A Finnish company is quietly laying the groundwork to disrupt a trillion dollar industry by providing global and local services for only 10% of the cost.
Alekstra CEO Toni Toikka got his start in 1998 as salesman at Elisa, a Finnish telecommunications company, where he discovered no one had any idea what they used or paid for when they purchased mobile services. Toikka recalls that everyone argued over the minute price, but the devil was in the details. What he envisioned was not only a transparent system, but a global system updated for the modern era.
After a stint as a Director at Nokia, Toikka is the founder and CEO of Helsinki-based Alekstra. Looking at the company right now, you'll see a suite of services designed to lower the mobile phone bills of large organizations, with the overall theme of efficiency and the reduction of billing errors. Their services optimize company's rate plans so they aren't buying features they don't need, and they offer features like Ratemizer, an automated phone bill analyzer that lowers costs due to billing mistakes.
bMobilized, the Norwegian-originated creator of a mobile website conversion solution for small and medium sized businesses, has raised $1.5 million (€1.15 million) in series A financing. The round was financed by two European early-stage investors, Alliance Ventures and Investinor. After being founded in 2005 bMobilized moved operations from Oslo to New York City in 2010, where it now has 14 employees.
The company's technology automatically reproduces a website's look and feel on a mobile device, while also claiming to add more functionality than what other mobile conversion tool can offer. The conversion into HTML5 is customizable, and can translate the mobile website into any of seven language. Mobile features like a contact bar, maps, social sharing buttons, product promo window on home page, and other features can also be easily added in.
Hi folks, it's been a funny week of news with all the May Day festivities, but here's your friday roundup. Top image is of the Spotify iPad app, which just came out this week. Find more news, events, and jobs below.
Evernote is perhaps the single most persistent program I have open on my computer each day. I use it almost equally in comparison to Safari, my browser and Sparrow, my mail client. I caught up with Phil Libin the CEO of Evernote in Amsterdam last week, at TheNextWeb conference. I wanted to talk to him how he has guided the company through the early days into what it is today. Today, Evernote has over 25 million users using the service in more than 30 languages. About a million users are paying users who chip in around $5 a month.
The concept of the service is extremely simple. One could say that at its core it is a note taking application that works on multiple platforms and syncs your data to the cloud. You can access this data through the Evernote application on different platforms, be it Windows or Mac, iOS or Android, or through your browser. The service also accepts various kinds of content, text, audio, images and so forth. Perhaps the best part of all this is that it makes everything searchable through OCR.
For years the company kept growing quite moderately, but Libin said he always had hope in how the company would grow. This hope was based on the metrics the service usage created. He showed some of these metrics on stage in Amsterdam. Before getting into these though, I'll have to tell a story Libin shared with me. It's one that hasn't been heard too often. It's how Evernote was saved from the brink of bankruptcy at 3AM one morning by a user from Sweden.
In 2011 the Russian mobile operator and retailer MTS – one of the two exclusive importers of iPhones to Russia – brought in as many iPhones (for $140.8 million) as it had during all the years dating back to the product’s launch in 2008.
According to the IT and telecom news portal CNews.ru, MTS’s purchases of iPhones amounted to $65.4 million in 2008 and to $79.4 million in 2010 — but to just $3.4 million in 2009, due to the initial commercial failure of the smartphone.
MTS’s sales plan over these years was fulfilled by only 30%. In the absence of operator subsidies, the iPhone’s pricing (starting at $1,000) and positioning as an elite product did much to explain the poor sales record.
Helsinki-based Cuutio has raised €100 000 by angel investors Pekka Koskinen, Esa Mäkeläinen, Charles Odinot, Jaakko Salminen, and Raimo Vaalasranta. The company bills itself as an easy-to-use service for companies to monitor and manage their online presence, sort of like a Google Analytics before your customers even arrive on your site.
Everplaces has tacked on more social features, expanding the scope of the service since launching just in the middle of March. The company was founded to be somewhat of an Evernote for places, making it easy to save and store that restaurant that you saw, or remember that great place for a picnic. The service was great for bookmarking places, but a new social layer adds another level of usefulness to the service.
Rather than focus Everplaces on the nerdier folks among us, CEO Tine Thygesen told us in our podcast interview last week that they're really focused on bringing their service to nearly every user with a smartphone or computer.
Zerply has announced it has raised €600 000 (€456 000) to expand their development team and establish an office in Tallinn, Estonia. Investors in the round include Dave McClure / 500 Startups, Quotidan Ventures, EchoVC, and others. With the funding round, Zerply is also launching Zerply Converse, a conversation tool, and two new integrations where you can show off your skills.
Zerply operates on the idea that while resumes might still be the credentials of choice for fortune 500 companies, the creative class are better served through portfolios that demonstrate their talents. Online there's not a great place to go, and certainly LinkedIn's format doesn't best express a designer's talents.
Last week I attended the awesome TheNextWeb Conference in Amsterdam. It was organised by TheNextWeb, naturally. The event itself was excellent, high production value and a good bunch of people that made it even more interesting. However, participating in it made me think about conferences and how little they have actually evolved over time.
Clearly people attend conferences, summits and other business focused events for a reason. Usually the biggest reason is related to the other attendees, ie. having the possibility to network, create new connections, keep old ones going and possibly also meet new partners and clients.
Keeping this reason in focus is of course important, but what many events (us included) have a hard time doing is innovating around this. While there have been a few innovative concepts recently attempted, business events at large still follow the same one to many communication routine.
Swedish micro payments provider Flatter has partnered with Dailymotion, the world's second largest video portal with 100 million unique monthly visitors and 20 000+ daily uploads. The partnership will allow viewers to directly pay video creators by "Flattring" online videos, creating what they call the world's first crowd-funded social video network.
