Quitting is one of those moments when you really get a chance to look back and think about what went well, what went bad and how to improve. Yesterday was my last day building games for Sanoma Games. I did not blog about my time in Sanoma at all for no specific reason. The year has gone by so fast, I hardly had the chance to keep up my blog.
I took the job a year ago because I wanted to try building apps that already had users and made revenue. None of the startups I built before managed to reach proper revenue-phase. I wanted to take a sneak preview of what happens when products get from A to A +1.
The year at Sanoma has been really good. I’ve learned a lot and had a chance to work with some of the greatest. Perhaps from the product development point of view the greatest takeaway for me is the importance of designer in a team when developing web app. In my previous startups design has been overlooked.
While working with games at Sanoma Games I also got some (more) experience in doing metrics-driven development. This is again something I haven’t had the chance to get my hands on before since in early-stage start-ups there isn’t that much customer data that could help developing the product. Or at least there is more data in later stages. I’ll write more about these experiences later.
So what next? I am not sure yet. I have some wild plans on relocating to Australia and I also have a new project www.snipplist.com (not yet a startup) that we are building with Ilari Patrikka and Timo Parkkinen, old hacker friends. But who knows what happens. I might also join some startup or big company to build new great products online on different platforms. For now I am planning to just take my time to see what happens.
Hello Future, See You Later Past!
It’s been a while since my last update on this blog and many things have changed. This post is not about those changes but something else. I’ve been using Pingdom for monitoring uptime and response time for quite a while in various websites. Pingdom is an uptime monitoring service pinging your website from different locations around the world. They are redesigning their control panel interface in an innovative and lean way, which I think is the way to go for an already existing product. I don’t think it would work with completely new services but for doing a facelift for an existing service it looks like an exciting idea.
Instead of finishing the facelift before letting people in they are already letting people try the new control panel with minimum required features set. In Pingdom’s case this minimum required feature set is reports of uptime / downtime. Before implementing all the pages in the service they launched reports page and their top bar navigation. Top bar navigation gives idea of key services that the site will offer after the facelift and Reports page shows how those key services are laid on the screen. While Reports is already accessable other pages in the navigation remain in the “coming soon” -state. Below is a picture of their new top bar navigation system. The Reports page is active and others are “coming soon” as you can see from the Dashboard link.
This is a nice way to get users involved in early stages of the product update. Pingdom is using Uservoice to collect feedback and all comments are open. I don’t know what kind of statistics Pingdom is collecting from the test site but with Google analytics you can get interesting data about how many times inactive menu items were pressed and how many people came back to test after the first use.
I don’t think this would be a good approach when developing completely new products because you have to plan more than needed and you also show direction to pilot customers. Planning far ahead does not provide value when creating a new product, because most of the hypotheses are wrong anyway. One has to iterate and learn between iterations to keep on the right track..
With existing products some of the hypotheses are already proven and Pingdom’s approach is viable. Also, when iterating and trying to learn more about the customer needs, guidance might mislead the customer need analysis. Expression “build what customers needs, not what they want” is brilliant. When customers get too much information about upcoming features or services they start developing requirements that they don’t really need or that only few customers need.
What do you think?
I started working with Applifier in the beginning of March. I am still involved with GigsWiz in more of an advisory role and spending most of my time working now on Applifier. The Past 12 months meant a lot to me at GigsWiz and I got to work with some amazing people. I feel confident saying that the level of execution was higher than in my previous startup and that I learned a lot. Mostly about how to take your project fast to US and UK from Finland and about customer development. More about lessons learned later. I had great time building GigsWiz and I grew a lot during the process. Thanks Juuso, Joonas and the team for the ride.
For the past 4 years I’ve been heavily involved with developing web services, social media applications and mobile services for the sports and music industries. Both industries are going through rapid transformation due to digitalization of the industry. Both of them are also very old industries and some of the structures in the industry have been in place for decades. Mobile and Social web are one of the fastest growing industries in the world and their growth is driven by games. Gaming is the new black and it drives the development of many key technologies in the world.
I’ve been following the gaming industry from distance for few years now and it does not seize to amaze me how the gaming industry is driving the growth of mobile internet and how important games are in social networking space. In addition to driving the growth of social and mobile platforms, gaming industry is also growing fast itself. Digi-Capital estimates in their Global Video Games Investment Review that Online and mobile games should grow global video games sector revenue market size to $87B and take 50% revenue share at $44B (18% CAGR 09-14F). The historically strong pure console sector is flat to down. This makes the growth and the size of gaming industry bigger than music and movies.
