Before heading off for a summer break with our podcast, we wanted to talk to Vytas Paukštys of Eskimi about their business, which isn't all that usual for a Baltic or for that matter a Nordic startup. Eskimi is doing business in Nigeria and Ghana mostly, but has users from other parts of the African continent as well.
And how exactly are they doing? Fantastically, in short. They have some 7.7 million registered users and they're showing more than 1 billion ad impressions a month. In the last month, they signed up a million new users to their service. This company is definitely taking off.
We're also going to be taking a small summer break after this episode. We'll be back with more interviews in August.
We had mentioned Stardoll a couple of weeks ago regarding them counting days till they hit the 100 million member milestone. Another milestone that they hit over time was their 5th birthday. Yesterday Stardoll announced that they had been operational 5 years. It is worth noting that in 5 years, they have reached a 100 million members, something not many others are able to do.
Facebook's grip on Europe is by far not complete. According to the recent analysis from Casual Games Association presented by i-Jet Media (the biggest game publisher in Russia and Eastern Europe), Europeans still prefer local social networks to Facebook. In Poland Nasza Klasa has 8 million users more than Facebook, in Germany VZ has 6 million more and Russia's Vkontakte and Odnoklassniki together have a mighty 104 million users compared with 1,6 million Russians who've joined Facebook. Thus, Europe's 30 social networks altogether boast 180+ million users, which is 24 million more than Facebook has in Europe.
Finland's biggest directory service Fonecta has made an undisclosed "strategic" investment into social yellow pages service Tupalo.com, run by an Austrian startup. Finland marks the beginning of the service's Scandinavian expansion. For Fonecta, this is a step into getting involved with social media technologies for directory services. Tupalo's service has now also been launched in Finnish.
Note: this is our periodical blog sponsor message.
Zokem is a mobile communications and lifecasting startup that enables users to automatically share their daily activities to their friends’ mobile phones, to the Internet and to social networking services, such as Facebook and MySpace.
Mentory is a new global mentorship community from Denmark, targeted for match-making between mentors and protégés. In addition to matching people for the traditional one-on-one mentoring relationships, the web service allows for open "mass-mentoring" among the whole network. The key target users are businesspeople and entrepreneurs.
CorrectMyText.com is a new social web service from Moscow, Russia. The service is built to help people learn foreign languages with the help of others online.
Everyplay, a Finnish social gaming startup founded last year, has come out of stealth mode and released a product called Kamu World on Facebook. It is a "virtual hangout place" featuring edgy "Kamu" characters ('kamu' also means 'a buddy' in Finnish).
Kamu World in its current form is essentially a collection of visualized virtual characters and chat rooms, with few game-like features. It has compelling and very polished look and feel already, though. When entering the world, players create their own Kamu creature, and choose a location around the world (e.g. a game arcade in Tokyo) to meet other Kamus in. Kamus appear as small, desktop-size creatures, smaller than for example a drinking glass.
Russian social networking site Odnoklassniki.ru has hit 30 million registered users, according to Quintura. Odnoklassniki is a relatively young social network, only 3 years old. The site was launched in March 2006.
Odnoklassniki has some interesting statistics as well. It has about 8 million visitors each day. Odnoklassniki's biggest competitor in the Russian market is Vkontakte, which has some 28 million registered users and 1.4 billion pageviews per day. According to the Russian TNS Web Index Vkontakte had 13.09 million visitors a month, which is slightly higher than Odnoklassniki's monthly audience.
The Russian social networking market is the fourth largest in Europe after UK, Germany and France.
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)
gogoyoko is a startup building a new social music marketplace, founded by a group of artists, who after years of selling music got tired of middlemen eating most of the sales revenues. The company is based in Reykjavik, Iceland. gogoyoko's music service was launched in closed Alpha on November 15, and is said to be launched in March 2009.
gogoyoko offers a platform for artists and audience to interact around music. Most importantly, naturally, it is possible to buy music from the service. gogoyoko creates a direct channel between the end users and artists, letting artists price their own music and keep 100 % of the sales revenues (after transaction costs). The music files will be DRM free.
An interesting feature is that via gogoyoko's custom web player, users will be able to stream tracks and albums for free, which is apparently supported by ads (sounding similar to Spotify). gogoyoko states they pay artists and right holders 40% of the advertisement revenue made from the streaming of their music. Also, each artist can get an own customized store and music player, which can be embedded to the artist's own blog and homepage, or any other site.
There is more than just a music store, however. Each artist can create a personal site, and allow the users to view latest news, blog entries, newsletters, discography, pictures, and videos while visiting the store. Artists will also be able to enter gigs, which will be placed on the service's map. gogoyoko plans to provide also mobile access to the map in the future. The visitors and fans can also contribute to the community by rating and reviewing songs, blogging, and even getting their articles published in gogoyoko's own online Music Magazine. gogoyoko will publish the Music Magazine announcing for example new releases, exclusive interviews, reviews, and special offers.
