Latest Articles

  • 5 Skills Each Entrepreneur Should Learn from Project Managers

    This article was originally published at https://nordicfounders.com/5-skills-each-entrepreneur-should-learn-from-project-managers-b72e0362bfab#.2r0vdh268

    I took a job of leading engineering and product development in an internet startup, after being a PMI certified project manager in Nokia for 4 years. It has been great to switch from a usually slow corporate environment to a fast-paced “get the things done” mode. However, after getting to know many early stage startups, I have noticed that very frequently even basic project management technics are not used. This is where I realized, that a formal corporate project management experience is a great asset for any entrepreneur. Here are 5 PM technics I have been heavily relying upon for the past 3 years as head of product @Eliademy.

    1. Treat your product as a set of projects with clear goals

    Product development never ends in a startup. It simply should not because every day brings a new idea, requirement, or a suggestion from a user. The ability of frequently iterate and improve the product is an essence of any successful startup.

    On the other hand, as a project manager, each project should have a very concrete goal and an end. This makes leading engineering and product development in a startup is equivalent to a program management in a corporate environment. By definition, a program is a continuous activity which consists of finite projects.

    Ability to chunk startup product development efforts into concrete and measurable projects (which lead to a better overall result) is the first useful skill each entrepreneur needs to have. Divide and conquer.

    2. Define what you will not do

    Lean startup MVP concept teaches entrepreneurs to describe finite set features that need to be implemented in a product. This principle goes especially very well if your startup follows Agile principle and center the work around user stories based on concrete requirements.

    However, project managers usually take this concept much further with a project charter — a document which describes not only the features that need to be implemented (in scope) but also everything which should not be implemented or considered (out of scope).

    An example — “User should be able to login with a social profile” story needs to be translated in more formal:

    • In scope — conversion to a regular account if a user lost access to social network
    • Out of scope — an automatic merging of accounts if user signed up with multiple social accounts.

    Clearly stating all limitations is a practice that leads to a higher success rate and allows seeing all dependencies even before project/product development starts.

    3. Estimate better

    Getting and accurate development estimates is a science on its own. However, very frequently problems occur not because of incorrect estimates, but because of dependencies on various people on each other (or 3rd parties if you decided to outsource part of your product development)

    PMI project managers usually employ PERT method to make sure the project gets done on time. It employs 2 main concepts.

    First, ask development team to provide 3 estimates instead of 1 — an optimistic, pessimistic and most likely (honestly it takes almost the same amount of time as asking for a one). The “expected” time then calculated like this:

    t = (optimistic time + 4 * most likely +pessimistic time) ÷ 6
     
    Typical PERT chart https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakeholder_management

    Second, build a “scheduling” diagram that takes into account all dependencies your team has and expected a time of each task. For example, it is not possible to start developing of the frontend, until UX design in done. At the same time, UX designer can’t start work until most of the requirements are fixed. Thus, developers can focus on backend until design spec is ready.

    Visualising each task duration and dependency against a simple week scale (it is usually an x-axis) gives a very accurate outlook on the project duration.

    4. Fight deadlines

    Being late with a product is a typical situation in a startup, which most frequently result in everybody working day and night just to meet the deadline.

    Formal project management always sees such situation as a failure in planning (see bullets 2 and 3) and sees only 2 solutions:

    • Crunch the scope
    • Crunch the schedule

    Crunching scope means removing certain non-critical items from the product. Trust me, most MVPs always have something non-critical and such stress testing is the best way of really seeing what your MVP is)

    Crunching the schedule is add people to the project in order to help. However, it is considered to be largely ineffective during the later parts of the project and should be done as early in the project as possible.

    Hacking up all weekend is certainly fun, but remember it leads to substantially decreases ability to focus, creativity and productivity in a long-term, which you definitely will need in any startup.

    5. Manage stakeholders wisely

    As an entrepreneur, you most likely will end up talking with many people every single day — your users, clients, employees, investors etc. It is very frequently overwhelming and even more frequently you don’t see the help all of those connections can offer to your project.