I’ve never been too crazy about games but I’ve been always playing something. I like mostly strategy games and role playing games. First gaming platform for me was Nintendo and when I got my first computer I spent a fair amount of time with Wolfenstein 3d, Doom, Duke Nukem 3D etc. My first social gaming addiction was Heroes Of Might And Magic (with SerfCity). I got really addicted to it when I was younger and we still play it with my girlfriend today, Heroes Of Might And Magic III to be precise. Doom and especially ROTT (rise of the triad) has a special place in my heart as the first game I played online with friends. Later I got pretty addicted to Diablo which still offers a great gaming experience. Last stop on my sweet memory lane of games is 007 golden eye on xbox. We spent so many evenings after school playing this game with friends. Splitting screen for four players was crazy cool It was one of the best console game experiences that I’ve ever had. We still gather with those friends occasionally to spend weekend playing Fifa, NHL and Halo. I love games and I wish I had more time to play WoW and Gunshine.
At Applifier I will be working with product development as product director. I will start by managing the development of our advertising, cross promotion and analytics backend tools. In addition to that I’m involved with couple of new products that I’m very excited about. I’ll write more about those later. My personal goal is to learn as much about gaming industry as fast as possible. As I move towards gaming industry you can expect me to blog also about game development related topics.
I am attending Software 20/20 conference in Helsinki today. I think that the software industry in Finland is shooting it’s own leg. Many of the companies in software 20/20 are still building software when the rest of the world is moving towards building services and solving problems. I’ve been running startups for the past 4 years and can’t remember the last time I told somebody I work with software. I always talk about the service we are providing and would never call my starup company a software company. I think that all software companies should stop building software and start building services.
Some weeks ago I went to Slush Helsinki which is Software 20/20 for startups. It is interesting to see how two different clusters in the same industry are approaching the same issue from different angles. Both are talking about doing business overseas and creating better industry. When startups talk about doing business abroad the main question is when to move to US or somewhere closer to our customers. When Software companies talk about international business they are mainly thinking about hiring cheap labor from China or India. When Software companies start thinking about developing the industry they ask where is next Nokia. When startups think about developing the industry they create events like Slush Helsinki or organizations like Aalto Entrepreneurship society.
I think that it’s a pity that these two worlds are so disconnected from each other. When was the last time a Software Company went to Aalto Venture Garage? On Saturday? Software companies have a lot to give to startups and startups to software companies. Increasing cooperation between these two clusters would help Finland climb back to the front seat of the technology innovation train.
Do you still build software or have you moved on building services already?
I have been working with different types of companies when developing products for Floobs and GigsWiz. Before I began the startup episode of my life I was selling IT consultant services for small businesses. Selling software development-related services (also known as IT consultancy) is not an easy thing to do. Personally I have to say that there were more times that I have been disappointed as a customer than satisfied with these projects. One basic problem is to define the project and find out how valuable the service really is. Some of the most innovative companies in this field are using agile methods and doing a pretty good job in transferring that agility to their customer relationship. Majority of these companies work on an hourly basis which is problematic for the service provider. It is hard to estimate how many hours it takes to develop a feature. This morning I woke up with a new idea related to IT consulting / software development business. Maybe this could be the future?
We are developing GigsWiz using the Kanban process. In our process we have four phases; backlog, development, testing and deployment. Each feature goes through the process as ‘tickets’. Our tickets are basically user stories about features. We have one basic rule with tickets, they have to be as small as possible. We have a product owner and Kanban master from SCRUM process. We also have retrospectives but we don’t really do sprint planning. When developers take new tasks to development phase they plan the tasks together and start developing features. The requirements (graphics, texts etc.) are gathered to tickets in backlog phase. We measure the success and failure of our process by counting how many tickets we complete monthly.
Maybe software development companies could use similar process. Especially those ones who manage their own developers. Instead of charging per hour of work they could put price to each ticket. The backlog could be made together by the project manager from the company offering the service and the buyer.
I think that this kind of process would work quite well for companies who offer software development services. Maybe the smaller ones better than big ones. Instead of charging clients per hour they could charge them per ticket. I believe that they can get better price for a ticket than an hour because customers can enjoy the benefits of transparency and get more involved if they want.
In this model there are many benefits both for the company providing the service and the customer. Service providers have better understanding of how much value their developers are creating for the company and they know better what they are doing. Customers are happier because they understand better what they pay for.
What do you think?
Technology strategy has always been close to my heart. I am very interested about software processes and the decisions related to choosing the right technologies for different types of software projects. Earlier this year I joined a startup called GigsWiz. GigsWiz is my second startup and the third company that I have given birth to. In all startups my main input has been in product development and technology strategy. GigsWiz is a very early stage startup and we have been doing the most important technological decisions during the past three months.
