: Okay. I'll take a moment on that one.

Chris Pyak: Good. I will talk with Elina on this time. You dear listener if you want to ask a question to Tuomas or to Elina about the job that we will talk about now, prepare your questions already in your mind. You can use the chat window in You Tube to send your questions there and I will read them out to Tuomas and to Elina. Feel free to use the chat function already if you have concrete questions to either of the two. Send it there now. We will take two or three questions at the end of the podcast. So be sure to get your question in early.
Elina?

Elina Räsänen: Yes.

Chris Pyak: Great. You also have a position first if you want to present. Tell us about it.

Elina Räsänen: Yes. So, we have a new exciting role also on the communication side and especially on the customer success as we're looking for vice president of customer success to lead and grow our team on this area.

Chris Pyak: What is the most important thing that this new VP needs to achieve? I mean, if you were to hire someone, and the first year goes by, the first year is over, at the end of the year, what does your new colleague has to have achieved so that you consider him successful?

Elina Räsänen: I think one of the most important things that this person should focus on is getting our customer success model in a form that it can be easily transferred into new markets. At the moment we are doing Holvi in three, four different languages. Our plan is to have Holvi operational across Europe.
One of the things that this person should really look at is that, how can we scale customer success without necessarily adding endless amount of sales agents but rather actually looking at ways we operate and make sure that our customer success growth is as efficient as possible and actually something that we can scale across markets.

Chris Pyak: Does this refer only to the differences in languages or also in other aspects?

Elina Räsänen: I mean, I think a little bit of both, but of course languages is one area. Then of course when you are building a product that is build for several markets, of course you also have to balance the localization needs about how the product [inaudible 00:20:01], and how the product looks like, and how we serve customers. This is also something that the person should really look into is that, is it necessary that in all European market in the future we have local languages? Are there markets that we can serve with more? For example, in English language.
Of course, ultimately, what can we do so that we can build a community of our customers that could help each other in frequently asked questions for example. So in basic terms, how do you scale customer success in a way that it can go from thousands and hundreds of thousands of customers to actually serving millions of customers without adding complexity and overhead in terms of … On the same rate.

Chris Pyak: Could you explain a little bit, how important is this part for your overall business strategy?

Elina Räsänen: I mean, I think this is one of the most important roles that we have because of course customers are at the heart of everything we do. Our purpose here is to actually make our customers succeed. So we are trying to build a product that really solves the everyday problems freelancers and entrepreneurs have.
In this role, it's crucial to understand both the customer needs and then match them with our strategy, and actually make sure that we are delivering to our customers exactly the kind of service that they need and they can benefit from. So very important role all in all.

Chris Pyak: For followup question from one of our listeners, James Ritchie. He says, “Hi and could you discuss Holvi's business strategy, and what do you see as your top strategic risk to success?”

Elina Räsänen: Top strategic risk for success. I think one of the important things is always of course here at the core of what we are building. How do you build a product that is both international and local enough? Because of course there are differences in markets when you look at Finland which is our home market, or Germany which is one of our strongest markets, and then we look at European markets and beyond. So of course what is the balance between developing a product that actually is throughout these markets? At least this is what I think. What do you think Tuomas?

Tuomas Toivonen: No, I mean, absolutely. That's like a thing that's really not ever been done in the banking industry that you could build a banking service that services business customers like we do, and do that really on a Pan-European scope, and how to find the ways to do that so that we don't need to build like a separate Holvi for each and every European country. But how do we find those ways to find the commonality in the markets and are able to build Holvi in a way that it is easy to scale to all across Europe?
I mean, we're now in four European markets, we're looking to add a couple of new markets this year, and our spread as a financial institution covers the whole European Economic Areas. So we have all of Europe where we can offer our services the way … To do that effectively.

Chris Pyak: That would have been my followup question. It's obvious already that your focus is on the European Union as a market. That's your market that you're aiming at?

Tuomas Toivonen: Yup. That's correct.

Chris Pyak: Good. Very good. Elina, tell me a little bit also about what kind of candidate are you looking for? We've been talking about the goals now, what is your ideal candidate looking like?
Elina Räsänen: I think for this role, someone who has previous experience in leading customer-facing organizations and of course is an expert in customer support, very passionate about engagement and building community. For us it's very important that the person who leads our customer success team is as passionate about our customers as our customer success team is, and of course we have leading values at Holvi that include for example our humane and genuine approach to customers and colleagues. This is also something that we are looking for in the candidate, that the person takes entrepreneurship as a passion or has it as a passion, and of course has the same genuine approach towards our customers as our existing.

Chris Pyak: Good.

Elina Räsänen: Yes, go ahead. Sorry.

Chris Pyak: I just wanted … because we were getting a couple of questions now coming in, and I'm sorry if we jump a little bit back and forth now because there are questions coming from the audience. If you're listening, feel free to ask your questions now because we'll take maybe two more before we're over.
Aman Eid asks, “Can you explain the business model of Holvi maybe with an example of one client's case?”
I have to explain maybe for our guests that the invite to this podcast went out like 50 minutes before the podcast, so not everybody had the time to get familiar with Holvi.

