Monday, September 29, 2008

Open innovation: It is good to have those startup guys in your office

I continue the open innovation theme that the poll on the right side of this page is about. In case you have not voted, please do!

For a week now we have had one startup working in our office. And I must say the fresh spirit that the startup people bring to the company is something remarkable!

Here is a list of positive thoughts the startup people have and bring to the company:
"Me, you and everybody talks to customers. When the situation needs even the programmer can sell!"
"The new technologies and Web 2.0 things. We better test and use them! Now!"
"The useless thing, server or software we bought is a serious problem - my problem. We better use it or sell it!"
"We better not waste our time on useless procedures, papers, bureaucraucy"
"I am entitled for a new laptop, mobile or payrise when we have good net profit."

This all is due to the fact that in a startup business "company's success" equals "employee's success". In a bigger company the connection is almost missing and I am almost sure that it is not possible to have a straightforward connection. The limit when the connection fades out is about 30-50 employees. For bigger companies some people just don't "self-motivate" so easily.

So the point of open innovation is to use the "high pressured steam" in the startup people and turn it into successful products.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Startup ideas - waste of time?

I am from the "serious IT business" background and I after following the internet startup field for some time have started to wonder - why is all the attention in the startup field going to fancy, but mostly useless solutions. Micro-blogging, social networks, mashup chat and widget applications. They don't really create value and revenue in the traditional corporative sense. They make their customer's spend even more time online, with yet another widget to play with or even worse - they are a platform for creating widgets that make the people waste more time online. They don't make our offline life easier, rather they add a problem as now it is also necessary to have an online life and social networks to deal with. Why doesn't the Y Combinator, TechCrunch and Seedcamp have startups who do "serious IT business" - like for example an ERP or ITIL software or a new cost-saving IT solution for the logistics, telecom, manufacturing etc. businesses.

The vision and mission of MicroLink is "We create time and make life easier". I really like our new vision. :-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bizi on Arcticstartup

I started co-operation with the Finnish ArcticStartup portal. Here is my first story that was published:

Interview with Valentin Ivanov, Founder of Bizi

I interviewed Valentin Ivanov, the founder of Bizi, which is a new startup launched in Estonia last week. The service Bizi offers could be called “Estonian Twitter” with some minor modifications – possibility to add video and pictures. Valentin is an Estonian entrepreneur with international experience, having spent the last decade working in IT developing online applications for the mobile, gambling and entertainment industries in positions ranging from developer, technical manager to Chief Executive Officer. Valentin is also Founder and CEO at, which enables anyone to start their own live TV or radio channel for free. Let’s hear it from Valentin.

1. What is BIZI in a nutshell?

BIZI is a life-moments exchange network. Through BIZI, we aim to unite family members, friends and just other people together via letting them share their short news, feelings and emotions as short messages, small photos or 15 seconds long video records. All this can be done very easily over web, mobile and (very soon) over SMS as well! All this can be done free of charge and will stay free.

There are lots of ideas how to use BIZI for both personal and organizational purposes; either commercially, or non-commercially. Those, who will keep an eye on our press, blogs and other forums will find a lot about it very soon.

2. Why should a person use BIZI instead of Twitter?

The most important reason to use BIZI instead of any other foreign service is the opportunity to speak in your own language to others, who want to do exactly the same.

BIZI offers a bit more than just a Short Text Messages Exchange service – our features are a bit different and definitely more innovative than Twitter, or have. Thus, providing a list of features for real micro-blogging, BIZI lets users to enhance their text posts with 15 seconds long video-audio or just a voice record right from their webcam and microphone. Or, users can add a photo or any other illustration instead!

While developing, we were trying to cover all the needs and requests of our friends, colleagues and also those people, who live in our country and use Twitter, and other similar services over the Internet. BIZI has been made in Estonia and for Estonia.

