Earlier this week iZettle sent out e-mails to their users in Denmark, Finland and Norway that Visa Europe has cancelled their contract in those countries. Since then iZettle has been working on restoring the status of that contract so that it could continue to accept payments with Visa cards in those countries. The story has multiple weird twists, such as why hasn't Visa Europe cancelled the contract in Sweden which is iZettle's home market?
On Monday's blog post iZettle has not commented on the specifics of the agreement and why Visa Europe decided to cancel it. Since then we have learned that it has to do with Visa Europe's policies regarding security standards. Then again, this is where the story gets harder to understand.
Pipedrive, our favorite sales tool from Estonia, has announced a new $700k seed round from international investors. This brings the total amount of money raised from $300k in September 2011 to $1M as of today. The investors in the round were Satori Capital, TMT Investments and angel investors Andy McLoughlin and Christopher Muenchhoff. McLoughlin and Muenchhoff also participated in the round back in September 2011.
In addition to announcing the funding, Pipedrive is disclosing that it has signed up more than 1000 paying users in April this year. We're happy to be part of these paying users at ArcticStartup. These customers come from 72 countries and include companies such as KISSMetrics, Udemy, Fortumo, Techstars and Onswipe.
Back in June we covered how the Finnish startup Kippt had been accepted into Y-Combinator. The founders are back in Finland for a quick visit and we decided to have a chat with Jori Lallo about the impact Y-Combinator has had on them. Y-Combinator has been ranked the best startup accelerator in the world by Forbes and there are surely others as well.
The reason is quite simple. The accelerator has produced some of the most valuable internet startups in less than 10 years. Since the founding of the program in 2005, companies such as Airbnb and Dropbox have graduated, not to mention Reddit whose co-founder Steve Huffman spoke at Arctic15 last year.
Creating native mobile applications from HTML5 is picking up speed and the Helsinki, Finland based AppGyver is in the middle of this. They've seen steady growth in their client base in the last two years and to speed things up, they closed a $1M funding round. The money will be used to continue hiring of key personnel and expand their business operations into the US. Investors in the round include private investors as well as Tekes and Foundation for Finnish Inventions (Keksintösäätiö). Therefore the amount announced includes both private money and public leverage.
Stay.com, the Norway based travel startup has come out with a new version of its travel app. Last October we had a detailed write up of the company and how it became to be. For this summer, the company has made its city guides social and user friendly with making them work offline. The applications work on Android and the iOS platforms.
The app features some 116 cities which users are able to download to their phones with a simple tap. Each city guide has numerous sites to visit, restaurants to eat at and places to go. Also, not to mention an offline map that works with the iPhone's positioning system showing how lost you might be. Going offline with the city guides helps with the horrendous data roaming costs one can churn overseas.
Europe's a mess right now. Even Spain has been put on European tax payer life support and more countries could be in the queue for aid. Some falsely believe that the aid itself is something that would pull Europe out of the looming recession. But looking at things on a global level, we don't believe Europe is as strong as it could be. Growing companies are the best way to help and we're producing far too few of them on average.
Furthermore, the state of things in Europe regarding businesses isn't too bright either. Fragmented national policies are not helping entrepreneurs opening businesses in multiple locations, nor is immaterial property legislation where it should be to help protect businesses from illegal use of their work.
For this Friday we thought it would be good to spark some office debates about the state of entrepreneurship and how people on the grass roots level could help to alleviate it if not solve it altogether.
Arctic15 is the premier industry event for Nordic and Baltic startup and growth companies. The conference was organised for the first time last year with some 400 people attending it. This year, we're improving on many fronts and Arctic15 will be over the two days in October.
A big part of the conference is also the startup competition we're putting together. Last year we had 15 awesome companies on stage pitching themselves. However, what's more interesting is the fact that these 15 companies raised $12.85 million in funding in just 10 months since the last conference. Naturally we can't take credit of this for ourselves, but I think it suggests that the best companies in the Nordics and Baltics are present at Arctic15.
A stealth startup from Oulu, Finland has been reported by The Finnish National Broadcasting Company (YLE) to be working on a device called Goodspeed. Uros Oy is the company behind this mobile phone sized device that would make data roaming costs obsolete. Today one of the biggest obstacles to using services overseas are the ridiculous roaming costs operators charge users.
In July 2010 the European Union announced regulation that would force operators to limit charges to consumers from data roaming costs. The default monthly cut-off point would be €50, unless the consumer has chosen another cut-off point enabled by the operator. Operators also need to send a warning to the consumer when 80% of that sum has been reached.
Has this change by the EU made users more open towards using data services overseas? Yes and no. While it's more transparent to use these services the usage figures are still far from those in the home networks.
