Ask.fm, the Latvian based social network that only let's you post when you are asked a question reached the 100 million users milestone last Monday. Since then, they have grown to 104 million users, as you can see on their page. They also announced that over 25 billion answers have been answers on the site to date, with over 1 billion being answered a month. That makes it one of the biggest social networks in the world, and they are just around the corner.
Let’s get one thing straight - advertising sucks. Not because it is bad on a moral level or because it is annoying. It is bad because it is just boring and outdated. The little innovation that did happen in the industry mostly revolved around better ways of tricking you into seeing ads. But then we saw this video:
Editor's note: This is a sponsored post in co-operation with Invesdor
If you have been following the recent crowdfunding developments, then you would probably agree that this year was the year of crowdfunding worldwide. Not only did the first part of the jobs act get passed, but the overall stats and growth speak for themselves.
This year, the global crowdfunding market is expected to hit $5.1 billion of which $166 million would be in equity crowdfunding. In 2012, the amount was $2.7 billion and $116 million respectively.
Personally I have been under attack on Youtube, Google Search, AdSense, banner ads and outdoor ads. To be honest, it worked, as I used the company to Transfer some of my hard earned cash to the USA and it worked without a hitch. Unfortunately, though, I can’t get the money back easily as you can’t use Transferwise to make the transfers from the US yet.
Fits.me dates back to 2009, when they have received their first round of cash from Arengufond, Webmedia AS and a number of angels. Since then, they have raised several more rounds and are currently one of the top startups in Estonia by the amount of capital raised.
The technology behind the company, robots that can take shape of any human size in order to show exactly how any given garment will sit on you before you purchase online, was always a little controversial.
Some people thought it was definitely the way of the future, however others were not quite so impressed by the developed and did not think the company stood a chance of success.
When we wrote about iZettle's partnership with Banco Santander, we mentioned that this is a big step for the company that will open doors to growth and expansion. Today, this is becoming a reality as iZettle announced its launch in Mexico today. Not a big deal, right? Wrong.
First of all, this is their first expansion outside of Europe, meaning that the company is on a path of growth in global markets. Strong presence in Mexico, the worlds 13th biggest economy, gives them the footing that the company needs to quickly spread across the Americas.
It hasn't been too long since we last covered Truecaller, but I love big numbers thrown around in the region, so drink this in. Stockhom-based Truecaller announced today that it sees more than half a billion name and number lookups each month from 13 million users. These user numbers is a pretty sizable jump from the 11 million users they announced just on Valentines day of this year - about a month ago.
Truecaller has apps available for iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry, and Symbian s40/s60 systems. This wide platform reach has made them popular in India, where most people are on unlisted pre-paid phone numbers that were impossible to keep track of before this new directory was created.
Today Stockholm-based Tictail became a story of tens. They've now hit 10,000 stores in 10 months, and count ten employees on their payroll. This growth is a sign that their hypothesis of becoming the "Tumblr of e-commerce" is working for them by making their platform completely free to use, beautiful, and dead simple to set up.
"We're not talking registered accounts, we're talking real online stores," says Carl Waldekranz, CEO of Tictail. "We also just brought out an interesting figure here. In the first quarter of 2013 our stores have sold as much as they did in the entire of 2012. And the thing to remember here is that is including the Christmas sales of 2012."
DigitalBooker has just hit the 1 million bookings mark, a big milestone for the somewhat Finnish company. It's had to pin down because the team is distributed all over the world - with CEO Fredrik Rönnlund based in Turku, Finland, with the rest of the team spread out between Singapore, Norway, and the UK.
The company has been around since 2007 but right now they see that they're starting to really grow. Currently their big customers are split equally between the hair/beauty sector and Yoga classes. An online booking solution is pretty straightforward, so we talked shop with Rönnlund about how they got to the 1 million mark.
Massive traction and growth is one of the most exciting and interesting periods of a startup's lifecycle, but it's safe to say most founders are unprepared to scale up their product quickly. We spoke with Vitaly Rubstein, a founder and partner at Rubylight, which is a startup fund and services company that works hands-on with companies about to enter this period. They take their experience from building the social networks Odnoklassniki.ru and One.lv.
