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Forbes – 5 Reasons Three UK Just Changed the Global Wireless Market

December 9, 2013 by  
Filed under Media & Copywriting

Written for Forbes, find the original article here.

Forget Europe, it’s done. The problem is the United States. What I’m talking about is roaming. That frustrating and, at times, terrifying occasion when you step off a plane into another country and debate just how many of your back teeth you’d like removed for switching on data on your phone.

Everyone has a roaming horror story and has read shock headlines about$22,000 bills. But the European Union’s enforcement of flat rate calling and data rates is well underway and calls have been made to scrap all roaming between EU countries by 2016. There will be plenty of arguments before then but, by and large, it’s sorted.

The US is another matter. T-Mobile US recently scrapped 2G roaming fees in over 100 countries, but 3G and 4G were off the table. In the UK a Vodafone VOD -0.08% pre-pay customer visiting the US will still have to shell out £5 for the first 25MB of data and £3 per megabyte thereafter. Making a call is £1.35p a minute, receiving a call is £1 per minute and a single text is 36p. This isn’t to vilify Vodafone… O2 and EE are even more expensive, but this might all be about to change thanks to Three.

three_feel_at_home

Today Three, the UK’s smallest network (7.8m customers versus Vodafone’s 19.4m, O2’s 22.5m and EE’s 25.2m), announced the US has been added to its ‘Feel at Home’ service. Feel at Home means your allowances in the UK apply in the US, including all you can eat data for customers on those packages. Here are five reasons this could be a game changer in wireless:

1. It forces rivals to change.
Nice as it is that Three customers will no longer face roaming changes in the US, the big picture is rivals EE, O2 and Vodafone will need to follow suit. Why? Because these networks have the lion’s share of business customers in the UK and in these economically pressed times it won’t take corporations long to figure out they can make substantial savings by switching regular transatlantic employees to Three.

2. It begins a virtuous circle
Hugh Davies, corporate affairs director at Three, told me today that the wholesale rates secured with US telcos to enable this deal to happen works both ways and those networks can now negotiate the same agreements with Three. This isn’t about improving the roaming experience for customers on one network, but about opening the door to improving the customer experience across all networks in all countries.

3. It sets a precedent
Until now the best roaming deals have been between countries either close together or part of the same sector, such as the European Union or UK commonwealth. The Three deal breaks this mold and pushes for a more global approach to telecoms.

4. It puts IP calls under the spotlight
According to Davies, a key factor in the US deal for Three is that most 3G calls (via some switching) and all 4G calls are IP based. This means they happen over data networks and are Internet based, much like Skype’s free Skype-to-Skype calls which undermine a network’s ability to continue charging extortionate prices for them. This isn’t new, but networks were not openly talking about it until now.

5. It says 2G isn’t good enough
T-Mobile US received a lot of praise for abolishing roaming charges in over 100 countries last month, but that is only for 2G access. With 4G now upon us 2G isn’t remotely good enough for the majority of things we now do with our smartphones, tablets and laptops. T-Mobile is to be commended, but the Three announcement puts 3G and 4G international roaming front and centre of the debate. It can be done.

The small print
Any deal has small print and Three’s abolition of US roaming costs is no exception. Here are the caveats:

  • The deal is only with T-Mobile US and AT&T T -1.01% so Three users are locked to those networks automatically upon arrival
  • Step outside your bundle and rates are higher than in the UK, though less than roaming in Europe with calls charged at 20p per minute, texts 7p and data 10p per megabyte
  • Tethering is not allowed, regardless of whether you have a tethering package in the UK
  • Three can rescind the deal for customers who spend more than a month in a Feel at Home country or visit it more than 3x per year. Davies stresses this will only apply to customers exploiting their data plans and will result in a phone call to discuss the issue and no unilateral disconnections.

Other countries where Feel at Home is in operation are Austria, Australia, Denmark, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Macau, the Republic of Ireland, Sri Lanka and Sweden. Three follows EU directives for rates in the rest of the Europe.

As you might expect, the scheme is proving popular. Three claims it has seen a 1000x increase in data usage by its customers in Australia since Feel at Home was launched in that market three months ago.

Of course there is also a cynical side to today’s announcement which is that it is being used to cover up Three’s late UK entry into the 4G market which was pegged for December. Three did confirm today the 4G rollout has begun, but it will be very gradual until 2014. That said tackling US roaming is indisputably more significant long term. With a bit of luck it just might be the start of things to come.

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers with the exception of Forbes where I retain the copyright. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

 

TR – Android 4.4 KitKat’s Project Svelte: what it is and why you should care

December 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Features & Editorials

Written for TrustedReviews, find the original article here

Earlier this week Google revealed the driving force behind the Android 4.4 Kitkat release and its name is ‘Project Svelte’. We take a look at what this curiously named initiative is, how it was developed and whether – as some are claiming – it could lead to the end of fragmentation on Android. 

What is Project Svelte?