    On the other hand, as a project manager, I learned to classify each person has an interest in a project into 4 broad categories (with matching to startup roles):

    • High power, interested people (in a startup this is your paying customers)
    • High power, less interested people (those could be your investors and board)
    • Low power, interested people: (advisory board and employees)
    • Low power, less interested people: (reporters, to some, extend your free customers)
     
    Stakeholder engagement matrix https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakeholder_management

    Understanding your stakeholders, placing them in a right quadrant of engagement matrix and choosing the right form and frequency of communications not only will keep everyone involved up to date with the progress (instead of being annoyed by a barrage of emails from you), but will also free up lots of time which can be spent on making your product better.


     

    Written by Sergey Gerasimenko

    Sergey is an engineer and project manager turned social entrepreneur. He is a founder and head of product at Eliademy. On his free time, he runs Nordic Founders - a support group for first-time entrepreneurs in Helsinki and helps growing project management community as a director at PMI Finland Chapter.   

     

     

     

     

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  • Key Customer Relationship in Outsourcing: How To Ensure Critical Success Factors

    Outsourcing is given in current globalization.There is no single silver bullet for all types of key customers when it comes to long term relationship management.  Each organization is different with own culture, people and way of  working. 

    Many outsourcing vendors are feeling that at times they end up into Master-Slave relationship rather Client-Vendor relationship. It may or may not be true as root cause could be around critical success factors not working enough. Some vendors lack attitude towards change with time and work in own way by ignoring client’s views. Same way some clients ignore vendor’s important views and best practices. There are many relationships of this kind exist in this outsourcing world. Such relationships are not healthy for both client and vendor as those are not long lasting.

    Critical success factors in outsourcing services business for long term key customer relationship:

    • Understand business: Traditionally it used to be vendor who should understand client’s business and environment. It is changing to bilateral relationships now for long term sustenance.
    • Know the culture: Know and respect each other’s culture.
    • Establish effective communication framework: It is very important to set up robust communication mechanism by respecting each other’s business and culture. It is key medium wherein people are attached to each other with multiple touch points.
    • Focus on core all the time: It means the setting up delivery structure, processes, people and performance parameters. This is the bottom line wherein client and vendor are attached primarily to deliver performance. In order to achieve inclusive growth both client and vendor should take joint responsibility of driving it.
    • People to people relationship & collaboration: This is critical area as at the end of the day it is people driven results. Building the bridge between diverse teams & bonding creation, respect each other’s views, identify/prevent problems proactively and address it jointly.
    • Deliver results: Goes without saying. Vendor’s role is critical in order to ensure value for money that client is always looking for.

    Opportunities and challenges would be always there and it will continue in a way or another. Key is how to ensure critical success factors by and large.

     

     

    By Prashant Shah

    Sr. Manager-Strategic Accounts & Global Software Sales

     

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  • Scapegoated and abused democracy-Vote that will get London to fall on economical terrorisme.

     

    Such a democracy could be criminal. Such a democracy must squarely be held accountable for sabotaging the economy and territorial integrity of a great kingdom. Such a democracy has just betrayed and wounded the EU. Dejectedly, it has created an economic earthquake the heavy magnitude of which will escalate to disintegrate  none but  UK first. 

     

     What am I bitterly complaining  about? 

    In an unprecedented warning shot to the union and absurd suicide , UK voted to leave EU. Meaning, democracy inducing disintegration, division and recession in the kingdom and beyond.

    1.In the coming couple of days alone, credit rating agencies will start hitting on UK .

    2.Multinational corporations will have to make uncertain strategic decisions swiftly and blindly.

    3.Markets shall nose dive. Investment decisions , purchases , sells , acquisitions and et ll shall be delayed. If made, will be pretty bad. Because there is't such a thing called big picture.

    4.Scottish cause for separation may well intensify. Republic and Northern Ireland may well head for reunification. There could be EU country(x.......n)exits. Simply put, there could be a pandemic of a domino effect exacerbated by populist opportunists. It isn't a joke LoneExit may well become a reality. Yes, to form an independent country like Luxembourg!

    5.British citizens may find it increasingly hard to trade with Sterling abroad. 

    6.British tech companies will be required to establish data centers in the EU just befor exiting the union. VC's and HQ's of EU targeted companies may pull out of the UK in to the green European republic on the next door.

    7. Investors will reduce their exposure to UK assets over the next 12 months. Already contaminated assets  owned by renown pensions funds could nose dive as low as 15 %.

     The mess list of this crazy divorce will go on and on.........