3. Is BIZI meant for Estonian market? Do you have plans regarding other markets?

As for now, BIZI has been made for Estonian market only. Regarding extending BIZI to other markets, may be one day…

4. What is your general opinion about making local copies of global social-networking services? Is it reasonable to make them? Why people prefer the local copies?

To be very honest, creating BIZI is quite an old idea, which was growing inside me for quite a few years. But as I expect nobody will believe me, I will try to answer your question as-is: my general opinion of bringing something extremely good to local countries in local language and tuned up to be mentally local as well is definitely excellent. How much reasonable is to create such projects is normally a business question to the one trying to that. My reason is a longing for something exciting, something that I can use personally in a home way, and the opportunity to share it with my friends and relatives – people I love and people I want to be part of my life. With all our projects - both BIZI, and the others we are heavily working on - we want to bring a grain of positive emotion to people, to make them happier, more friendly and open.

Now, answering why people prefer local copies, I would first like to ask you back – why do we always prefer everything to be “in my language”: a recipe in the medicine shop to be easily understandable, a movie to be either fully adopted or enhanced with subtitles? Why do we normally prefer everything to be “in my way”? Just because we always prefer to feel ourselves much more secure and comfortable, when we are fully after the situation.

5. How does BIZI plan to make money?

We expect BIZI to get profit form selling advertizing and receiving
sponsorships. Once in the future.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We are looking for marketing and sales partners

Would you be interested in (internet)marketing our startup-s? If yes, send us an e-mail! The SLA calculator would be the first project.

What we have:
We can develop good (mini) web sites for our startups that are SEO friendly, userfriendly and OK for selling the product.

What we lack:
- Real hands-on experience in global (internet)marketing. How to market our startups in the global market or in specific markets. We have read a lot of internetmarketing how-to-s, but never done it large-scale.
- Contacts with bloggers and journalists. How to use their help in marketing?
- We are also incubating services for businesses that might not be in the Web 2.0 world. Small retailers, small and mid-size building companies etc. How to market to them without spending thousands on traditional marketing?

Besides marketing we need sales. Our plan is to track people through marketing to our website and if they seem interested then contact them and tell them more about the product. This is where the salesforce is needed. Interested? Drop us an e-mail. We would pay for results.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Open innovation poll - 6 votes so far....

It seems that most of the voters prefer to innovate in small companies. Of course, 6 votes, is hardly enough for any statistical conclusions, but as the readers of my blog are more experienced and wiser than an average citizen, I think this is something to consider.

I do believe in mid-sized (up to 500 employees) companies also. They have some remarkable benefits compared to the less than 50 person sized businesses. If you have 50 employees you usually don't have much "fat" that you can innovate with. Everybody is working for the next salary, next quarters revenue and the next successful customer case.

If you are open-minded, bold, wise and you can get some management backing you can do miracles in a mid-size company. You have a large pool of specialists, lot of technical resources, lot of experience in different fields and a big customer base. You also might have more money for investing.

The best way of doing innovation in my mind is using the best elements of both the big and the small. You should have the resources of the big company, but a really flexible organization like it is in the small companies. This would mean pre-allocated funds, rules and procedures that "the big company managers" have accepted and that you can use dynamically while working with new ideas.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Business idea giveaway: A SaaS solution portal

Here is a good business idea for anyone of you who want to make it as an enterpreneur:
A SaaS solution portal for business decision makers who are choosing an IT solution for their company.

Here is a picture on how the portal might look like. The portal should have:
- Industry specific pages. (For example the picture above is for IT hosting companies).
- On each page boxes that represent a domain of applications (like CRM, Sales, HR...)
- On each box some sponsored logos.
- Each box will be a link to a list of SaaS solutions in that domain.

Besides the industry pages you should have a news and forum pages to bring customers, readers and for SEO. You could write reviews of the solutions being offered. The goal of the portal should be to gain authority of opinion.

You should also have a registration page for SaaS providers.

The money would come from SaaS providers who want to have their solution on the front page or in the beginning of the listing.