The key is in the name. Svelte is Google’s attempt to cut the fat from Android allowing it to run faster and more smoothly on lower range handsets. It comes after Google’s admission that initiatives like ‘Project Butter’ (introduced in Android 4.1) made the operating system a silky user experience, but at the expense of upping the hardware requirements significantly.

“The first thing that I was working on was Project Butter to make the system smoother,” explained Google Head of Engineering Dave Burke in an interview with ReadWrite. “The thing is, butter puts on weight. So then I did Project Svelte to lose weight. So now my contribution to Android is basically zero.”

It is a good joke, but Svelte addresses a serious problem for Google. Android 3.0 was purely for tablets, so entry-level Android handsets incapable of running Android 4.x were being forced to install the aged Android 2.3 operating system to maintain a reasonably responsive user experience. The three-year old platform did a job, but it also locked owners of these phones out of newer features and an increasing number of apps that require Android 4.0 and above.

Android 4.4

How was Project Svelte made?

Google is famous for ‘dogfooding’ – that is making its employees use and live with their own projects. It was no different with Project Svelte. Everyone on the team was given a crippled Nexus 4 where the addressable RAM was cut in half to 512MB and the resolution hacked from an HD friendly 1280 x 768 pixels to 960 x 540 pixels. Two of the Nexus 4’s four processing cores were also switched off and the clock speeds of the remaining two were lowered.

“Literally a bunch of us just used that as our default phone. It was painful, and it was broken to start with,” said Burke who listed the four key targets his team set out to achieve:

  • Reduce the footprint of the system.
  • Reduce the footprint (memory usage) of the apps that run on a Google Experience (Nexus) device.
  • Fix how apps react and crash during bad memory situations.
  • Provide better measurement and instrumentation of how apps are running in Android so developers can see how memory-conscious their apps are.

The Project Svelte team got there by stripping Google apps from the OS (even including the Google Play store), which drastically reduced their memory usage. This also allowed KitKit to be even more customisable as previously locked functionality like SMS messaging could now be swapped like any other app for a third-party alternative.

Svelte also placed a strong emphasis on cutting RAM usage in third-party apps by giving developers access to ‘ProcStats’ – a tool that monitors app memory usage. Android also now tracks app memory usage and will shut down an app if it is using too much memory for too long so the incentive to make more efficient apps is strong.

How Project Svelte can end Android fragmentation

With all these benefits the notion has spread that Project Svelte is Google’s silver bullet to fix Android fragmentation and on the face of it there are compelling arguments to back this up:

  • The vast majority of Android phones can now run the latest OS
  • Manufacturers know a budget Android phone with the latest Android OS is a compelling sales proposition
  • Customers will vote with their wallets which should see Android 4.4 budget phones very soon

But there is a better, (still) less publicised reason to be optimistic as well, which was undoubtedly the driving force behind Project Svelte in the first place: Google Play Services. Getting the latest version of Android onto budget mobile devices gets the latest version of Google Play Services onto them as well.

What is Google Play Services? Our detailed analysis will tell you more, but in a nutshell it is a background service with near limitless levels of access to modify your phone. It already has permission to do the list of things (spread over two screens!) pictured below and, quite remarkably, it can even give itself new permissions at any time.

ANALYSIS: Why Google Play Services is more important than the Nexus 5

Google Play Services

Privacy conspiracists heads may explode, but the point is Google Play Services on Android 4.x devices is the tool that can update virtually every part of the platform. It keeps 99 per cent of functionality bang up-to-date even if the Android version number changes in future. This sounds pretty good to us.
How Project Svelte cannot end Android fragmentation

And yet there are some significant buts:

  • Manufacturer’s third-party skins
  • Battery life
  • Yes, Android version numbers

The first of these is something that has plagued Android since day one: the largely inefficient graphical overlays handset makers put on top of Android to differentiate their handsets. Moto GGiven Motorola recently claimed its predominantly stock Android £135 Moto G (right) could perform basic tasks in Android 4.3 faster than Samsung’s TouchWiz inflicted £500 Galaxy S4, it gives you an insight into how troublesome these skins can be. In a stroke skins could wipe out much of the efficiencies gained in Android 4.4. Worst still it could give manufacturers the leeway to may even lazier skins.

Next comes battery life because, for all its advances, surprisingly Android 4.4 doesn’t appear to have improved it a great deal. A key criticism of Android 4.4 hero device the Nexus 5 is its inconsistent battery life and Nexus 4 owners haven’t reported any significant gains from the 4.4 upgrade with better jumps actually coming from the previous upgrade from Android 4.2 to 4.3.

Crucially battery capacity remains a significant manufacturing cost, which is why the Nexus 5 saw a big capacity cut compared to the LG G2 that inspired it and budget handsets – while running less power-hungry components – always come with much smaller batteries. Android 2.3, conversely, is frugal and when making budget handsets cutting corners wherever possible is crucial.

Lastly we have Android version numbers because while Google Play Services can update most things on your phone, it cannot trigger automatic upgrades from Android 4.4 to 4.5, 5.0 or wherever the OS is headed next. Many users may not care about being on the latest version of Android, but many do and until Google works out how to fix the most literal aspect of Android fragmentation Apple will have a stick to beat it with.