Similarly to Equal Dreams covered earlier, with gogoyoko an artist can also choose to automatically donate 10 % or more of their revenues to specific charity organizations, while the consumers can also choose to donate a sum of their choice. gogoyoko promises to donate 10% of its advertisement income to their partner international charity and environmental organizations.
gogoyoko boasts it offers artists the control of the sales, promotion and distribution of their music at single location without middlemen. This setup is becoming more and more used in different content services (online games, iPhone apps, etc. etc.), and of course offers the artists maximum the revenue, but on the other hand, it also hands them over all the work. Especially if you are not a professional artist and make music on your free time, the question is whether you're able to devote enough time to market yourself to generate sales. Probably some lucky ones will get lots of fans by almost by accident, but the majority will probably would have to spend considerable amount of time marketing themselves to generate fan base and revenue. And that's time away from creating new music, so the question is what will be the best trade-off these kinds of direct-to-consumer services can offer?
XIHA is a Finnish startup developing XIHA Life, a multilingual social media platform and an online community targeted at people living outside their home country, and the multilingual people around the world. XIHA invites users of any language, but adjusts the user experience to each user so that they only see automatically the content they understand. Despite the current economic climate, XIHA has raised a significant amount of risk capital from a Chinese VC.
Jani comments it's hard to find risk capital in Finland to support global growth. According to Jani the Finnish VC's thought the risk was too big. Out of the international VC's Jani thought Chinese were the best, as they have both money and vision.
The amount of investment was not disclosed. However, the amount is rather significant, as the founder and CTO Jani Penttinen says with it the company will open offices in the US, Switzerland, and China, and will hire ten more people, developers and business roles, to achieve 24h global operations. Another ten will be hired later depending on the economical climate. There is also more money coming if certain growth targets will be hit. XIHA has strong Chinese roots due to Jani working in the country, and Jani's spouse Sun Xiaowen being Chinese. "Xiha" means 'fun' or 'happy' in Mandarin Chinese, and also 'Hip-Hop' in Cantonese.
As of now, XIHA is still losing money, but the goal is to get to profitability by the end of the year. So far the main income source has been downloadable games, but XIHA is planning to expand to other digital products as well. Below is a quick interview with Jani Penttinen from Slush Helsinki.
Concilio Networks is a Finnish startup offering a solution that allows users of normal existing handsets to import their internet contacts from social networks.
In effect, Concilio Networks’ Community Connect Solution (CCS) extends Internet communities, social networks and Internet voice- and chat services to any existing mobile handset.
CCS is designed to work with every mobile handset with no need to install any application software to the handset. Instead, normal mobile phone functionalities are used as such to access the services.
In an interview with Social Networking Watch, Concilio Networks CEO, Kristian Järnefelt, informed that the company is currently beta testing with a solution for Google Talk and that they have Facebook and Microsoft Windows Live Messenger support coming out in late 2008. After that it's MySpace's and Bebo's turn. He also added that they are keenly looking at OpenSocial due to the significant upside of bringing many social networks within one.
According to Mr. Järnefelf the company is build on the idea that Internet services could be connected with mobile handsets. A great idea, except that increasingly the handset can already do this with a decent user experience without a need for a third party. For example when talking about iPhone apps I am not sure if receiving status messages via SMS add value or whether it's just easier to tap the app icon and see all of the updated status messages with a glance and a flick of a finger.
I understand that this might sound like a very lucrative opportunity on paper for the mobile service providers to increase ARPU when they are struggling to differentiate themselves from being just a fat pipe for the data. But now when the iPhone started the 'arms race' for a satisfactory user experience I am not sure how thrilled the consumers are for paying extra fees in the form of higher phone bills just to add a middle man between the social networks and the carriers.
I am not suggesting that everyone will inevitable have an iPhone, but that is the direction the browsing experience is heading whether we are talking about iPhone, Nokia, Android, and so on. This does not happen over night, but nor does Concilio Networks have their software running on carrier routers any time soon as they are currently running their first pilot running with Telefónica Móviles in Spain.
When it comes to chatting, sending messages and calling over the Internet there is already Fring, even though admittedly the user needs to download a client to use it.
If Concilio Networks aims to beat the already existing solutions such as Fring and add something extra to the experience the sole handsets will soon offer their solution needs to be dead simple and unbelievably easy to use.
Concilio Networks is one of the companies which has been chosen to attend the Nordic Venture Forum taking place today in Copenhagen, Denmark. I will be also there talking to startups and investors. If you're attending, don't hesitate to come and talk to me.
OtaSizzle is a new mobile social media test environment project founded in Otaniemi, Espoo (home of Helsinki University of Technology TKK). OtaSizzle will include an open experimentation environment for testing mobile social media services. The purpose is to create prototype mobile social media service platforms and study them with extensive field tests, coupled with quantitative measurements and qualitative analysis.
The aim is to build a living lab environment of thousands of users in Otaniemi, with extensions in greater Helsinki. The users will be able to try out and develop own new social media services. The Otasizzle environment is also open to different research institutes and firms that want to develop and test their services. The OtaSizzle consortium is coordinated by Helsinki Institute for Information Technology HIIT. One target is also to create a "packaged" experimentation environment, "SizzleLab" concept, which can also be extended elsewhere.