The competition. I found one:, but they have a serious drawback. They list SaaS providers, not solutions. For example try to find an HR solution from their portal. :-) They have made the mistake of being provider centric not customer centric. A customer does not want to partner with some SaaS provider, but wants to find a solution for his specific needs.

The initial investment? A good web-page guy can do the portal in maximum a month on Joomla. You should make contacts with people from the industries you want to draw a page about and ask what software domain's are needed by their industry. A day to set up each industry domain. Then 4 hours a day for blogging, foruming and commenting to spread the word about the new portal. After gaining some momentum you release a "get on the first page with your logo for $10/day campaing". And when the portal gets more popular you change the $10/day to an auction. (like Google AdWords.)

This would be a very useful portal as it is absolutely very difficult to find a SaaS solution among these hundreds of providers and it is quite difficult for the SaaS providers to find the customers as they usually target a niche audience.

...and hey.. you could do the same portal for non-SaaS solutions. :-)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

How big an organization can open-innovate?

Open innovation in one sentence is the process of using ideas from outside the company to create new products. This form of innovation is widely used today and is becoming more and more popular. Our experience of open innovation and an incubator program in MicroLink is about a year old now.

But the process of it has some real challenges. Most of them are related to the "corporate politics" or "corporate bullshit" as Paul Graham describes it. In MicroLink we have so far overcome the obstacles, but I think that in bigger organizations you would have the following issues:
- When times are tough the innovation budget will be the first to go.
- Too many people (the management, the council, the owners) have to accept the innovation projects that involve investment. So the process gets slow, politics and personal taste get to rule the decisions.
- In a big company you have auditors, lawyers, security and finance whose primary role is to keep the company clear from risks. This tends to make even low level risk innovation projects really difficult, not to mention bigger investement/startup programs.
- ....

So to get your opinion on this issue I put up a poll. Feel free to answer! :-)

Monday, September 8, 2008

Challenges of internetmarketing 2

Yet another challenge of internetmarketing is "How to get the attention of the people to whom your product or service is useful, but who don't have any idea that there is such a useful product available?" An example: We are prototyping a mass e-mail service. The potential customers are small and medium sized businesses. Most of them do their own business and don't ever think that there can be a convinient solution for registering their potential customers and sending ad-emails for them. Therefore they don't ever do the "mass e-mail" Google search and don't ever find your product and all the effort in SEO is useless.

In such cases is buying banner-ad space the only possible solution? Does anyone have a more intelligent solution?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Key challenges while doing internetmarketing

While I am a fan of internetmarketing, good websites and SEO there are some issues you have to deal with when doing it.

If you use "ordinary" marketing for your service - advertising, press-releases etc. then marketing is quite straight-forward and something you can easily outsource. You pay the agency, they interview you and you get the campaign you are willing to pay for.

In internetmarketing matters are different - you have to blog, talk in forums, use twitter, write articles in the press. The trouble with that is, that you need a good writer who, on the same time, is an expert of the service you are providing or the field of business you are in. You cannot really outsource that. For example, if you provide a book-keeping Software-as-a-Service you need a good "writer-financial expert" to write the articles you need and blog posts and comments and forum posts etc. So for a successfull startup you need a somebody who is a good specialist, a good writer and a good (project) manager all at the same time and really motivated! Well, ain't much people like that in the world. 1%?
That key person also has to spend a lot of time on the PR (blogs, forums, articles) and in a startup you need him to do that during the time when his specialist and manager skills are most needed.

The other challenge of internetmarketing is time. You need months or even years to get good Google positions and build a customer community.

So my thoughts:
- Every company and a startup needs "a face person" - somebody who is in the press and who actively blogs. Like Scott McNealy and Jonathan Swartz in Sun. If you are a startup and you dont want to be the popular face of your firm, then find a partner who is smart and a bit vain. :-)
- Start your internetmarketing efforts early. Months before you have a product or service launched.