Furthermore, Google needs to set a better example to manufacturers. It excluded the two-year old Galaxy Nexus from the Android 4.4 update, even though the point of KitKat is it runs better on older and budget phones. Apple meanwhile only excluded its five generations old iPhone 3GS from iOS 7 this year. If Google doesn’t convey the message it actively cares to fix fragmentation on its own branded handsets, what hope has it of convincing others?

Why you should care about Project Svelte

Despite these concerns there is no doubt Google got its priorities right in putting together the Project Svelte team. Android has long offered the greatest functionality and customisability of the main mobile OSes and, having smoothed its rough edges with Project Butter, making it run more efficiency on less powerful devices was the major issue.

Project Svelte may not be the silver bullet to Android fragmentation many would like it to be, but it makes the platform faster, more cohesive and more widely available than any previous version. That’s a pretty big step.

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

TNW – Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

December 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Media & Copywriting

Written for The Next Web, find the original article here

Last week nearly 1,200 companies came together at a converted Cable Factory in Helsinki for the biggest startup conference in Northern Europe. The limelight went to BetterDoctor, a US doctor database with user rankings, and Weekdone, an elegant staff management tool, who won the two day Showcase demo and pitching competitions respectively.

But Slush 2013 was about far more than any individual startup. This year it preached cohesive ideologies and highlighted four key sectors which look to be ripe pickings for the savvy startup over the next few years.

Ideology

While different markets will always require different approaches, talking to numerous startups at Slush 2013 we witnessed near-consensus in the way to become a successful entrepreneur. The three key points were: treat everything as a service, put the customer at the centre of every business decision and test early.

The last of these argues it is better to trial what you are doing and pivot or fail than to invest a fortune bringing a fully realised version of the wrong concept to market.

“You must get the prototype out there and see what customers are saying,” stresses Weekdone CEO Juri Kaljundi. “I’m a big fan of [Eric Ries’] The Lean Startup model. You have to talk to customers and listen, but then you also have to make sure you don’t try to implement too many ideas. Be focused, what you don’t implement is as important as what you do.”

Ilka Paananen Supercell 220x146 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

Ilkka Paananen, CEO of Finnish startup sensation Supercell, and poster boy of Slush 2013 echoed Kaljundi’s words. Having sold 51 percent of the Clash of Clans creator for €1.5 billion in October, just two years after founding, Paananen was also keen to stress one point in particular: ‘the power of small’.

“Small independent cells is where the company name comes from,” he explained. “We say ‘get big by thinking small’. We value the speed of small teams and keeping things simple. Our employees don’t need layers of processes and layers of management… [just] do what is best for your team and the customer.”

Hot sectors

Mobile Gaming

On the back of the global success of Supercell and Angry Birds developer Rovio, Finland has become a Mecca for mobile games developers and their investors.

Next off the Finnish conveyor belt looks to be Grand Cru, a startup that has pocketed $16 million in investment before its first game – Supernauts – even hits the market on December 6. “Five years ago we wouldn’t have thought it was possible to do what we are doing where we are, but now we believe we can conquer the world from Helsinki,” says founder Markus Pasula.

Grand Cru Supernauts 520x292 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

“Our model is games that are truly services” he explains, hitting one common theme before striking another: “we pursue a relatively flat organisation and keep teams as small as possible. They have the freedom and control to change games as they see fit.”

Grand Cru will also pursue the ‘freemium’ model popularised by Clash of Clans and Candy Crush over the last year and so will another standout Slush gaming developer, the wonderfully named Boomlagoon.

Boomlagoon Tuomas Erikoinen 220x220 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

“We wanted to get something out there fast to learn from free-to-play,” says Boomlagoon founder Tuomas Erikoinen of the company’s first title ‘Noble Nutlings’. Erikoinen and all five members of Boomlagoon previously worked for Rovio (Erikoinen drew the original Angry Birds characters) and he stresses the value of this early testing. Noble Nutlings was moderately received and the company pivoted quickly to bring in more social features and weekly updates in follow-up ‘Nutlings Tournament’ which has become a hot title on both iOS and Android.

“MMOs have always had this [games as services] business model,” says Erikoinen. “The move to freemium on mobile evolves this and we wouldn’t be surprised if it is the long term future of gaming, even on consoles. Freemium lets everyone try everything, you can’t cheat players and market purely for the money brought in from an initial sale.”

As if to emphasise the hunger for mobile gaming, and in particular Finnish mobile games developers, is the story of Seriously Entertainment. Founded in August, the company is made up of ex-Rovio and Remedy staff and has yet to get its first game off the drawing board. Despite this it has already taken $2.35m in Seed financing.

Finance

‘Everyone hates banks’ is something we have known for a long time, but the message of Slush 2013 is that startups are now in a position to launch a full-on attack on these antiquated institutions. Relaxed regulation is leading the way for this with the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) removing money transfer premiums across the EuroZone and the Payment Services Directive (PSD) allowing companies to become ‘Payment Institutions’ – essentially banks minus loans and investments.

