Growing a company “from zero to hero” is no easy task. It requires consistency, hard work, and the right mindset. But what’s needed to maintain the “hero” level once the “zero” phase is over? Toms Jurjevs, the Founder and CEO of Latvian fintech Sun Finance, knows a lot on this one. He’s grown Sun Finance from a two people startup to a multi-million-dollar international company. Sun Finance’s successful growth path has been recognized by the Financial Times in their FT1000 Fastest Growing European Companies list in which Sun Finance has recently been ranked for the third time in a row – something that no other Latvian company has ever managed to achieve. In 2021 the same ranking named Sun Finance the No.1 Fastest Growing fintech in Europe. Here are Toms’ 5 rules for making this happen.
1. Spend every euro as if it’s your last one
This is something you learn when you’re just a start-up because the money’s tight and you must plan wisely for every euro spent. But once the business started to show great results, we continued to stick to this approach – why spend a ton of money just because you have it now? At Sun Finance we constantly review our internal processes and try to be as efficient as possible. We keep our cost-to-income ratio at around 20%, which is way below the industry average.
2. Keep out of your comfort zone
I believe there is nothing more tragic for a person or a company than staying in their comfort zone. If you’re there and if you’re fine with that, then basically the game is over for you. Growth stops in the comfort zone. If you’re not moving forward, you’re not even moving backward – you’re fading out, and eventually people will start forgetting about you. But you probably don’t want this to happen when you’re in business. Instead, you want to focus, set goals, make plans, and go. If we had decided to stay in our comfort zone, we would have never, for example, crossed the borders of the Latvian market. But we did – we expanded in Europe, then across Asia and the Americas. And this is not it. We’re already making plans and working on entering new markets, further developing our products and business.
3. Be smart when investing in technology
A very bold but true statement, but here it goes. We are among the industry leaders when it comes to risk and data science technology. But how did we get here? Our CIO and CRO were among the very first people I hired more than six years ago because from day 1 I knew that these departments would be the backbone of this business, and I still stand by this belief. People say, “Don’t save money when it comes to investing in technology”! True, but the key is to invest in technology in a smart way and make the systems work for you, not burden you. First, for processes to be smooth and quickly adaptable, these departments should be internal. Second, instead of hiring an army of people that does manual work, make it automated. Thanks to this we can process a new loan request every 0.63 seconds, resulting in more than 4 million data-driven decisions per month. Third, don’t try to do everything yourself. Everyone should be doing what they can the best, that’s why it’s important to cooperate with reliable external vendors - big & known as AWS platform services and early start-ups - so that you can focus on YOU while getting a ready-to-go service from others. By investing in technology in a smart way you will, without a doubt, be one step ahead of your competitors.
4. Our own 80/20 rule
When developing a business idea, think about how you will scale it someday and be ready to do that. That is why at Sun Finance we live by our very own 80/20 approach. This means that we build our products and processes to be universal by 80%, but we leave 20% room to tailor them for local specifics and know-how. Why waste time on building something from scratch each time when you’re entering a new market when you can be more efficient and rather spend time on not re-inventing the bicycle?
5. The CV doesn’t tell the whole story
We can’t talk about the success of a company if we don’t talk about the people that work there. In the Sun Finance team, there are more than 1400 people from all around the world, but in Riga, where the HQ is located, there are 180 of us. When going through the hiring process we don’t base our decision on how convincing the CV is – we pay attention to the person in front of us. We believe that just like hard work beats talent – the right attitude beats years of experience, therefore, we will more likely hire the person who has that spark in the eyes than the person who has experience but no willingness to grow. Of course, we don’t undermine the importance of experience, but sometimes the person with less experience but more enthusiasm is more motivated for the job.
And finally, when you’ve got the business rolling and become successful, don’t forget to give back to planet Earth and society! For example, we’ve been supporting green initiatives for the third year now, and we are actively implementing charity projects via Charity Foundation Sofi – a foundation that I named after my dog Sofi and that focuses on helping animals. I would advise you to keep this in mind – the bigger you grow, the more responsible you should become!