PikaPay: The Odyssey of a Student Startup
You rarely see what goes on behind a startup. Reading titles like “A Startup That Raised 5 Million Euros in Seed Funds” or watching a video “The unspoken hell of Entrepreneurship” does not bring you any closer to lifting the fog. But this time, I got to interview the founders of an early-stage Finnish startup PikaPay. They shared the story behind their product, dived into the ups and downs of their journey and showed what it takes to become entrepreneurs.
What is PikaPay?
“PikaPay is a mobile app that allows people to skip the line when shopping rather than waste their time standing in long queues. We want to revolutionise the way customers pay by giving them independence.”
From a problem to an idea
But let’s step back and see where it all started. Oskari will tell you a story, part of which all of us might know way too well from personal experience:
“A couple of years ago, I worked at a car dealership and was late for my morning shift. To wake myself up, I decided to quickly grab a Red Bull at a small local store. Its mile-long queue with no self-checkout machines got me thinking: This cannot be the only way to do this.”
That’s how the idea came, and it took a long way to turn it into reality. As Oskari highlights, at that time, he did not have the skills or knowledge to start a company. However, joining the LUT Entrepreneurship Society (LUTES) during his studies in Lappeenranta was the first big step towards making it happen.
And that, kids, is how I met my co-founders
One of the reasons why LUTES became a pivot point for PikaPay is best described by the line “And that, kids, is how I met my co-founders”. Having a great idea is often not enough for a successful company – you have to have the right team to execute it.
Juuso lived in Helsinki when he first heard that entrepreneurship societies are a great way to network and learn about business. Being always interested in founding his own company, he joined LUTES right after beginning his studies at LUT University.
Teemu came to know LUTES through his friends. In the beginning, he was not convinced to join LUTES and thought that “Pöhina” was the only word people knew there, but a “weekend in Imatra Spa” (part of the “Forward” programme) was one of the reasons why he changed his mind.
The team assembled in November 2022 during the LUTES Startup Accelerator Forward. Initially, Juuso and Teemu applied to the program with their own ideas – Juuso was planning to build a TikTok-styled app for music recommendations, and Teemu a meal-planning website. But after a series of networking sessions and a pinch of universal randomness, they started forming a group. Juuso reached out to Oskari and proposed to team up, as he had a strong background in product design. Teemu, on the other hand, already knew Oskari and was familiar with his idea after listening to his 3-hour pitch in a jacuzzi (hot tub) during a student party, and his skills in software development became an additional asset to the team.
Startup accelerator Forward 2022 batch (left). Juuso and Oskari during the program workshop (right). Source: Forward Instagram page.
First steps towards the big goal
After “Forward”, Oskari, Juuso and Teemu decided to document their startup officially. And that was not as simple as it may sound: “There are no tutorials for that on the Internet, and ChatGPT was not evident at that time“ – says Juuso. And so their first steps were quite chaotic:
“We didn’t know how to start a company. At the first meeting, we were sitting in a conference room trying to create a founding document manually. Three hours into the meeting – we finally got one line down. And it took us a whole week to realise that there is another website that automatically does all the work for you.”
The pressure increased after the team made their first-ever pitch to a big-retail-chain client. Pro tip from PikaPay: Don’t change your decks two minutes before the pitching starts (they learned it the hard way). As the team highlights, having a concrete value behind an idea outweighs how aesthetically pleasing (or revolting) the pitch slides are. Moreover, “being in the right place at the right time” and networking through LUTES and Business Mill also played an important role as they sought investors.
Completing the official paperwork and investor agreements was a lengthy process that was quite far from being “fun”. Although a lot of people were helping them out, it all came down to being persistent and figuring things out on the go. The team also had to keep developing the actual product, as Oskari points out:
“It was hard. But we were constantly learning and growing – and so did the company”.
The steep learning curve is helpful in demonstrating how well the team members fit together. Here is a brief characteristic that they gave each other:
- Oskari: The sales guy. He can talk for hours, establish connections and carry around the creative chaos.
- Juuso: Leads product design. He is a realist with a pinch of pessimism, who is organised to get things done.
- Teemu: The technical master. He follows the track and keeps his focus on product development.
Complementing skill sets is often necessary but insufficient for a strong team. Teemu mentions an important aspect of their dynamics:
“We have different views on pretty much anything. But we propose our ideas, we reason through each and then select the best one”.
Reaching the take-off
After becoming an officially established company, PikaPay reached its launch. A kiosk at LUT University was the first client for whom the team developed the pilot version that took four hustling months and a staggering zero euros to create. While building the pilot, they entered the Idearace competition and won the “Audience Favourite” category, which sparked even more interest towards PikaPay’s services.
Team picture during the finale of the Idearace competition (from left to right: Juuso, Oskari, Teemu). Source: PikaPay’s LinkedIn page.