Gaining most coverage from this at Slush this year was Helsinki startup Holvi. It is a payment institution which also offers sophisticated bookkeeping. This means you can make payments with Holvi, track invoices in real time, set budgets which populate automatically via metadata  share the account with a team and even integrate ecommerce.

Holvi 520x359 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

Holvi

At Slush (which incidentally does all its financial management using a single Holvi account), the startup announced the addition of automatic VAT calculation as part of its new ‘Holvi for business’ service. “We are rethinking what it is to be a banking service,” said founder Kristoffer Lawson.

It seems to be working. Holvi has been live in Finland for one year and over 1,000 organisations have signed up. It has processed €10 million in payments and claims to be growing 40 percent month on month. Regulation means Holvi still needs banks as partners to operate, but it certainly hints at a brighter future.

Not far behind are Estonia’s TransferWise and Sweden’s iZettle, who both delivered well received keynotes at Slush.

The former is the brainchild of Taavet Hinrikus, the first employee of Skype, and it aims to do what the VoIP giant did for international calls to international money transfers. It uses a peer-to-peer system whereby funds are transferred to it in one country and TransferWise skips the actual overseas transaction by paying you from an account it has in your destination country.

TransferWise 730x478 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

Instead of a flat $15-20 fee and three per cent off the exchange rate as is common using banks, TransferWise gives you the full exchange rate of the day minus less than half a percent. “In the past 20 years industries have changed to be cheaper, faster and more transparent but one is living in a vacuum,” said Hinrikus. “Now the past five years has seen our trust in banks hit an all time low and the legislation is now there for us to fight back.”

Equally bold is Jacob de Geer, founder of iZettle. His startup capitalizes on the Payment Services Directive, which lets it sell card payment systems that vastly undercut both the initial cost and transaction fees charged by banks. de Geer argues 95 per cent of commerce still takes place offline and the EU averages just 30-35 payment terminals per 1,000 people, a figure which drops to 20 per 1,000 in Brazil and five per 1,000 in Mexico.

“Our research shows consumers prefer to pay by card,” says de Geer who points to the convenience of growing technologies like touch payments. “Yet 20 million small businesses in Europe don’t take card for the cost. We believe we can change that here and ultimately around the world.”

Banks more than any other established institution were in the crosshairs of entrepreneurs at Slush 2013. Expect even more (like the UK’s crowd funded Bank of the Future) to think up ways to further undermine them off the back of it.

Health Tech

BetterDoctor is a predictable inclusion given its victory in the Demo Showcase category, but it was representative of a wider push for health at Slush 2013 which saw 120 health and wellness startups at the show.

BetterDoctor 730x454 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

BetterDoctor itself has a Finnish creator, CEO Ari Tulla, but it is primarily focused on the US helping Americans find their closest doctors and filtering based on availability and rating by fellow BetterDoctor users. “It took about eight months to get the first demo prototype,” says Tulla, who started BetterDoctor in 2011, “[but] In the last year it has taken off.” Over five million people have found a doctor with the site to date and long term Tulla wants to make the service global.

Equally praiseworthy is Mendor, arguably now out of the startup stage after six years but using Slush to push an all-in-one blood test and insulin delivery tool for diabetics. Mendor is sending patient results into the Cloud and will bring a connected model to the market next year with an integrated alert system should users have dangerously high or low blood sugars. Mendor has already sealed a deal with the NHS.

Mendor 520x330 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

With the explosion in wearable fitness tech Slush was also attended by established Finnish heavyweights like Polar, but the conference belonged to the startups. PulseOn, a start of the art heart rate monitoring and analytics system;Valkee which tackles seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with a controversial bright light headset; and You, a health data service which aggregates and compiles data from existing products and services and interprets it for, well, you.

Proto Geo Moves 220x220 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup eventFinally ProtoGeo, the company behind the hugely popular iOS and Android Moves app, garnered a lot of attention. Moves runs in the background on your phone or tablet and uses both their accelerometer and GPS to track your movement (and movement type) as well as where you went to build health and geographic records. The free app raised €1.2 million in funding in January and its API is being widely adopted by the likes of the Momento ‘personal diary’ iOS app and the aforementioned You.

In fact, while some of the health startups we saw were sketchy or a little me-too in their approach, their number was so great that it looks to be both Finland and the world’s next major startup craze after mobile gaming. Come Slush 2014 we think health will be the headline act.

Customer tracking

Finally while much has been made of cookies and their attempts to track consumer behaviour online, the last Slush 2013 trend that caught our eye was entrepreneurs’ ingenious ways to track us offline.

Most remarkable was Finnish startup IndoorAtlas, which uses the earth’s magnetic field and the digital compasses found in most modern smartphones to accurately track people where there is no GPS or phone signal. “At first it was purely academic research,” explained CEO Janne Haverinen. “The magnetic interference [from the steel structures] in buildings stops compasses. We turned this problem around to use the dead spots as a map.”

IndoorAtlas Janne Haverinen 520x346 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

IndoorAtlas’ Janne Haverinen

IndoorAtlas can do this accurately enough to track a person within half a metre of their location whether that is 1,500 metres underground or on a specific floor in a skyscraper.

