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Posts Tagged ‘Software Industry’

Launching with ‘good enough’ productization

Last week’s blog series ‘art of productization’ continues with more insights from Kati Riikonen, our guest writer in this week’s blog.

Yes, it’s true, ’good enough’ is not measured in the amount of features or the length of specification.  For productization, the key customer promise is a top priority it seldom requires all possible features to be showcased.

Often there is no need, nor it’s feasible, to do full productization journey before going out to market making mode.

The level of necessary productization is depending on many variables. Most importantly one should crystallize concrete goals for the post-launch actions. There are also big differences on targeted audience is B2B, B2C or C2C. In reality, the limiting factors for productization often tend to be time and money.

The following provides examples of productization check points for various types of launches.

Idea launch

  • Examples of next steps: Generate public discussion, idea exchange, testing the idea, scouting potential partners, gathering insights
  • Productization check list: None. Just go out and talk the way you do – all entrepreneurs should do idea launches every day!

Concept launch

  • Examples of next steps: Seeking for finance, crowd-sourcing for development or more insight, thought leadership, publicity, scouting for ecosystem partners
  • Productization check list: Initial customer promise, name and descriptor, differentiators, user experience and marketing assets.

Tip on naming: In B2C or C2C concept launch a legally protected name in early phase is a real asset. In B2B concept launch, it is more natural and often enough just to differentiate with customer promise and descriptors, rather than spend limited resources on the naming convention.

Tip on prioritization: In case of very limited resources, focus on the concept’s customer promise and end-user experience as top priorities regardless if it is B2B, B2C or C2C.

Commercial launch

  • Examples of next steps: Market and sell! Business development, marketing, scout, sign and train distribution channels, agents, personnel.
  • Productization check list: In case of B2C or C2C launch, the further the productization check list is completed, the more likely are scalable sales and operations to accelerate. Of course, there are always exceptions, but the fact is that agents and sales pros tend to sell what gives them the fastest and reasonable payback. Having all the productization assets at immediate disposal gives the team a head start.

Reminder: Productization process does not mean that it’s done in vacuum before going out to public. Direct end-user insight, dialogue and co-creation can – and often should – be part of the successful productization.

Feel free to post your comments & example cases!


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Check list for software and digital service productization

Recently I had an inspiring discussion with Kati Riikonen, a doer, who has been working with several companies from mobility, web and software development domains. We were exploring the needs, pros and cons of the productization of software and digital services. With Kati’s permission, I am sharing some experiences on the topic.

Fully productized service should roughly cover the following:

Pitch check list

  • Clearly differentiate from companies and competitor’s other existing services
  • Name with trademarks and legal protection
  • Short and clear customer promise
  • The elevator speech, a short and crisp 1-2 sentences description of the product or services

User experience check list

  • User experience design drivers and design blueprint
  • Product definition: detailed description of the functionality. This element can be a demo, specification, description or any other format

Assets check list

  • Marketing assets that can be distributed physically or digitally
  • Detailed sales guide, that can be distributed physically or digitally
  • Organized documentation of the service and its operations

Sell check list

  • Price, which can be told immediately and clearly
  • Distribution channel and sales people need to be able to sell the product within feasible investment of time & effort
  • Company’s own personnel and agents need to be able to tell with is being sold with few sentences
  • A client, who is about to buy the service or product, needs to be able to tell with few sentence what he/she is about to buy

Naturally one does not need to take the steps in the right order – we entrepreneurs seldom do! The above should be treated more as a reference.

Shortcuts work very well – often for a period of time. However, significant shortcuts can cause unnecessary resource needs later on. Here is an example:

The project had user experience elements well designed, but did shortcuts in most of the other areas.  User experience assets showcased the concept so well that the company was able to start sales mode immediately. It did not matter that the service did not even have a name – and it still does not have legally protected name.  It might sound an easy way to reduce the pain of productization, but now the company is facing an increasing amount of challenges with press and industry discussion. They are now spending a lot of effort and ‘air time’ to correct the misleading names and messages instead of focusing on their own pitch.

The next question is what level of productization is ‘good enough’ for public launches?

While waiting for the Part 2, post your experiences, questions & comments – thanks!