Yesterday, Helsinki, Finland based Gajatri Studios soft launched their facebook game Yoga Retreat. It's the first game of Gajatri Studios and developed through an interesting model of financing as well as a small development team that outsourced many parts of their work where they were missing talent.
We thought it would be interesting to talk to Tiina Zilliacus, the founder and CEO of Gajatri Studios about the development and funding of their first game. The story is interesting and hopefully would inspire other women to also try their wings at running a startup.
Compared to shopping malls, the e-commerce sector has it incredibly easy. But Helsinki-based Hyper[in] is attempting to make managing commercial real estate much more plug-and-play. Hyper[in] has produced a nearly all-encompasing platform for managers of commercial real estate. It combines all the things you need to run your shopping mall efficiently, while also creating significant non-rental advertisement revenue for their customers. On top of that they also offer services, like the website behind the shopping mall, making Hyper[in] an easy one-stop shop for their customers.
Their solution is somewhat targeted to commercial real estate owners with around ten good-sized malls in their portfolio. With multiple malls they can offer a management dashboard where whole-mall portfolios are shown, with metrics like sales, service provider management, advertisement sales figures, consumer analytics, and so forth.
Face-to-face meetings are a necessary part of the decision making process, but meetings have picked up their negative reputation for a good reason. When no one has time to prepare for a meeting, meeting-goers may not be aware of who they are in the same room with, and have trouble sticking to the meeting agenda. When the meeting is over, many times you don't really know if everyone is on the same page. On top of that, technology in the meeting room may have hurt meeting efficiency more than it has helped it; it's far too easy for colleagues to hide behind their laptop and not use the screen in front of them in productive ways.
But iPads are starting to become the weapon of choice for many corporate warriors, and Helsinki-based Punos Mobile Ltd has come up with solutions to many of these problems by developing an iPad app called Meeting Assistant. Based on their beta testing, some of the most sought-after features allow the users to keep their meetings on time, track to-dos and send notes to everyone right after.
Here's the next edition of the Friday roundup where we try to cover more news, jobs, and events from the region. Top image is of the Angry Birds Land theme park in Tampere, Finland from Peter Vesterbacka's twitter feed. I know it's old to bring this up, but it's pretty remarkable how what the mobile game has turned into today. Have a great weekend everyone!
The U.S. is still the land of opportunity for many European startup companies. Having a permanent location in San Francisco or New York can plug you into most of the world's VC and Angel money, and the U.S. is basically one big homogenous market for your startup to take advantage of. Despite the benefits of being there, it's expensive to hire developer talent in the hub cities, and it can be tough to convince your existing team to pack up and move. So many European startups are left split between continents.
Clearly it's difficult to stay on top of everything when half of your team is eating dinner while the other half are just waking up. San Francisco is a 10 hour difference from Finland, while New York clocks in at 7. I find it becomes an big ordeal to even schedule a quick interview with people located on the west coast, so I can't imagine trying to run a business split between the two. To share the best practices of how to manage Team USA and Team Europe, I spoke with Ville Miettinen of Microtask as well as William Wolfram of Dealdash.
Last Friday, the New York Times ran an editorial entitled That's no phone. That's my tracker. The authors Peter Maass and Megha Rajagopalan of ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative newsroom, make the point that today's mobile phones are used only occasionally for phone calls, and instead their main function is to help its owners keep track of the time, our friends, where we go, and how much money we have in the bank.
They suggest a new term for smartphones. "People could call them trackers. It’s a neutral term, because it covers positive activities — monitoring appointments, bank balances, friends — and problematic ones, like the government and advertisers watching us."
A Finnish company, RapidBlue, would fall into their latter category, as they are building the service that allows advertisers, media companies, and store owners to track customers in the brick and mortar stores. The solution uses public Bluetooth signals that RapidBlue's receivers picks up, but does not connect to. The company has determined that that their solution can track the movement of 95% of consumers in the Nordic countries, and 91% in Southern europe.
As the signal to noise ratio decreases on larger social networks, more and more startups are beginning to take a stab at creating much more private networks. Path is one big example of a social network for just your close friends, while others like Pair and Cupple (now currently operating out of Copenhagen) are building apps that allow couples to privately share messages, pictures, and checkins with each other. Continuing this trend is HeyWe, a private sharing app for families. It seems to hit all of the key pain points that parents and children have, or at least the easiest ones solved by mobile.
HeyWe is the first product built by the Oulu, Finland based startup, Cosmic Gecko. To build the product CEO Jyrki Matero leads a team of 15 people listed on their webpage (including three trainees). On top of HeyWe, the company also lists Cosmic Gekko Arena, a free location-based game, in development.
HeyWe has just launched on App Store, Google Play and Nokia Store, making it open to families with a mix of phones.
