In today’s article, we have Laura Landmark sharing with us her journey from England to Norway to starting a Fin-tech company.
Originally from England, Laura moved to Norway over 10 years ago.
She is a qualified Accountant from CIMA.
After working as an accountant for almost 20 years, Laura decided to quit her job and co-found Mantle Analytics with the goal of helping companies use technology to grow their businesses.
They do this by helping them move from predominantly reactive, historical reporting, to putting the emphasis on proactive forward-looking reporting & forecasting.
Becoming an Accountant
In school, I was a very average student, certainly not brilliant, definitely not an A grade student.
When I was in my late teens / early 20’s I started working in a clothes shop.
Being on the shop floor folding clothes and greeting customers, didn’t seem to be my strong point, so they stuck me in the back with the money! There I discovered that I loved finance and administration, and I became the back-office girl.
Along the way I figured out that taking some exams in this area would help my career, so I started studying at night school – AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians).
So, I actually never decided to become an Accountant. I became one by accident.
After passing those exams I decided to carry on to study CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants).
By the end I had been studying in night school for over 5 years and had two jobs for a great deal of that time as well.
To put it mildly, after five years I reached a point where I had quite enough of studying!
I would get up at 4:30 every day to study, then study in lunchbreaks, every evening after work and at weekends.
Eventually, all the efforts paid off and I was a fully qualified CIMA when I was about 28.
Moving to Norway from England
I have worked a long career in lots of different accounting roles in England, from Electronic Arts to a South African Wine company (Distell), to Royalton a luxury house builder before moving to Norway.
I met my Norwegian husband to be in 2002 and we married in 2004. We didn’t move to Norway until 2008 when we felt ready to start a new chapter in our lives.
Luckily being married to a Norwegian and already having a network of friends made the transition easier.
However, there was a massive language barrier at first. I couldn’t understand or speak any Norwegian.
Norwegians are generally really great at speaking English, but in my opinion, if you want to fit into the culture you need to speak their language.
So my primary goal was to first understand the language and later to speak confidently. This process took approximately 2 years, and it was a steep learning curve.
In Norway, I was working at a company implementing accounting systems for about 10 years. This gave me a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view of databases (at that time cloud systems were not the norm).
I was then able to understand how accounting systems are structured, meaning it was easier to conceptualize how to harness and use data and dig out insightful valuable information in the form of reports, KPI’s (key performance indicators) and analytics to help businesses succeed.
Quitting my Job to Start a FinTech Company
After almost 10 years of working in Norway, I finally decided to quit my job in 2017 and start a Fintech company.
And that’s how I co-founded Mantle Analytics in Oct 2017 with my business partner.
The main reason for starting our company was realising there is a big gap in the market for bringing finance and technology to SME’s (small/medium-sized businesses).
These are companies that want digital efficiencies but don’t have their own in-house IT departments.
Today many business leaders recognize the value of data but don’t necessarily have the in house resource to ‘find, prepare and analyze’ it.
Imagine what it would be like if you could harness all your relevant data, no matter whether it was in your accounting system, project management system, in excel, in a .csv flat file, or in the cloud.
Working with data is not easy, and that is why we set up Mantle, to bring data science and analytics to the SMEs that don’t have their own in-house function.
We have been well received in the market and the business is growing.
We work often with Accountants as well, as for them particularly technology has changed the way they perform their jobs.
We are helping Accountants get future-focused and future-ready by implementing cutting edge business intelligence and performance management software etc.
Its hard work and nothing comes for free, but it has been an exciting roller coaster type journey.
Funding Our Business Idea
We both left steady well-paid jobs to set up Mantle Analytics, so it was a bit scary but mostly exciting.
After making the decision to start for ourselves there were a few issues to overcome. But suddenly a lot of things starting falling perfectly into place which meant the idea of staring the business became more and more compelling.
Luckily ours is not a capital intensive start-up we are bootstrapping. This means we are funding the company ourselves without any outside investment or loans.
When we started we only needed a few thousand dollars to buy some laptops.
We both had some savings from before which we set aside and dedicated it to the business should we need it.
We both injected the same amount of capital into the business and that is now repaid and we still have the rest of our savings on standby! I am not suggesting this is the right way to start a business, but it was right for us.
We sit in a co-working space which gives us instant access to a whole community of “colleagues”. This energetic environment (Innovation Dock, Stavanger) has been a lifeline for us, we would not have thrived stuck away in a home office environment.
