With our expanding focus to other Nordic countries, we'd like to start the round by taking a look at a Swedish startup, whose founders I had a chance to meet last year in Paris' LeWeb3 - they're called Twingly.
Twingly is a blog search engine, similar to Technorati, but they claim it to be spam free. One of the ways this is achieved is a social rating to the blog posts in a similar fashion to Digg - the more popular the blog post, the higher it will rank in search results.
Twingly was launched in February 2007 and according to their history, Svd.se and DN.se, two of the largest Swedish newspapers began using their service Blogstream to link back to blogs writing about their articles. Since then, they have made deals with more than 40 European partners to begin using their Blogstream to link back to blogs. Finland's largest daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, is also using this feature at the bottom of their articles.
With a focus on creating cash flow and adding more partners to their business - there has been a slight underfocus on product development. Twingly's product line is composed of the Blogstream and a screensaver that visually displays the state of the blogosphere.
They aren't giving out too many statistics on where they are with regards to blogs pinging their service, but they are open in other ways. For example, they have opened up their Tech Plan to the public so that people can vote on what features and tools ought to be added in the future - crowdsourcing at its finest!
With regards to finances, I'm guessing Twingly is making a profit as their deals with the regular media houses aren't poorly priced. They also have 9 people to support with the tech, so the costs shouldn't be that high. Nevertheless, I'd hate to see them lose the entrepreneurial thrive if they do make a nice profit - they have a lot of potential around this idea as Technorati isn't all that common in Europe.
Antti Akonniemi, founder & CEO of Kisko Labs, has begun the Seedcamp application round we wrote about earlier (remember that we'll be giving each company/idea visibility in ArcticStartup so do let us know if you are applying).
Antti is apparently applying to Seedcamp with his new service called These Are My Brands. There is very little available on the website at this moment, which goes well with the rules of Seedcamp. Seedcamp rules suggest that your service should not have launched yet - however, you ought to have a prototype ready.
Good luck to Antti! We'll be providing an interview with him later on.
TripSay, a Finnish social travel service that gives its users destination recommendations based on other users' travels whose profile matches theirs, launches for the public tonight at 12am (Standard GMT+2; Summer GMT+3). Already earlier on they got TechCrunched among other news.
The service has clear and intuitive design and all the features that you'd expect from a such service, thus everything seems to be in place as long as the idea in itself will work. The make-or-brake question is whether TripSay can attract travelers beyond the web savvy kind that sign up to anything and everything new just to try it out and the travel industry professionals looking to fill their own guides.
In the larger sceme of things the success of TripSay like travel services depend on individuals' desire to share their travel insights. Not purely locations where travelled, but real insights. In other words, whether such social travel services will take-off comes down to travelers' ability to see more value in the service than they do in the Lonely Planet brigade after the initial Wow. It's a debate worth having: Whether people in general want to share the real gems home and away, and whether the frequent travelers want to channel the entire Ryanair or EasyJet fleet to that little cozy street cafe that has the best cinnamon rolls in the planet where they like to visit every time they fly via Budabest. In the short term perhaps for while, but long term is tricky.
The service might be good at recommending you destinations (which is nice in itself), but I personally want to know what to do and where to go when I get there. The point is this: Photos (think Flickr) might increase in value when shared with a close circle of friends the more they comment on them, but a small cafe or a restaurant let alone a secret powdery slope in Chamonix or Whistler hardly will in the same manner; you need the critical mass to benefit from the TripSay's service since not all your friends have travelled where you're going and when opened up to the larger public the venues only move from authentic and cozy to touristy and over crowded. Can TripSay draw a balance between not too much and just enough?
If TripSay can pull the trick and get people to come back to share their insights, I will never use Lonely Planet with it's dedicated editors again. As an enthusiastic traveler myself I am eager to the see the kinds of locations it recommends to me and how the service manages to attract people to do exactly that.
TeliaSonera has sold approximately 27000 iPhones in three days in the Nordics, according to results from Medialets. Three days comes from the time it took Apple to sell one million iPhones worldwide. With the 1st generation phone it took them 74 days.
The breakdown in the Nordics is as follows, Sweden 10k units, Finland 9k, Norway 5k units and Denmark 3k units.
