Posts Tagged ‘Startup’
Antti Vilpponen has co-organized the SLUSH event with ArcticStartup, the leading weblog on Nordic and Baltic startups, founded by Antti in 2007. Since there were also a number of startup companies involved in the organization of the SLUSH, Antti finds „it is a great show of talent to have a startup event organized by startups themselves“. Antti „fell in love with small companies and organizations“ after he graduated and started working for Apaja, a Finish gaming company. He finds working for a startup company „is a way of life and it’s about enabling things and creating new stuff.“ According to Antti, „Arctic companies are slowly becoming more like their Western counterparts, more aggressive in marketing and product launching. At the grass-roots level we are doing relatively well, but we need to embrace the whole ecosystem from the governmental side with bigger organizations embracing startups as well.“ That is why ArcticStartup wants to facilitate connections: „We need to create a strong online community to form companies and share ideas,“ says Antti. „It is also crucial to see more knowledge sharing from the ones who have IPOed. That way we can produce success stories even faster.“ ArcticStartup helps create „a radically optimistic entrepreneurial culture in the Nordics and Baltics“ and wants „to grow the blog larger and incorporate it into a company relatively soon in order to have a true market-based business.“ Furthermore, the ArcticStartup team wants to facilitate the internationalization of Nordic and Baltic internet and mobile software startups: „You just can’t break free from the Arctic regions without connections“ stresses Antti. „Also, the language is a big barrier – that’s why we blog in English.“ Anybody interested in the Nordic market should contact ArcticStartup, says Antti. „We’re more than glad to help!“ Please also notice that as of now, Antti will cover the Nordic startup scene on www.tiburon-tv.com in a regular report.
Eat.fi is a Finnish restaurant search and review site, that opened in September 2008 and has been founded by Tina Aspiala. Eat.fi works with Google maps and time-based, dynamic features so users can see immediately if restaurants are open or closed at any given time. Eat.fi already has a very active community that updates restaurant information themselves using the site’s wiki-like tools to write reviews, adding photos and top ten lists. With 800 registered users and 1500 daily visitors, Tina finds that „Eat.fi’s page impressions aren’t enormous, but growth so far has been very organic, steadily rising all the time.“ She is „very confident that it’s going very well.“ The site currently covers only Finland, but Tina had discussions at the SLUSH event with regard to internationalization: „There are quite a few people interested in white-labeling our system.“ Tina points out that „Eat.fi’s system is ridiculously easy to use for all kinds of things. It could be used for anything that has an opening sign.“ Eat.fi is privately funded, but is still looking for government funding in Finland. Eat.fi’s owner Tina, who holds a BA from Yale University and had her now three-month-old daughter with her at the SLUSH event, finds it „kind of funny“ when people come to her start-up booth and ask her if she’s the „booth babe“. She encourages women to get over their fears of being not qualified enough: „More men are willing to do things they aren’t ‚technically’ qualified for. Get over it and just do it. Those who say you can’t be doing it should get out of the way of those who are getting it done.“ With regard to starting a company, she strongly advises that „if you are going to hire people, make damn sure you hire the right people! You need to listen to your gut very, very much. Even if someone is very qualified and you have this gut feeling that something is not quite clicking...if there is any nagging doubt – do not hire them. Wait, because it will be a waste of money in the long run.“
Petteri Koponen and Jyri Engeström launched Jaiku.com – a mobile focussed microblogging platform – in summer 2006 just about the time when Twitter has been launched, too. The two Finnish entrepreneurs wanted to create something people would use everyday and started to think about presence. They found status messages in IM systems pretty limited, so they built a more holistic view on one’s presence integrating things like location, what music you are listening to and what you are doing on different social networks. That’s how they invented „Lifestream“ – a stream of events that happen all around the web associated with you and integrated it with mobile phones. Petteri is „pretty proud that we – together with Twitter and one or two other companies – were the first to create that new space and people start to know what microblogging is. Jaiku is not as well known as Twitter, but we were the pioneers in that space. Microblogging is not a mass market service like social networking but I think eventually it will become.“ Regarding financing, Petteri and Jyri were looking for angel investors initially but instead found a strategic investor who was able to commit to a seed round very rapidly. They also attracted three excellent „angel advisors“ as Petteri calls them. In order to raise the first big financing round, they negotiated with UK and US based investors. But finally the Google acquisition alternative was more attractive: „Luckily, we managed to close it“ says Petteri and Jaiku is now a part of Google. Petteri finds „PR-wise, we should have gone to the US from day one since most of the PR opportunities are in Silicon Valley. We did it later quite successfully, but it’s still something you should do as early as possible if your application is similar to Jaiku - a Web 2.0 application meant for early adapters.“ He adds „if you do it in English and it’s global, you should do it in the US. If an application is inherently local, then you can do it in Germany, France, China or wherever you are. It may not be that interesting, but entrepreneurs who do it really well are making a lot of money.“ First and foremost, Petteri points out „whatever you do, get the best advisors from the beginning – they are really invaluable!“
Finnish entrepreneur Paavo Perttula talks about the company he co-founded in August 2008: Tweehouse.com, a social gaming company based in Helsinki and in Santa Monica, California. Tweehouse offers services to global kid’s brands for early teens. Paavo, who is running the company as Chairman of the Board, remarks that they developed their own technology platform called Trunk Tech and offer an end-to-end service that is „highly unique“: Everything from building the concept to running the service, moderation and customer service is included. As Paavo points out „Tweehouse is a services company to start with“. Tweehouse is currently building the first game for a California-based client - „an eco-themed kids MMO“ game which will be launched in Q3 this year. Tweehouse is based on a three-tier-business model: The initial build and the consulting services that cover the creative team costs on one hand and running the site as well as hosting the moderation on the other. Paavo says „we are reasonably priced in terms of project delivery and expect to get a share of the revenue and be involved in the long run.“ Paavo spends half of his time as sales director at the Finnish Internet Agency Valve, that owns 50 percent of Tweehouse while the other half is owned by Santa Monica-based game company Snap TV. No third party investors are involved. „If you have a good idea and you will be approached by VC money, it might feel very tempting at first, but think of the consequences“ advises Paavo. „If you want to be doing your own thing in the long term, perhaps it’s better to consider other options such as selling professional services. But what’s most important: Don’t sell cheap.“ Viktoria's interview with Paavo has been conducted at the SLUSH event, co-organized by arcticstartup, a great blog covering the Nordic startup scene.