Consequently IndoorAtlas is working with retail partners to map out their branches and use data analytics to see which areas customers spend most time, how they move through a store and more. Everything from basic store reorganisation to real time customer advertising could result and a recent €600,000 funding round suggests investors are convinced.

Taking a different approach to the same problem is Walkbase. It develops sensors which are put into retail shops and they work with the WiFi receivers in smartphones and tablets to target customer locations and movement patterns.

Walkbase 520x407 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

“92 percent of retail sales still take place in physical stores and 84 per cent of smartphone shoppers use their phones in-store to help their shopping,” argues Walkbase CEO Tuomas Wuoti. We can see his argument.

Other Notable Startups

While there were major trends at Slush there were also individual startups outside them which impressed us thanks to their sheer ingenuity. We’ve picked our favourites below:

Weekdone took headlines for winning the Slush pitching competition ahead of 400 other entrants from around the world, but most interesting is it is an elegant, visual solution to an age old problem: staff management. Staff add their weekly objectives and satisfaction levels to Weekdone and tick them off as they’re achieved. Their progress is aggregated automatically each week and management can even pose questions and challenges through the app to all staff.

Weekdone 520x306 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

Weekdone

Kiosked is an ad delivery platform which integrates into images, video and even games. It detects retail items in this media and offers purchase options directly from them. Like businesses, consumers can register with Kiosked and any sales earned from Kiosked content which they share will earn them revenue. Rovio, Getty Images, Brightcove and Magento are among the heavyweights already aboard.

Kiosked 520x284 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

StyleWhile is a virtual try-on fashion service which lets users create an avatar and mix and match clothing and accessories from all its retail partners to create the perfect ensemble. It then takes a cut of any items purchased. A slick, engaging UI makes it stand out as well as partners such as Saks Fifth Avenue. An $850,000 funding round makes us wonder if this is the future of dress up.

Ambro 220x173 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup eventAmbro openly points to work of liquid food substitute Soylent in its creation, but it doesn’t want to feed the world with a synthetic affordable drink. Instead Ambro is an organic, premium alternative with actual recognisable ingredients like nuts, brown-full grain rice, wild berries and cocoa. It wants to be the healthiest and fastest of food for executives between meetings and people who care about a healthy lifestyle. Feeding the 50 metre long food queues at Slush with free Ambro samples was an ingenious way to get its message across.

The Finnish advantage

Aside from trends and specific standout startups one other crucial factor surfaced time and time again at Slush 2013: the significant advantages Finnish companies currently enjoy.

The most crucial part of this is Tekes, a government organisation briefed with providing grants and low interest loans to fund Finnish innovation. Tekes’ budget has been growing year on year, and in 2012 it was given €550 million, of which €135 million went specifically to “young innovative companies” (defined as less than six years old).

Proportionate to Finland’s 5.5 million population this sum is astonishing and the startup slice alone equates to £1.1 billion (€1.3 billion euros) in the UK or $4.6 billion (€3.4 billion) in the US. Tekes works by matching investments made into Finnish companies venture capitalists and angel investors to give companies a flying start.

Rovio, Supercell, Grand Cru, IndoorAtlas, Kiosked, Holvi , Mendor and Stylewhile are just some of the thousands of startups to have been Tekes beneficiaries. The logic behind Tekes is simple: it requires just one big hit to emerge from its funding to recoup its outlay in taxes while it also stimulates the Finnish economy and attracts world class talent to the country. As such Tekes funding is non-diluting, no equity or collateral is taking for the investments.

Tekes 2 520x388 Slush 2013: The trends and standout companies at Northern Europe’s biggest startup event

The model is working. Finland is now third in Europe after the UK and France and ahead of Germany in attracting equity financing into VC-backed companies. On its own the Finnish mobile gaming industry will see its turnover rise from 250m euros in 2012 to 1.3bn euros in 2013. In 2014 this sector will repay all Tekes investment since it began in 1992.

In addition to Tekes a huge leg up is Finnish culture itself and, quite surprisingly, its small population. From our impression of Slush 2013 almost everyone knows everyone and it has developed a feeling of camaraderie, that it is Finns against the world inspiring co-operation rather than competition.

“We can demo at Supercell with no fear of stealing,” says Boomlagoon’s Tuomas Erikoinen. “We have a helper culture and we reach out to one another which is probably unusual in larger countries or big cities like London and New York.”

Certainly from what we witnessed companies, including established brands, happily mingled in a way we don’t witness at the likes of CES in Las Vegas or IFA in Berlin. “It doesn’t mean bad products get an easy ride, in fact it is quite the opposite” qualifies Erikoinen. “We can get influential feedback quickly because we can open the doors to most big Finnish companies.”

Interestingly the last reason we heard may surprise Finland outsiders: the demise of Nokia. Time and again the argument was raised in our interviews that the dominance of Nokia had become unhealthy for Finland. Furthermore its shedding of jobs had filled the job market with hungry, tech savvy people with international experience.