The world has changed a lot since I started my previous startup, Floobs, in 2007. When we started Floobs we basically had to decide between Java or PHP. Basically there were two limitations on decision making. First it was very hard to find developers for other platforms in Finland and secondly there were very few web apps built with other technologies. It is safer bet to use a platform which is proven to scale. Today you can basically choose from various different platforms like Java, PHP, Python, Ruby or something more exotic ones like Scala. There are plenty of projects implemented with these technologies and it is also a lot easier to find a team of developers for each platform
In Floobs we chose Java because most of the developers I knew were Java developers and because we decided to use specific open source software which was only available in Java. Because of this we choose to use Java across our product catalogue which enabled our developers to do little bit everything. It was also easier to develop competence when focusing on one programming language.
In most of the startups it does not matter which technology you choose. What ever weaknesses the chosen platform has you can fix them later or just change the platform. Example of the first one is what Facebook did with PHP. After an aggressive growth period Facebook came up with HipHop to help them scale their system. Twitter ran into problems with Ruby on Rails and started using Scala, still being a super successful startup. More information about Twitter’s move towards using Scala on Artima Developer blog. Usually startups begin with some technology they feel comfortable doing the first iterations and later on when growing start adding new technologies when needed or just build something on top of existing technologies. It is very simplified statement to make that Facebook or Twitter is written in some single programming language.
In GigsWiz we are again using Java as our primary programming language but this time we focus more on developing the core technology. We are building APIs which enables us to outsource software components that are not close to our core technology. We chose Java because that’s what we were using in Floobs and it was fast way for us to get started.
What matters is that you get started really quickly and that you can iterate as fast as possible, learning in between iterations. The team is the key thing also when choosing the technology. Some developers like to take their time on making these decision but unfortunately time is a luxury startups cannot afford. The most important thing is to keep the iteration snow ball rolling and learn on as much as possible on the way. This puts huge load on software development process. More about that later.
I had a chance to listen very interesting keynote today from Lennart Jürges who is Product Manager at RTL, one of the largest media companies in Germany. He presented couple of very interesting points about the competition between iPhone and Nokia. I think that people do not talk enough about this here in Nokialand.
According to Lennart, iPhone solves three prblems; iPhone has big screen, it has good navigation and it comes with flatrate data plan. The most interesting point in Lennarts speach was about mobile internet. Teemu Kurppa pointed out already in 2008 that even though Nokia is the largest mobile phone manifacturer they are getting their ass kicked on the mobile internet. Teemus blog post here. According to Lennart 80% of mobile media traffic comes from the iPhone which has about 2% market share in the Germany.
A lot to start with
I ran into interesting article today “Holy Cow Did Twitter’s Top Investor Drop A Bombshell On Twitter App-Makers TodayRead more“. The article talks about how Twitter is planning to build photosharing, URL shortner and other features that are already implemented in applications built on top of Twitter API.
I think that Twitter is very succesfull startup and one of the key success factor is that they knew how to focus to right thing at the right time. I bet that many people have been telling them how they should do mobile app, desktop app and millions of other things. I also bet that it must have been tempting to just start doing those things. But they did not do any of those, not untill they had proven that they can scale and make them selves important to not only their users but loads of other people and companies in the ecosystem that they operate. I am a big fan of Minimum Viable product theory and I think that this is on of the best public examples out there.
Few weeks ago I went to Plugg conference to present GigsWiz in Plugg Startup Rally. Plugg was very interesting conference and again I learned a lot about the state of European startup ecosystem and generally about entrepreneurship. Before the conference there was pre-conference session with presentation about pitching and other relevant stuff to a young entrepreneur like me. One of the jury members, Sien Luyten from Oraura, shared interesting point that I feel very passionate about.
She presented the picture below. The picture present a bottom up process where you first build business plan and then presentation, executive summary and finaly elevator pitch. The idea is that when you start a company you should begin with building 10-20 page business plan and then it will be very easy for you to make a presentation, excecutive summary and elevator pitch.
I think that the picture is very good. People just read it wrong way. The first thing you do when you start company is not business plan. It is the elevator pitch. Business plan is the last thing. My experience is that 10 slides, excel sheets and 1 page executive summary is enough for most of people. It is very improtant to rember that updating these documents is iterative process. Personally I try to do as small iterations as possible and maximize learning between these iterations.
I don`t believe that startups have time to build 10-20 page business plan and keep it up to date. I do believe that most of the things in business plan are important and they should be considered when building a startup. I am just saying that it should be iterative process and documentation format is not 10-20 page document but something else, like 10 slides.
What do you think?