Pikkoo, a Finnish startup focusing on social, user generated and interactive mobile content for Flash Lite and non-Flash Lite phones, has launched its public beta.
By utilizing Adobe Flash Lite and its own proprietary technologies, Pikkoo makes personalization and interaction possible for a very wide set of mobile devices. This includes not only S60 phones, Series 40 or iPhone but practically majority of the phones, since with Pikkoo's proprietary technology it's possible to generate compatible content, which enables Pikkoo to support majority of mobile handsets that currently exist.
Governments are becoming more actively involved and the state backed interventions to meet EU 20-20-20 target are definitively needed. EU targets are technically available, but the current technology is still highly priced. Finland finally proposed two weeks ago a feed-in tariff for wind power of EUR 83.5/MWh. The guaranteed price for wind power is to be introduced in early 2010 for a period of 12 years. Governments target is to increase the production of wind power to 6 TWh, i.e. by almost 30 times by the year 2020 (current production level approximately 0.2 TWh). Implementing the wind feed-in tariffs in early 1980-1990’s countries like Denmark, Germany and Spain boosted a growth of the global wind power players like Vestas, Enercon and Gamesa. Finland has somehow a missed a train as financing the wind farms is becoming more to preserve of project finance and VC’s are now focusing more on advancements on power and turbine technologies.
We first wrote about Senseg, a Finnish company developing a haptic interface for all kinds of screen, when it had just been chosen to be part of a Finnish delegation of seven companies to pitch their offering to Israeli VCs about a year ago. Senseg told us earlier on they are looking into getting the first products in the market during the 2009 and it seems they are more or less in schedule by telling CrunchGear's John Biggs that the company "expects to have some working devices in production in a year".
Biggs is currently visiting Finland and met Senseg to get a better understanding of their technology (read the full story at CrunchGear here). It's hard not to think of iPhone when you watch the video, but do try, since I'm sure there are plenty of interested customers beyond Cupertino (video below by CrunchGear).
The Finnish book renting service targeted at students, BookaBooka, has been sent a cease and desist letter (in Finnish only) by the Finnish copyright agencies claiming that the company is breaking the law. The service has quietly received a lot of attention among students as a place to put your books into use - rent them for a monthly fee.
I first heard of BookaBooka about half a year ago and thought the concept was interesting, but it did not quite amaze me too much. The service has become successful among the most needy - the students who do not want to spend their few earned euros for expensive books. Very understandable - I didn't either when I was in university.
Relex is a Finnish success story that not too many people know about. The most obvious reason for this is that Relex is not one of the sexy social media services that don't have a business model, but a company providing software for more efficient and automated demand forecasting and inventory managment. The company didn't get any external risk capital from Angels or VCs except some goverment funding and have gottten a flying start with that.
This yet again comes to show that Finland seems to be very strong in software. Historically this is very obvious by looking at the exit market. Out of all the exits between 2000 and 2006 in Finland over 50% has been in Software, whereas Sweden has been the strongest Nordic market in Internet Services, even though that was mostly due to Skype's €2200 million exit. After taking Skype out of the equation, software exits in Sweden count for about 35% of all the exits in the country during the time given time frame (Exit-study by Creandum, 2008).
I had the pleasure of meeting with Janne Känkänen from the Finnish Ministry of Employment and Economy, the operational primus motor behind the Vigo startup accelerator programme that the Finnish government has been putting together in the recent months. I for one am very suspicious of where the government wants to take the growth entrepreneurship as an ecosystem, but was very glad to find out that there has been plenty of productive progress happening behind the scenes.
The Vigo, startup accelerator, that we wrote about earlier (but did not know the name back then) is only one concrete realisation of this new programme and its results. Mr Känkänen also told us that growth entrepreneurship ecosystem has been understood to require special methods of assistance and the current economic climate has further sped up those requirements.
Sulake, the Finnish company behind the successful Habbo Hotel, has opened up Bobba to public beta. Bobba is a mobile only virtual world and is in very early stages of adoption. I was the 113th registered user on the site. This is something we heard of a while back with Sulake's report on their 2008 profit.