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Last week week we discussed the first five items of the following list, this week we cover rest of them.

  1. How do I find the potential investors?
  2. Which regulation applies and what can I actually do?
  3. How do I get the investors’ attention?
  4. How to deal with all the required documents?
  5. How can I negotiate all the terms with so many investors?
  6. What about company valuation?
  7. What is Due Diligence and why do I need it?
  8. How on earth do I get all the papers signed by a large number (say, 90) of investors all over Europe?
  9. How can I securely communicate with all those potential investors without answering the same questions over and over again?
  10. How to take advantage of a large number of investors, after I got them?

6. What About Company Valuation?

Company valuation is always a tough call. There is no real truth available for this, but typically (we entrepreneurs) over-estimate the value and the potential investors under-value the company as they want to “get a good deal”. So what would be fair price for a share issue?

The easiest way to set the price is just decide a value that you think would be acceptable for the investors. It makes sense to ask around your friends and other entrepreneurs as well as to compare the valuation to other similar companies. The challenge is, however, that typically the values of financing rounds are confidential and there is no good way to do good market research. A good way to know if you are in the right range is also just asking some potential investors. Even though their opinion may be biased, they are after all “your customers” and you get the feeling if you’d be able to sell your product ie. the shares to them.

You could also use the Dutch Auction model which Google used in its IPO offering. The Dutch Auction is a type of auction where the auctioneer begins with a high asking price which is lowered until some participant is willing to accept the auctioneer’s price, or a predetermined reserve price (the seller’s minimum acceptable price) is reached. The winning participant pays the last announced price.

If you want to use even more exotic and different model you can also use the Vickrey Auction model. This is a type of sealed-bid auction, where bidders submit written bids without knowing the bid of the other people in the auction. The highest bidder wins, but the price paid is the second-highest bid.

The Dutch Auction and Vickrey Auction models may turn out to be interesting due to the relative fairness of the valuation but they do require software tools in order to manage the process properly.

7. What Is Due Diligence (DD) And Why Do I Need It?

Wikipedia defines Due Diligence as “a term used for a number of concepts involving either the performance of an investigation of a business or person prior to signing of a contract, or the performance of an act with a certain standard of care.”

Concerning fund raising with crowdfunding model there is a need for “vendor due diligence” meaning basically a Due Diligence carried out at the expense of the company. This is necessary (among other things) in order (1) to find and correct any matter potentially decreasing investors’ interest in company, (2) systematically documenting anything that positively increases investors’ interest such as Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and (3) having a third party opinion on issues such as “is this technology working or could it work” and “are all financial and legal matters as they should”.

Those objectives can be achieved by

  1. Company itself documenting and listing certain issues
  2. Having a third party doing the Technical Due Diligence (sometimes this is not relevant)
  3. Having a third party doing the Legal Due Diligence (this is often the most important one) and includes for example checking the balance sheet, accounting reports and the IPR
  4. Having a third party doing the Financial Due Diligence (as this concerning the issues such as market and future development, may be the most difficult one)

There are no really standardized ways of doing the DD and this typically means that there are quite many different ways of performing this. It also means that it is good business for lawyers and other parties. However, there are efforts already (among others our GrowthOS project) solving this problem. Standardized Due Diligence, when successful, means an easier way to analyze company as an investment target (good for the investors) and more affordable way of performing one or more Due Diligences (good for the entrepreneurs).

8. How On Earth Do I Get All The Papers Signed By A Large Number (Say, 90) Of Investors All Over Europe?

Let’s imagine that your company has successfully completed all the above mentioned steps. You have 90 investors agreeing to invest certain amount of money in your company, with the specific terms agreed. The remaining challenge would be printing 90 copies of each document and having all signing those papers. Sounds like a lot of work…

This is luckily not necessary.

You can either structure the documents so that each party can just “join” the agreement (consult your lawyer on this) or use some other method. This “other method” means processes currently being developed several parties, enabling signing documents with legal binding with electronic means.

9. How Can I Securely Communicate With All Those Potential Investors Without Answering The Same Questions Over And Over Again?

