Is the term startup still relevant?
Hannu-Tapani Leppänen — CEO and Founder of Aibidia
When I explain that I’m building a new company to digitalize transfer pricing, the reaction is typically positive and goes something like this — “Oh that’s great that you’re doing a startup. What round of funding are you in?” Follow-on discussion includes talk of whether my company offers free lunches, if employees ride around the office on skateboards and are surrounded by dogs, and if we have a cool loft office. I welcome the warm embrace and enthusiastic support offered by everyone.
However, I wonder if this romanticized vision of a “startup” misses the point. Through movies, TV, and countless stories, “startup” has often come to mean “cool” — cool technology experts working on cool technology in a cool office with cool benefits. And as we all know, “being cool” has little correlation to success given that most startups fail. This is where I think we may be missing the point — “cool” seems to have overtaken focus on substance in the context of startups.
For me, starting Aibidia was not about “cool” or a loft office with skateboards and dogs, but rather whether I could help solve a long-term, large and difficult challenge in the world of tax by using state-of-the-art digital technology. I did not see myself as a technology professional looking for a great problem to solve, but rather a tax and legal expert hoping that technology could finally solve the sizeable challenge of digitizing how organizations plan, manage, analyze, and report on their transfer pricing. A challenge that in the eyes of many is probably not considered very “cool” at all, but one that I am determined to address. For most everyone I know, there is nothing “cool” at all about the topic of taxes.
I was motivated to start Aibidia because, as a transfer pricing expert and attorney, I helped organizations manage this burdensome process and saw firsthand the highly manual, time consuming, and very expensive processes that have become the normal way of operating. Thousands of hours and dollars are spent by multi-national organizations every day to complete just one compliance document for a single tax jurisdiction, a process that might need to be repeated more than 30 times each year. With hundreds of thousands of transactions recorded in spreadsheets and dozens of agreements and related documents stored separately, doing analysis and compiling filing documentation is a herculean task that often doesn’t provide tax teams with the capacity to look for new value and insight.
As I watched how other financial functions were being re-imagined with digital technology, from fraud prevention to currency exchange and trading, I was convinced it was time to bring this to the critical function of transfer pricing. I saw that cloud software would make collaboration far easier for geographically dispersed tax teams to bring all of their data and content together and create a single source of truth. I believed that advanced analytics applied to transfer pricing data could inform better business strategies, and I was confident that AI would help organizations reduce compliance risk by spotting, for example, irregular transactions and missing documentation.
From these convictions and with the support of some amazing VC partners, Aibidia was created in 2017 and today I proudly work alongside a fantastic team that is delivering great value to customers through our cloud solution — Aibidia Digital Transfer Pricing Platform. While we are a young company with lofty ambitions and an exciting growth trajectory, we don’t think of ourselves as a “startup” and we try hard not to act as one either. Aside from the solution itself, as CEO this is what I’m most proud of — that my company is grounded in our focus on customers rather than ourselves, our office space, free lunches, dogs, or logo wear. Technically, we are still in the seed round and will be Series A fairly soon, so if that makes others want to call us a “startup,” I have no complaints. But I hope everyone who comes to know us will learn first and foremost of our mission, which is nothing short of transforming how transfer pricing is executed with digital transformation.
I do have to admit that our Helsinki offices are pretty “cool,” but that will always be secondary to the work of our “startup” company.