TeliaSonera will release iPhone 3G in Estonia on the 22nd of August.
The mystery Espoo based startup RunToShop that we've covered a few times before has set for launch in September. The core of the company is also coming out in their newly designed website - social shopping through personal recommendations and reviews. RunToShop states themselves as the place to find stuff people really love.
These are of course guessese, but I have heard from a trusted source that RunToShop is not launching in Finland in September. One easy giveaway is the language - it's all in English and they speak English in ...? You guessed it.
In support of other startup activity, we'd like to promote the second Startup Developer's Gathering being organised on the 27th of August in Korjaamo, Helsinki. The event is organised by Kai Lemmetty from Floobs and it was said to be success last time, so expect some good discussions this time as well (I hear Kai's skills with regard to software development exceed his skills in graphical design - yes, the logo was made by him :) ).
ArcticStartup has partnered with SIME Helsinki to give our readers and friends a unique chance to get 20% off the price of a ticket when you use the code ArcticStartup in the comments field when registering.
SIME Helsinki will be organised on the 17th of September in the Swedish Theater of Helsinki. More exact times and the schedule will be released later on.
SIME, known from organising internet oriented conferences in Stockholm, will be arranging smaller one day conferences in Helsinki and Copenhagen this year. Speakers in Helsinki will include Stefan Glaenzer (founder of Last.fm), Kurt Sillén (Global Head of Innovation and VP Mobility World, Ericsson), Ola Ahlvarsson (among others, CEO Result, co-founder of Boxman), Mohamed El-Fatatry (founder of Muxlim), Marko Ahtisaari (Blyk), Johan Siwers (CEO, Match.com Nordics) and many others. Check out SIME's website for the latest on these.
There's a good line up of people and a rare combination of entrepreneurs from overseas that shouldn't be missed. Take advantage of the discount and come to SIME Helsinki. I will be attending the event so drop me a note if you wish to meet up.
Well, almost. In a press released yesterday, Apaja Online Entertainment announced that they will be launching a localised Belgian website of their Playray service with a partnership with Corelio and MTV Networks. At the moment their Belgian website is directing users to France or Netherlands, depending which language and social circle they enjoy more is asking users which language preference they enjoy (edited due to earlier mishap in the analysis - see comments).
According to Kim Lindholm, Business Development Director, the Belgian registrations in the French and Dutch services attracted so many Belgians that they had to build localised version of the service in Belgium. Despite being an area where languages mix with ease and people understand each other easily, there are a lot of differences between people in the BeNeLux countries and thus localising each service makes common sense in the long run.
A recent survey conducted in Playray revealed that the social aspects of the service are equally important to the casual games. This strengthens the latest understanding of the industry that social gaming is on the rise. Furthermore a third of new registrants are over 35 which also supports the broadening of the user base, in line with previous studies.
It remains to be seen how successful such a rapid expansion strategy is. Apaja's 2007 financial figures are still unpublished in the public listings, but looking at the 2006 results the company ran a loss almost equal to its annual revenue.
Disclaimer: I am a former employee of Apaja Online Entertainment.
Seedcamp, an intensive week long event held in September in London targeted at young entrepreneurs from across EMEA, is one of the biggest opportunities to entrepreneurs on this side of Atlantic and it's open for applications (here). Seedcamp's whole raison d'etre is to provide seed funding and world-class connections for startups in exchange of a relatively small equity stake.
I recommend applying well before the August 10th deadline, as this might be one of the best decision you do as a entrepreneur that can set the pace for the years to come. To make a great opportunity absolutely unbeatable, we at ArcticStartup want to sweeten the deal for all the Nordic & Baltic startups: This is a huge break for any start-up, and thus I will single handedly interview your start-up, any Nordic or Baltic start-up really, that applies to Seedcamp. In fact you have two options. Here goes.
When you apply to Seedcamp before the August 10th deadline you will get a guaranteed 2 minute video interview by me or optionally you can submit a 60 second video pitch of your start-up/product/service, which ever you prefer. Naturally these will be posted on ArcticStartup. In addition, when you apply to Seedcamp you will automatically enter a draw in which we at ArcticStartup will randomly choose two start-ups that can have their logo (125x125px) on ArcticStartup front page for the whole month of September October. Additionally any start-up that will be chosen to take part in the actual Seedcamp week gets also their logo (125x125px) on the front page for the whole month of September October.
