Elisa acquires Sulake

Elisa, the Finnish telecommunications and ICT services company, has acquired Sulake, the makers of Habbo. Sulake will continue as an independent company and will continue under the Habbo brand. Elisa previously owned 24% of the company, and has now increased its share to 85 percent.

Sulake has had a dynamic six months, to say the least. This summer they were covered on the UK's Channel 4 for the company's failure to police the platform for sexual content, and were labeled by the press as a "paedophile haven." This caused Balderton Capital to exit their 13% share, and 3i to later leave their 16% stake.

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Sulake's CEO - Paul LaFontaine Steps Down

“2010 was a record year for Habbo Hotel in many ways. Not only did we celebrate our 10 year anniversary, but our user base, sales and profitability continued to increase,” was a comment by the former CEO of Sulake - Timo Soininen back in 2011.

Since then, the company has been experiencing very rough times, receiving extremely bad press, closing down offices outside of Finland and laying off 2/3 of the workforce.

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Breaking: Sulake To Begin Talks To Reduce Workforce By Up To 2/3

Sulake, the Finnish creator of the Habbo, has announced it is starting a cooperation procedure - a Finnish legal procedure that must be followed after a large round of layoffs. Sulake currently has around 90 employees, and the potential layoffs will affect a "maximum of 60 people." Negotiations with employees will begin November 5th.

“The 12 language versions of Habbo Hotel will continue running as usual, but there will be considerable changes in the business operations” Sulake CEO Paul LaFontaine states.

“The competition in the market is fierce, and to keep the Habbo Hotel service running, it is necessary for us to make savings. Habbo Hotel returns to its roots and we will continue to entertain the millions of monthly users visiting the service. Sulake will also carry on developing the recently launched Habbo gaming platform, as the platform allows us to offer the Habbo users new, high quality content.”

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Sulake Renovates Habbo Hotel By Opening Platform To Third Party Games

Sulake is taking a pretty significant step to revitalize the Habbo Hotel brand by becoming an online platform for games. Their goal is to leverage their existing userbase to become almost like a mixture of Steam and Facebook, complete with in-game purchases, achievements, and the social features that keep users coming back.

To promote their new API, Sulake is now running a game development competition where they will give €5.000 to the winner, and €2.500 to the two runner ups. The competition is only to Finnish developers at first, which they say is to be sure that they have their API working perfectly and well documented before they have their global launch. The competition ends November 16th.

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Sulake's Biggest Challenge Yet

Sulake, the Finnish company behind Habbo Hotel that has some 10 million active users a month globally, has run into its biggest difficulties as a company so far. The company has seen its fair share of challenges in the form of financial difficulties that resulted in shutting down its country offices outside of Finland. Last night The Kernel broke the news that Channel 4 in the UK would reveal some very disturbing material regarding the teenage community. The Kernel titled their piece as "Habbo exposed as a paedophile haven".

Before airing the piece on Habbo Hotel, Balderton Capital confirmed to the BBC that they will exit their investment in the business at zero value. The investment firm held a 13% stake in Sulake which by even careful estimates would have been in the low tens of millions. Since the Channel 4 piece ran, Tesco and WH Smith have withdrawn the Habbo Hotel gift cards from sale in the UK.

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Sulake CEO LaFontaine Shares More About Third Party Games On Habbo Hotel

After news of layoffs at Sulake, the Finnish developer of the Habbo Hotel social community for teens, we spoke to CEO Paul LaFontaine, who told us that Habbo Hotel will further evolve into a platform on which third parties will be able to develop additional services. GamesIndustry International recently got up with Paul LaFontaine, where they discussed Habbo's market share and future plans with the service. The article is a good read if you're interested in the service, but below is a rundown of their stated plans.

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Sulake Revenue Grows +20%, Sells IRC-Gallery

Sulake has today announced their figures for fiscal year 2010, as well as some changes to their ownership of online properties. In 2010, Sulake turned over 56,2 million euros, which is over 20% more than in 2009. EBITDA for 2010 was at 5,4 million euros profit for the year was at 1,6 million euros. In addition to announcing their financials, Sulake has stated that they have today sold IRC-Gallery to Somia Reality Oy, which is run by a few former IRC-Gallery employees and funded by Lifeline Ventures and a few individual investors.