     The leadership of  EU and of the world will be tested for exercising agile and prudent interpretation and response to developments. If UK is going to implement its decision to become little England then it should do it immediately. This would help EU focus on recovering from the on going  earthquake in the union and plan on a real time intelligence.

     Who is to blame for this mess of divorce?  The lords of the rent seeking rings. 

    Who are the lords of the rent seeking rings? 

    The art of hand washing by  irresponsible and anti-great Britain bipartisan British political class in westminster  and short sighted rent seeking interest groups behind. 

    Whats unfolding at the moment is a proliferation of a mess of political dynamics  only a slight imperfect management of which could lead to unprecedented global crises. I know it's hard but there is an imperative need for synthesizing the very best holistic solution which i strongly belive is to upend this scrupulous referendem first. Then, finding a holistic  alternative for fixing EU at Brussels level.

    Short sighted streamlining of issues for a very framed and circumscribed political referendum is a weakness of political leadership. This whole stupidity is the manifestation of  a great political, media, social and academic  intelligence failure. 

     Why is this scandal happening? A hypothetical paradox, misguided voters and etc...

     Again, British political class framed and streamlined complicated issues related to EU up for a simple yes/no referendum vote.

     Or it's like ,

    What is the solution for 1(1+3) = ? // Whats the solution for issues we are having with the EU?

    Here is a binding guideline  for answering the question.

    You must vote for either A or B // You must answer either to leave or stay in the EU.

    Majority vote will decide the right answer and that must be either A or B.

    A) Yes B) No

    Majority decided to vote for Yes.

    Therefore :- 1(1+3) = Yes

     You must abide by the guidelines and accept the new equation that invalidates the scientifically established one. Because, the English political class have synthesized a case and effect construct that saying, "Yes" or "NO" to leaving EU is the ultimate solution for the problem.

     Such a real movie in the making is what i call scapegoated  and  abused democracy directed and produced by  the scapegoating English political class. The ongoing movie/production is worth than the previous one, "London has fallen" . Because, it's real this time.  Because, it's happening. Because, It would inevitably  get not just London but UK to fall. Because, no country is immune to this change. If you haven't had the opportunity  to watch  the previous one, then enjoy the trailer below or google   " London has fallen" . 


     Demographical paradox

     Britain has voted to leave the EU, after the Leave campaign won only 51.9 percent of votes . Voter tunnout was higher for babyboomers. Leave campain also correlated well with the same segment. 

     

     The visual data analysis of the ballot has triggered a politico-innovation thought in me. 

    Political leadership, architecture for voting and representation needs innovation of a type disruption. It needs to be more technical/demographical. It must for instance exhibit attributes of introducing segmentational constraints. Run off should be called if there is a statically significant demographic divide.

     In the same way as voter turnout is measured  by the virtue of universal suffrage, it is very important that introducing/innovating something simliar, like " representational suffrage " This would avoid scrupulous democratic division like that of UK.

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Steps to Prepare and Run an AGM for Startups in Finland

     This article was originally published at  https://nordicfounders.com/preparing-for-an-agm-in-finland-a9bd6a7980f3#.qrjsdj6ip

     

     

     

    Every company (startup or not) registered in Finland have to conduct an Annual General Shareholder Meeting within 6 months from the end of each financial period (with is most likely a full calendar year).

    If you registered your company during last year, this usually means your accountant will start (make sure to ask explicitly) closing books for 2015 during February/March (budget 400–800€ for this work).

    When books (tasekirja) are ready, you need to ask your auditor to “check” it and give an official statement everything is according to the law (budget another 400–800€).

    With all papers in place, you have to call for a annual general shareholders meeting with the main objective of approving accounts and appointing the new board of directors.

    Like with any other shareholder meeting, the board of directors (read startup founders) needs to deliver an invitation to the meeting at least 4 weeks in advance. Sending an invitation by email is generally acceptable, and the text usually should include the following:

    Shareholders of [Company] Oy are invited to Annual General Shareholders´ Meeting on [Date] to be held at [Address]. 
    The meeting shall cover following issues: [Agenda items].
     — Board of Directors [Date] [Signatures]

    On the day of the meeting, you will need to go through all agenda item (it is highly not recommended to change them) and document the decision. It works the best the have an already prepared template and just fill it in as you go, instead of actually taking the meeting minutes. The following template worked for us @eliademy for the past 3 years.

