Incubator Blogs: ‘When used effectively, GDPR can be a competitive advantage.’

We caught up with the TREMOR expert to learn more about the benefits of data protection in the EU, and the challenges of setting a company focused on GDPR compliance in Finland.

Hello, and welcome to another addition of our series of blog posts introducing the mentors behind our incubator programmes. This post was made to promote the 2nd call of our social impact incubator programme, TREMOR. Today, we're speaking with Reggie Rusan.

Rusan is the CTO at eSystems Nordic and the founder of SimpleTec Solutions. Having started writing computer programs over 35 years ago, he has a long career in enterprise IT, moving on to managing solutions and infrastructure and building data centres. For the TREMOR expert, organisations should evolve their personal data privacy mindset.

The importance of data privacy: why should we be GDPR compliant?

As the founder of SimpleTec Solutions, a company specialising in personal data compliancy, Rusan is well-versed in GDPR. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a comprehensive data protection law that was introduced by the European Union (EU) in May 2018. Its aim is to protect the personal data of EU citizens and give them more control over how their data is collected, processed, and used by organisations.

As Rusan explains, the GDPR applies to all organisations that process personal data of EU citizens, regardless of where they are in the world. We ask Rusan to share his insights on GDPR compliance:

“The key message is that GDPR is probably 80 percent technical and 20 percent legal. It’s really about how you treat the data, what you do to secure it. And you really need to pay attention that you only collect the data that you need, and that you have the permission to use it in the ways you’re planning to.”

Continuing on that subject, Rusan explains that GDPR has had a significant impact on the way organisations collect and process personal data. Having worked as a GDPR consultant to ensure that companies are transparent and accountable in their data processing practices, he has seen first-hand how GDPR compliance can be challenging, “especially for small and medium-sized enterprises, who may not have the resources to implement all the necessary compliance measures.”

The TREMOR expert also wants to raise awareness about the importance of data privacy and the meaning of an individual’s control over their personal data:

“Most people don't understand how their data is being misused. They have this misconception that it’s being collected in order to catch them doing something wrong, and quite frankly nobody cares about that. What the data is being misused for is marketing to them, as well as sending them messages that shape their opinions, and that is really dangerous. As an example, the whole Brexit movement was partly done through social media, where they used people's personal data to send them targeted messages which helped sway them towards voting for leaving Europe. And that’s really much more important than someone cheating on something or some other illicit behaviour.”

‘Finland was not foreseeing GDPR in the way it should, lots of companies didn't take the risk seriously and they still don’t.’

GDPR has had a significant impact on data protection in Finland, encouraging organisations to be more transparent and accountable in their data processing practices. Yet Rusan believes that there’s still a lot of work to do regarding the implementation of GDPR in Finland:

“Finland was not foreseeing GDPR in the way that it should, lots of Finnish companies and people didn't take the risk seriously – and they still don't.”

Organisations that fail to comply with GDPR can face significant fines – up to €20 million or 4% of the organisation's global annual revenue, whichever is higher. In addition to fines, Rusan highlights how companies may also face legal action and reputational damage if they fail to comply with the regulation, which can be even more damaging than the economic sanctions in the long run.

To help people understand GDPR better, Rusan has been working with a handful of startups and incubators. Through his involvement in TREMOR, he’s been providing the teams with all the GDPR know-how they’ll need, and he now shares one of his key points that he hopes will resonate with future TREMOR participants as well:

“When used effectively, GDPR can be a competitive advantage. Instead of thinking about how it can hurt you, you should be thinking about how it can benefit your business.”

Reflecting on his work with SimpleTec helping its clients and how the company has grown into a successful business, Rusan notes that as a foreign-born entrepreneur, his success wasn’t guaranteed: “I had quite a few challenges at the start.”

What is it like to be a foreigner entrepreneur in Finland?

Rusan moved to Finland in 2015. Two years later, he founded SimpleTec Solutions to provide small and medium-sized businesses services that accelerate their efforts to be GDPR compliant. As we talk about his move to Finland, Rusan mentions some of the challenges that foreign entrepreneurs like him face when first arriving to the country:

“The biggest challenge is branding and getting your network together. I was lucky to get some advice from a friend of mine who set me on the path to successfully navigate Finland. The advice was to not sell, and instead take people for coffee, get to know them, and build a network here. Looking back, one thing I would’ve done differently is probably to network even more. I had to pivot like most companies do and offer different services, because the original product I was trying to sell just didn’t – even if it wasn’t very expensive! If I’d networked more, I might have avoided that,” Rusan shares.

Rusan also agrees that being a foreign entrepreneur requires resilience, adaptability, and a willingness to learn and navigate new cultures and systems. It can also be rewarding, as it provides opportunities to bring unique perspectives and ideas to new markets and communities:

“As an American, you think that when you have a good product, and someone needs it, you will sell it. That's just the way it is. But things don’t follow that straight of a path when integrating in Finland. My advice would be to get lots of coffees and go to a sauna! Whatever it takes to get out of your comfort zone and face any cultural barriers,” Rusan explains.

As our conversation comes to an end, his last piece of advice for the TREMOR teams and for everyone out there starting their entrepreneurial journey, is to identify the people who can bring value to the service that you’re providing and take advantage of the things that are there for you. In his view, it's possible to get lots of support and use all kinds of shortcuts in Finland, like the one provided by our social impact incubator, TREMOR:

“I don't think I was fearful when starting. I was more focused on the objective and what I was trying to achieve. One of the best compliments someone ever paid me was when I was starting out, they told me ‘we are not worried about you, because you are a survivor’ and that survival instinct is what led me to find success, because not surviving it's not an option for me. If something doesn't work, try something different.”