So regardless of whether you get to go to London, you'll have a guaranteed way of getting a lot of visibility for your start-up just by applying (We are very flexible on what can be considered a start-up, but will use common sense to cut out any funny business and bad jokes if you try to intentionally game our generous offer). So, now only thing you need to do is apply(!) and write the following to the comments section after this blog post: '[your start-up's name here] has applied to Seedcamp and thus rocks!' or if you prefer you can email me at ville [at] arcticstartup [dot] com. Start applying and I will contact you after I get the confirmation that your application has reached the organizers.
To recap, the Seedcamp format in brief is this: You apply to be able to enter a Seedcamp week, where you learn the ropes and get to know all the people that matter in the European entrepreneur scene. The week will take place in September 15-18 2008 in Central London at UCL. Seedcamp will be holding an open application available online. Based on this, up to 20 companies will be selected to participate in the event. Seecamp can provide you with seed capital and a world class network of mentors that among others include Jyri Engeström (Jaiku / Google), Niklas Zennström (Skype / Joost) and Brent Hoberman (Lastminute.com) to only name a few. Read all about the format here.
TechCrunch has the story that Nokia has just added $150M to Nokia Growth Partners fund. The total capital in the fund is at the moment around $250 million. Some of the companies the fund has invested into in the past that have made it are BitBoys (sold for $44M), Global Locate ($143M) and Coding Technologies ($250M).
The focus of the investments, according to TechCrunch, are now in China and India. Not a bad strategy as Nokia hasn't been all that strong in the US, where the iPhone is reaping success.
Risto Siilasmaa (of F-Secure fame) has invested in Whatamap.com, a mobile map service, (more on Whatamap.com here) and is thus also bringing much needed experience to the company on how to build and scale a startup into a successful global player.
The parties did not disclose the specific sum invested but according to Whatamap.com the investment was 'markable'.
Christoffer Nordström of Biznesport directed our attention to their newly launched project management and calendar service. The focus is on internationalisation as the service has been developed for the Finnish market from all the way back in 2003.
The service features many common functionalities such as discussions, filesharing, timetables, image commenting, mobile browsing and so on. Many of which are familiar from the 37 Signals' Basecamp application widely used around the world.
There are three different price groups to choose from; Basic, Professional and Premium. Basic membership costs 9 euros a month, Professional 39 euros and Premium membership 69 euros a month. There are also additional modules that make the pricing slightly more difficult to grasp as you can choose from Project module and Calendar module to be added to the package at 25 euros initial cost. Something that I'd really like to see included in the packages as they are usually taken for granted in the world of project management.
The service seems relatively good and usable at first, especially the use of e-mail through the service to collect all mails to one place might come in handy as might the ability to surf the service through a mobile handset. However, there is very little innovation in my opinion to make it stand out from the already crowded market. Furthermore, there are many open source alternatives to companies who look for cost savings and know a little more about installing these alternatives.
Biznesports internationalisation plans are yet to be seen, but we will definitely keep an eye on this company in the future as well.
Dopplr, a service that lets you share your future travel plans privately with friends and colleagues, released a new version codenamed "Copenhagen" some time ago. There has also been other updates we've been writing about along the way. With this post I wanted to recap some of the developments and go a bit more into detail on how the new features are working for the users.
Among other improvements I can now publish my Dopplr profile page on the Internet for the public to see and for the search engines to find. This is a needed addition as it was frustrating to ask people to create their own profile if they only wanted to follow my whereabouts (yes, there was the widget, but only with one default disclosure option). Dopplr also plays along with what is a desired and much overdue positive trend among many social networks, namely giving users the ability to control how much information they want to disclose to the public. This is done via modules which the user can which on and off as she wishes.
After a little tinkering I was able to find my public profile, but there's still no way to do a search of public profiles on Dopplr's home page. This would be great addition especially since Google's Search bots hadn't found my profile yet, making it practically nonexistent.
