We have sacrificed short-term buzz for long-term scalability, was that the right thing to do?

When building a new company there are two ways to go, either you focus on selling “Blue Sky” where you build a nice facade. With this mindset you go for the money before you have created anything and try to raise capital for your endeavour very early.

The other approach is to build a viable business first with small means before you start looking for external financing. With the later approach my experience is that you sacrifice building buzz about your company because everyone is busy building stuff and trying to do business instead of talking about the business that you think about doing.

Instinctively I like the latter approach and that is the way we have done it with both Bricknode and Untie Group. We have built very efficient operations and real enterprise-like IT-infrastructures which you usually only find at Fortune 500 companies, but the problem is that basically no one, or very few, have actually heard of us.

I keep debating with myself which way is the optimal one, to reach the kind of scalability that we can have you must build a great base for your company or you will fail as soon as you start scaling. At the same time if no one knows about what you have done it is all for naught.

In the end I hope that future investors will grasp what we have under the hood and that we will gain enough interest for these great teams to really fly. What a feeling it will be when we have the resources to actually hire new staff members each time that we have a great opportunity or when we need to fix some stuff internally instead of having to squeeze water out of a rock with current resources 🙂

We are 10 years into our creation now and somehow, we have managed to invest more than EUR 17 million, where most come from generated income, in Untie Group and more than EUR 8 million in Bricknode, where most is generated SaaS income too.

Now is the time for us to start building buzz and tell the world that we exist!

I don’t want to be remembered as a profit optimiser

I always start with the Why? Why am I doing what I am doing? Why have I been working day and night for 20 years? From where do I get fuel to do this day in and day out?

What drives me is leaving a legacy when I am done of having made something better for society. 20 years ago, I thought that I emerged myself in the financial markets to produce profits for myself and my family so that we could be financially free.

It turns out that this was only a piece of the puzzle and not the whole story. I like to think that some subconscious plan drove me to this and forced me to learn everything about the financial markets and how everything worked behind the scenes. This has given me and my team the knowledge to master all the required technology to create, launch and manage basically any financial product known to man.

By building and analysing trading systems I learned how to compare apples to apples and with a few simple data points quickly understand what a good product is and what is a bad product.

I have learned the hard way how important it is to select the right partners and investors while being able to control the decisions that are going to be made for the future. Before sharing control, the creation must be mature enough and the culture you stand for firmly established in the DNA of the company so it can survive.

For the past 20 years I have probably made every mistake in the book, but I could always count on my own drive, motivation and relentless hard work to pull me through.

To have the opportunity to create a better financial future for people I have decided to do stuff that I classify as “a means to an end“. Let me illustrate this with some real world examples.

My main vision is to create a financial hub for families where they also can manage their small businesses. Sometimes I call this “Spotify for finance” because then people usually understand in broad terms what I mean 🙂

In 2009 I envisioned that the time would come when people consumed numerous financial services at the same time and would have to log on to multiple places to manage these services. If these services offered API’s we could build a master app that could manage them all I thought.

The problem was that none of these services offered any API’s and the big banks did not want to play either. I thought that this would change eventually when consumers would demand this, but I could not base the viability of my idea on the big financial institutions turning around and becoming “open”.

So, I decided to start Bricknode where the idea was to build a cloud based software platform that financial institutions could use to manage their financial products and their customers. It would have a complete API to enable other applications to interact with it and do everything that the software platform itself could do. When building this we needed to understand everything that goes on behind the curtains for most financial products in the world.

To gain this insight we onboarded customers in various segments, some of them offered bad products and some of them good ones. This was one example of a “means to an end” where we “enabled” these bad products, but it was in the interest of gaining knowledge and the future greater good that could come out of it.

The next example is our lending operation in Untie Group. As I touched upon earlier, my belief is that a true financial hub cannot be built by the involvement of traditional financial institutions because mostly they are out to optimise their own profits instead of the financial lives of their customers. My belief is that you should first focus on bettering the financial lives of your customers and then your own profits will follow as you create value and then you should invest those profits to create even more value.

Another reason why the financial hub is a very long-term project is trust. Why should anyone trust that the companies that I and my colleagues  have created are out to do any good? Well, the only way to build that trust is to prove it and that will take time, but we will do it incrementally. If we succeed all of us will be better off in the end!

For us to be long-term, sustainable and independent we have our own financial products that create the required cash flow. Among other things, we have been issuing unsecured loans since 2011, the vision has always been to create better and more transparent products year by year than what is currently on the market.

The annual interest rate level for unsecured loans in Sweden is generally between 6 – 30 % depending on duration, fees and other terms together with the risk profile of the customer. There is a misunderstanding among the general public that only shady basement operations offer these types of loans, but this is not the truth. There are established companies such as Ikano Bank, ICA Banken, Norwegian and the successful company Klarna to name a few.