The Finnish corporation behind the overwhelmingly successful teen community site Habbo Hotel, Sulake, has reported a €4.8 million profit for the financial year 2008. The company also created record sales, up more than 20% in December, closing in at €50 million for the year 2008. Even though Sulake has made a nice profit, there is still plenty of downside to cover in the coming years to make up for all the loss it has accumulated over the years. This is the first year Sulake has reported a profit since its founding in 2000.
This year's Red Herring 100 finalists from Europe were announced last week. The competition is held annually to find Europe's most promising tech companies. This year the list is nicely populated by companies from the Arctic area. More than 40 of the finalists this year come from the geographic area we cover - nicely done! Sweden, Norway and Finland are most represented and after that come Denmark and Estonia. Latvia and Lithuania still shine with their absence.
Here in the Northern Europe many hard core Web 2.0 developers and entreprneurs follow religiously Diggnation, the famous video show by Kevin Rose (of Digg.com fame and a famous Silicon Valley party kid) and Alex Albrecht.
Now, we're getting our own except that it's pink and pretty. Helene Auramo, CEO of Zipipop, and her friend Sanna are Digitytöt (tranlates into Digitalgirls from Finnish). Auramo is a long time fan of Kevin Rose and have been working on the project for some time now with her new team during the weekends, while running Zipipop during the week.
There's couple of interesting events well worth visiting coming up.
First one, BarCamp is happening on 4th April in central Helsinki, Finland. Since it's BarCamp anything is possible. Come along, propose a session, and if there is interest from someone else, then you are up. So prepare things in advance! Un-conference does not mean un-prepared. Sessions can be any format; discussion, Presentation, demo, workshop, the limiting factor is time (and can you make it interesting!). Read more here.
Finland's Minister of employment and the economy, Mauri Pekkarinen, has announced last week that Finland will be adding more capability to commercialise innovations with a €45 million fund. The fund is put together from governmental organisations such as Tekes and Finnvera's seed financier Vera.
The aim of the new fund is to attract more international talent from overseas to help the companies grow and also enable more targeted investments. One of the ways international talent is attracted is the financial upside. The goverment is willing to invest into these companies, if a private sector individual (person or organisation) invests. Thus the financial upside is the invested amount in the company.
Last night's ArcticEvening was yet again another success - thanks to everyone who made it that! We had about 100 people in the room, which is so far the largest participation in Finland (in Tallinn we had closer to 150).
We'd especially like to thank our great panelists Jussi Harvela, Jouko Kiesi and Artturi Tarjanne - who shared their insights from financing startups to finding financing for startups. We had great stories from CIA preventing some financing activities in the late 80s as well as Artturi sharing some interesting tips how the VCs look at startups.
We also had a chat with Ville, Miikka and Karri about thinking of moving the event next time to a larger place to suit more participants. We'd like to open up this to you, who made it to the event to share your points of view - was it too crowded or just the right atmosphere for this sort of an event?
On a side note in the other room, another Arctic initiative was taking place. Kari Poppis Suomela, an extremely experienced explorer was sharing some of his advice how he has conqured many parts of the world we only see pictures about. For example, he was the 12th person in the world to both conquer the north AND south pole - how about that? If you want to learn more about Kari and his expeditions, buy his book Pohjoisnapa and learn how your physical capabilities are put to the extremes. He also does a lot of talks about personal motivation under difficult conditions so it might be worthwhile to get him to speak at your event next time. Contact him here if you're interested.
Photo by Asmo Halinen (cheers :))
Last week I came across something rather fresh that I had not seen before. This drew our office around the screen to see what exactly this new iphone app was about. It took a while for us to wrap our heads around the new iphone game we were curiously looking at.
The game is developed by a small Finnish game developing company called Secret Exit. They describe themselves as 100 per cent independent game developer company by two guys with some game industry experience and modest merits, who have set up a shop to create refreshingly different, innovative, and -most importantly- fun games.
This is how the company describes Zen Bound, the game:
Zen Bound is difficult to describe. It is a game as much as a toy or simply an experience.
One user eloquently described the game in an iTunes review: "I thought this would be cool but all you do is wrap string around wood." and his 1-star rating proves that our game is certainly not for everyone.