    0. Header

    Make sure to clearly specify type of the meeting, company name, date/time and list of shareholders (present/absent) along amount of their votes

    1. Opening of the Meeting and Elections

    [Name] opened the meeting and acted as the chairman of the meeting. [Name] was called as the secretary of the meeting. [Name] was elected to review the minutes and count the votes.

    2. Participants and Legality of the Meeting

    The Chairman confirmed the list of votes. It was recorded that the notice of the meeting was sent to all shareholders by letter on [Date].
    It was recorded that financial accounts have been available for review in the premises of the Company as required by the Companies Act and copies of these documents have been provided to the shareholders upon request.
    It was resolved to approve the agenda for the meeting.
    It was recorded that the meeting was duly convened and constituted a quorum.

    3. Annual Accounts and Auditors Report

    The Annual Accounts and Auditors Report for the accounting period [Date] — [Date] were presented.

    4. Adoption of the Annual Accounts and Distribution of Profit

    It was resolved to adopt the Annual Accounts for the accounting period that ended on [Date].

    Depending on how you did financially, you may or may not chose to distribute the dividends. Make sure to explicitly mention it.

    It was resolved to pay no dividend. OR It was resolved to pay dividend of € [Amount] per share, total of € [Amount] on [Date]

    5. Discharge of liability

    It was resolved to discharge the members of the Board of Directors and the Managing Director for the accounting period that ended on [Date].

    6. Appointment of new Board of Directors

    Legally speaking, each privately held company needs to have a chairman and at least 2 ordinary members. Thus, you need to mention their names explicitly. It is also a good time to mention weatherboard receives any remuneration for the service (some publicly traded company’s in Finland give 50–100K as a bonus to board members, but as a startup, you most likely will keep it as zero).

    It was resolved to appoint [Name] as chairman of the board and [Name], [Name] as ordinary members. It was resolved that the members of the Board receive no remuneration.

    7. Auditor

    From legal point of view, auditor bears no responsiblity if you accountants made a mistake in books, but auditor failed to see it. If there is any problem, board or directors takes the full blame. Make sure you are working with the best guys.

    It was noted that [Name of the auditor] as the responsible auditor, has acted as the auditor of the Company during for the accounting period. It was decided that the present auditor shall continue as the auditor of the Company.

    8. Closing of the Meeting

    It was noted that all decisions were unanimous (otherwise attache list of votes).
    [Signatures of all participants]

    That is it, you are done. Scan the signed document, store it in your cloud drive, upload to your website or send to all shareholders by email (the last 2 have to be done within 2 weeks after the meeting).

    Remember that content of AGM for every company is a public information, thus, you need to submit it to PRH (and translate Finnish/Swedish) together with any other company updates you have to report (for example if you changed the board or auditor).

    For more information about AGM requirements and obligation, check Finland’s Limited Liability Companies Act.

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Before you start sailing : A must have perspective when moving on with a new business idea.

    Starting a new business is analogous to sailing to an unknown destination. Many atimes we are immersed solely on how to get there quickely. Sailing requires vision, road map, team, route awareness and etc. Seldom do we bother about what's along the way-length of journey, storm, wind, logistics and etc. In as much as it could lead to an exotic experience of sucess and learning, starting up may bring about unprecedented outcomes of failure. I'll put aside the philosophy of sailing and get myself right down to imparting experiential reflection-of sailing in not just one but many of my endviours-as a founder, student, employee and advisor of "IT and services" startups. Coming up, I've summarized 10 relevant action points that we need to take in to account in the course of moving on with a new business idea.

    1)Data driven marketing 

    Long gone are the days when you could say anything and all will be taken for granted. That marketing is only about saying empty "Words" or "Statements" or "Compound complex statements " to anybody. First, define your customers or the need for your product/servcies through an in depth consumer analysis. 

    -Quantify as to how big is the market for your product/ services through descriptive and prescriptive market analysis. 

    -Understand and benchmark your competitors. Analyze the main players as well as the entrants. 

    -Edify your distribution channels. Analyze as to how you will get your product/services to customers. 

    -Identify and structure the commission plan across different intermediaries.

    -Develop your marketing action plan. Plan as to how you will get the word out across different demographic segmentations, prices, promotion and products. Quantify and iterate the plan. You are highly advised to have a marketing partner. 