Email is not really good means of communication for secure discussion. You have a need (and in a way, an obligation) to answer to the questions asked by the potential investors as part of a funding round. You also have to share same information with all parties, keeping them equal as required by the law. At the minimum, you may want to set up a secure discussion board for all the participants and keep all discussions there.

10. How To Take Advantage Of A Large Number Of Investors, After I Got Them?

This may be the coolest advantage you’ll get, potentially benefiting you more than just the money. You know  how the investors always emphasize how they have connections to help your startup. In some cases that may be true, yes. However, the likelihood that you get quite a lift for your business from the large number of investors, is higher. What this means is that as the number of crowdfunding investors (in your company) grows, the likelyhood that they can help you to get more lead, customers and revenue, grows equally. Each of the investors has a motivation (ownership) to help you.

What would be the best way of managing this communication? As an entrepreneur you don’t want to spend all your time with those questions that have no value. Here you may not want to treat all the shareholders equally (meaning: communicate with all of them equally much concerning business). Similar discussion forum as was used during the investment round may be useful, but may also not be adequate.

If you are facing these challenges, and would like to use a leading edge service to solve them, please get in touch. We are currently working on a solution that would help you on this.

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Three days to go. As the year is about to end, it’s time to look back and learn from this year.

Jobita – Market Place for Jobs

Year 2009 was the launch year of Jobita, formerly known as Tikitagi. Late March we launched the prototype of the service. Jobita is an Internet tool for local service professionals (and those who want to become those) as well any individual to market their skills and manage the assignments. For consumers Jobita is the easiest way to find qualified doer for any task at hand, either at home, at the office or for example on the boat.

It was a great learning experience, later also leading to concept called “gasellizer” – more efficient way of producing software with outsourced resources.

Already in January I wrote about using True Identity instead of pseudonyms. We are proud to announce that Jobita.fi is the first of its kind to truly support True Identities. Jobita is working together with NorthId on this. It’s called “Nettihenkkarit” in Finnish, loosely translated as “Online Identity Card”.

End of October we launched the totally rewritten version of Jobita, initially only in Finnish language. During the first two months of existence, the number of members and posts increased rapidly.

Creating Software as it always Should Have Been Done

Software Industry is relatively new as industry. Therefore it is no surprise that it is still facing many fundamental challenges, such as understanding the customer problem and turning that into a successful business. Together with few other people from the industry we worked on a concept called “Gasellizer”. One of the observations was that managing the specification process is still a major headache for most of the developers, and no, Agile methodology as such is not an answer for this. It’s more question of “User Defined Features” or uDef’s as we call them. Simply put, there is a need for recording, and managing as the needs evolve throughout the process, the users’ need with their own words.

One way of approaching the problem is learning from the movie industry’s way of operation.

And it is always great to learn from those who have already done it in real life (lessons learned from Mårten Mickos, ex-CEO of MySQL).

Entrepreneur is the Most Critical Resource

This discussion is going on all the time: “there is not enough money for the start-ups”. That is absolutely true. In order learn a bit more about the actual problem, I tweeted and blogged about a simple question “Which one of the following is the most critical and the least supplied resource: ideas, entrepreneurs or money?”.

As was to be expected, there was a lot of support for the answer of “money is the missing link”. However, the poll made revealed that the majority of the people thought actually that we do not have (good/experience/etc) entrepreneurs to implement those ideas. Nobody claimed that we would not have enough ideas. I am 100% of the same opinion, we don’t have enough entrepreneurs. As many of the supporting organizations and tools fail to understand this most fundamental question, also many of the solutions (no matter how well-meaning) do not touch and help the actual problem.

Simply put: as long as we do not have enough those entrepreneurs who will use the money available to build succesful and brave enough success stories, we will not have successful software companies. Period.

Crowdfunding is the Modern Way of Raising Funding

Okay, in the previous chapter I claimed that the most critical missing resource is the “entrepreneur”. It does not mean that getting funding would be easy, not at all.

Raising money for an idea or early stage start-up never has been, nor will be, very easy.

There is, however, always the possibility of looking for new solutions for the problem. One of the hottest ideas right now is “crowdfunding“. I wrote a small article about that in August. According to the polls made, this kind of funding is well received by both entrepreneurs and investors.