In a nutshell, you have a wooden sculpture which you need to paint by shifting the object into various ankles as a rope is pulled by a imaginary third party. At the same times as the rope is wrapping itself around the wooden object, it also lays down a track of paint. Goal of course being able to paint the whole scupture. Might sound easy and straight forward, but it can get pretty challenging. There's also no time limit, which makes the iphone app more an experience than a game. You can read a more comprehensive review here, and see a demo below. Pocket Gamer who wrote the review nailed the idea of the game: The emphasis lies in experiencing the sheer joy of the interaction. Similarly, IGN Wireless wrote that with Zen Bound boundaries aren't being pushed here; they're getting shattered. The app sets you back 3.99€ at iTunes App Store.
Secret Exit announces that they target all home entertainment platforms where games can be digitally downloaded, but clearly the possibility to develop for a distribution channel like App Store expands the market significantly. Here's good analysis by an ex-Jaiku developer, Teemu Kurppa on why App Store is a game changer. Not only that, only now that we have a device like iphone we start to see games like Zen Bound that really redefine what is a great mobile app, game or otherwise. Iphone enables, the very first time, truly new innovation and fresh thinking in designing interaction on a mobile device, of which Zen Bound is a perfect example. I believe this one example is just the tip of the ice berg of what's to come. Mix in some powerful computing running the back end in the cloud and streaming it to your iphone and you'll be amazed what we're about to see in the very near future. Decreasing growth in laptop sales numbers will be only the first symptom of this.
Plugg, the European one-day conference on celebrating of entrepreneurship and innovation announced today the 20 final nominees for the Startup Rally. Finalists also include three arctic startups: Burt and Senseboard from Sweden and Hammerkit from Finland. Plugg is taking place on March 12 in Brussels. If you're interested to see the most promising European web and mobile startups, TechCrunch is offering a 15% discount.
HammerKit(from the ArcticIndex): is a web application service platform that has been developed to make it easier and faster to build dynamic, data-driven web sites. The platform allows an entire web site or application to be designed, assembled, deployed and managed online from reusable components in minutes.
Burt helps marketing agencies to perform better in the new read-write web. They want take advertising and analytics past the cost-per-click methods and banners. Current product offering includes: Copybox - "a Photoshop for copywriters", basically a smart text editor, Mememachine - cloudcomputing for marketing data, and Rich - an analytics tool for campaigns.
Senseboard develops cool wearable technology on for hand gesture based computer interaction. Two hand bands or glovers enable a method for capturing, analyzing and interpreting hand and finger movements.
Total of 133 European companies registered to the competition and 20 were selected from these. ArcticStartup congratulates all the chosen startups and wishes extra luck for the arctic startups!
Intervisio, a Finnish cross-media production firm, has licensed its Emmy-awarded Staraoke TV show to Cartoon Network. Staraoke is a combination of a karaoke-type interactive game and a talent TV-show for children. It will be a new primetime show for Cartoon Network.
Cartoon Network will produce altogether 78 episodes of the show, consisting of local series of 13 episodes for each the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Poland. The production is due to start now in March in London, where Cartoon Network will bring the participating children and their parents. The first show is supposed to air in the fall this year in the UK.
In Finland Staraoke starts its ninth season in fall 2009, and the program has been broadcasted also in Sweden and Hungary. The new deal is in essence the biggest single TV format licensing deal in Finland - there have not been too many of them. Intervisio and Cartoon Network will also co-operate on licensing and merchandising the Staraoke brand with products like music CDs, karaoke DVDs, road shows, and mobile content. The firms are also negotiating with game publishers, and discussing an online game with the Staraoke developer, Finnish game firm Housemarque.
Press release (.doc)
Tweehouse got the grant to assist in the ongoing development of TrunkTech, an end-to-end technology platform designed to develope games in co-operation with a U.S. based games publisher. With the grant Tweehouse team will be able to grow its current size of nine developers and designers in Finland and additional marketers and producers in Los Angeles, CA. They just got their first game out, Eco-Rangers. A good start, even though according to the team it's only a mere poke at the market compared to what's in the plans: The Eco-Rangers was mainly a marketing campaign for Taco Bell in the US, whereas TrunkTech will be published as SaaS (’Software as a Service’) later in 2009 and used as the core engine in buiding of many more massively multi-player applications or even in virtual worlds.
