Helsinki has another Fashion startup popping up within its borders. StyleLoving is a new social startup that helps you collect the fashion items you find in one place. It feels close to Pinterest, in the sense that members collect items and follow friends, but is more focused towards clothing, accessories, and the fashion blogging community that surrounds it.
StyleLoving was created by Helene Auramo, co-founder of Finland’s most popular blogger community, Indiedays. “I needed a convenient place to store my online finds. I also wanted to share my finds with others and talk about them,” Auramo explains. “As we are inspired by style finds of bloggers and other fashion forerunners, I wanted to see pictures of their outfits on the same platform with the products.”
The independent Finnish Internet is in a pretty sad condition when looking at the number of quality destinations let alone ones with significant traffic. There are two categories of websites that prosper however: Fashion blogs and knitting blogs (cooking, we believe, is also coming fast). Now a group of people have figured out that the former can also be a quite lucrative business if you collect all the eyeballs under one roof. Indiedays is exactly a destination like that. It's a portal and a platform for Finnish fashion blogs with 21 independent fashion bloggers and 19 fashion blogs.
The blogs have been ported from their old domains and now run on the Indiedays platform which is essentially a Wordpress blog. The company will place brand advertising on the portal landing page as well as to the individual blogs and is very likely going to sell their own advertising. The niche can be profitable and one of the easiest to monetize, but there are clear limits how big such a business can be in Finland. The 19 top Finnish fashion blogs will pull altogether roughly 100K unique weekly visitors, which is a clearly a very valuable audience for any fashion or beauty brand but won't scale into a business which for example Weblog Inc. had and what AOL is currently busy building. The best performing individual blogs currently have 20K to 30K weekly unique visitors.
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.
Three Finnish Jaiku fans have created a service called Twitbear that describes itself as "enabling conversations around tweets". Antti Akonniemi, CEO of Kisko Labs, Kai Lemmetty, co-founder of Floobs and Helene Auramo, CEO of Zipipop came up with the service after Jaiku had started crashing fairly often after Google announced it would pull the plug from it las January.
The service itself is based around threaded communication and is currently in closed beta. At the moment, it pulls tweets from Twitter and adds the comments to the service itself - enabling the threaded communication that many other services have tried to pull off, inluding Tweetree. In essence it is a microblogging platform that pulls part of its data from Twitter. According to the creators of Twitbear - services like Friendfeed are too manyfold and difficult to use, something that many former Jaiku fans can agree with, I'm sure.
Only a handful of users have received invitations to the service and each registered user is given 5 invitations to share. It's nice to still see innovation around threaded conversations, something that remains to be tackled with a proper service. Jaiku had a good try at it, but with Google buying the service - development came to a halt. I've personally noticed many Finns beginning to use Brightkite, a service similar to Jaiku. It remains to be seen which will be the service that will take off outside Twitterdom - or do we need one?
There has been lively discussions of whether the many web conferences are really the most effective use of time for a startup. Similarly many people see the value in these conferences very differently, for example people from the United States tend to spend most if not all their time networking in the lobbies and hallways, at least more so than the Europeans are used to. We, the Europeans, on the other hand, tend to pay equal attention to the speakers at the stage.
At ArcticStartup we believe that meeting friends and strangers, as many as possible, is the best way to spend your time in these conferences. But that's just us. Thus, we wanted to know what other startups think and decided to ask a group of Finnish startups, who travelled to the LeWeb with us, what they think. Here are some perspectives:
Reporting live from TechCrunch Brunch in Helsinki the morning following Slush. The theme for the morning's panel discussions are the implications of regionality and unique features in the Nordic startup scene.
The event was kicked off by Mike Butcher from TechCrunch UK and Ville Vesterinen from ArcticStartup, chatting a bit about Slush, its background and the Nordic startup environment in general.