With the increasing attention to their product, came the increasing stress. Teemu describes what they went through:
“The pilot launch was stressful. A few days before we were fixing bugs. On the day of the launch, we still didn’t know if we were going to make it because we needed permission from two of our stakeholders. The permission came at 11 am, and we launched at 1 pm, also being crazy enough to tweak the software in between”.
PikaPays’ launch attracted 180 visitors (that’s a lot of people for Finland) to the Meidän Kiosk and proved itself to be a successful start. The team gives a summary of their experience:
“This is what a startup is – a bunch of chaos. It’s like you constantly have small fires that you need to put out all the time. But having a team around allows you to manage it better than just being all by yourself.”
The launch day of PikaPay’s pilot at Aalef Meidän Kioski at LUT University. Source: PikaPay’s LinkedIn page.
After that, PikaPay won its second pitching competition at the *ship Startup Festival in Kotka. These wins fuel the team’s drive to push forward and pursue bigger milestones.
“Knowing that everything what PikaPay is – came because of you and other people is the best feeling ever. Although the beginning of your journey may feel like climbing a huge mountain, the small achievements reassure you that you are on the right track.”
Award ceremony at the *ship Startup Festival pitching competition. Source: PikaPay’s LinkedIn page.
At the end of the interview came a round of short, but tricky questions:
What was your first win and first fail?
Teemu: The first win was our pitch to the big retail chain owner. After that, we were so excited that we thought everything coming next would be a breeze, but the reality turned out to be different: it could take years and thousands of euros to reach your goals as a startup company.
Juuso: The first “failure” was connected to our launch. We expected to launch our pilot two months earlier, but as mentioned before, things could take much longer than you anticipate.
What annoys you about working in a startup?
Oskari: Doing the paperwork and signing the contracts is annoying. Another thing (that is rather beneficial) is that we are different. We don’t agree on everything, and if I think I have a great idea, it might be “stupid” for Teemu and Juuso. But at the end of the day, it’s great to have a variety of viewpoints. There are also days when you feel you haven’t done anything: you’re running around calling on the phone, and writing emails so the day feels like a waste of time. Although it’s a part of being a startup, it could be very annoying to go through.
Teemu: PikaPay depends on other organisations, which can be slow and painful to communicate with. You tell them “Let’s do this now!” and they reply two weeks later with “Hey, so I got your message…” But it’s the reality of the business we operate in, so we just have to deal with it.
What are the biggest perks of working in a startup?
Teemu: You can wake up at 11 a.m. and do something that you actually like. I’ve been working for a company for four years, and it’s not the same as working on your own project.
Juuso: You work for yourself, and anything you do is beneficial. You have the freedom to make decisions knowing that your opinion matters.
Oskari: You could change everything, and every day could be different. Yesterday we had a field trip to one of our clients and then went to Kotka, now we are here giving an interview. We are our own bosses and can decide for ourselves what to do next.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to yourself at the start of the journey?
Oskari: Ask for help. If you don’t know something, simply ask and don’t take blind guesses. Because when you guess something, most likely you would have to do it twice. Our team had to redo the contracts three times because we didn’t ask for help immediately.
Juuso: Avoid making decisions in a rush. Instead of saying: “This has to be done right now” try to think it through first. A few times we made decisions that we regretted a couple of months later.
Teemu: Don’t take too much work for yourself. At some point, I had a job for two days a week, needed to complete over 40 credits at uni, worked on PikaPay and had to maintain relationships with my friends and girlfriend. Everything affected everything.
* Bonus tip from Oskari for aspiring entrepreneurs: Don’t start alone. As someone who wants to be a startup founder, you can have great ideas, but make sure you have a team. “IDEA to IPO” is a long way to go, and if you do it all alone, it becomes super long. It’s all about the team.
What do you envision for PikaPay as a company? What culture and environment would it have if it grew big?
Teemu: I like our way of working. It feels like we are just hanging out, so I would like to keep that in the company’s culture.
Juuso: Everyone working in PikaPay right now is a student. I think that people at this age have big ambitions, and it’s a useful trait to keep around.
Oskari: I want to grow the company and see what happens. But I would have a student team working with us. Students constantly have ideas that could help PikaPay grow and become a community you would want to be a part of.
Where do you see PikaPay 3 years from now?
PikaPay at your local store… And PikaPay in Europe.
During the interview, Oskari, Juuso and Teemu mentioned people and organisations that had a big influence on PikaPay’s development and vision. Hence, here is a section dedicated to naming them.
- “To the best marketing team, SaunaGoesEurope that worked with PikaPay during the pop-up events. It’s great when you have different student companies helping each other.”
- “We have received a lot of help from people at LUTES and Business Mill. Their networks and founding experience have played a big role in PikaPay’s growth.”