The startup has a rather unusual business model. I quote myself here from the previous post on the company:
Tweehouse will target purely US market in the beginning. For this Snap TV is an ideal partner [for Tweehouse] to handle the Sales and PR and leave the game development and pipeline management to the Helsinki office. Snap TV prides itself for having a dedicated sales force that calls on all classes of retail and ships products to over 20,000 storefronts across the United States and Canada, thus enabling quick access to market when the product is ready.
The business model will build on the end-to-end solution. The service covers everything from design, development and marketing all the way to running the platform and moderation of the games themselves. In essence Tweehouse is aiming to build and sell solid gaming platforms to their customers. In addition to a fixed price element, the company also aims to always build an upside to the products they sell. This could mean for example a revenue share model that will be a percentage of each game sold.
As Paavo Perttula of Tweehouse notes, Finnish success in gaming is partly due to the long tradition stemming from the very active demo scene of the 80's. Along with the demo scene, the Finnish goverment has had an active role contributing to the success as well. In 2007, the Finnish technology fund (Tekes) gave in excess of 6M euros in government grants to gaming initiatives, whereas the combined figure for the whole of the EU was 21M euros. This time it was Tweehouse's turn to give the international expansion a try, and based on the progress so far they are on schedule. Congratulations to the team and good luck!
ArcticEvening in Tallinn was a success in January.
ArcticEvening Helsinki registration is open. You can get your free ticket below. ArcticEvening will be held in Dubrovnik Lounge and Lobby on the 3rd of March, from 6pm to 9pm.
Just to summarise, we'll have one excellent panel on startup financing with Artturi Tarjanne, Jussi Harvela, Nils Forsblom and Jouko Kiesi. These gentlemen have a lot of experience and I'm sure we'll hear some interesting stories. You can read more about the panelists on the ArcticEvening page.
Get your ticket here:
Nokia has just announced at Mobile World Congress that the company will launch its own app store called Ovi Store, as was rumored. It was expected that Nokia places this service under its global Internet services brand Ovi.
But it will not be just an "app" store - Ovi Store will serve ringtones, wallpapers, videos, podcasts, applications and games in various languages like Java, Flash lite, widgets. The Ovi Store will thus replace Nokia's previous services like Download!, Mosh, and Nokia Software Market, thus greatly unifying and simplifying the consumer content offering of Nokia. Interestingly, Ovi Store features social discovery, meaning that users will be recommended and promoted content which is used by their social network. Also location aware featuring will be supported by Nokia. The social features will be supported apparently by at least Facebook and MySpace, who both give a statement in Nokia's press release.
Developers are offered 70 % of the revenue share, similarly Apple App Store. However, the net revenue will hugely depend whether the consumers use credit card or operator billing - they will have the option to choose the method. According to Nokia's experience on N-Gage billing, vast majority of the consumers select operator billing when given the choice. It is unsure whether it would be possible to offer slightly lower price for credit card purchases to encourage this option - it is unlikely, though, given Nokia needs the approval the operators to include the store in the operator phone variants.
I have not been able to try out the actual user experience yet, but if Nokia has taken note from their cumulated learnings with previous services and Apple, this could be a major boost to the company's content business and the S40 and S60 software ecosystem. After all, S60 has been, and still is, the platform of choice for many application developers due to the sheer handset volumes in the market. In the gaming market Nokia has a tough task in competing with iPhone, though.
In the beginning, only selected content providers and publishers are allowed to publish in the store, but Nokia will gradually open up the support to all developers. Developers can register for the Ovi Store at publish.ovi.com.
Despite the economical climate and the horde of naysayers, a Finnish based software company, Comformiq secures 3 million euros in investment round lead by Nexit Ventures Oy. Funding mainly comes from Suomen Teollisuussijoitus Oy(‘Finland’s industry investment Ltd’) and unclosed group of US angel investors.
According to their press release, with this new funding, Comformiq plans to transfer its business executives to US, but retain the product development in Espoo, Finland. Apparently they are also getting a new CEO, A .K. Kalekos, and former CEO, Antti Huima, will step down to CTO.
Conformiq focuses in model-based testing tools, with their main product Conformiq Qtronic. The real innovation with this product is that usually you would need to write tests, but Conformiq Qtronic generates and executes tests itself based on the design model. A recent study(pdf warning) suggested that Test-Driven Development(TDD) takes 15-35% longer but leads to 40-90% fewer bugs. Conformiq says that they can decrease development time by speeding up the test design by 20-fold.