Our vision for lending is to be able to offer the best possible products based on the risk we take. This is a very important part of our business as it gives us the freedom to think long-term with our investments.

The year 2020 will be an interesting one for us, Bricknode is ready to scale up and start growing its revenues after 10 years of development and learning. The same is true for Untie Group where we are finally ready to get the financial hub up and running with our early version at Untie.se.

Both companies will raise some capital during the early part of the year, and we are looking forward to finding some good long term partners! Please get in touch if you think that you are one of them!

According to Kleiner Perkins we are in the sweet spot!

A very encouraging article was published today by Forbes regarding FinTech trends for 2020.

In the article Desai Weiss says that people will not be able to keep track of their finances in 10 different apps, that is music to my ears! I have been saying that this would happen since I started Untie Group and Bricknode in 2010!

Desai continues to say that there should be some kind of “super app” coming along that will keep track of it all for us 🙂

This is exactly why we have spent more than 10 years building our “engines” for Untie.se which is now in beta mode and coming along nicely with frequent releases.

The third trend concerns infrastructure investments where companies that will help manage compliance, fraud and other building blocks should see money going their way. This is right up the alley of Bricknode where we have built what I call an operating system for financial services!

It is great fun to see what is happening within our industry and I hope that both Untie Group and Bricknode will get some traction from investors during 2020 so that we can start expanding our marketing and sales efforts. No matter how good your product is you still have to fight like crazy to get your name out there!

Having some fun at Untie Group!

 

Doing some work on our business dashboards

I just posted a quick video with some thoughts about a business dashboard that I am doing.

Breaking down the 4 main hurdles for FinTech companies

FinTech startups looking for a breakthrough in today’s marketplace are facing a few key hurdles that I am trying to address, and offer solutions to, in this article.

Having founded, operated and sold a few FinTech companies during the last few years I have faced most of the issues that come up along the way including technical, financial, legal, operational and sales related issues.

I founded my first company in 1998 where I published stock market research online through a web based service and became a writer of some premier periodicals in Sweden. I then built automated algorithmic trading systems and set up my US-based hedge fund in 2001 before opening a prop trading operation in Sweden in 2003.

In 2005 I founded and built the company that is currently called ayondo and is scheduled for a listing on the Singapore Stock Exchange during the first half of 2017 at a valuation of $158 million.

During 2010 I sold most of my stake in ayondo and founded Bricknode to develop a horizontal financial platform to work as a “Windows for finance” in order to support any future financial services that I wanted to build. Since then Bricknode has invested over $3 million of income from customers and over $2 million through our own investments into building the platform. In 2010 I also founded Willebrand Invest (publ) where we invest in FinTech companies and can help entrepreneurs to realize their dreams within the financial technology industry.

In 2011 I built the first financial service as a vertical on the Bricknode platform in order to offer peer-to-peer lending for consumers and companies through a company group that is now called LendyTech with 30,000 customers generating more than $3 million in revenues and more than $1 million in profits.

The lending software is offered by the company called Lendysoft who is a partner to Bricknode.

So, through this journey I can truly say that I have faced most issues that a FinTech entrepreneur will have to deal with and the key challenges, in my humble opinion, are the following.

  1. Time to market due to lack of a technical core platform
  2. Lack of access to customers and early adopters to verify the product
  3. Access to financing
  4. Access to support and education

Each time I wanted to build a new service I was faced with building a new core from scratch with the regular stuff like user management, accounts, transactions and then connecting add-on services like market access, credit lookup services, quote providers…and the list goes on.

With Bricknode Financial Systems (BFS) as the core a FinTech company can get access to a number of partners as illustrated by the image below and the standard objects needed to quickly build the user facing application by utilizing our open API.

FinTechInnovators

A recent example of this is Pensiono, a pension innovator in Sweden, who is using BFS to launch a whole new insurance company, Svenska Fribrevsbolaget, with a very short time to market.

BFS is offered as a SaaS product where you only pay for what you use, simply navigate to the website and sign up with your credit card and you have the complete toolkit to build your next FinTech application starting at $60 per month!

Now what?

Well, once you have built your beta version, or your first full version for that matter, you need a way to try this on customers. With Bricknode you can publish your application in the Bricknode Marketplace or ask to be introduced to a few Bricknode customers that could try your application and submit feedback to you. This way you can structure a limited live test of your service and communicate directly with a select number of your prospective customers.

The third hurdle is financing, depending on your service you need staying power, or a HUGE amount of staying power!