Another very useful feature that Tripit already has and which Dopplr has now also added, is the possibility to input your trips to the service via email and SMS. Dopplr didn't stop there but let's the users also use Twitter to input one's itinerary. This was a positive surprise. It took me a few back and forth confirmations to make it work, but not too much to make it an inconvenience. After I follow Dopplr on Twitter I am able to input a new trip just by doodling my destination and the dates into Twitter and post the Tweet to add it to my Trips at Dopplr.
A user can also choose to use Twitter to post her itinerary 'silently' to Dopplr in which case it does not even show in her Tweets. I did this, but due to the usage limits that Twitter has imposed it takes a long while for the posting to go through. Once a trip is confirmed a user can also forward relevant emails such as hotel reservations to the service where they will be automatically attached to her trip.
Email, SMS and Twitter upload is a welcome addition that let's Dopplr to strike back as Tripit already added what was Dopplr's killer feature, namely the serendipity feature which allows me to see all my friends who use Dopplr and are in the city at the same time that I'm visiting there.
I found this quote (from Dopplr blog) fascinating on how Dopplr works out the the dates and other info from the doodlings we send them:
There are an awful lot of ways to format a travel itinerary. When people asked us to extract trips from emails, we looked at our long history of e-tickets, confirmations and reservations, and scratched our heads.
Inspiration came in the shape of Apple’s last OS X release, Leopard, and an intriguing feature called “Data detectors“.
We realised that instead of creating a piece of code to decode every email format out there, we could look for patterns of dates and place names in the text (and later, other information too) and turn those into trips.
A happy side-effect of this approach is that as well as extracting information from automatic reservation emails, it works well with short text strings like “I’ll be in San Francisco from 3rd July to 7th July”. This means we can work with many hand-written emails, with Twitters, and with SMSes too.
Of course it won’t work with every variation under the sun (for example, it’s most reliable when an email contains just a return trip in a single hop), but we’ve had very satisfying results in our testing. And of course every email you send us will be added to our test suite so that our engine can get better and better over time.
I've always liked Dopplr for its simplicity, but there has still been the feeling that its a one trick pony with its fascinating serendipity function. With the Copenhagen release this doesn't seem to be the case anymore and I could see myself move all my travel planning to Dopplr, if I only could access my full itinerary from my mobile with the same ease I can Twitter it up there. Something that Tripit makes possible even though not via Twitter but via SMS.
One can speculate if the new version is codenamed Copenhagen because Tyler Brûlé just recently nominated Copenhagen 'the most livable city in the world' in the latest issue of what is supposedly every city hopper's bible, Monocle. Regardless, I think Dopplr has made itself much more useful for all of us with its latest version.
Jaiku has a scheduled downtime today from 17.00-05.00 UTC (didn't see a notice on it anywhere before it though). The downtime being 12 hours is a lot longer than their previous maintenance breaks so could this be the final push for Jaiku to be moved on to the Google App Engine that we wrote about way back?
Looking forwards to it.
Update 25.7.: Seems like this was a regular maintenance break to take care of the database and get the API back online. More updates on the break at Jaiku channel.
Scred, a Finnish community-oriented cost balancing tool, which initially focused on balancing debts and shared expenses among a group of friends announced that they are looking into new possibilities to leverage their back-end infrastructure.
Scred has partnered with Alternative Party which will be held in Helsinki in the coming October. Scred built an inexpensive bespoke ticketing service for the party with which you can reserve, buy and print the tickets straight from the web. Tickets are also machine verifiable which is more than many other service providers offer.
Kristoffer Lawson from Scred told us that the new service is currently not available for 3rd parties, but that they they will see how the first deployment will go and add some features before deciding whether it's the right path to take. According to Kristoffer tickets can be currently bought via PayPal and 'couple of banking services', but the credit card option is on its way.
The party in itself is the second largest 'demoscene-party' in Finland after Assembly. Alternative Party aims to mix demos, music and art. Unlike Assembly, Alternative Party's focus is more on artistic shows and activities and there is practically no gaming.
There is starting to be a lot of activity in the e-commerce infrastructure space coming from Finland. Scred seems to be gradually heading that direction and Fruugo is looking into becoming the “trusted 3rd party of ecommerce". Based on Fruugo's still mysterious website we will find out what they will actually offer in more detail later in 2008 when they're planning to launch. This is something that might also be of interest to Scred since after knowing what Fruugo is aiming for Scred can better adjust their product offering to the market.