It’s great to see yet another funded software company that breaks free from the arctic blizzard. As myself, I see the software industry as a something what we arctic dwellers could really excel in global scale. Hopefully more great people and funding find this sector.
Mobile Dev Camp (MDC), an informal gathering mainly for mobile developers that started after the iPhone came about, will be organized in Helsinki on 21st February, 2009.
Apple's iPhone (and Android right after it) brought a lot of new people to the mobile development world. The people are entereing the mobile remit en mass at the same pace as iPhone is conquering market share. Along with the sexiness of the new apps developed for iPhone and Android platforms, the new platforms are also a easier to develop for compared to say Symbian, which is Nokia's preferred platform.
These new people are entering the mobile world mainly from the sexy web 2.0 world bringing concepts such as BarCamps and Unconferences with them. This is also clearly seen in the one organized in Helsinki.
One of the people behind the MDC Helsinki, Peter Robinett who was also speaking at our ArcticEvening a while ago, has already orgazanized three other mobile development camps in Amsterdam: One for Android, one for iphone and one for a variety of mobile topics.
The attendance is free of charge and only thing you have to bring with you is your laptop and and open mind. And if you're not a developer? Don't worry! You can still attend as long as you can contribute. You can sign up here.
Axel Technologies, a Finnish multistandard mobile TV technology startup, has received EUR 2.4 million Series B investment from Nexit Ventures and Finnish Industry Investment Ltd. The investors are the same as in the first round approx a year ago. The funding will be used to strengthen Axel’s sales and marketing operations to cover the global market, and to "intensify R&D efforts focused on anticipated developments in the mobile TV market", i.e., bridging the gap between the fragmented regional and global mobile TV technology solutions and standards.
Axel Technologies develops mobile TV technology enabling device manufactures to bring mobile TV to all portable devices, like mobile internet devices, portable media players, netbooks, and car navigators. Axel claims to support all most important mobile TV standards, and provides also Java and native UI client with features like service guide, purchases, live TV and on-demand video. Axel also statedly has the world’s only authentic DVB-H field test network.
So far mobile TV hasn't taken off that well globally outside Japan and South Korea, although Axel Technologies' press release quotes estimates that mobile TV subscribers are forecasted to reach 250 million by 2010. There are quite a many obstacles still in getting profitable business running around mobile TV, though, as the value chain is pretty long and complex with many stakeholders (manufacturers, wireless carriers, content providers, technology providers, broadcasters, ...). Even in South Korea the popular services are apparently not profitable. Anyway, Axel aims to remove the technology bottleneck, after which "the content offered by broadcasters and operators will determine the success of the service” as Pekka Salonoja, General Partner of Nexit Ventures and the Chairman of Axel Technologies, comments.
Full press release.
Blue White Partners, which Finnish and US based team helps Finnish hi-tech companies to go global might shed some light in it. Blue White investigated(pdf, in Finnish) over 1100 Finnish hi-tech companies’ visibility on the web. Average Blue White Web Score for Finnish companies was 39/100 where as global average is 50. The score is made by investigating content semantics, language, search engine rank and index, and presence in social media.
There has been some discussion what is the actual importance of SEO or is it a complete fad. While methods ranging from white to shady black, I wouldn't argue that SEO is the most important thing to consider when building a startup or product, but you shouldn’t ignore it either. Consider making your product crawlable. Provide some information on the inner workings of your service. Every public page should be your landing page. Use Google tools, like Adwords to select keywords for your product.
We living in the online world tend to forget how much less offline people know about current developments of the web. Help them to find you.
What is your experience, how important is SEO? Does search engine traffic stick?
Edit: Added top42 companies, by Blue White Partners (note: may be subject to change)
Sun MicroSystems is holding a breakfast seminar in Klaus K Ahjo club in Helsinki on Thursday, 5th February. The focus of the event is on Web 2.0. and Sun has brought along an expert to lead the discussion, Bob Sokolin (CTO, Web 2.0 Industry Practice, Sun Microsystems).
Sun claims that "five out of the five fastest growing social networking sites are running on Sun technology." A bold claim to which the breakfast seminar is going to shed some light on and elaborate on the possibilities and customized solutions that Sun offers for companies that work around the area. We'll be there for sure and hope to see you there too. You can find more information on the topic here.