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Supercell Combines The Very Best In Finnish Gaming

Supercell is a relatively recently founded startup to say the least. It was founded in the summer of 2010 by gaming professionals with experience from Remedy, Digital Chocolate and Sulake. The team members have experience in publishing 165 games on 12 different platforms so I'm at ease to call this bunch a group of heavyweight veterans. But like real artists, these veterans can ship - today, they've released a roleplaying game called Gunshine.net. It's an isometric 3D game built on flash. Just to remind you, the company was founded a little over 6 months ago so they've achieved a lot. Gunshine.net takes place in the near future, in Dawnbreak City, of whose control Labycore mega-corporation and other opposition groups are fighting for.

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Habbo Hotel Continues To Register Success After Success: 200 Million Users And Counting

Habbo Hotel2010 was the best year for Habbo Hotel and I thought this would be one news regarding Habbo Hotel for quite some time to come. But success is not stationary and it continues to move ahead. The world’s largest teen virtual community and social game, Habbo registered its 200 millionth user just with the start of January. Quite a news since its tenth anniversary.

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Saul Klein On What Companies In The Nordics Make More Than $10 Million Annually

Quora has become a great source of information for entrepreneurs, and pretty much anyone interested in a specific topic. In short, Quora is a well executed question and answer service that is currently in beta. WIth this, they've been able to choose who they want to let in while this in turn has helped them keep the quality of the answers very high. Another interesting aspect of the service that startups should take notice of, is the people they've managed to get on board. You can find lots of famous startup CEOs there answering questions and helping people understand more about their companies. Enough about Quora though. There was an interesting question in Quora regarding which Nordic companies make more than $10 million annually and Saul Klein had answered it. He answered a similar question about companies based in London that interested a lot of people, so it's definitely interesting to look into this as well.

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Habbo Hotel's Triumphant 2010

Teenagers arond the world seem to be going crazy about Sulake's Habbo Hotel - the company announced today that 2010 was their best year ever with December being the busiest month. Habbo Hotel boasted 4.5M€ revenue from virtual goods in December alone. Unique monthly users also peaked the same month reaching 8.7 million, one-third of whom accessed the game through the Facebook application. Almost 200 million unique active characters have been registered to the site throughout its ten-year existance, 42.5 million out of them in 2010 alone. Habbo Hotel has also been making more money this year than last - annual user revenue grew by 25% compared to 2009.

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SA Insider Lists World's 100 Most Valuable Digital Startups - Sulake and Skype Listed

SA Insider has listed its own 100 most valuable digital startups. The list is pretty US oriented with only a few companies from other parts of the world. From Nordic and Baltic region, you can find 2 companies - Skype and Sulake. The list immediately sparked lots of good debate about who's missing the list and why. One of those opinions can be found from Ben Black. He argues that, in my opinion correctly, that there are lots of social gaming companies valued over $100M that didn't make the list ($100M seems to be the cut off line more or less for the last companies on the list).

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Bad Times Are Gone - Sulake Strengthens

The Finnish online gaming company behind Habbo Hotel, Sulake, has reported it's 2009 earnings along with H1 2010 figures. In 2009, Sulake accumulated a loss of 4.4 million euros. However, it also reported that for 2010 revenue reached 29.1 million euros which is 20% higher than in 2009 in the same period. Furthermore, EBITDA in the same period increased 63% to 3.5 million euros with a solidly positive cash flow, according to the company blog post.

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Week In Review: It Shall Be Released!

release-meThis week was all about the releases, new products, versions, and, er, some employees. Swedes-in-Berlin based startup SoundCloud launched their App Gallery, and we pronounced it good. Unfortunately, Sulake's release was in the form of 28 of their employees. Hopefully, when their Facebook application starts to take off, they can hire everyone back.

