Small Finnish IT Fish in a Large Market

The 43-year-old Finn Juha Honkanen is a trouble shooter. Computer trouble that is. About a year ago the cold Nordic country was swapped with year-round warm Singapore. Here Juha started up his own company, even though the competition in the IT sector is ruthlessly hard. On top of that, the company, called Midnight Sun Software Services, is completely financed by Juha and his wife. Thus a few preliminary contracts were set up in advance in the home country for the family to have a platform to begin their new adventure from.

“I came to Singapore from Finland to work and now I deliver my work to Finland from Singapore. Great, huh?” Juha says with a big smile.

Building networks
For Juha one of the single most important things, when starting up a small business like his, is to get involved with other like-minded people. Attempting to approach the big Scandinavian dream clients such as banks or international operators is extremely difficult, being a small company, as big players expect and demand the “whole package”, as Juha puts it.

“So I need to find that one little hole I can fit in through and show them what I can provide,” he says.

Luckily it has been easy finding other “small businessmen” interested in creating a stronger profile through collaboration, as Juha has found a few partners already.

“In the longer run the plan is, if there’s something that I can’t offer to a customer, some of my partners can. That way we are suddenly able to compete with the bigger companies here,” he says, noting thoughtfully, “I built up my credit in Finland and that’s where all my clients know and trust me. Then I moved here where nobody knows me. So I left my credibility back in Finland, you can say.”

Final destination: Singapore
Four years ago Juha Honkanen and his wife, Mari, decided that it was time to find a new place to live. A new and warmer place, that was. Juha’s wife suffers from a rare cold allergy, so Finland could hardly be considered the best of locations.
At the same time Juha tried to rise up in his career but felt like he had been boxed in and always assigned the same types of jobs. Thus the family made the decision to wrap up life as is was and leave the country of the 1000 lakes behind and instead discover the world.

“We travelled all over the world making a huge matrix in an Excel sheet putting in pluses and minuses of every country we visited,” Juha explains.

The sympathetic Finn had many interviews around Asia, but had more than a hard time convincing companies to hire him because of the very intense competition in the IT sector.

“If you don’t get a chance to prove that you are the best, there’s no way Asian companies will hire you, when 50 other guys are lined up ready to do the job for half the money,” Juha notes.

Therefore the Finnish couple took matters into their own hands and decided to set up a company on their own.
Three years ago the “looking for a new place to live” world tour brought them to Singapore. And it felt just right. This was the place. But they still needed a company name. One night while sitting on the balcony of their hotel looking at the sunset, Juha’s wife started writing different options down.

“My wife came up with “Midnight Sun Software Services.” Actually it started as a joke. But it grew on us, so we decided to keep the name. It’s way too long, but everybody remembers it because it reminds them of the Nordic countries,” says Juha.

Work, work, work
For a newly started company in a business world like the one in Singapore that will eat you up and spit you out if you are not focused, it takes a whole lot of work being the newcomer. For Juha that means an average week of 65 working hours. First there is the 40-50 hours at the office. Then there is at least 10 hours of weekly paperwork, and when all that is done, and the coloured lights in Singapore’s various bar districts are turned on, another part of Juha’s job begins, attending the networking events, which are mandatory for a newcomer in need of “selling” himself and meet up with potential new clients.

“When you are an entrepreneur you always work too much. That’s just the way it is. I am not exhausted because I like my job very much – but it’s hard at times, when you don’t see your family, I admit,” says Juha.

Juha and Mari has a 10-year-old daughter who lives with them in Singapore. Their older children (a boy and a girl) visit Singapore on a regular basis but right now they have their life in Finland with studies and relationships.

Bright future
When talking to Juha Honkanen there is no doubt what so ever. He believes in the company’s future and in his family’s happiness in Singapore.

“We don’t miss Finland. It’s a good place to live, no doubt. But there’s an old song – ”Where you lay your hat”. Basically it means that if you commit to where ever you are, that will be your home,” says Juha almost philosophically.

As to Midnight Sun Software Services, it will probably be quite a while before the figures on the bottom line show any real profit, but being the optimistic Finn he is, Juha is not worried.

“There are so many opportunities here. I cannot miss all of them,” he laughs.

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