Time: Thursday 5.2.2009 at 8:30 - 11:00 Location: Klaus K, Ahjo Club, Bulevardi 2-4, 00120 Helsinki
8:30-9:00 Registration and breakfast
9:00-10:00 Powering the Web 2.0 experience
Bob Sokol, CTO, Web 2.0 Industry Practice, Sun Microsystems
10:00-11:00 Discussion about the morning's topic and networking
Registration and more info on the event, email Jonna at jonna.tuovinen [at] sun.com
Disclaimer: Sun Microsystems is ArcticStartup's Sponsor for February.
Photo by Or Hiltch (BY:CC)
Fruugo invited a few bloggers to the company's premises this week and demonstrated their service, also handing out beta accounts. (We'll try to get a few shortly also for our readers - let's see.)
Fruugo's Janne Waltonen, VP Marketing & Communication, mentioned that they have not really figured out yet what to call Fruugo; it is not a webstore since they don't own any products, legally you cannot call the company a webstore aggregator either, and it is not a not a search engine. We could settle for virtual marketplace for now. What Fruugo wants to do is to make it simple and safe to sell and buy things online across the Europe regardless of the country borders. The transaction participants should be able to complete the transaction just if they were in the same country, using their local currency and language.
Fruugo is developing the live beta service constantly (with around 60 own employees and 40 consults), so the UI and layout will likely be totally different after a short while . But the first screenshots give some indication of how the service is turning out (more shots in Fruugo's Flickr stream). The priority order for UI is 1) products, 2) consumers, 3) merchants. Fruugo is trying to find the most interesting and successful consumer segments first with a broad, steady approach, and then go after the selected ones with bigger international marketing power. The company does not plan to provide mobile offering anytime soon, as the mobile market isn't yet mature enough, Waltonen commented.
The company depends on the logistics of the merchants, and hence requires all merchants to guarantee certain levels of shipping speed and reliability, with four shipping options at the moment. Non-confirming merchants will be removed from the service. Fruugo's including only 30k-40k products in the early phase of the beta in order to better evalute the usage patterns. Once they have figured out a working layout, gathered enough data, and fixed biggest bugs they will start adding multiple merchants offering the same products. Having none overlapping merchants is also why currently some of the products in the service are considerably pricier compared to some other stores.
Despite any rumors, Fruugo does not introduce any billing methods of its own, they will rather use existing ones. In the beginning they have just the most common credit cards and Finnish e-bank systems. PayPal will be coming only later, which is understandable, given that using credit cards and e-bank accounts is much more common in the Nordics. Fraud management is going to be a huge task to Fruugo, as Fruugo will take responsibility for all transactions, both merchant-consumer and consumer-merchant. The company has reserved the second floor of their office for most part to operational and fraud management activities. Waltonen commented due to fraud issues they have needed to also rule out some product categories due to the requirements by the credit card companies.
So far Fruugo will not introduce any deeper social shopping features, like group shopping. Rather, there are "social traces", meaning users can review products, seek assistance from other users, and see actions of others. Interestingly, the recent product views and searches of all users appear on the front page in real time (anonymously). Registration event of new members will be be shown with the users' real name. Fruugo isn't planning on introducing any sellable promotion slots, rather they expect merchants to rise in the ranks and get visibility due to reliable service, popular products and good prices, and complete product information, which will generate positive reviews.
One major problem in integrating with merchants is that really few Finnish online merchants are used to providing outbound feeds (e.g. RSS), Waltonen described. In Sweden, UK, and Netherlands the situation is much better, as apparently feeding the different comparison sites is more common there. Considering Fruugo takes care of billing fees, fraud management, first line customer support, and managing the customer returns, the 10 % revenue cut the company is taking does not sound bad at all. If they can get the support for the rest of Europe up and running as per their vision, it seems Fruugo might even be the only sales channel a small webshop could need. In that case there could be clear business opportunities open to 3rd parties for helping small e-tailers setting up Fruugo-compatible shops.
Fruugo's CEO Juha Usva did an interview with Finnish MTV3 this morning, you can watch it here (in Finnish).