There is a new exciting company working on the concept of crowdfunding, GrowthOS. If you are member of LinkedIn, you can apply for GrowthOS group. Check out also an interesting opportunity to get a really high quality video pitches for your company.

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Yesterday I tweeted about a simple question.

So far I’ve received 15+ excellent comments.

Initially and based on discussions with some fellow (active) entrepreneurs I was of an opinion that we are mainly missing the people (entrepreneurs) to make the idea into action.

This line of thought was justified as we all know there are more ideas than what we can implement. Many of the ideas should, honestly, never be implemented. And many of them are just copycats, yet another facebook-youtube-socialmedia clone which is a pity. Even after these taken away there are many more great ideas than people to implement them. In this light it seems almost funny how desperately (still) some people value just the idea (or an idea in PowerPoint slides).

On the other hand many people, again initially, were of an opinion that you can actually find money if you have a really good idea. The money just may not come from your home country, in this case Finland. There is no real Venture Capitalists left in Finland, and the angel investor community is not very large nor truly active, yet. Luckily at least Veraventure is doing good work to get this changed.

I made earlier a little poll which says many (academic) people skip entrepreneurship as they either don’t have a business idea nor a team.

This week a Finnish business magazine Kauppalehti Optio published a cover story of 80 young people born in the 80’s, the people who are our future and who are going to take over. Guess how many of those persons were entrepreneurs? One. There is hope that some of those classified as “students” still could become entrepreneurs…

The responses to my tweet mainly said, however, that we are missing money and financing. There were also good comments about timing and luck, no matter how good the idea is. For example our idea of mobile carpool service (year 2002) was given no serious attention in the Finnish VC community (luckily the angel investors in Finland, Italy and The Netherlands trusted us) but this year two young students won Venture Cup with the idea of mobile carpool. So it’s also about timing, seven years later. See also a briefing to the subject here. As a side note I would say that if Nokia really would like to “think different”, they should use this Ecolane technology to enter mobile carpool business before Google or Apple do. Disclaimer: I’m a shareholder in both of the companies mentioned.

One thing what I’ve been wondering – if having not enough entrepreneurs is NOT the problem – why as there so little active serial entrepreneurs? I mean those who have tried at least once, possibly succeeded and become a driving force of another start-up with all that experience? Many of those people seem to be now in a more convenient “advisor” role. As one of the active entrepreneurs I respect, Marko Parkkinen, said this week: “After failing in the recent start-up, I was at one point almost desperate enough to become an employee, but luckily I run out of battery in my mobile phone before I said ‘Yes'”.

As one active entrepreneur friend of mine said, “At the first stage of ‘making it big’ the lack of true entrepreneurs makes the start-up market very small. Money matters only after a start-up has started its journey – if there was all the money available, but no real motivation to make ‘my/our company big’, I doubt there would be much success.”

However, I do belive that funding is a key element in building new success stories. Early this year  we start building a new initiative code named “GrowthOS“.

“GrowthOS is an ecosystem for entrepreneurs to build online presence enabling them to receive funding from one or more private investors as well as facilitate all the activities before and after the investment has taken place. Extensive use of web-enabled communication, reputation building and other tools offer a unique platform for private investors to follow, communicate with, invest in as well as follow or participate the development of those startups they mostly believe in.”

If you are interested in the GrowthOS ecosystem (it’s going to be Europe-wide), feel free to contact me.

But coming back to the main question: “Which one of the following is the most critical and the least supplied resource: ideas, entrepreneurs or money?”

What do YOU think?

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I was recently listening to Mårten Mickos, in an event sponsored by SWOT Consulting.

Mårten gave an excellent presentation with the idea of “How would I build a global software company right now”. He almost immediately pointed out that it does not make sense to say “Finnish Global Software Company” as that would already be against the definition. It can of course be that it is initiated by the Finns. As his success and experience from MySQL is well known, it makes sense to pay attention to what he says.

There are both challenges and opportunities (accessible with specific strengths) in this field.