For a short history, Rubylight was founded by the key architects of Forticom group, which twelve years ago created and ran their first Latvian social network One.lv. After some time they decided to create a "network of social networks" as an alternative to Facebook, which was growing rapidly at the time. There they started to do business in Lithuania, Russia, and Poland, uniting four social networks. Through that, they built Odnoklassniki.ru basically from scratch, which became Russia's second largest social network.
In Finland, I know I'm spoiled with fast and cheap data rates on my smartphone, but the rest of the world is catching up to the connectivity of Northen Europe. Blaast's approach to emerging markets is cloud based distribution and processing, which allows feature phones to behave more like smartphones. Their goal is to then provide higher level features and apps for "the next billion users" who cannot afford smartphones or high data rates.
The Helsinki-based company has today announced a few new operator partnerships in Asia, and promotes the growth they've already seen in Indonesia. We covered their launch last January, and found they offer an innovative platorm for feature phones.
Blaast today announces they have reached 4 million downloads, and have expanded the number of operators they've partnered with. Blaast now has access to an even larger pool of potential users, adding another 30 million subscribers to its network of 46 million users.
When I go abroad I like bragging to people how much the startup scene is popping in Helsinki right now. Just going to an event or talking to entrepreneurs you get the sense that a bigger movement is happening around you, and you can feel a palpable sense of energy in the air. But after telling someone about the Helsinki scene, I usually get asked what the big startups coming out of Helsinki are right now. And I hate to say it, but I really don't know what to tell them after that. "Uhh, Rovio?"
Its tough to remember how huge Rebtel is for an internet service, considering how dominant Skype is in the VOIP space. The Stockholm-based service just hit more than 17 million users, growing at 650 000 users a month. Customers are logging in over 1 billion minutes a year, with projections for an $85 million dollar run rate for 2012. That's not bad. The company tells us now they have released an iPad app that provides free Rebtel to Rebtel user calls, as well as calls to any phone for rates that can be up to 60% cheaper than Skype's.
TrueCaller is a Swedish startup that tries to eliminate the existence of unknown or unrecognized numbers. We've covered them before on ArcticStartup, but now they've reached a milestone definitely worth covering. The company got in touch with us to announce that they have reached 50 million monthly lookups of unknown numbers on their service. Users can both look up numbers through one of their different mobile apps or then through a web interface.
TrueCaller announced last week that they have reached one million downloads and users for their apps. Only a little over a month ago they announced they have 900 000 users, so the growth has been increasing dramatically in the recent months. TrueCaller is a called ID application for the iPhone, Android and Symbian phones. It has social media integrations and features such as call blocking against spam calls.
Editorial note: This is a guest post by Christian Arno, the founder and managing director of Lingo24. While the company is not from the Nordics nor Baltics, the story shares experiences on how Christian went on to create a multi-million dollar business internationally.
From having a simple business idea, to running your own international company is a world of difference, but with a good plan and a bit of courage you can take a leap of faith and put your ideas to the test.
The company titled its annual report for 2009 as a "Fantastic voyage" and having been at the press conference I can say the title is a big understatement on the story itself. The Switch is a 5 year old clean tech company building converters and generators for the wind energy industry. They have been in business for about 5 years and their first years (2005 and 2006) revenue wise were good - they made a few millions in turnover. In 2009 they turned over 96,5 million euros.
Kauppalehti reports on some fascinating results from research conducted by Balance Consulting on the effects of growth companies in the Finnish economy. While I realise this data is very Finland centric and might not be of that much interest to others - I am sure these results will resonate in similar manner in other countries. We wrote about this in 2008 as well and it seems that the data, some one and a half years later is still very valid. The study was conducted by looking at companies whose revenue is above 1,7 million euros annually and belong to the Balance Consulting corporate databse. While the database is very thorough, it does leave a lot of the younger startups out.
ArcticStartup is continually growing and want to offer more to our readers. Päivi is doing great job covering the clean tech sector, but we feel that there are still a lot of startups that deserve to get coverage.
That in mind we want to open applications for a full position for a writer who know the software industry's ins and outs. The emphasis is on business-to-business software (B2B), since historically that is the biggest exit market in the region and there is currently happening a lot in the space.
Naturally this means that you understand the technology and have an interest in the field. Ideally you would be interested in covering the larger Scandinavian and Baltic scene, but by no means is that a requisite. So if you swim deep in your home country's software startup scene, that's enough. If we find people in different countries interested in covering their own market, we might take on board more than one writer. We also see it as a big plus is you're willing to do a video interviews here and there. Again, you don't have to be a professional blogger or writer by any means: passion and industry knowledge is all it takes.