The panelists (from left to right in the picture below):
Kai Lemmetty, Founder of Floobs
Janne Waltonen, Marketing director Fruugo
Mark Sorsa-Leslie, Managing director of Hammerkit
Jussi Laakkonen, CEO and president Everyplay.com
Leo Koivulehto, Co-founder and chairman, TripSay
Mike set the scene asking how the panelists see the startup scene in the Nordics, whether the environment is going to stay a tough place to do a startup due to relatively high living costs, difficulties with angel and VC funding etc. A few highlights below.
Mark stated he moved from the UK three years ago, and has been impressed with enthusiasm people have, the great engineering skills, and the passion to get things done in a practical manner. Janne continued the people in Nordic countries are quite modest, which is somewhat hindering international expansion
Janne mentioned the Nordic market's been traditionally about local startups thinking of local markets (Swedes being maybe somewhat different), which should end. As Janne put it, we really have all it takes if we have the will to take over.
Peter Vesterbacka commented the downturn is a perfect time to start a company as you have less competition and could be able to take over a lot of the potential customers in a swift. Furthermore, it's perfect to start in the Nordics, as "if you can make it in the slush you can make it anywhere". The current global economic environment it's actually not even that much different from the "normal" challenges up here.
Mike commented in London the startup world is focusing nowadays on revenues much earlier in the game. According to Janne startups should start marketing as soon as possible, and not really wait until their product is "ready". Traditionally the startups have relied perhaps too much on virality (beta invites etc.). Janne compared his experience between Fruugo and two Swedish startups he's been in, and noted Fruugo has really concentrated on not showing anything in public before they are sure their technical back-end is top notch, whereas the Swedish ones were really open since the beginning without even much knowledge about the technical side.
Stephen Lee from Muxlim added, as an American who's lived in Finland for 10 years, that the governmental systems supporting startups are built around the concept of startups having to prove themselves in Finland first, before getting further money to go abroad. According to Stephen this model doesn't really work anymore, and the organizations (and startups) should turn their focus on going global from the beginning.
Jussi answered arguing the Finnish game industry has gone global since the very beginning. Nowadays the industry is healthy and buzzing with 50+ companies with over 90% export ratio, so it's been proved already we can make it from here. Jussi continued the process for pitching a game concept to a games publisher is really similar to pitching a company to VCs, so there are people who have been pitching successfully and know their stuff.
The second panel focused around the topics of finding funding and how to cope in the downturn market.
The panelists (from left to right):
Helene Auramo, CEO and partner of Zipipop
Heikki Mäkijärvi, Venture parter of Accel Partners
Mohamed El-Fatatry, Founder and CEO of Muxlim
Joakim Achrén, founder of IronStar Helsinki
Kristoffer Lawson from Scred
The panel kicked off going through the current status of the startups - Scred and Zipipop are bootstrapping and looking for funding. Mohamed told Muxlim got very well seed money from Finnish angels, which are quite active and willing to help, but for big rounds the money is difficult to get and momentum can be lost. Muxlim run through 500 international VCs in 6 months, and finally landed with one from Sweden.
Regarding the economy, Heikki from Accel Partners encouraged startups to look critically their business in the current economic situation - if the customers are not buying, it may be worthwhile to stop and rethink the business plan, rather than waiting for a sale or better times. They've had very good experiences of startups finding a great business model by refocusing this way.
Heikki also commented they are being more careful about the investments currently. He argued in the early stage companies the team is the most important thing, so that the investors can trust the team knowing what they're doing. Heikki also went on explaining one notable difference with Finnish startups compared to Silicon Valley is in the executive team. The ideas are typically good, but the executive teams are much more juvenile than in the Valley, whereas the board is typically very experienced. So Heikki would rather see people like the board members doing the execution, mentioning he'd like to see people learning business in big global firms, and then establishing startups in their 40s. He explained while you can build a good startup regardless of your age, in the end it will take great skill in execution to take a startup from 5 Million to 10M, and futher to 50M in revenues.
There has been much talk around Slush lately. Yet, it has not yet been very clear at all what is happening and I'm partly to blame. Now I try to shed some light onto the issue and at the same time invite you all to Slush.