The Dopplr Frequent Travel SIM card is available in both Dopplr’s and MAXroam online shops (although Dopplr's shop just links to the latter). It is promised to work in 170 countries on 450 mobile networks. According to Cubic Telecom’s CEO Pat Phelan with MaxRoam’s SIM card one can save at minimum 70% on mobile travel bills.
Dopplr allows making of travel plans and sharing them with friends to highlight overlapping visits of same cities at the same time. Cubic Telecom offers a variety of mobile network services starting from infrastructure backend. Dopplr has also some other travel products available in its shop, for example Offbeat travel guides. A somewhat limited offering still, but likely growing quickly.
Sauma Technologies, the developer and publisher of browser-based Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG), secures EUR 500,000 (USD 685,000) funding from Finnish state agencies Tekes and Finnvera, as well as the Nordic Game Program.
Sauma CEO Andreas von Koskull says “We are very proud of having secured seed funding for our game platform and our first self-published game “Hours of War”, a war simulation strategy MMO game, despite the global finance crisis [...]"
Securing funding is not a minor task in anysituation, but it's good to remember that the liquidity crisis hardly affects Tekes or Finnvera, which are both government run institutions with annual budgets that do not follow the market sentiments. If anything they would've probably been designed to act as counter cyclical stabilizers if the sructure would've allowed it. When you find a private investor for yourself it is relatively easy to get VeraVenture funding, which is operating under Finnvera. And once you get that deal sealed, you're good to go talk to Tekes who will normally double your money with their support. And it seems that Nordic Ministers for Culture, representing Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, are financially behind the Nordic Game Platform.
Having said that, securing funding is always a major feat for a startup and we want to congratulate the great people at Sauma for pulling this off. The game that the funding was granted for, Hours of War, MMO, a social network and a rich-media gaming experience, played through the Web browser, will be introduced in early Q1. During 2009 the Sauma team plans to expand the mass-niche war strategy franchise “Hours of War” to other platforms, as well as to develop other game franchises with a focus on a more casual audience.
The business models for the games vary but include free-to-play, monthly subscription, pay per play, micro-transactions as well as advertising revenue models, depending on the game and game audience. The browser-based MMO game industry is growing rapidly, combining a rich gaming experience with social networks. According to Sauma the massively multiplayer online games market in large is currently standing at EUR 1.6 billion.
Zokem automates lifestreaming from mobile phones, sharing everything possible: status, location, calendar, calls made, calls received, sms sent, sms received, and other relevant information to all major web services (including Facebook, Friendster, Fire Eagle, Friendfeed, Last.fm and Twitter), and directly to friends’ mobile phones.
Zokem is able to find the user geo-location automatically (running on the background of the phone) based on GPS, cellular network and WiFi hotspot triangulation, and contextual tags such as Bluetooth devices. The concept has been in development since 2006, the service being currently in closed beta with a public beta launch within two months.
After installing Zokem, it automatically tracks locations, status, movements, communications, media consumption, travel, calendar appointments, and other activities from the user’s daily life. In addition, users can share photos and send blog entries with the application. The degree of data show to contacts can so far be set for two groups: The public Internet (e.g. Facebook) and Friends (that you have invited to Zokem), the group functionality is under development. Thus a more more granular segmentation is still waiting for itself. I believe this is a crucial feature in any social network let alone in one that shows every single call you make and to whom it's made.
According to Meri Kupiainen, Zokem COO, “Zokem is much more than just location sharing or micro-blogging. Effectively it is one integrated application doing all this, generating and sharing your comprehensive life feed openly to all major web services and to your friends, securely and automatically". Nice, but is yet-another-lifestreaming-service necessary along with Jaiku (which goes open source), Bloggy.se, Twitter, Facebook lifestream and Loopt?
According to the founders the idea is not to create yet-another-lifestreaming-service. The user interface is still very rough and busy, except the iphone one, but as Kupiainen explained, the main idea of the service is not to get all the users spend their time under Zokem domain, but to push the information to other services.
Zokem wants it's application in mobile phones to automatically inform you of interesting facts regarding your social network, something the other services do not provide yet to the extent that Zokem aims to do it. For example, Zokem automatically pops up a message, when any of your friends appears in the neighborhood, or if your friends are commenting something. In addition, Zokem can provide, for example, automatic weather forecasts related to your current location, regular notifications regarding locations of children or seniors, and informative wikipedia articles when you travel to new locations abroad. Zokem reminds me of Nokia's vision that they came out with a good while ago with its emphasis on geo-data. This might not be such a bad strategy for Zokem if they're looking for an early exit.