We can not pay you money at the moment, but as any startups we can offer you other perks along side with the high visibility you would naturally get as a profilic writer and a solid member of our editorial team. If you're still reading, are interested to become an integral part of ArcticStartup team and think you'd fit the bill, write to us at info[at]arcticstartup.com. We know there's a lot of talent in our readership and we'd love to hear from all of you!
The week's been way too busy and apologies for the lack of writing from me. However, I've been following the scene and been meeting people over lunch from the startup scene. I've heard a few interesting facts this week that I'd like to share with the readers here.
- NewsToScreen has been growing fast despite my earlier bashing. NewsToScreen is an aggregator of different feeds and activities that can be used to transmit information to large crowds. They now have 80 000 members and transmit 5-10% of Finnish online video and approximately 66% of Finnish commercial video. I also talked to their founder and CEO Marko Parkkinen about the usage of the product and he confirmed that they have slightly shifted the focus and are taking different approaches in capitalising it.
- RunToShop, the social shopping recommendation service, now has over 400 partners. We previously wrote about 150 partners in their network so the growth has been nice. Despite still having a long way to go to successfully integrate the service with these partners I'm glad to see companies also focusing on the commercialisation of their innovation.
- The Deloitte Fast 50/500 Finland list for 2008 is out. A familiar company is topping the list with a growth percentage of close to 3000% - Futurice. Futurice is a web and mobile production powerhouse located in Helsinki, Finland. Second on the list is OpenBit, a mobile payment provider we have covered previously as well.
I'll do some more digging into the Deloitte's list as there are a lot of interesting companies that need to be uncovered in terms of interviews.
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?
Finnish software cluster needs growth. That much was evident as the first seminar of Growth Forum 08 (in Finnish, Kasvufoorumi08) kicked off last week. The forum is an initiative lead by Microsoft Finland and Association of Software Entrepreneurs. The software industry has more than doubled its share of Finland's GDP over the last ten years. Yet there are few Finnish software (or strongly software-related) companies that have grown beyond 100 M€ in annual revenues.
The organizing parties had been able to gather influential backers from governmental level as well. Matti Vanhanen, prime minister of Finland, delivered the keynote speech. He had recently been to United States and had met top executives from Cisco, Google and Microsoft. Mr. Vanhanen said that Finnish government is taking steps to create a fertile environment for software businesses. For example, we can expect possible tax benefits on VC investments to growth companies. In addition, the whole public funding sector needs simplifying. Many panelists agreed that public funding should be concentrated on growth companies, not on entrepreneurs who are reluctant or incapable to grow.
Key problems of the Finnish software industry are: lack of mid-sized internationally competitive software companies and growth difficulties of companies that employ 50 to 100 people. Those companies find themselves in a very competitive global landscape while the domestic market in Finland no longer supports their growth. In addition, according to panelists too many companies still believe that "our product sells itself". When going international many companies would need a so-called "Finnsoftbroker", which would basically be a bridge between the local markets and Finnish companies. According to general opinion no organization yet fills that role.
Ok, so the software industry grows, but not fast enough. What to do? Panelists strongly believed that off-shoring is a strong opportunity, not a threat, to Finland. Finnish economy can never compete with Asian countries on sheer production force. Rather all Finnish software companies planning to go global or international should practice off-shoring from the start. Finland also has relatively few business angels, but currently there are increasingly more people with strong international expertise. These experts should be much more active in aiding startups and other growth companies by investing not money, but sweat equity. Naturally entrepreneurs themselves must aggressively seek out this kind of help and form at least an advisory board shortly after establishing their companies.
Furthermore, forum participants emphasized the need for patents, especially in the US. Mergers and acquisitions is a difficult way to grow and few Finnish companies have yet mastered it. Perhaps too many Finnish software companies get acquired. To build "new F-Secures" they should rather grow organically or do acquisitions themselves.
The forum continues throughout the year 2008. The next seminar is scheduled on June. In the meantime three theme groups (internalization, growth paths and financing) gather and try to come up with recommendations for the future of Finnish software. I participate in the "growth" group and I will be reporting its progress later on.
What do think, where is Finnish software cluster heading to? What needs to be done? Please share your views.