Finnish startup TeamUp enters the US market


We were recently invited to the US Embassy in Helsinki by Finnish start up TeamUp. They had gathered the local Finnish media to announce the launch of their new Windows Phone app and expansion into the United States. Founders Donna and Kimmo Kivirauma were excited to present their start up to the press and explain where they are going.

TeamUp is an intriguing beast, in many ways it looks and feels like a social network flipped on its head. It’s a service designed to connect fans with the stars of sports, music and the arts, but also includes room for the companies and businesses that finance and support them.

The genesis of the idea came from a recognition that Facebook does a terrible job of connecting bands, artists, businesses and stars with the fans that support and champion them. The way Facebook charges for pages to be promoted to users restricts how many people see an update. Donna and Kimmo decided to take advantage of that failing and have determined that in creating TeamUp they will become the global leader in digital sponsorship marketing and fan engagement.

The social network is split three ways, into Fans, Talent, and Businesses. Since the network launched in October 2013 they have gathered 350 talents, over 60 businesses and thousands of fans, mostly in Finland. They chose to start in Finland, like many other companies do, because its small but highly educated and affluent population is a wonderful place to test new ideas before taking them into larger markets.

TeamUp believe the main appeal of their social network for fans and talent is the high level of engagement they are able to have with one another. Fans see every update a talent they follow makes, and that knowledge should encourage talents to be more active too. It’s when we look at how businesses connect into this network that we begin to see where the monetisation strategy is, and how TeamUp expects to draw in both fans and talent to create an active social network.

TeamUp allows for shops to be made inside its network by both talent and businesses. These shops are free for talent to set up and sell their own merchandise. For businesses there is a monthly fee, which is broken into tiers, that allow them to open a shop and expand their sales reach into the social network.

The twist is that businesses have to launch their shops through talents. What TeamUp hope this will mean in practice is that companies that sponsor bands, teams or individuals will have to actively promote the talent on their books if they want to profit from it. Fans can also engage with this through a personal brand rankings figure that they can affect to show which are their favourite talents.

Kimmo Kivirauma, COO and Co-founder of TeamUp explained, “The core of TeamUp is discovering and supporting interesting local and international athletes, sports teams, musicians and artists. The app makes this even easier than in our web service. Fans can keep in touch with their favorite talents, and talents can easily make updates regardless of where they are. The uniqueness of the app comes in how talents, fans and sponsors are nicely tied together via e.g. the Team Benefits, provided by the sponsors of the talents.”

The Windows Phone app that was announced was built by GreatApes as part of Microsoft’s App Campus program. Microsoft offer up to 70,000€ to help companies in the program build their Windows Phone applications, if they agree to the app being an exclusive to the platform for the first three months.

The app replicates all the functionality of the website, so that fans can see updates from talents, enter competitions to win prizes, and post their own messages. The more fans engage with talents, the more fan points they earn. This simple gamification system leads to fans getting offers for discounts on products and the opportunity to claim prizes.

“TeamUp is a new way to do digital marketing which makes content and ‘offer delivery’ highly relevant to an audience that is open to receiving it. We absolutely could not have created our service that is scalable in the global marketplace on a startup budget without the support of Microsoft, specifically Azure cloud services, Bizspark program and a generous award from Appcampus,” said Donna Kivirauma, CEO and Co-founder of TeamUp.

With lessons learnt from the Finnish market, TeamUp now feel that they are ready to approach the US. Donna Kiivirauma has made use of her old connections in Texas to sign their first sponsor in the state, the AOK Medical Center from Houston. It has strong ties with many of the region's professional and college based sports teams, and TeamUp hope it will be only the first of many strong partnerships.

Donna, Kimmo and the rest of the TeamUp know that they face the same challenge that any budding social network faces, attracting people to actually join and use their service. They believe that by incentivising all parties in the relationship that there is an attractive reason for any fan, talent, or business to sign up. We hope they are right.

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