If the founders are not aiming for an early exit, viable business models don't stop there. Selling user data or providing extremely targeted advertising based on the pipeful of information that the software collects from the users while it pipes it to the other services can be very valuable.
According to Kupiainen, Zokem’s team is already building the next version of the service, being able not only to share lifestreams in real-time, but also to predict near-future events and locations based on historical data (e.g. movement paths) or calendar information. This, while being rather scary if not properly managed and if the users are not properly educated on the possible implications, has a very big up side that many have talked about for years. This could be a big breakthrough as well as an enabler for other apps and services. Having said that, at the same time we're starting to approach the very problematic scenario that Adam Greenfield describes in his book Everyware, where he outlines the extreme complexity to which ubiquitous-computing deliverables will expose us, as users.
We have 50 beta invites for the first 50 who will send an email to customerservice-at-zokem-dot-com with and put 'ArcticStartup' in the subject line.
ArcticStartup has partnered with Grand One, a competition for the Finnish new media scene to shine and glamour with their year's work. We are the chairman of the newly founded category: best startup (Finnish only, sorry).
If you're a Finnish startup, do take part. We managed to negotiate the participation price down to 50€ per company, instead of the 100€ for the other categories. You're asked to create a application page on the web with the necessary details; description of your product or service, the business model you are going after for the money as well as information on the userbase and how you see the market. The finalists will be announced by 6th of March and the winner will be presented in the gala in Apollo Restaurant on the 16th of March.
Finnish startups - submit your work!
Fruugo, the ambitious Finnish e-commerce startup (see our previous coverage) has announced (see Reuters' press release Tarmo Virki's interview news below) the company is on track to launch closed beta still in January, as stated previously. The service will next open in Sweden by early February. The public opening is planned for April, while the news does not specify in which countries it will be available.
Siilasmaa states in the press release interview they "are working to create a European marketplace, so that all those merchants would find all those consumers and all consumers would find all those merchants." Fruugo has said before the company wants to be the trusted 3rd party of e-commerce. Based on the latest press release news, this means Fruugo aims to unite the online shopping market by opening a "one-stop mall" for Europeans (Europe is the firm's main target market for now, as it has declared before as well). Fruugo will have hundreds of links to different online stores available in its mall. This explains why the company has been using user experience and website optimization and monetization consults. The initiative could certainly become something big if the company is able to execute the vision.
The addressable market is around EUR 60 billion ($79.50 billion), the company states, half of the total online shopping market in Europe last year. As Fruugo stated in the autumn, it targets all consumer durables and content sold in physical boxes. According to the news, there are some 30 merchants currently integrated with Fruugo, while further 100 in the process. The merchants carry brands like Lego, L'Oreal, IBM, Nokia, Adidas, Lacoste and Nike.
The big question speculated a long time has been, what is the business model? Fruugo now states it does not collect any sign-up or monthly fees from the merchants, it only charges transaction commissions. Fruugo's business model is said to mix "online retail with search and price comparison capabilities", and in addition, social networking, which allows consumers utilize their online networks when seeking the best shopping deals. There isn't more information given on the last point, but it certainly sounds interesting if Fruugo has created some way of utilizing social search (cf. Google speculations) while shopping for products, which might lead to much more relevant search results and recommendations.
Just recently, to add to Fruugo's well-known board members Nokia chairman Jorma Ollila and founder and chairman of F-Secure Risto Siilasmaa, Kim Ignatius has joined the company's board (the news in Finnish). Ignatius is Director of Finance and Administration in the Finnish international Sanoma media group, while he served before as Finance Director of TeliaSonera, the biggest mobile carrier in the Nordics. In the same General meeting the board also allowed usage of stock options. Sanoma has been very active in the past years buying internet and media startups so we will see if the corporation plays any role with Fruugo.
Apparently Fruugo's cash position is healthy after all, as the owners are reportedly not after quick profits - Siilasmaa states confidently "The day will come when this firm is cash flow positive."
See full press release interview news below.