Having said that it has already been necessary for us to open a second office in Oslo, the capital of Norway, since we have so many customers there. So we travel very often back and forth between these two cities where the biggest concentration of our customers are.
The team at Mantle Analytics
When we started in Oct 2017 we were just two, my business partner and me. Today we are a team of five (almost).
My co-founder and I both come from accounting backgrounds but he is also a developer which is an added advantage.
Not everyone on the team is a qualified accountant, but all have business backgrounds.
It is essential, certainly in our fin-tech company to have the accounting knowledge in-house, as a lot of what we do depends on understanding fundamental accounting concepts, statements, elements and equations.
Without my background, I guess I probably wouldn’t be starting a fin-tech company.
I am a big believer in playing to strengths, however, so if finance and accounting, or marketing, or IT are not your strengths, for example, they can be outsourced.
Sacrifices Made On the way
We managed to start our venture by making a conscious decision to go salary free for a period. It was not easy, and we had to downgrade our lifestyles and expectations.
However, we had some savings put aside from before which helped to take a bit of stress out of the equation.
Our priority has been in these early years to put all the money we made back into the business.
After several months of going salary free, we started paying ourselves a bit and slowly stepped it up over two years until these days we are earning more or less a “liveable” salary.
Not too high, and not too low! Perfectly in line with being a start-up entrepreneurs!
My business partner also rented out his flat and moved into a 9x9m room in a shared house. It felt to him like going back to his student days.
Fast forward two years and he is almost ready to put his key back in his own front door and reclaim his flat, so slowly life is getting back onto an even keel.
Today we have clients in the UK, Sweden, Norway, and all the sacrifices made are worth it.
We are “growing up”! Hurrah!
Managing our Business Effectively
Our daily struggles are to find the right balance of business development, sales, and execution.
We are small, so we need to do ‘everything’, and ‘everything’ takes time.
We prioritize revenue-generating tasks over internal ones, but we have implemented good systems for internal communication (Slack), and for internal project management (Smart Sheet) and document handling (G drive), so I feel we are pretty organized.
We haven’t started documenting our internal processes yet, but that is on the list for the next year or so.
The absolute best advice I can give to overcome struggles is communication.
We, partners, are not always sitting in the same area of the country, as our customers are based all over Norway (and Sweden & UK).
But we make it a point to we speak on the phone or online at least once a day, often more, and keep each other informed via mail and slack of all the relevant details, small or large.
My business partner says he would rather be told twice than to have to fish for information which wastes time and energy. Time and energy are two resources we need to preserve at all costs in a fast-growing start-up company.
Making Business Partnership Work
Me and my business partner have very open channels of communication and we keep the conversations flowing.
We have also made it ‘safe’ for us to take the hard conversations with each other. No matter what business-related issues are on our minds we are able to share them.
We don’t always see eye to eye, and some of the conversations are tough and challenging but our best ideas are often generated out from these types of interactions.
Being open and honest and sometimes agreeing to disagree has been absolutely critical in driving the business forward, together.
Key Takeaways from my journey
My advice to those wanting to start their own business would be to identify your purpose.
Why do you want to do this?, How will you change the world and make an impact with your product or service?
It is that “why”, that reason, purpose or vision that will keep you going when the times are hard. And they will get hard!
My CIMA qualification has given me a huge advantage in starting a business, as in school we learned a lot of the fundamentals of business, at least the theory of how they are screwed together.
I am very grateful to my 20-year-old self for deciding to push through the five-year slog!
I personally have created more time in my life by giving up TV (almost!). It is amazing how many hours the TV sucks away.
I quite honestly think, as an entrepreneur to get the best chance of success, we need to use our time (our MOST valuable asset) as wisely as we can.
I can only speak for myself, but having a leading role in this tech start-up of ours is allowing me to increase my business acumen. Having to work on my own business enables me to help others do the same on theirs.
I am able to put my formal education to practical use, and alongside my clever Development team we get the machines to do the grunt work, whilst we and our customers get to use our time and energy for steering our businesses.
Now It’s Your Turn…
Have you started your own venture? What are you doing as Accountants to help your clients? Are you using Analytics, Business Intelligence?
About Mantle Analytics
Our vision at Mantle Analytics is to connect people in business with insightful information that improves the quality and speed of their decisions and increases the enjoyment they have of their business.
We do this by using technology to introduce automation and efficiencies in the area of performance management, ie reporting, budgeting, forecasting & dashboards.
A lot of what we do involves scripting, coding and integrating diverse data sources. In this way, we de-silo data and create a good solid base of reliable data for reporting and querying.