In 2012, Erno Tauriainen embarked on a mission to make expense management both painless and rewarding. He’d been working as a sales rep for a digital company and was frustrated with the dreaded task of expense reporting, spending countless hours poring over receipts and painstakingly filling out forms. Convinced there was a better way, he went to work creating an app that would give people their time back. Today, SPENT is quickly becoming a leader in the expense management space by embracing the need for a “work-life blend” and leveraging technology to help support it. It has also set its sights on empowering the new workforce and today’s entrepreneurs to save and spend smartly. Erno is a man on the go, shuttling back and forth between offices in his native Finland and New York City, working with the SPENT team as they continue to grow the business. I had a few questions prepared that I managed to ask while his feet were still on the ground.
What was the motivation behind SPENT?
A few years ago I was doing business development for a digital company in the gaming space. They had these loyalty programs and my job was to make deals with retailers like Best Buy and Walmart to sponsor them. That job had me traveling all over the US and my expenses would pile up, so I looked for an app to make managing them easier. I was unimpressed with the apps out there, mainly because there wasn’t a way to link my bank account and directly track my expenses. I’m a product innovator and I thought there had to be better way, so I started to explore the possibilities.
What happened next?
I have a longtime friend who is the CEO of a successful Formula 4 racing Team.We both started out as entrepreneurs in the mid 90’s. In 2014, he was quite successful, creating one of the biggest teams in Scandinavia. He had some money and one day he said, “You keep talking about this expense management thing. My team travels all the time so I understand your problem really well. I’d be interested in partnering up.” So I quit my job and we funded the company together out of our own pockets.
What were those first days like?
In the beginning, we worked with some game developers in Tel Aviv. We were introduced to them by one of our co-founders Ronen, an entrepreneur in the digital marketing space. I still have the mock-ups of that product. Then, we came back to Finland and worked with Finnish developers. After a while we realized it was difficult to build this kind of product by outsourcing. We needed to build an in-house team, so I started looking for people. The first guy I hired was a great CTO named Markku, who is still with us today. By August of 2015 we got investors on board, raised our first round and we’ve been growing ever since. We started out with 3 employees and now we’re at 30.
Have you always been in to digital tech?
I don’t have a technical background, but I’ve always been very curious. I read a lot, I study a lot and I test things a lot. In the late 90s I built an email loyalty program for our family’s retail business in Finland. Then, Facebook started growing and I got the idea to create a social media wish list company where users broadcast their wish lists to their networks and receive discounts and offers. The company was called Wantlet and it was featured as one of the six top start ups at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in 2011. Eventually Pinterest took over that space and they killed the market. But I learned a lot from the experience.
How does SPENT differ from other expense management apps?
There are a few differentiators.First, we’ve created a cool product that seamlessly tracks both business and personal expenses.Once you’ve linked your bank account to the app, everything is right there at your fingertips.We also provide cash back on many purchases and travel expenses as part of the experience, which makes it even more valuable.Finally, on a deeper level, other apps are focused on a particular aspect of someone’s life.Either they’re business expense focused or they’re focused on personal finances and personal spending. We acknowledge that today’s workforce doesn’t compartmentalize that way and we’re providing the tools to support this mindset.
What’s your vision for the future?
To remove friction in people’s daily lives so they can focus on what they do best. We’ll continue to enhance the user experience on the expense management side, but we’ll also help users make smarter purchasing decisions when booking travel or shopping. It’s an exciting time right now because we’re in the process of creating two additional product lines. There’s the expense management app, but we’re also creating separate travel and shopping apps, both offering cash back. A user will be able to sign in with one ID and use a two-way door between these products. We’re creating an eco-system where the user will be able to jump from one to the other.
And users will be getting a lot more value, I imagine.
Yes. Others apps focus on the after-purchase, meaning you snap a photo of the receipt and input the numbers. We think that by first connecting your bank accounts to our eco-system, we can start helping you to make a connection to the retailers around you so you can make smarter purchases.Right place, right time, get alerts and get cash back. Then, during the purchase we have automation tools to help you retrieve the receipts. After the purchase we put it all in one package – here is the expense, here is your cash back, here is the receipt. All of this will make us more of a brand than just a product. It will make us more valuable as a company.