I've had a few "genius" startup ideas come to head that would monetize by charging customers for some online services. In my mind these would all churn out money faster than a printing press, until I really stopped to consider how rarely I pull out my credit card for anything on the web. In this low, I then started questioning B2C services as a whole. It's basically my job to find startups that are hoping to make our live easier, and then write in detail about the value to consumers the startup provides. If I think about this all day,
Just as a side note, it's funny how app stores change the game. I'll pay €2 for an app without thinking about it, but if I'm sitting in front of a laptop I have completely different expectations about what should be free or not. Having your credit card stored somewhere really reduces the mental friction of the transaction, and it's a pity that the traditional online startups we cover can't plug into that river of cash.
Most people are familiar with all the convoluted rights challenges around owning music they've purchased, but the problem is only extrapolated for those producing music. Many freelance artists join collection societies like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC, and Teosto. These organizations were created for keeping track of licensing, collecting and distributing income from the performance and the duplication of compositions. It makes sense for music creators so they can better monetize their works. But when new innovations like Audiodraft come around, it has added a some friction to getting their audio crowdsourcing platform to be a tool of choice for professionals.
Collection societies exist to give musicians a central organization that will take care of their rights. For example, if a composition is broadcast on TV or radio, the songwriter of that composition is entitled to public performance royalties from the broadcaster. The organizations that collect license fees from broadcasters and distribute these funds back to songwriters in the form of public performance royalties are called performance rights organizations.
Although CEO Jussi Hurmola of tells us he's surprised of the response Jolla Mobile has gotten from international press, he really shouldn't be. The Finnish company embodies all the elements of good storytelling: abandonment, redemption, and huge (but surmountable) obstacles to overcome. Jolla Mobile is a Helsinki-based company building a brand new handset manufacturer from from underutilized people and pieces from Nokia and the surrounding ecosystem. They're designing their own phone and using MeeGo, the Nokia open-source operating system that only made it on the N9.
The company is not a whitelabel manufacturer trying to throw something together using MeeGo; they see themselves as the new brand on the block. The company was founded in October of last year, and was able to convince investors and industry heavyweights to raise €10 million and put together a feasible strategy to release a phone within a year, and perhaps even by Christmas.
Rovio's new physics puzzle game, Amazing Alex, hits the streets today in a pivotal moment in the company's history. Rovio has proved that they can print money all day around the Angry Birds concept, but if the company truly wants to IPO and create a media empire, they need to prove to investors they can do a much bigger reach than Angry Birds Space. Amazing Alex looks like a familiar concept, but still interesting for a new and wider audience. Players create chain reactions between various toys, like balloons, dump trucks, and other interactive objects to collect floating gold stars and complete tasks.
The game will launch with 100 levels, where players will have ample opportunity to use 35 interactive objects to create Rube Goldberg style contraptions. The game will also be more social, in the sense that fans can create their own levels and share them with friends or anyone else in the world.
Without getting our hands on the game yet, I imagine it's wise for Rovio to stay within the physics game genre. Angry Birds' real strength was that it gave users a natural sense of how the various birds would interact with the pigs' shoddily built houses, while still keeping a large element of surprise. Without breaking it down too much, Amazing Alex seems fairly similar to Angry Birds at that level. A player lines up and releases some stimulus into the game world, and then waits in anticipation to see if everything was as lined up as hoped, and if not, there's still the chance that the player will get lucky. Angry Birds does this game mechanic very well, and Angry Birds Space proved they can get a little crazier with the concept, while still making it fun.
When I first moved to Finland three years ago, I remember seeing a Coke machine at the university that accepted payments over the phone. All you had to do was call up the phone number, type in the machine's ID, and then the machine was credited and you'd find the slightly more expensive coke on your phone bill. I thought it was pretty cool and I mentioned it to my Finnish friend in passing, and the response I got was something like "Yeah, I think we've had that since the 90's."
It seems like Finland and the rest of the Nordic and Baltic countries are ahead of the curve when it comes to mobile payments being accepted in society, but there still is a long way to go before I can stop carrying my wallet around. There's a lot of companies to take a look at, so here are a few that have come up on our radar.
Accumulate out of Sweden, recently came out with several announcements worth noting. The company is building a mobile financial services platform, called Mobile Everywhere, and just announced a new mobile wallet service that will be available to 97% of all mobile phone users in Sweden. The mobile wallet venture, dubbed WyWallet, has been put together in conjunction with the four largest mobile network operators in Sweden, including Telia, Tele2, Telenor and 3.
The platform is technology agnostic, so any pairing technology used at a payment transaction is supported, like NFC built-in mobile, RFID, Accumulate OTT, QR- and bar codes, etc. Also, a mobile payment service based on the Accumulate platform support all payment situations and more; POS, online, person-to-person, man-to-machine (ex. vending, mParking), in-app purchase, remittance, and so on. The company points out that several Samsung phones offer NFC already, and the Nokia Windows 8 phones will also support the technology.