Flattr buttons found on the web are very similar to Facebook "like" buttons, but involves a real money transfer to the creators of the content you Flattr. A user's Flattr account has a fixed amount of money to give away each month, and at the end of the month this balance is split between websites, podcasst, videos, and whatever else the user Flattrs. The service is designed to easily repay content creators for their time, while getting rid of the mental task of "how much is this going to cost me?"
A new European venture capital fund has opened up in London after raising €16 million for early-stage investments. Connect Ventures will focus on web and mobile sector investments, with a particular focus on web, digital media, e-commerce, entertainment and gaming sectors. Investments will run across €250 000 to €1.25 million across seed and Series A rounds.
Behind the fund is Pietro Bezza and Bill Earner. Bezza is an entrepreneur and angel investor who founded and built up Neo Network, a market-leading digital content venture that he sold to the European media group De Agostini. His angel investments include Picklive, where he serves as board director, PlusPlugg and Dri Dri.
M.Video, a leading consumer electronics retailer, will open a network of outlets in Russian cities of less than 150,000 inhabitants, Telecom Daily reported last week. The limited-surface outlets will extend their restricted on-site assortment through POS electronic terminals that provide local customers with access to the retailer’s full catalog.
The first outlet of this type will open this summer, M.Video’s press service announced, with plans to deploy 35 similar sites across the country by the end of the year. The firm will invest some 35-40 million rubles ($11.5-$13.5 million) for each outlet, compared to 50 million rubles ($16.7 million) for a standard store.
With project after project hitting higher and higher goals on Kickstarter (a watch just hit $7 million of its $100,000 goal) one can say the crowdfunding industry is hot. The U.S. is also opening up equity crowdfunding for startups, which could usher in a new era of startup investing. Perhaps it's just hard to compete against the noise and hype of the U.S., but the Nordic region also has a couple platforms that can get your startup funded though both Kickstarter-like gifting and equity crowdfunding.
Wrapp has now launched in the United States, partnering their launch with retailers including the Gap, H&M, Rovio, and Sephora. We've been covering Wrapp for some time now, interviewing COO Carl Fritjofsson on our podcast and hosting CEO Hjalmar Winbladh at our ArcticEvening panel discussion in Stockholm. In both cases they stressed the importance of controlling the United States market, especially against the competition of the German Samwer Brothers' Dropgifts.
At the ArcticEvening event I asked Winbladh if their biggest barrier to entry in the U.S. was selling the concept to large retailers. He said brands can easily see Wrapp's value, but what was more important was being sure to get the right retailers on board for launch. Wrapp is opening in the U.S. with 10 brands, with another 15 merchants joining in a matter of weeks.
Just-Eat, the Denmark originated company opertaing online takeaway sites has announced a $64 million (€48 million) C-round investment led by Vitruvian Partners. Former Just-Eat investors Index Partners, Greylock Partners and Redpoint Ventures also took part in the round. We've interviewed Just-Eat CEO Klaus Nyengaard on Unfair Advantage as well as covered the company before on ArcticStartup as well. We talked to him again on the new investment the company raised.
Nyengaard raised three different reasons, when we asked why the company went for such a large round. Firstly, Just-Eat sees the online takeaway services continuing to develop in the coming years. Nyengaard stated that in such a high growth industry and environment, "it is always a good idea to have a strong balance sheet".
I missed the Friday wrap-up last week to get the Finnish "startup band" story out, but that only means more links this week. Scroll through and get a broader picture of what's happening in the Nordic and Baltic startup scene, find an event, or get hired. The top image this week is of Toomas Hendrik Ilves, the President of Estonia, pitching GrabCad and the Estonian internet economy at the Seedcamp event in Tallinn. Image by Sander Saar.
Nextdays is new startup based in Helsinki that's hoping to take events to more of a natural level. Nextdays helps you share what you're planning to do and what you're intending to do with your friends using a feed of time periods like today, tomorrow, the next 7 days, or even longer periods of time. The service is designed to help you share real events, as well as those flexible events like "lets get brunch next Sunday."
On top of that, Nextdays also offers event channels that anyone can create and curate. The channels already up on the service include Movie premiers - Helsinki and Startup events - Helsinki. The company imagines businesses like rock clubs and other organizations using these feeds as a way to publicly promote their events to interested people.
The Pinterest clones are many, but one Swedish startup has a different take on the concept by mashing up your social feeds. Kulisha (meaning "reader" in Swahili) is a social network aggregator that collects your social feeds and throws them up on a Pinterest-style board. Currently the site is in open beta, but it's still very functional on the web or as a mobile website.
CanvasDropr, the collaborative media-sharing platform from Denmark, is somewhat pivoting its platform to focus on the B2B aspects of the service. CanvasDropr provides what could be described as GoogleDocs for rich media, like images and video, allowing users to collaborate around visual content like what other services already do with text.
Files are shown visually when dragged onto the canvas, and all connected users can see when someone edits an element or makes changes, such as annotations, texts, movements, or drawings.
Launched today is Fourchords - a new app designed to make playing the guitar accessible, especially for when you want to play and sing songs you're not so familiar with. The main point of the app is to break down songs to their simplest level to make it easy to start playing songs you know, especially when you want to play and sing familiar hits with friends. This isn't some app for precise fingering, the motto behind FourChords is that close enough is good enough.
Co-founder and CEO Topi Löppönen gave a demonstration of the app to me, and says when creating the service he kept two things in mind. "There should be a lower barrier of starting to preform music, as many people could play music as possible. But the app should also connect people."