“Screw it, we can do this better”
When it comes to managing our personal finances, let’s face it, most of us tend to adopt the convenient ostrich-like approach, burying our head deep in the ground, away from figures and percentages. At best, we collect receipts one after another for some imaginary accounting session, and eventually end up ditching all of them when our wallet is about to burst. At worst, we just run down Irresponsible Street, with the “don’t know, don’t care, don’t want to know” motto in mind. At the end of the month, we are left with the same disturbing observation when checking our bank account: where the heck did it all go?
Decided to put the damn ostrich down, Matic Bitenc (25), a sharp mind disguised in a cool costume, came up with an app that could change the game. In a laid-back interview, the CEO and co-founder of Slovenian startup Toshl – also known as this finance management app that everybody says is great – tells inventures.eu about changing people’s mentality towards money, his work philosophy, and explains why good old Europe remains the place to be.
Matic has the analogies going: “Finances are, for most people, like looking into the inside of a dead corpse.” Photo credit: Oto ŽanPut some humour into it
The idea behind Toshl was born a few years ago, from the frustration of a co-worker trying to keep track of his expenses while redecorating his apartment. “At the time, none of the existing finance apps had a satisfying user experience. So, in our amazing arrogance, we thought ‘screw it, we can do this better!’ and we just took off from there, really,” recalls Matic.
Ever since then, he has been pursuing the noble goal of changing people’s attitude towards accounting, together with Toshl’s co-founder Miha Hribar (30). Their concept is not to present users with a sugar-coated spreadsheet generator, but to turn the act of keeping track of expenses itself into a fun habit. How? By creating funky content around people’s finances. The Toshl people have thus created a user-friendly platform that combines cool infographics, cheeky monsters and animations foradding a playful dimension to their efficient bookkeeping tool.
“Finances are, for most people, like looking into the inside of a dead corpse: it’s dark, it’s frightening and you don’t want to be there. So, we’re trying to keep it light, shiny and fun. That way, we want people to be above their finances, so they don’t have to worry about them.”
A success magnet
Talking about finances, Matic’s company was lucky enough to start as a side project, while Miha and him were still working at 3fs, a mobile & web studio located in Kranj. With this safety net, the app built up nicely without going through the critical stage of first funding, encountered by businesses starting from scratch. Launched in April 2010, the service was first available on Android, iOS and on the web, before being developed for Blackberry, Windows Phone, MeeGo, Maemo, and Symbian’s native apps.
With its gently provocative tone and catchy design, Toshl soon got the curiosity of users, then the attention of media and big players, such as Techcrunch, the Wall Street Journal, the NY Times, the BBC and The Next Web. Each publication led to a spike of new users on the day of the publication, coupled with positive echoes within the tech industry (for more about this phenomenon, check our story on startups and the Matthew effect).
“We got our first major feature on the US App Store by Apple about a week after the NYT article ran. We can’t be sure that was the cause, but it’s very, very likely. It also helps a great deal with the customers as being covered by a major publication instantly raises our credibility in their eyes.”
One thing leading to another, Toshl was one of the lucky companies of the Summer-2012 batch invited to join 500 startups, a prominent startup accelerator programme located in the fancy Silicon Valley. On the road to success, the company recently picked up the award for Best Commerce, Finance or Payments Startup at the Europas in January 2013.
“We are not office campers” a.k.a. the Toshl team Photo credit: Oto ŽanThe Office, Slovenia edition
However, if today Toshl already counts over 800.000 registered customers around the world – mostly in the US, Brazil and China, success doesn’t seem to have spoiled Matic so far. Although he enjoys leading the project, he sees his CEO status as a pompous job title rather than an opportunity to boss people around.
Since its creation by the original duo, Toshl has been cultivating a chilled company spirit, far from the stuffy corporate type, and aims to stay that way. In their modest office in Kranj, the six members of the team and their worshipped coffee machine gather together for about eight hours a day, sharing a workplace and a sense of humour.
“We are not office campers and our working hours are pretty flexible. Everyone knows what he has to do to make it happen. It’s all a matter of responsibilities and good fit.”
Another kind of Euro-vision
While many of his fellow young entrepreneurs from CEE fantasise about relocating to the Silicon Valley, Matic is not quite buying the California dream. He tasted a slice of the American pie during the 500 startups experience, and although he admits that the place offers a fantastic environment for startups and creative people, he prefers the cool hedonism and quality of life of the old continent to the vibrant Valley.
Firm believer in European unity and fervent advocate of the ERASMUS programme, he can’t stress enough the importance of building and encouraging a sense of community across borders. “It should be made possible and mandatory for every young European citizen -not only for the upper middle class as it is more or less the case now – to spend a year in a fellow country to learn from each other”.
It is hard to argue that bringing Europeans together and reinforcing their bonds would do anything but contribute to the richness of the European startup scene.