In a nutshell Slush is a new Helsinki originated event for startups by startups. The whole process started when I along with a few others passionate about the subject were trying to brainstorm on how to give a boost to the Finnish startup scene, home and abroad. We had an idea that a bigger annual event might be the answer for the lack of visibility among Finnish startups in the global arena. If nothing else, we saw that such an event was missing from the Finnish startup fabric.
After throwing ideas back and forth for while I, Peter Vesterbacka (of Mobile Monday fame) and Kai Lemmetty (of Floobs) came up with an event that would show the best Finland has to offer, once a year every year. Later on Helene Auramo from Zipipop jumped along to bring her positive energy to the team and give it an even stronger startup perspective. Peter came up with the name Slush and so it started.
Finnish summer can be an amazing experience with its nightless nights, but there's also the dark winter we live with the other six months. Thus, any startup born in Finland have equal number of slushy and dark Novembers in their DNA as they have those warm sunny Julys. Many say the one quality a startup needs above all is perseverance against adversity and out of all the languages Finnish is the one that has its own word for describing just that. The word is Sisu and I believe that it has much to do with Finns pushing through those dark slushy winter months. Thus, an apt name especially for a startup event. Having said that, I believe this is the case with startup DNA all over the Nordic and Baltic countries.
After finding the right people to take on the challenge we were ready to start working. What we really aim to do is light up the startup scene, namely by showing students what entrepreneurship can be at its best, and show the international crowd that there is much more to Finnish startups than the tip of the iceberg they've seen so far. Naturally big part of the whole event is to enable the Finnish entrepreneurs meet not only each other but also investors and other businesses from home and abroad.
We know there's a plethora of events that are not working as well as they could for the entrepreneurs themselves, and thus we decided that everything we do should be done in the interest of the startup scene in mind. If something is in conflict with that focus, it will be scrapped from the agenda. For startups by startups or nothing.
Now we are at a point where the website is up and running so we can tell people about the event, invite them along and spread the word. Even the fact that the website leaked out half ready turned out to be only beneficial, since many people wanted to help out. For example the nice guys at Valve volunteered to help out right away. I've also heard that the Bolder guys are ready to do their part and Scred has promised to make the actual platform for selling tickets for the event.
- Success Stories - This is were we have the Finland's finest web entrepreneurs lined up. Risto Siilasmaa from F-Secure, Petteri Koponen from First Hop/Jaiku, Ilkka Paananen from Sumea/Digital Chocolate, Asmo Halinen from Apaja only to name a few of the entrepreneurs that have started small and made it big.
- Technology track - This is modeled on the Startup Developer Gathering (SDG), which was put together by Kai Lemmetty. For Slush Kai is putting together a tech presentation bar none. This track will go on all day and have many Finnish heavy weights like Teemu Kurppa (Jaiku/Google) presenting their insight for the Slush attendees.
- Thirdly, a showcase where up to 40 local startups can show what they have, be it products, services, their team, philosophy behind the concept and what not.
- Fourthly, probably the most important reason pulling the event together in the first place, we have seven pre-screened teams presenting their business ideas to the audience. These teams will be funded by the Slush Fund. The Slush Fund will be in effect just as big as the combined sponsorship revenue plus the proceeds from the sold tickets will allow it to be. In another words we will channel all the money from the event (minus cost e.g. rent for the venue etc.) to the seven teams. If you are a student with an idea for the next big thing you should apply. Instead of writing code and making coffee at one of the big corporations next summer, you could spend the summer of 2009 working on your own idea and have the expertise of most of the Finnish startup community to draw from.
In a nutshell this is Slush Helsinki. An event for startups by startups.
If the website seems that it does not give out all the details yet, it is by no means because we want to keep you in the dark but rather because we are working on the agenda as we go along to make it as good as resources and time allow. ArcticStartup will be naturally reporting what is happening at the event itself but also how the event is developing from now until the day itself in late November. Welcome to the Slush everybody!
Edit: There was a mistake saying October instead of November. The correct date for Slush is NOVEMBER 24th.
Helene Auramo, Zipipop CEO, hinted ArcticStartup that the colorful Finnish start-up is finally preparing for taking in investments.