MySites, a Finnish startup based in Tampere that provides a single location to save, manage and share content online, has finally launched after delaying their launch for a little over a month to iron out the last bugs.
Even before their formal launch MySites had been active in the sponsoring front having already sponsored ArcticStartup Events, student union parties and gaming events. For the launch MySites did not slow down a bit and went on to sponsor Mashable's US Summer Tour 2008.
On average MySites has been more active in sponsoring events and websites than we have accustomed to see from a Nordic startup that has just launched . Despite their attempts to get a lot of awareness for the service they have still quite a ways to go with improving the service itself.
The user experience is confusing at best. MySites user interface is not nearly as intuitive as it would need to be and since their service intends to combine many different functions under one roof this should be even a greater concern as the level of complexity tends to creep up anyway compared to one-purpose-only services.
Similarly, the layout could be a lot more unified from the get-go. There's at least three kinds of different animation on the front page, not to talk about the rather foggy video clip from what should be inspiring user interviews. Maybe this is intentional, but for me it only makes the service harder to figure out.
It took me a good 20 minutes to figure out how to navigate around the site including the times the service froze and I had to reopen the page to continue. Nevertheless if the user interface would be easier to navigate I could see myself using MySites to share movies with my friends which can't be emailed around due to their sheer size. The 10GB that I get for free by signing up could also be used to share and store other large files among a group of friends or colleagues. Thus for the moment I could see the service moving towards a cloud of stuff that I could share with a group of people. If it only wouldn't be so hard to use.
Eat.fi, a Finnish website that let's its users rate restaurants and bars and show which ones are open at a given time, is about to get a serious face lift. The folks at Eat.fi emphasize that the new site is in Beta and unlike Google's Betas this Beta is really just to test out the functionality, thus all the reviews should still be written to the old site or they will disappear when the new site goes live.
The new site is build on Google maps and the new mashup has really improved the user experience. The site is easier to use and more intuitive from the get go. The functionality has also improved significantly. The website has a new bar on the right hand side of the screen which is quite handy showing the top rated restaurants which are open at a given moment. The 'top rated' bar of course changes based on your query, thus filtering out for example all the other venues except 'Asian food' if that's what you're after.
The smart folks at Eat.fi figured out they could use Jaiku's active user base to get feedback for their Beta (here). This is an ingenious and many times very effective way to get feedback for your web service due to the vocal yet colorful user base at Jaiku, thus giving you passionate opinions across the board from professional designers and user experience geeks to your average Joe.
The new Beta site and activity at Eat.fi leaves me wondering if or rather when they are taking the concept abroad. It turns out that the same Jaiku thread partly answers that one as well:
Growth Forum 08 (in Finnish, Kasvufoorumi08) is an initiative that started on January this year (see the previous post). The forum is an initiative lead by Microsoft Finland and Association of Software Entrepreneurs. The second seminar of the forum was held in June and now when the thematic group I've been involved in is on holiday it's time for a little recap of the first half of the year.
First of all both seminars have been successes from my perspective as they have attracted a mixed audience of entrepreneurs, seasoned professionals and representatives of public organizations. For example, in the second seminar Jyrki Katainen, the current Minister of Finance of Finland, held a passionate speech on how important it is to cultivate innovation and intellectual property for Finland to succeed in the future. Furthermore, as the national innovation strategy was also published in June, the government is definitely taking steps to ensure that Finland stays competitive even when the number of employed people decreases as a result of aging of the population.
The findings of the second seminar (and the interim project report delivered to Mr. Katainen) and our small thematic group were surprisingly similar. The group's focus was the question whether Finnish startups should make exits or grow themselves. Based on several discussions seems that Finland does not lack technology, skills or education to succeed in the Internet era. Rather the obstacles on road to success are financing and attitude. The early stage financing of startups is largely made by TEKES, which in general does a good job, but would require more support from private venture capitalists. There are some ongoing public initiatives to provide tax benefits early stage VCs and business angels. However, it is too early to tell whether these legislation changes will happen.