In December Accumulate ran a NFC beta test in Stockholm for Paypal at two retailers using passive NFC stickers, and their focus on NFC seems to support that they thing it's a good step forward. It is unclear what Accumulate's relationship is with Paypal at this day, considering they are building their own mobile wallet platform.
This mobile wallet system also plugs into Accumulate's mobile merchant app that requires no special hardware or additions, and can run on any Android, iPhone and iPad. Purchases through the system are made as a money transfer and are authenticated by Accumulate's One-Time-Tickets. The mobile merchant app is in their strategy to plug into all mobile payment solutions, from point of sale situations, online payments, and man-to-machine payments.
mCASH out of Norway is another mobile payments provider worth keeping an eye on. In June, their Facebook page gives this news:
mCASH is being made available in the Point Of Sale Software offered by Lindbak Retail Systems. Lindbak is one of the leading providers of POS solutions in Norway and Sweden. Lindbak is implementing the full range of mCASH technologies enabling their customers to tap into features such as mCASH Payments, electronic receipts, loyalty, business intelligence and more.
Thus mCASH is available to Merchants such as XXL Sport, G Sport, InterSport, Deli De Luca, Coop, Vinmonopolet. Just to mention a few.
Their iPhone app is currently in beta testing. We covered them last November, but I get the impression that they have cut down a number of their features to focus on their core product.
Here's another Norwegian company we gave some coverage to way back in 2009, but is still alive and kicking. MobileAxept was founded in 2003 and provides a SMS based payment solution for retail and donations. Users must first register with MobileAxept, either online or by text, and then further payments can be accepted by text message. The company takes a 3% cut of transactions.
Judging from their website, they seem to be getting most of their traction on the donation front, with a good couple churches in the United States using it as a method to accept offerings. I suppose now it's no longer in bad taste to pull out your phone during services.
In Estonia, ERPLY, the provider of a cloud-based POS system, has partnered with Paypal to integrate mobile payments into its system. Consumers wishing to use the payment method will need to download the PayPal iPhone app. The solution allows customers to simply "check in" to a store when entering, then pay with Paypal at the checkout counter.
The solution also gives the opportunity to run different services, like customized offers and loyalty programs. The checkout process only requires the cashier to match the name and photo of a customer, which will likely give a quick transaction at the register. Funds are then made instantly available in the retailer’s PayPal account.
This Lithuanian startup seems to have a pretty solid penetration in their home country already. Mokipay uses a sticker with a Near Field Communication (NFC) chip that attaches to the back of a smart or dumb phone, which can be read by a Mokipay reader. Payments can be accepted in 150 places in Vilnius, and 70 locations in Kaunas, with many more spread out across Lithuania.
For smartphones, Mokipay functions as a mobile wallet and a loyalty card for services of partners. They are also developing the app to act an access control card (to enter buildings using NFC), an e-ticket for public transport, a city guide, and a budget management tool. Their about page says the functionality of Mokipay service is being constantly expanded. Our past coverage goes into more detail about the service.
The Lithuanian social network targeted at feature phones is also experimenting with payments these days. Eskimi has seen the majority of its users come from Africa, mostly from Nigeria. The country is still experiencing rapid inflation, and the government has been seriously promoting alternative payment solutions to reduce the demand of printed money, which is difficult and costly to continuously reprint and update.
Eskimi has now partnered with Mobile Money operators in Nigeria by helping them with user acquisition. It will be interesting to see how they expand on this front, as social networks can easily provide the user base and platform for payments. In our last Unfair Advantage episode, we talked to CEO Vytas Paukštys of Eskimi about this in more detail.
It appears two Finnish inventors, Janne Aaltonen and Sami Saru of Turku Finland, have sold their mobile wallet patent to Apple recently. The system allows for both payment and issuance of coupons, vouchers, or credits. This well written Quora post is worth taking a look at if you're interested getting some insight to what Apple may be working on.
Mobile payments seem to incur higher transaction costs through these startups, but retailers get the benefit of taking on promotions and better tracking and insight on their customers. Ultimately, for consumers these mobile payment systems have to prove themselves to be faster and easier than credit cards and cash, otherwise what's the real benefit aside from the occasional coupon or discount?
Everyone likes carrying a credit card around because now you can walk around without cash, but I think these mobile wallets will have a hard time replacing cards and cash until battery life is severely increased on smartphones. My iPhone lasts well under a day with moderate use, and currently I get anxious enough as is when my battery life drops below 30%. I can't imagine relying on my phone for buying food when my wallet can just turn itself off.
That being said, it's inevitable some sort of mobile payment solution will eventually become standard, and perhaps we're seeing it in its infancy right now in the Nordics and Baltics.
Top image by whiteafrican on Flickr