Zipipop will head to San Francisco to present in Mobile 2.0 on the 3rd November after winning at the Mobile 2.0 Europe. This will also be a good change to kick-start the talks with potential investors on both sides of the Atlantic.
On a related note, we just heard that Zipiko CTO/CPO Stefano J. Attardi (Taro being the CTO of Zipipop in large) was approached by four(!) Bay Area startups to join their ranks. He interviewed with all of them but finally rejected all their offers to join Zipipop instead. Acrctic Startup congratulates Stefano for the choice.
Stefano told us that shortly after he joined Zipipop, Biz Stone, the Twitter co-founder, heard about him and asked him join Twitter. According to Stefano, Biz was "excited to speak to him" for a position as an interface designer and front-end developer. Stefano decided to turn down the offer.
Incidentally, another CEO wrote to him again last week renewing the offer he made earlier saying that they still haven't found anyone as good as Stefano. Stefano prefers not to name all the start-ups in question.
Stefano further explains that the reason he turned down the San Francisco offers was because he wanted to start a project of his own and Zipiko gave him the possibility to do that. He started Zipiko as a collaboration with Zipipop Creative Director Richard von Kauffman.
Here’s Stefano on Technology Gazette Podcast talking about Zipiko service, how it compares to Twitter and what they have in plans for the future.
Below you can find Zipipop's latest presentation (in Finnish).
Zipipop won the competition for the best Early Stage Start-up at Mobile 2.0 Europe in Barcelona. The winning service application was Zipiko (more about Zipiko here). The grand prize was an invitation to present at the next Mobile 2.0 event on 3 November in San Francisco – the home of Mobile 2.0.
Arctic Startup talked to Helene Auramo, Zipipop CEO, after it was announced that they would win. Here's Helene's feelings after the announcement:
During the seminar we were just working in the corridors, coding and other stuff.We would have wanted to listen to all the great presentations, but we just didn't have time. We were really nervous during the whole seminar and we were not expecting anything like this at all. When they announced that we won, we were just really surprised. After the winning we just went back to working, sending press releases and more coding. And after that some champagne and relaxing.
We come back on Monday to our new office in Museokatu, Helsinki, and then we will focus on developing Zipiko service even better. We are hoping to receive a lot of feedback that we can make it even better.
We want to thank also all "Mennäänkö Yhdelle?" users for their feedback that we could use to make Zipiko service as good as possible. We are so grateful for everyone who has helped us and giving us good advices.
We congratulate Zipipop for the great achievement so far! The service is in closed public beta and we're waiting to see how it will go down with the wider public when it opens up and whether Zipipop can lure enough advertisers to sign up.
Zipipop has been chosen to present their latest mobile service tomorrow in the Mobile 2.0 Europe in Barcelona. Mobile 2.0 Europe is a extension of the famous Mobile 2.0 event which started in San Francisco. The new service is called Zipiko and has been kept secret until the Mobile 2.0 Europe launch.
Zipiko is a quick and effortless way to see what your friends are doing and a way to invite them to your chosen venue whether it's it a local cafe or your own place for drinks, lunch or whatever you fancy. You can also see what your friends are doing throughout the day from the main page where it's only a matter of a few clicks to join an event, given that you're invited.
The service itself has born out of Facebook application Mennäänkö Yhdelle (Let's go for a one in Finnish) that Zipipop developed earlier on, where the best bits have been transferred to this new browser based mobile service.
I interviewed Zipipop CEO, Helene Auramo, after the festives had already started in Barcelona and she explained that "when you invite friends to a party they will receive an SMS to which they can then answer 'Yes' with a mere SMS. So the idea is that you don't necessarily have to access the web at all to tell that you're coming. And to make the experience complete one will receive a text message just before the event to know who else has answered 'Yes' to know who will eventually make it to the party" . Helene emphasized that the value of the service is in spontaneity and the ease of setting up a meeting on the fly.