Their success is inspiring future generations. “The best and the brightest always wanted to get jobs at Nokia,” explained Supercell’s Ilkka Paananen. “Now they want to be entrepreneurs.”

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

Wired – Interview: Slush 2013 startup winners BetterDoctor and Weekdone

December 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Media & Copywriting

Originally written for Wired, find the original article here

The largest startup conference in Northern Europe is over, and from the 1,000 companies in attendance two finished in the limelight. BetterDoctor and Weekdone won the Demo Showcase and Pitching competitions respectively at Slush 2013 and pocketed €10,000 (£8,365) apiece. Both won over a jury of experienced investors after two days of Dragons’ Den-style pitch-offs.

winners

“Two days ago I didn’t know I would be in the contest,” exclaimed BetterDoctor founder and CEO Ari Tulla (above) in an interview with Wired.co.uk immediately after winning.

better docHis site has a simple, but noble objective: help people find a better doctor. “Almost ten years ago my wife had a health struggle and we moved to the US where the system is very different to Finland. We saw 40 doctors and it was very difficult. It became my personal vendetta to come up with a better system.

BetterDoctor works using three simple criteria: what kind of doctor do you need? How do you pay? When do you need the appointment? Crucially, it also asks all users to rate their experience afterwards and uses this as a filter in search results.

“It took about eight months to get the first demo prototype,” says Tulla, who started BetterDoctor two years ago. “We didn’t raise money, we used contractors and in the last year it has taken off.” To date it has helped over five million people find a doctor in the US and Tulla sees a model he ultimately wants to take worldwide.

“It is all about compiling big data,” he explains. “We want a search that is comprehensive. We don’t have everyone yet and there are always new practices starting that we don’t know about.”

Asked how doctors have responded to being rated, he replied: “Of course some hate it, but more are starting to tolerate it. It is not seen as something bad and as long as the process is seen as fair it is fine. We can track it, improve it and hopefully improve the experience of finding the right doctor for everyone.”

Coincidentally while BetterDoctor entered the Slush 2013 showcase demos late, it was even closer for pitch winner Weekdone.

winners2

“We weren’t originally pitching, a slot opened late last week” says Weekdone CEO Jüri Kaljundi. “Since we’re not actively fundraising [Weekdone sealed an investment round of $200,000 (£124,000) last week] we didn’t feel like we had to pitch at the panel of investors. We just tried to be honest and talk like telling a friend. I feel you can over-prepare and it comes off as artificial.”

weekdoneUnlike the many glamorous dating, fitness and gaming startups at Slush, Weekdone is a wonderfully simple solution to a notoriously odious task: staff management. It takes cues from the consumer sector by employing a clean, visual user interface to tackle the convoluted emails and spreadsheets that still tend to be employed in this business sector.

Weekdone works by asking employees at the start of each week to fill in their goals, which they tick off as the week progresses. They also declare their happiness rating and can answer questions which managers pose. At the end of the week Weekdone compiles all the data into a visual dashboard, which can be automatically distributed to staff and analysed by team leaders.

“I used to manage a large IT services company and I wanted to know why people gave up on [existing solutions],” says Kaljundi. “They wanted something that did not continuously disrupt, was quick to read and quick to comprehend.”

Weekdone launched a basic beta last summer and through customer feedback only finalised the model in January. “You must get the prototype out there and see what customers are saying,” argues Kaljundi. “I’m a big fan of The Lean Startup model. You have to talk to customers and listen, but then you also have to make sure you don’t try to implement too many ideas… what you don’t implement is as important as what you do.”

Kaljundi acknowledges this makes his long-term vision for Weekdone a delicate balancing act. “We want to be a large platform for organisational structure, team building and HR management, but we must keep it simple” he explains. “I don’t have definitive answers how we will do that yet, but we’ll take it month by month and see what happens.”

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

 

 

 

 

Wired – Supercell’s CEO reveals how he built a £2.5 billion company in 2 years

December 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Media & Copywriting

Originally written for Wired UK, find the original article here.

“The best people make the best games,” says Ilkka Paananen, founder of Finnish gaming startup Supercell. “It sounds simple and perhaps naive, but if you truly believe it then the only thing that matters is getting those people and creating the best possible environment so they stay.”

It does sound simple and a little naive, but Supercell’s incredible success hangs over Slush 2013 and is emphasised by the company’s opening address to journalists the day before the Helsinki-based startup conference begins. It also doesn’t hurt that Supercell is sponsoring Slush’s big party and, having earned €1.5 billion (£1.2 billion) for a 51 percent sale in June, the two-year-old company is unlikely to let the bar run dry.

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 For those who missed the headlines, Supercell is an international phenomenon. A mobile games startup founded in 2011 that by early 2013 was making €2.4 million (£2 million) per day having released just two games. The games — Clash of Clans and Hay Day — remain its only globally available titles (though it is beta testing others) and both are now more than a year old. Despite this they remain at or near the top of app store charts worldwide and have reached the number one slot in an incredible 139 and 102 countries respectively.

Despite this, all Pannenan wants to talk about is company values, both in terms of organisational structure and “the power of small”. It is a manifesto for building a better company and he is conscious the world is now listening.