There were releases coming from the financial and government worlds this week too. The Icelandic, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish Ministries' collaboration known as the Nordic Game Program awarded a total of 3,000,000DKK (400,000€, 4,200,000SEK, 3,300,000NOK, 73,000,000ISK) funding to 8 winners to develop innovative games. The Finnish Software Entrepreneurs Association released a manifesto demanding a tax exemption for startups that fund their operations from their own profits and are owned by the entrepreneurs themselves. Lastly, one of the very few investment banks left on the Earth, released a huge report on the future of the mobile internet, and we "filleted" it for you as best we could.

Finally, in a MUST SEE video for all European entrepreneurs, Mårten Mickos releases his hard won wisdom on challenges that are in the way of building world’s biggest anything

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Sulake Fires 28 And Signals Plans For Facebook

Sulake Corporation logoBack in October we wrote about the negotiations Sulake was having with its employees about reducing the work force. The plan back then was to reduce the workforce by 20%, which would have meant something along the lines of 40 people. They ended up sacking 28 people, to cut costs, and thus stayed well below the initial plan of 20%. Juhani Lassila, their Communication Exec stated in the Finnish M&M article that the current restructuring and cuts have dramatically improved their profitability.

While 28 people were fired, I've heard from close sources that others have left the company of their own will and the environment isn't all that lively inside the company. This of course is completely natural when a startup that has grown to a multinational gaming house has its first real employee negotiations and ends up cutting its workforce by this much.

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Sulake Is Going For The Adult Market With Bobba Bar. Beer Anyone?

bobba barSulake, the company behind the popular Habbo Hotel, a virtual world for teenagers with 14,600,000 montly unique visitors, has come out with a new service, Bobba Bar. Bobba Bar is virtual bar where, according to Sulake, you can meet and make friends. And it's not just any virtual bar, it's a virtual bar for 18-year-olds and over, so teenagers stay away.

Clearly, Sulake is going for a new market segment after conquering such a big chunk of the teen market with Habbo Hotel. I'm just not sure PG ratedif big people will jump on the virtual world in the same way as teenagers have. I'm already realizing I spend way too much time in Facebook for no reason. Compared to wasting time in Facebook, Bobba takes a lot more effort is you plan to waste time there as well and I honestly just don't have any. After all, I have a Twitter to attend to.

Now, in all seriousness, I'm sure there are people who find Bobba to be for them, but I just don't think the number will ever get even close to the ballpark where Habbo Hotel plays in. That said, it might just well be that Sulake is just experimenting without any more expectations than I do regarding Bobba Bar, and if I'd be Sulake I would probably try it out as well given the success of casual games among adults. Sulake also touts the possibility to data people in the virtual bar, but its bit of a stretch to go there just to hit girls. Also, not surprisingly, in the near future Sulake plans to provide virtual content purchases inside Bobba Bar, so the business model is clearly there as well.

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Sulake To Lay Off 20% Of Helsinki Employees

Sulake Corporation logoSulake has just announced that will initiate negotiations to lay off up to 20% of its workforce in Helsinki. Sulake is the Finnish company behind the successful teenage web service Habbo Hotel. Just yesterday we wrote that they have managed to create a one million euro profit with their 50 million euro revenue.

I actually talked about this yesterday with some net savy entrepreneurs and we all had only one question in mind. Where does the 50 million euros go to when you're operating an internet service? A Finnish entrepreneur, of French origin, Ramine Darabiha did a very non-scientific analysis into this in his blog post last March. It may not seem a big thing, but once you break the numbers down - a lot of money is going somewhere.

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Sulake Enjoys A Slight Profit For 2008

Sulake Corporation logoAccording to Kauppalehti, Sulake Corporation's 2008 was by a small margin a profitable one. The group of companies turned over 50,1 million euros and managed to create a 1 million euro profit on it. The company's earnings before tax were still in the red, but the IFRS calculated tax receivables turned the company statements profitable. The company has been injected with some 45 million euros of investor money of which some 20 million euros have been put aside for the losses of the previous years.

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Sulake Opens Mobile Virtual World Bobba

BobbaSulake, 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.

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Sulake Corporation Reports € 4.8M Profit

Sulake Corporation logoThe 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.