Once you register to Zipiko you will receive 30 free SMS for organizing get-togethers, but in the long run Zipipop wants to bring in advertisers that would pay for the SMS messages, thus making the service free for the users. The advertisers would get their name on a discreet message at the end of the invitation SMS.
It seems that Zipipop has found a simple way to bring an aspect of a Jaiku/Twitter like service, SMS and Meetup together to organize spontaneous get-togethers . Now they only need to get the advertisers on board to pay for the SMS messages.
You can see a demo of the service here.
Techcruch also made a note about Mobile 2.0 Europe event and Zipko.
Zipipop (see our previous coverage) launched recently an English version of their "Mennäänkö yhdelle?" application in Facebook, now called "Going for one?". It's an application designed to make it easier to get your friends in the same place for a drink. Helene Auramo, CEO of Zipipop, provided us a bit more insight into the company's plans.
Helene comments it was clear from the beginning that if the application would fare well in Finland, they would produce an English version. The Finnish user interface has done the trick in getting the application to spread around, and it seemed right now was a good time to make the international debut.
Helene reveales Zipipop has actually used the Going for One? application as a demo for a bigger "Event Organizer", to learn about users' wishes and behavior. They were especially interested in learning how spontaneous small event organizing works with social media.
Then the obvious follow-up question, where's the money? Helene comments Zipipop is currently developing "creative advertising models" supporting the usability of the applications and providing thus added value for the users, as opposed to banner advertising. In addition Zipipop continues to make Facebook applications for other companies. Helene confirms Zipipop is profitable already, so seems they have been able to keep costs under control so far.
In the future Zipipop will be expanding into mobile. Going for One application is already usable on mobile, and according to Helene the main focus of development will be seen on that front. She also flashes iPhone as one of the target platforms, and the company is also looking into Open Social.
While the Facebook/social network sector can be a tough place to do business in, it's good to see brave activity there (and there are some good examples also). These days it seems everyone's up to creating different advertising models, though, but I hope Zipipop finds the correct mix. I also heard through the grapevine Zipipop has something to do with a Finnish technology consulting firm, who is among other things specialized ramping up startups and acquiring funding...maybe there's something coming up?
I did a small e-mail interview with Helene Auramo, HSE student, MA student in TAIK and CEO of Zipipop. Zipipop was founded July 23rd 2007, but Helene and Richard von Kaufmann had started planning the company some 9 months earlier. The young company has 5 Facebook applications as their products.
Helene, you're the CEO of Zipipop – what does Zipipop do?
We make social media applications that help make life easier, for example getting your friends together for drink. Our current focus is on Facebook, however, we are about to start developing for other social networks too. And we're always thinking about mobile possibilities.
At the moment most of our income comes from making custom applications for various clients. However, these are mostly based on our own Zipipop platforms. One example is the Laika application "What kind of dog are you?" inside Facebook. Laika Design is a cool Finnish company that produces bags and accessories with a dog theme.
Can you tell us how you went about starting the Zipipop – did you plan to do Facebook applications from day one or was that a result of some other decision?
I have a background in Helsinki School of Economics, but also in University of Art and Design Helsinki, in media lab. I met other two Zipipop partners; Richard von Kaufmann and Tuomas Laitinen in media lab. And the idea of Zipipop came in one UIAH's course together with Richard.
One Friday last summer we had our normal afternoon tea break, when we started to talk about Facebook and its applications. We had an idea that we should test the platform and create an application there. And one week later, we had the first version of Friends Pad online. We also thought that the Facebook platform might be suitable for spreading our other web-based software.
You started the company while studying – how well does studying and running a company mix together?
I just had one week holiday from Zipi office because I had to study. But otherwise I haven't been that much away from the office. However, I hope to graduate on June 2008 from HSE. At the moment I'm working days and trying to study on evenings and weekends. My thesis is also related to Zipipop.
Being in school at the same time has been good in the sense that we have received a lot of help from other students and teachers. And some courses have really given me good ideas related to running a business.
Thanks to Helene for the interview! Although there is a lot of capability to grow the business in a difficult industry, I'm glad to see people taking initiative already earlier on in their studies.