The attitude issue is much harder to address, but I believe solving it (even partially) would have much wider implications than improvements on financing. Some of arguments for not to start new companies are reasonable, such as heavy penalties and social stigma of going bankrupt. Most growth-oriented startups fail and they should be allowed to do so without personal consequences such as not getting housing mortgages after companies go bankrupt. However, the other arguments are frequently not based on facts. The public discussion revolves around on how hard the taxation in Finland is or how entrepreneurs must constantly work and get stressed because of that. Furthermore, I have heard many people say "I really would like to start a company, but I lack a good idea". Very very rarely anyone can up with an idea that truly is unique (no-one has thought of it) and can be turned into a profitable business. I believe everyone can come up with good ideas from their everyday life ("isn't there really a better way to do this?"). A good way to launch a startup is to pick a decent idea, found a company and then figure out the next idea or iterate the existing idea. A good article on ideas can be found in favorite blog onstartups.com.
Moreover, we need stories (from successful entrepreneurs) how working as an entrepreneur can be both fun and rewarding. This was one of conclusions of our thematic group. In addition, we agreed that startups need teams that have a varied cultural and knowledge background, not just the "four Finnish engineers". Finnish startup scene would also benefit from a Finnish Y-Combinator that would give a needed boost in the early stages. I would be very interested to know if there already is some Finnish VC (or other party) that has plans like that.
In conclusion, we need positive buzz on startups, being an entrepreneur and really aiming for growth. I think we are going to the right direction on those issues. What are your thoughts on these subjects?
I'm writing this from our summer cottage in Punkaharju, looking at the lake and pondering about the future. Looking back at the last six months, I must say they've been excellent, challenging and very rewarding with regards to Arctic Startup. We've had two events, which were magnificent successes, tens of blogposts which have gathered tens of comments from Finland and abroad. We've also had Ville and Tomi join our ranks after we launched the site last autumn with Miikka.
All of us have been working at our day jobs while putting this together and needless to say, it takes a lot of energy. Nevertheless I've talked to the guys and we're all looking forward to putting in another 100% this coming autumn (I know I know, let's get through the summer first!). There are a lot of plans put down to paper and I'm now going to share some of them with you.
With organising the two events during last spring we really noticed that there is a lot of demand for a grassroots level, bottom up, type of a forum where the concept is built in co-operation with the entrepreneurs working with the issues. Due to this, we're going to be having at least two other events this coming fall. They're going to be bigger and better with more interesting people.
To make this happen, we're looking towards incorporating ArcticStartup and getting some sponsors on board with us to make the events more worthwhile and interesting to all of us. For the incorporation, we're not looking for any funding but we will be putting up more information regarding the possible sponsorship packages that many have been asking for.
Furthermore, amidst of all the blogging, we will be participating in a bunch of events during the fall so do follow us to get possible discounts and tips regardging these conferences. We will be co-operating closely with the organisers to bring the best possible experience for the startups and third parties as we really want to shift gears in the Finnish entrepreneurship scene this autumn.
Talking about Finland - we're hungry and never settle for something that can be reached easily. Having said that, our Finland only focus will be left behind and we'll be broadening our view to other Nordic countries including Estonia. This is due to the fact that there simply isn't an organisation that will cover the news and events at these latitudes in a way we would like them to be covered - hence the broadening view.
There's a lot of things on the roadmap for the autumn, but we really want to work together on these with you the readers, entrepreneurs and vc's to make all this happen in the right way. As you all know, a good idea only gets you 10% of the way, while a perfect execution will push you the last 90% towards the goal.
What do you think, are we heading the right way? Anything obvious we've missed?
Image credits to openDemocracy
Dopplr has finally added three key features that have kept it short of TripIt in terms of ease of use. With their newest update, Matt Jones writes, that you are now able to add trips through Twitter, SMS and e-mail.
Twitter and SMS automations work alike, you need to send a private message to the Dopplr bot and it will add your trips to your account (after you've activated your account to support these of course). Lastly, the email update works just as Tripit's trip updater - you send the itinerary/confirmation received from your airline to Dopplr and they will update the trips accordingly to your account. This has been a major shortcoming in terms of adding new trips and will surely speed things up in the future.
Another question to ask is; Will Dopplr be looking forwards to integrating itself closer to Tripit and possibly looking for an early sell-off?