If you have the resources the best way is to put your money where your mouth is and fund the company yourself initially. This way you show investors that you are assuming the most risk yourself and that you truly are putting both your finances and your standard of living on the line for this dream of yours.

If you don’t have enough resources you need to look for some initial funding or partner up with someone who can help you with this. I funded my first trading operation with $1,500 from my father, had a job during the day and worked nights on my own operation before I got accepted to a government program for people that wanted to start their own companies and got a minimum salary sponsored by the government for the first 6 months.

To help entrepreneurs through this step I am using my investment company, Willebrand Invest, who can make some seed investments and together with my loan platform Kreditborsen.com (Loan Exchange) we can also offer partial loan financing.

Bricknode also has a FinTech sponsorship program where you can get access to the whole platform in a sponsored way.

Finally, a new FinTech company usually needs support and education along the way and Bricknode has a huge Knowledgebase with information of how the financial marketplace works on the inside. If you get accepted into the sponsorship program you will also enjoy free admission into the educational events offered by Bricknode and free support with your use of the platform and its API.

To summarize, me and my teams have spent the last 7 years developing a platform and support system for bringing better financial services to the market for you and I to use and we are just now offering this publicly.

Consider where you are with regards to the four hurdles and I hope you get in touch with us if you have some crazy ideas!

/Stefan Willebrand

Trading update

The continued trading result has been very good, looking at Adobe I last wrote about the breakout from resistance when the stock was around $113 per share and I increased my position just above $113.

Adobe then had a run up to $122 and I have taken off my excess position size and I am only keeping my core position in Adobe while waiting for a correction in the stock.

Chart_17-03-14_17-35-17

The next stock that I have been trading around is Atlassian where I sold my excess position just below $30 per share and then re-entered into the pullback at $29 and $28.50. The stock is now starting to turn up again with great fundamentals and I would be looking to take some profits again around $32.

Chart_17-03-14_17-40-27

I have also started to establish a long position in Gold again since I think it is establishing a bottom in the short term.

Chart_17-03-14_17-43-54

Finally I also have positions in Japan through the ETF called EWJ and I am looking to get back in to India through the ETF called INDA.

Through my public investment company, Willebrand Invest, I am also looking to enter into a new share offering from the FinTech company Pensiono who started their public funding round today at the crowd funding site Pepins. Pensiono is a platform customer to Bricknode (the financial platform and ecosystem provider for FinTech companies and financial institutions where I spend most of the time when I am awake, probably also when I am asleep…).

Best regards,
Stefan

How Keyfence.com helped me organize my businesses

Today I would like to introduce a new service for you called Keyfence which is something which I developed to solve a big problem. I am involved with numerous companies and work with various teams using a number of online and offline services which require logins or PIN-codes, all my 10 MasterCards and Visas for example.

I also have a need for sharing some of this information in a secure manner, for example the logins for the cloud based accounting software which we use and where each company has a separate login.

The idea of Keyfence was simple, an online password and login storage service which permitted me to share records and access them on any device. I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you how I use the service to manage my businesses.

Make sure to watch the tutorial first:

I started off by creating a folder for each of my companies and also a folder called Private.

2013-07-17 23-02-00

With this setup I can create records in each company folder which I want to share with the team in that company or I can even create sub folders for different access levels for example.

In the company folders in the Private folder I will store records which I will not share and only should be viewed by me.

In the image below you can see that I have stored login information for Company 1 for our accounting system, for Amazon.com where we buy some of our equipment and for the site where we buy office supplies.

2013-07-17 23-06-49

These are just a few examples of how I use Keyfence which I hope that you will find useful as well!

Finishing a great launch

It is definitely not every day when you can be a part of launching something which can be viewed as a breakthrough. After a lot of hard work from many involved we at Bricknode today launched three new software modules within our platform called Bricknode Financial Systems (BFS) which solves many problems for users of financial technology.

The challenges posed within this area with regards to building software which can adjust itself to frequently changing requirements and new areas of usage are many. Maybe the technical challenge is just as big as the practical since the logic behind financial transactions can be very complex.

Here is a link to today’s launch newsletter: Click here

One of the big things are automatic management of so called TRS which is a system for financial institutions where they report transactions to the regulators. This is used among others by the UK FSA and the Swedish Financial Inspection.

We have created a video which shows how BFS can handle this job.

A yet more advanced challenge is the management of massive numbers of transactions which we solved by introducing a brand new dashboard launched today. This accompanied by international tax management with source tax withholding, double taxation agreements and much more through a user friendly interface is quote a feat.

To finish this off it is worth to mention a completely new portfolio report with flawless details offering an easy way to follow each penny in the account. Read more about it through our Wiki article.