Tuomas Toivonen: I mean, as we said before, we provide a banking and business management service for entrepreneurs. Our customers are small businesses freelancers who can really do their banking and run their business directly on Holvi.
What we charge these customers is a fixed monthly fee. So you can take the Holvi account into use and you pay under €10 for the account per month. That includes everything. It includes the payment service, you get a MasterCard from us, you can accept payments online, online sales you can do that directly through Holvi. We also basically give you the business management tools included so you can invoice your customers. You have integrated online store for the online sales directly in Holvi, and you get all the reports that you need for your bookkeeping.
It's really one stop shop to run your business for simple low monthly fee. Very well suited for freelancer small businesses. Of course our business model is that we make money from the monthly subscription fee. So pretty simple in that sense.

Chris Pyak: By the way we're basically a small organization as well, we are a small GmbH. One thing that for me would be interesting as a potential customer is, you also integrate the accounting up to a small point. Because for example, right now I myself I use PayPal to collect money from my clients, and one very simple problem that I have is, at the end of the year, PayPal doesn't give me a very easy and clearly to understand balance sheet so that I can take it to my accountant and say, “Look, this is the money that I earned, this is the money that I spent.” And you integrated that into your banking system. Do I understand that correctly?

Tuomas Toivonen: Yeah, that's exactly the thing that we provide. In the Holvi interface whether you use our web version or the mobile version, easy tools to all the income that you get in, all the expenses that you pay. You can categorize those directly in your Holvi account. You can include all the bookkeeping data directly into your Holvi account so all of [inaudible 00:28:35] is sent to your customers, or all the purchases that you've done you can include all the receipts directly in purchases with the Holvi MasterCard mobile app. Right after you've made the purchase, you can take a folder with the Holvi app of the receipt and it's automatically in your bookkeeping.
Whether you need to do monthly, or quarterly, or yearly your tax reporting, you get all of those as a clean single report out of Holvi. If you want to take copies of all the receipts that you've loaded, we have an integration with Dropbox so with one click you can export all of those too. If you need to then share them to your accountant or bookkeeper, you can just share them, the Dropbox folder and they get all the information.
That's exactly kind of the problem that you outlined. Easy way to collect all your business information, receipts, invoice, et cetera, throughout the year and throughout the month. At the end of the month, end of the year, you can just then get a clean, simple record out of of Holvi.

Chris Pyak: Thank you. This is very, very interesting. Maybe one last question from Amakua. Yes, two questions. One is, what do you call Holvi, a data-driven organization? Or do you think Holvi is not yet at a level of maturity that being data-driven is as important as aggressive growth?

Elina Räsänen: This is for our marketing start-off, and being start off we can say that we are extremely data-driven. This is, of course, the ambition level that we have throughout the company, that everything we do, be it product development or feature development is based on existing data and analysis on what the customer actually is using and is doing. Of course this goes especially in the marketing side or acquisition side of thing that we aim and are extremely data-driven. This is something that is a priority for the whole company.

Chris Pyak: A follow-up question also from Amakua to you Elina. The vice president of customer success, where do you see this role? Do you see it sitting in the marketing team, in the sales team, in customer care team? What would give a better idea of your expectations from this role?
Elina Räsänen: This actually is a separate team. We have already a team of around 10 customer success managers, and we're looking for a new leader for these teams. So it's a separate function that sits and works between product and marketing. But this is a unit of its own.

Chris Pyak: Thank you very much Elina Rasanen and Tuomas Toivonen of Holvi for answering our questions. My last question to you, those of our listeners who feel that yeah, they would like to join the Holvi team, they would like to apply. Do you have preferences? How would you like to get the perfect application?

Elina Räsänen: I think our preferred way is through our own website where we have all our positions listed. Of course we have also the option of receiving open applications from candidates that don't see a fit for their profile in our open positions but feel that they have something to contribute to Holvi, so that's always of course an option.
Every manager of the different team goes through the applications and keeps a good eye on what is … What kind of talent we are receiving and of course matching that to our existing needs, whether there is an open position or not.

Chris Pyak: You mean that applicants they actually reach the actual managers in your company?

Elina Räsänen: Yes. Exactly.

Chris Pyak: This is a big benefit for those of you who are listening, [inaudible 00:32:37] are roughly over 500 HR managers, and it's a chance to talk directly to a manager about the things that they want to achieve, that's a very big bonus. That alone makes Holvi a very attractive employer to me.

Elina Räsänen: For sure is.

Chris Pyak: Good. Thank you very much both Elina Rasanen and Tuomas Toivonen of Holvi OY. This was the Immigrant Spirit Podcast. My name is Chris Pyak, I'm the managing director of Immigrant Spirit. If you haven't done so, sign up to our podcast at immigrantspirit.com/podcast so that you get a notice whenever we have employers live on air who are offering jobs to professionals in English. I thank you all for joining tonight. I hope both to you as a listener and to Holvi, that you will see a lot of applications very soon. Thank you. Bye, bye.

Elina Räsänen: Thank you.

 

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