“The message has stayed the same, but our success has changed the response,” he explains. Last year he claims he delivered a keynote in San Francisco where fewer than 30 people attended to hear his views. “I knew about 29 of them”, he says with a smile.

Paananen puts Supercell’s success firmly at the quality of his employees, but offers four key factors to get the most from them:

  1. MINIMISE BUREAUCRACY “It maximises the time people can spend on their work… individual designers can make decisions and optimise for speed and create sense of ownership within the games.” He says no-one knows the potential of a game and its chances of success or failure better than its creators. At least until it is released when the reaction and requests of users become the dominant factors in its evolution.
  2. BE TRANSPARENT “We send a daily email with all key performance indicators to everyone in the company,” says Paananen, causing a few eyebrows to be raised. “It isn’t restricted to executives, it is the same information released at the same time so we can all figure out on our own what is needed. A new employee started recently and he told me ‘I think I got the wrong email, I just got all the revenue data on our games this morning'”.
  3. CELEBRATE FAILURE “You have to eliminate the fear of failure. If a game goes wrong we throw a party for its developers and give them champagne to celebrate what they learnt. As a company we have failed far more than we succeeded. We have killed five games and launched two. You need to take risks to succeed and for that you must take fear away from that risk.”
  4. GET BIG BY THINKING SMALL Clash of Clans and Hay Day were each developed by teams of just five developers. Even now they are global smashes each has a team no bigger than 15. “Small independent cells is where the company name comes from,” explains Paananen. “We say ‘get big by thinking small’, we value the speed of small teams and keeping things simple. Our employees don’t need layers of processes and layers of management.”

This simplicity extends to how employees are managed. “We don’t track staff and we are flexible in terms of hours. Come here at 5.30pm and the office is pretty much empty,” says Paananen, destroying an age old startup stereotype. “We trust them. The one rule is: do what is best for your team and the game. All we care about is what you get done. The games industry is guilty of burning out people. You can’t be productive working 18 hours a day for a year. We want to make history and you can’t burn out all your employees in three years and hope to make history.”

Paananen’s vision of “making history” clearly stems from getting the people he wants and putting them into a company they can love. He wants gamers to love them too and he gives the example of Nintendo and talks about games as services which should be regularly updated to become better “week by week”. He is also desperate to empower his staff, even if it means forcibly limiting his own powers.

For starters Paananen says he can’t kill a game, even if he wanted to — that responsibility lies only with the developers and, ultimately, the users. He sits in an open plan office with the same size table and standard issue chair as everyone else and he carries no more than one vote. He also gives every employee stock options.

“My goal is to become the least powerful CEO in the world” he proclaims. He doesn’t want Supercell to be dominated by a single figure where their absence creates an immense power vacuum and risks a loss of direction.

But despite his now imposing personal wealth Paananen has no plans to go anywhere and test that vacuum theory. The 51 percent sale was to a newly founded conglomerate composed of SoftBank (80 percent) and GungHo (20 percent) and Paananen sits on the board. It is in their stakeholders agreement that Supercell will stay in Finland and all control and strategic direction remains within Supercell itself. “We did the deal to become more independent, not less,” he argues.

“People ask me ‘How do you get up in the morning?’ But I’ve never worked for money. I just want to make great games. As long as Supercell is the best possible environment to make games then why should people leave? I want to work with these people. If we don’t become the best environment then they should leave.”

And yet Paananen, as passionate as he is about his company ideals, is not keen to press them upon all industries: “Every industry needs to work out their own model for success. But as a general rule I think our model gives more ownership to employees and a greater feeling of freedom and belonging. That has to be a good thing.”

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

Wired – Premium Soylent rival fuels the food drink revolution

December 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Media & Copywriting

Originally written for Wired, find the original article here

“I’ve met Rob Rhinehart, we get on very well,” says Mikko Ikola, co-founder of Ambro — the second liquid-based food substitute set to make headlines this year. Ikola is talking about the creator of Soylent and makes no bones about being inspired by its mission to find a cheap, healthy solution to world hunger. But Ambro’s plans are different.

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“Soylent’s goal is to be synthetic and affordable,” argues Ikola “Ambro is organic and premium”. This means dumping powers for actual recognisable ingredients such as nuts, brown full-grain rice, wild berries and cocoa. The core profile is as follows; fat comes from nuts (organic almond, organic pecan, organic, organic hazelnut, organic walnut); carbohydrates mainly from organic whole grain rice and quinoa; protein via whey protein; most vitamins and trace nutrients are supplied by the rest of the ingredients such as wild berries, spinach and spirulina.

Ambro is mixed one part to three parts water (or using any other ingredients you prefer). 144g of Ambro has 600 kcal, equivalent to a healthy meal.

The ingredient list means Ambro has a very different customer target to Soylent: the busy entrepreneur, the overworked employee, the constantly moving field rep and the conscious healthy eater. “It is about getting over hunger five minutes before your meeting, but doing it in a way which completes all your nutritional needs,” says Ikola.

ambro2_1Ambro is exhibiting at Slush in Helsinki. In some inspired guerrilla marketing its staff has been handing out samples to the conference’s lengthy food queues which can stretch over 100 metres. Ikola says responses have been predominantly positive.