The first service created is called Ossi, which is targeted to students of TKK. The students will get free mobile broadband service to connect and contact each other. The purpose is to study what kind of ways of keeping in contact the students will favor. (See also video (in Finnish) describing the new service.)
The OtaSizzle project is part of TKK's MIDE (Multidisciplinary Institute of Digitalisation and Energy) program, which purpose is bringing together the expertise of various fields of engineering to generate new thinking in all fields of technology. Apparently different corporations and associations fund MIDE with over 20M euros.
The reasoning behind the new initiative is that social media services on mobile phones have the potential to become as popular as text messages if designed and implemented correctly. Thus prolonged empirical tests with large user bases are necessary according to the researchers.
I certainly agree research's needed in the area, and it all sounds quite good (not least for the participating students who get the free mobile broadband). But I wonder if there's really a need for a new separate test environment? There are already quite a big bunch of real mobile social networks (e.g. mig33, Zyb and countless others), which could be researched as well. You may be able to get more quantitative data from the test environment easier, but how real will that be? Will users use the service actively so that you can draw generalizations out of it? Considering at least the first users will be entirely students of technology, I'd expect the results to be "slightly skewed" compared to the population as a whole. Also I'd imagine the students would rather like to use a service which their outside friends can log into as well (then again the joke goes the technology students aren't really in contact with the outside world...).
If the service platform enables the normal users do quick mockups and mashups using some simple tools, then there might be some really good value in there. I'd love to get some additional insight on this.
ENCA is a Finnish social network that helps people to collect and swap euro coins and other euro numismatics.
ENCA aims to be the ultimate language agnostic Social Network for coin collectors. It lets its users to swap euro coins in their own language. Say you're a Parisian coin collector who does not speak (or does not want to speak) any other language. In the future ENCA aims to translate your postings into all the 23 European languages currently spoken in the EU. Out of those 23 languages, currently the service can do only Finnish, French and English and the team is working on German and Spanish. All together ENCA has information on over 1200 coins in it's database at the moment.
One could argue that ENCA is a combination of Wikipedia, Ebay and Facobook in the world of coin collecting. It achieves to be informative in nature when acting as a Ebay like broker, but at the same time bringing in a Social Network like dimension.
ENCA is coded in PHP on symfony-framework and for database it uses MySQL.
The project was started in late 2006 by an enthusiastic Finnish coin collector, who got the idea when the euro was introduced as a common currency across the chosen EU countries. He played with the idea for years before settling for a social network around coin collecting. Once started he got quickly a strong group of business savvy people involved, namely Jarno Anttalainen (CEO at Syväjohtaminen / DeepLead Ltd.), Taneli Tikka (CEO at RunToShop, COO at Dopplr to name a few) and Ville Karkkolainen (CEO at Triventum). See more on the team here.
ENCA's business model is three fold:
- Premium services for users
- A percentage cut from the coins sold via ENCA (yet to set up).
- Targeted marketing
The market size for coin collecting is significant. There are about 2 million active euro coin collectors world wide and the value of euro-numismatic market is annually around 2 billion euro. Ebay already by itself has over one million euro items on sale each year with an estimated average price of 20 euro a piece.
Coin collecting market is promising, but the real upside is in multiplying the ENCA model and platform to another niche markets, say stamp collecting, books, wines etc. The same platform will bend easily into a any such Social Network platform by just changing the look to go with the respective niche.
ENCA's foundation is unusual and different from the way Finnish companies are normally born. As ENCA's founder did not have much money or assets to back up a major loan, nor did he want to resort to institutions such as Tekes with its high bureacratic hurdles, he needed to figure another way to raise the money. ENCA has altogether 34 investing partners and all of them fall in either Friends, Fools or Family category. One investment might not be more than one or two thousand euro, but all together they add up.
This is a financing model that's much used for example in Sweden and US and one would hope we'd see more of that in the Nordics and Baltics as well. This model enables one to do a proto of the service or product one wishes to bring to market. The proto makes the idea much more concrete and thus gives the service a lot bigger chance of getting the Business Angels or VC funds interested to further develop the product with the team.
ENCA is just out of Beta and one still needs to have an invitation from a member to join the social network. Regardless, the guys at ENCA were nice enough to give all our readers a possibility to sign up here. Happy coin collecting.
Xiha Life, a Finnish based multilingual social network, got mentioned yesterday by both: TechCrunch and Mashable (here and here respectively). Regardless of the quality of traffic that a company's web page receives when it gets TechCrunched or mentioned by any other major news service this gave Xiha Life a welcome publicity boost in the US market
The main reason of this sudden interest towards Xiha is its public launch in US, which took place yesterday.The second and we believe equally compelling reason is their new Music section, which will challenge other social networks going after the less known artists who are determined to climb to the mainstream from the long tail, thus competing with the likes of MySpace.
Xiha has more than a decent user base for an organically grown social network from the Nordics: 500,000 monthly users worldwide. We wish the best of luck to Jani and rest of the Xiha Life team in conquering the rest of the world's multilingual population.