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Library House Lists 100 Hottest Mediatech Companies

Library HouseLibrary House, a research house on startups and other fast growing ventures, has listed 100 of the hottest mediatech companies in Europe. The 100 companies were selected by analysing companies using Library House proprietary data and an expert advisory panel. Library House also states that these 100 companies are the ones that will most likely change the mediatech world (mediatech meaning media and technology).

To our joy, we can find 3 Nordic companies in the top 10 list; Blyk (Finland), Sulake (Finland) and Stardoll (Sweden). Other companies in the top 10 were Flirtomatic (UK), MOO (UK), Where Are You Now? (UK), Dailymotion (France), King.com (UK), Playfish (UK) and Plastic Logic (UK). It's interesting to see that there is a healthy spread of gaming and entertainment companies in the top 10 as well as to note the absence of any media companies per se.

Other Nordic companies in the list were CCP (Iceland), Spotify (Sweden, Luxembourg), Betware (Iceland) and Xtract (Finland). The fact that most of the companies are from the UK or Central European countries pretty much states the overlooking of the Baltic market in total (I believe they are part of Europe, at least the last time I looked). Then again, this is exactly one of the reasons why I set about with ArcticStartup a little over a year ago - to give more insight to the Baltic and Nordic startup industries. Seems like we still have plenty of work to do.

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IRC-Galleria's Price To Sulake - 12,5 Million Euro

IRC-galleriaKauppalehti reports that according financial data published into the government files, the price Sulake paid for the acquisition of IRC-Galleria a while back is 12,5 million euros. The company behind IRC-Galleria is Dynamoid, where the Finnish serial entrepreneur Taneli Tikka has also gathered some experience.

The price was 6,6 times their annual revenue which at that time was 1,89 million euros and 25 times their earnings of 500 000 euros.

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Casual Games Market Hot - 2-4M USD Invested Per Week

everyplay.fiJussi Laakkonen of Everyplay has compiled a very extensive list of investments to casual gaming startups in the US and Europe.

Laakkonen has compiled the list from public resources such as VentureBeat, TechCrunch, GigaOm, etc. He admits that there are possibly a lot of investments missing as they based on PR, which naturally works best in the US.

From the Nordics and Baltics, in the list are investments to Apaja Online Entertainment and Sulake, so I'm guessing there are many more smaller seed investments made to smaller Nordic and Baltic companies which aren't present in the list.

What's your take - is the casual gaming market the hottest corner of the internet industry at the moment?

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Valve Recruiting Game Developers, Expanding To US

Valve logoThe Internet Agency Valve has been all quiet about its plans, but there is something going on about its operations abroad. The agency is a famous flash house in Finland, that has hogged numerous awards from many different competitions. It seems like they have something going on in the US at the moment, more specifically San Francisco.

Valve is recruiting game developers and game designers with the work being located either in Helsinki, Finland or San Francisco, US. A guess is that they are looking towards some sort of Flash based social game as they emphasize the need for "good up-to-date understanding of social networks and web-trends".

I've heard from an industry insider that the person pulling together team is a former Sulake employee. Sulake is the house behind the world famous Habbo Hotel. An educated guess is that Valve is planning something similar, with a different target market perhaps?

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Sulake's H1 profitable

Sulake logoThe Helsinki based virtual goods operator Sulake saw a profitable first half in 2008. According to Kauppalehti, net profits were around 400 000 euros. The revenues rose approximately 20% to 25,6 million euros for the first 6 months of 2008. Majority of the sales came from sale of virtual goods in Habbo Hotels world wide. According to the company, the annual growth for 2008 will be around 30%.

This is yet more proof, that the company is being heavily pumped into IPO condition. Some sources have told us that 2009 would be the year after all, as the sub-prime crisis smashed the IPO possibilities in 2007.

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Sampo Karjalainen and the Sulake story

On Wednesday 27th of August, Sampo Karjalainen - a co-founder of Sulake - will tell the story of the company from the founding moments to this day in an event organised by Tommi Rissanen of Digibusiness - Digital content cluster.