Wired.co.uk’s own impressions: it doesn’t look overly appetising but the nuttiness comes through in both the taste and texture and the thickness makes it feel more substantial than a normal drink. I wasn’t particularly hungry when I tried my sample, but didn’t feel the need to eat for some time afterwards. I could certainly see myself using it when running short on time.

Unlike Soylent, Ikola isn’t pushing the potential to live purely off Ambro: “We are fans of good food and family dinners. Ambro is for the times food needs to work around you.” That said the company is currently conducting long term trials as it is aware some buyers will want to use it this way.

In fact some buyers may already be doing so. Unlike Soylent, which will go on sale early next year, Ambro has been shipping in limited runs to customers for the last few months. The “premium” tag still sees it remain relatively affordable at €49 (£41) (excluding shipping) for a 1.1kg bag that will provide 8 full meals. But it is clearly a food substitute rather than a budget option.

Once opened Ikola says Ambro will last two months, but the company is working to extend this “a lot longer” without artificial preservatives.

In early 2014 Ambro will kick off a crowdfunding round as part of a publicity drive and to provide better economy of scale. It may be the first commercial Soylent variant, but it is unlikely to be the last.

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

 

Wired – Grand Cru set to be be Finland’s next mobile gaming sensation

December 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Media & Copywriting

Written for Wired UK – find the original article here

After smashing birds into pigs and motivating clans to clash, is the next mobile craze going to be a puzzle platformer that mixesMinecraft with a social twist? Industry insiders at Slush 2013seem to think so and, if they’re proved right, developer Grand Cru could be the latest Finnish sensation to stand alongside Rovio and Supercell.

The expectation is understandable. Supernauts is Grand Cru’s first game, it has been in development for two years and the company received $16m (£9.9m) in investment even before beta tests had begun. Supernauts is now live in the Canadian Apple App Store and early indications ahead of its 6 December release from this “little America” test ground are overwhelmingly positive.

Admittedly so too are Grand Cru. Founder Markus Pasula claims it is the “most ambitious phone and tablet game ever made” and that coding began during the time of the iPhone 4 with the assumption it would run optimally on the processing power that would be delivered three generations later.
liv 1“We asked ourselves ‘what can we create in the future’ for where gaming is headed next,” says Pasula. In that time the rise of Rovio and Supercell has also emboldened Grand Cru’s vision. “Five years ago we wouldn’t have thought it was possible to do what we are doing where we are, but now we believe we can conquer the world from Helsinki.”

Much of this confidence is thanks to Tekes, Finland’s funding agency for technology and innovation. Tekes warmed to Grand Cru’s vision early giving them public grants just as they had done to Supercell in its early days. Pasula is also singing from the same hymn sheet as Ilkka Paananen, Supercell’s CEO, when it comes to the culture and structure of a modern gaming company.

“We pursue a relatively flat organisation and keep teams as small as possible,” says Pasula. “They have the freedom and control to change games as they see fit. It is only closer to release that we add more policing, but even then we try not to make teams any bigger.” This could have come straight from Paananen’s “think small to get big” philosophy playbook.

As for the game itself, it impresses on initial inspection. Like titles from Rovio and Supercell it will launch on iOS “due to reduced fragmentation issues” and a typically more lucrative customer base. It shares Angry Birds’  fiendishly addictive qualities and hundreds of levels and Clash of Clans’social integration and “freemium” sales model.

“Our model is games that are truly services,” explains Pasula and he says Grand Cru aims to improve and enrich the game week in week out just as Supercell has managed with Clash of Clans. Paananen may not give explicit coaching instructions to his wannabe Finnish rivals, but it appears they have been good students regardless.

Pasula also preaches Paananen’s sense of fluidity and flux in their chosen industry. “Gaming on mobile changes every few years,” he stresses. “So you need to change and be adaptable and avoid building structures that limit your ability to change.”

Pasula’s words come not just about global competition, but the ferocity of Grand Cru’s Helsinki rivals. Supercell has been dubbed the new Rovio and Grand Cru the new Supercell, but there is a step below Grand Cru already. Seriously Games, founded in August by ex-Rovio and Supercell staff, hasn’t even got its first game off the drawing board, but that hasn’t stopped it already securing €2 million (£1.6 million) in venture capital.

Social conventions say Finns do not to boast or over sell their achievements, but with Rovio merchandising in every corner, Supercell declaring it “wants to make history” and Grand Cru claiming the “most ambitious” mobile game of all time, it seems the gloves are off.

In this brutal micro-climate fought on the world stage, it’s hard to blame them from breaking character.

Copyright for all reviews, editorials and features on this site belong to their respective publishers. All samples published on this website are via prior agreement with those publishers and serve to act as a portfolio and centralised location for all my work. Contact me at gordon@gordonkelly.com should you wish to commission me or supply review samples, press releases or arrange meetings.   

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