He listed the following challenges anyone building a software company (in Finland) will face:

  1. Finland is too small and too expensive. This can be overcome by either focusing or going into volumes.
  2. Finland is good in utilizing software, not so good in producing it globally.
  3. We are slow.
  4. The Finns believe too much in institutions. More sales work, less filling in forms for subsidies and grants.
  5. There is room for improvement concerning the will to really fight (to become successful). In some respects, life is too easy for many. True winners are those who learn to fight for the success!
  6. We believe (still) that we are a leading edge country (“We come from Finland, country of Nokia”). More humble approach would be good as well as partnering with foreign complementary people.

The Finns have many strengths, however, which could and should be utilized better:

  1. The working moral is good, better than in USA/Silicon Valley as is the management style.
  2. The quality of work is good, honestly. Even when nobody is watching!
  3. Well-functioning society, everything works. (Author’s comment: not without briberies some statistics show, it’s just different)
  4. Mad creativity in development, making Finns suitable for all kind of pioneer development.

Utilizing the strengths and becoming successful also requires:

  1. Being in the right time, in the right place. You also need luck!
  2. Going into one of the large markets (EU, USA or China) quickly.

Mårten also gave his view on the software market status as of now:

  • Consolidation is taking place. You have to either find a pioneer market or find a niche in the consolidating segments.
  • Convergence means there are no borders between web and mobile, one must be capable to operate in both.
  • Increasing complexity – select your target market with care.
  • Global growth – do your market research concerning the existing players with care.
  • Market domination game requires you to find weak point of the market leader and take advantage of that.
  • Utilize the Open Source opportunities.
  • Everything is in the Net, and so will you.

Mårten summarized all this by saying that one must be brave but humble, ready to conquer the world BUT aiming at carefully selected market segments and geographical locations with carefully selected go-to-market-plan.

There are, in my humble opinion, many good points in his presentation. There’s is always something to learn!

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I was recently listening to Mårten Mickos, in an event sponsored by SWOT Consulting.

Mårten gave an excellent presentation with the idea of “How would I build a global software company right now”. He almost immediately pointed out that it does not make sense to say “Finnish Global Software Company” as that would already be against the definition. It can of course be that it is initiated by the Finns. As his success and experience from MySQL is well known, it makes sense to pay attention to what he says.

There are both challenges and opportunities (accessible with specific strengths) in this field.

He listed the following challenges anyone building a software company (in Finland) will face:

  1. Finland is too small and too expensive. This can be overcome by either focusing or going into volumes.
  2. Finland is good in utilizing software, not so good in producing it globally.
  3. We are slow.
  4. The Finns believe too much in institutions. More sales work, less filling in forms for subsidies and grants.
  5. There is room for improvement concerning the will to really fight (to become successful). In some respects, life is too easy for many. True winners are those who learn to fight for the success!
  6. We believe (still) that we are a leading edge country (“We come from Finland, country of Nokia”). More humble approach would be good as well as partnering with foreign complementary people.

The Finns have many strengths, however, which could and should be utilized better:

  1. The working moral is good, better than in USA/Silicon Valley as is the management style.
  2. The quality of work is good, honestly. Even when nobody is watching!
  3. Well-functioning society, everything works. (Author’s comment: not without briberies some statistics show, it’s just different)
  4. Mad creativity in development, making Finns suitable for all kind of pioneer development.

Utilizing the strengths and becoming successful also requires:

  1. Being in the right time, in the right place. You also need luck!
  2. Going into one of the large markets (EU, USA or China) quickly.

Mårten also gave his view on the software market status as of now:

  • Consolidation is taking place. You have to either find a pioneer market or find a niche in the consolidating segments.
  • Convergence means there are no borders between web and mobile, one must be capable to operate in both.
  • Increasing complexity – select your target market with care.
  • Global growth – do your market research concerning the existing players with care.
  • Market domination game requires you to find weak point of the market leader and take advantage of that.
  • Utilize the Open Source opportunities.
  • Everything is in the Net, and so will you.

Mårten summarized all this by saying that one must be brave but humble, ready to conquer the world BUT aiming at carefully selected market segments and geographical locations with carefully selected go-to-market-plan.

There are, in my humble opinion, many good points in his presentation. There’s is always something to learn!

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