Five years ago, three friends, who all studied at Laurea University of Applied Sciences, came up with a business concept: how to draw up and maintain a company's rescue plan online. The trio went to meet with potential clients with only a partially complete product and fearlessly started to market their services. This fearlessness paid off and now their company Plan Brothers employs more than 30 people, and their services are utilised by 1,000 corporate clients.
The Plan Brothers trio Eetu Kirsi, Okko Kouvalainen and Olli Pölönen met one another while studying at Laurea UAS. Each had some link to and interest in entrepreneurship even before they established their shared company.
Eetu Kirsi, who graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor's Degree in Security Management, established his first company before his studies, and his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship grew during an entrepreneurship camp in Cambridge. Pölönen, who graduated from Laurea a Bachelor of Business Administration and more recently studied entrepreneurship as his major at the Aalto University School of Business, got bitten by the entrepreneurship bug while working on growth enterprise projects at Technopolis Ventures. Okko, in turn, had worked for his brother's company before his security management studies and participated in the Laurea Sense business idea competition during his studies.
Swift growth proved a surprise
The original idea for Plan Brothers was conceived by Kouvalainen. The premise was the 2011 reform of Finland's Rescue Act, which obligated all properties and companies to up-date their rescue plans.
- At that time, I worked in property security service sales and suddenly grasped the potential facilitated by the legislative reform to develop a solution that could help everyone. I realised that this could actually become a profitable business, if it was done properly, Okko explains.
Okko contacted his course mate Eetu. Eetu, in turn, spoke about the idea with Oli, who he had met at the Laurea Entrepreneurship Society. The trio set up a meeting in December 2011 and decided to put their plan into action.
The first version of the company's Pelsu service was ready by April, and a couple weeks later they had made their first sale.
- At the time we made our first deal, we also made a change to our original concept. In addition to the service, the client wanted us to provide specialist work i.e. to draft a rescue plan for them, Eetu Kirsi recalls.
- Currently, approximately half of the rescue plans in our system have been drafted by us as specialist work. This work is carried out by our experts, who have graduated from Laurea with Bachelor's Degrees in Security Management.
From the start, our company's growth has been swift. Sales kicked off a full speed in summer 2012 and, that autumn, Plan Brothers made numerous large deals.
- Originally, we thought that this would be a side-business in addition to our day jobs, Eetu Kirsi states.
- We reached our original target when we achieved an annual turnover of about 70,000 euros. After our first year of business, our turnover was already over ten times greater. Only at that point did we realise that this had much greater potential than any of us had anticipated.
Expansion abroad has begun
The Plan Brothers business trio feels that their greatest achievement has been how well their product originally met with customer needs as conditions changed with the legislative reform. Clients have been given a simple turnkey-type solution.
- One of our clients summed it up like this 'An emergency and rescue plan should not be a project, but a process'. This is a good illustration of the change we have achieved, Olli Pölönen sums up.
Competitors naturally took note of the Plan Brothers' product, and very similar products appeared quite quickly on the market.
- This was of course quite a fun honour for us. However, by the time a competitor launched a similar competing product, we had already been able to develop our own service with the help of our clients so that it was completely different, Eetu Kirsi chuckles.
The company has expanded its activities beyond Finland's borders; first to the other Nordic countries and the UK. The company's objective for coming years is to ensure the continuation of its initial swift growth and to increase its turnover to somewhere in the range of 5 - 10 million euros.
Entrepreneurship became a way of life
The founders of Plan Brothers mention the freedom of entrepreneurship as an important motivator for them choosing this path; the freedom to do what one wants as much or as little as one wants to do it and the possibility of steering a project in the direction one wants. An entrepreneur's freedom goes hand in hand with their responsibility. At the same time, entrepreneurship has brought personal growth and development.
- Entrepreneurship brings a huge amount of responsibility compared to employment. Ultimately, an entrepreneur is responsible for absolutely everything, Eetu Kirsi states.
Although the burden of entrepreneurship has always been divided among several people at Plan Brothers, the day-to-day life of an entrepreneur can be exhausting. Especially in the early stages when work days tended to stretch around the clock.
Now though, Eetu, Okko and Olli have found a balance.
- During my first few years as an entrepreneur, I stressed myself out terribly. My first child had been born, and I have later regretted that I wasted good time I could have spent with my child, Olli Pölönen admits.
- When my second child was born, my working hours had reduced significantly.
The highlight of their careers as entrepreneurs has been the possibility of employing people, who are good at their jobs.
- I am proud that the people, who work here, are content here, are able to express themselves and show their potential as well as hold responsibility for and power in the company. A large number of our employees are also shareholders.
- I would have never believed how strong a bond we the business owners, our shareholders and entire team would form and the depth of the friendships we've built. Entrepreneurship is not a job, it is actually more a way of life, Olli Pölönen adds.
Test ideas boldly
The founders of Plan Brothers have visited Laurea to speak to speak to students about entrepreneurship and have acted as personal sparring partners for those planning to become entrepreneurs. The three call on institutions of higher learning to provide greater guidance to students completing entrepreneurship studies, in order to ensure that students do not waste their energy on daydreams, which have no possibility of developing into profitable business.
- It is easy for an experienced entrepreneur, who has faced many ups and downs during their career to spot weaknesses in an overall concept that students would not notice. These points are important to take into consideration, as even small insights can save students from weeks and weeks of unnecessary work or can help kick-off sales, Okko Kouvalainen emphasises.
Another development idea for entrepreneurship education at universities of applied sciences is related to hands on experience. Currently, universities of applied sciences emphasise planning, such compiling of business and marketing plans, too much.
- I would advise a student to set off with a small trial. It is one hundred times more valuable to go chat with a couple of potential clients and ask them whether they feel the student's idea could work, Eetu Kirsi says.
- Although business ventures in the application sector often require large investments at the get go, we had very minimal investments and were able to get an MVP (minimal viable product) on the market.
Now, the Plan Brothers trio admits that it took a great deal of courage to start selling a product that was hardly sufficient to clients:
- We were told later on that clients agreed to buy our services, because we were so confident when we presented our products for the first time, Okko Kouvalainen says.
- This illustrates that it is worthwhile to be crazy in the right way and to trust one's own concept. However, do not be overly confident but be attuned to what your clients want.