Last year they had Jyri Engeström talk about the path that Jaiku took and it was a huge success, so they decided to redo it this year with another successful Finnish entrepreneur. I sure hope this continues every year and the industry keeps those successful speakers coming.

The event takaes place on the stairs of EGO at Unioninkatu 13, Helsinki at 2pm.

The event is free, but due to limited space - please RSVP to Tommi Rissanen if you're coming.

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Sulake is planning to go public

Kauppalehti, a Finnish business daily, reported yesterday that Sulake's CEO, Timo Soininen, is planning to take the company public. According to Mr. Soininen the earlierst possible date for the listing would be sometime next year.

Soininen thinks Sulake starts to be big enough for an IPO. Soininen's comments takes place after Sulake was valued 9th in Alley Insider valuation (at 25 times revenues) for digital startups. Read more on the story here.

Soinen added that Sulake is profitable and aims to a 20 percent increase in turnover this year. Last year's  turnover was 43 million euro.

Despite the Alley Insider estimation Soininen himself refuses to comment on his company's valuation.

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Sulake 9th most valued digital startup

At 25 times revenues Sulake is valued 9th in Alley Insider valuation for digital startups. The valuation is purely based on revenues and show the potential of companies in totally different perspective in favor of companies that have valued revenue creation, for example Facebook is valued at 9 billion USD instead of the 15 billion valuation which Microsoft validated when it invested in Facebook. More on the SAI25 at AlleyInsider.

This list tells something of the tides that are on the way, as tells this blog post. Companies are valuating themselves to check where their valuations linger. Sulake does relatively well when compared to the valuations of other US companies which have been hyped a lot in the recent months without a proper business model.

Is this a new sign as a result of the significant drop in investments that has been noticed in the US? Remains to be seen.

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Eero Aarnio's design in Playforia

Eero Aarnio in Playforia
Eero Aarnio, one of the most famous Finnish designers, has taken his work online to Playforia, the 3D virtual world created by Apaja. He created the timeless Ball Chair in 1963, which has been hugely popular around the world. Apaja, the company behind the casual gaming site, has built Playforia as part of their service portfolio to gather audience from the huge population living in online worlds. According to Asmo Halinen, one of the founders of the company, over 30% of the users in Playforia and Aapeli are over 30 year olds.

Apaja is venturing into the same direction as Sulake, who has done a lot of co-operation with 3rd party content suppliers in their Habbo Hotels. It's definitely a feasible way of bringing in valuable content and creating that link between the virtual and real world that users normally crave for in some sense.

Disclosure: the author is a former employee of Apaja.

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New entrants top Deloitte's Finnish Technology Fast 50 2007

DeloitteOpen Source service company Nomovok is the number one in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 list of 2007. The list ranks firms based on the revenue growth over the past five years (having at least 5 years of operations is thus one of the prerequisites). The revenue growth of Novomok over the past 5 years has been impressively over 2300 %. Only a bit behind comes Bluetooth technology provider Bluegiga Technologies. Third is Openbit, provider of mobile DRM solutions, with 1636 percent growth.

Last year's first Sulake and third Digium have slightly dropped, although still in top 10. The 2006 number two Cidercone was just recently acquired by OMX-listed Ixonos.

Deloitte's Tuomo Salmi, partner, Services, describes that according to the accompanying qualitative study the most critical factors affecting success have been concentrating on the core business, committing the personnel, and leadership-related factors, as seen by the management of the companies. Having and being able to keep skillful and entrepreneur-minded people was deemed even more important than customer accounts.

Deloitte Technology Fast 50 competition in Finland is arranged in cooperation with Kauppalehti, The Finnish Venture Capital Association, The Finnish Software Entrepreneurs Association, and Tekes. Top companies will automatically participate in EMEA Fast 500 competition. Last year Sulake positioned 12th in the EMEA Fast list with 8095 % growth, while Cidercone was 65th with growth of 2086 %.

This might implicate that this year's top Finnish growth companies may not position anywhere in top 50 in EMEA. More arrogant and audacious growth entrepreneurs needed?

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