XIHA Life.com, founded by Jani Penttinen from Finland and his Chinese wife, is a multilingual social network for expatriates, exchange and language students and people with multi-cultural families. While founder Jani lived in China, he found it hard to use local websites and discovered that for locals it was just as hard to use foreign websites, so for him it became obvious that there is a need for XIHA’s worldwide service. XIHA – meaning happiness in Chinese - detects automatically the languages you speak and offers tools to create content in any of these languages. If you study a new language, there is also a translation feature. Jani is proud to point out: „XIHA has a healthy pace of growth with a monthly rate of 20% , 1 mio. unique visitors per month and a couple of thousand new registrations per day. Traffic is coming from everywhere from Turkey to Brazil to China.“ The company received funding by a Chinese investor and has now reached profitability: „We will create a really nice business and expect to have around 10 mio. users by the end of 2009“, says Jani. Jani, who used to develop games, finds it important when starting a business „to do something you really care about. At the beginning it’s not easy and you need to be willing to go the extra mile in order to do a better service than everyone else.“ According to Jani it is best „to target the European market first.“ His advice is „to cover the basis of the countries that can generate cash flow early on and use that money to build the basis, then expand around the world.“
Sampo Karjalainen is Chief Creative Officer of Habbo Hotel and has founded the company 8 ½ years ago together with Aapo Kyrölä. Habbo.com is both a social networking website and a virtual „hangout for teens“. As Sampo says „it started as a hobby thing, created by a small team for ourselves and our friends“. Over the years, teens took over and changed the tone of the voice of Habbo’s community. Nowadays, Habbo is one of the biggest virtual worlds in the world and can be used from over 30 countries with local languages. Sampo and Aapo started Habbo together with a local advertising agency whose Chairman of the board helped them with the first financing round. With another three financing rounds, Habbo received altogether €27 mio, so „it was quite a long road to become profitable“ as Sampo points out. In order to get the financing in place, they hired a professional CEO, Timo Soininen, also from Finland: „That was the right decision, that’s how the business started to grow“ says Sampo. The company had a revenue of €43 mio. in 2007 and is profitable now. As Habbo changed from an experiment into a real business, Sampo points out: „Over the years we had to accept the fact that there are much more people with their own interests involved. You have to have clear shared goals with others.“ Even after all these years, Sampo is still „enthusiastic about creating a really good end-user experience. It’s the new experiments and concepts I find the most interesting, like expanding virtual worlds to mobile phones. We might find out completely new types of services in this area.“ Sampo finds it important that „there is more than the desire to make money“ when one decides to starts a company. He says „it can be something very personal, like the curiosity to try out new things or your whole idea might be to create a better world. But do not think too much about it – just do it, if it is something that can be tried out quickly.“
As pointed out in part 1 of Viktoria's interview with blueKiwi's CEO and co-founder Carlos Diaz, the company has a pretty clever subscription based business model. Carlos now talks about the importance of looking at the size if one is editing software:
„Most of the software will be provided on size tomorrow. The size model is very interesting and also quite disruptive. Companies used to buy software making an investment first, then command and pray so that there will be no errors on their software. With size this is not a problem anymore since you pay only for the users you have.“He adds that another advantage of a subscription based model is that you have all the maintenance, helpline and evolution of the product already included in the annual user fee:
„People want to start with your solution very simply and quickly and leave it when they don’t believe in it anymore.“Talking about blueKiwi’s market, Carlos points out:
„In the field of social software most of the big players like jivesoftware or Teligence are American. Within the next three years, we want to demonstrate that a European player can become a leader. We know who our competitors are and with whom we are going to be fighting.“Last but not least, Carlos’ advice for starting a company is:
„Work on your business model and keep it simple. If you can raise money today, do it. Then take the money and run!“If you want to learn more about blueKiwi Software, also watch „Carlos Diaz – blueKiwi Software: Corporate Facebook, part 1“