    2) Startup Ethics While you may well be geninley interested in making difference through your business, you may obliviously violate a series of industry specific standards and ethics of operation. Subsequently, it's important that you take time for ethical need awareness and of listing all the possible ethical implications of your idea or startup. Carry out a holistic stakeholder analysis with regard to the possible impact that your product or service may have. Where possible, use a stakeholder mapping strategy frameworks. Furthermore; consult a lawyer or partner with one.

     

    3)Startup Accounting Document what is own by the team regularly. Determine liabilities and equities of the team. Define as to how member’s equity will mature or fade out across time, skill and contribution to the team. Avoid cooking the book yourself as it’s smarter to partner with an accounting firm.

     

    4)Team behavior 

    In early stage startups, you are in a constant challenge of finding the right team members as well as ensuring that your team stays as cohesive as possible. Play a group game. Spend time out with your team members so you know, understand and relate with each other better. The more you know each other, the easier it becomes to establish a casual depiction of circumstances and manage behavioral challenges and resources. The more you know each-other the less your perception and relationships among would be based on one sided small talk gossips, hearsay or just a subjective impression. Develop and nurture an open working environment. Get everyone in the team feel important and responsible. Avoid false hierarchies and strong boundaries. 

     

    5)Quantitative Analysis Quantify the present and future predictions of your business model. Operation costs, assets, liabilities and equities should be accounted. Where possible use Decision three, Cash flow analysis, Revenue metrics and Regression analysis and forecasting. While you can’t be 100 % sure about your quantification, quantified big picture helps design a reliable strategy.

     

     6)Startup Finance How do you value your stocks? How are you going to divide among? How are you offering stocks to an investor? How are you going to pay employee anew? What happens when a shareholder leaves a startup? How must you divide revenue? How should you arrange a safe stock ? How will you mitigate flooding dilution? How should you exit?

     

     7)Startup Operation Deals with the process by which a product or service is produced. This is where the need for being well versed in the art of the big picture -Project/Product management - would come in to play. Don’t over promise and under-deliver. Nor over plan and early deliver. Your ability to analyze your methods, manpower, technology and skill set will help you understand, plan and build your capacity. Schedule and metricize minor details as well as big pictures of activities. Maintain quality and industry specific standards.

     

    8)Startup Economics Understand the demand for what you are striving to supply. Make sure you aren’t envisioning to supply what’s surplus. Make sure you aren’t supplying what’s in demand only for a short period of time. Make sure you are not building business structures for products or services that will play out only for a short period of time. Make sure that you aren't building a business that entrants can easily copy-play and thrive on. Check and balance supply Vs demand through time, geography and competition multi-variates.

     

    9)Startup Strategy This is a very important aspect of your Startup. This is the stage that entails the make or the break moment of your your vision.

    While strategy is a broad term, it’s divided in to three key categories: - functional, business and corporate strategies. 

    Functional: - Lowering operational costs and deploying the most effective business process.

    Business: - Includes but not limited to your solid plan in competing in the industry you operate in.

    Corporate/Startup Strategy: - You decide as to what kind of business you are. What would you like to be? Then again, why?

    "The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it's about deliberately choosing to be different. The best CEOs I know are teachers, and at the core of what they teach is strategy " Michael Porter- Father of strategy 

    The Five Forces Theory of industry Structure, which was formulated by Michael Porter of Harvard suggests Substitutes, Competitors, Buyers, Entrants and Suppliers are an important factor in determining your Startups strategy.

    Substitutes : Is your product or service easily replicable or replaceable?

    New entrants : How likely is the threat of a new entrant getting in to your business.

    Suppliers : How important is the collective bargaining power of suppliers

    Buyers : How important is the collective bargaining power of buyers.

    Competitors :How is the level of rivalry among existing firms and entrants. 

    Once you have brainstormed on the five forces, you can easily formulate the survival and growth strategies for your Startup.

    Cost leadership: Deploying the lowest cost possible for the process, team cohesion and supply chain of your products and services.

    Differentiation :Getting your product or services as unique as possible.

    Focus : Solidifying on a market niche, a geographical area or a flagship.

    10) Ponder the points you walked through . 

     Up-next:- Take out a piece of paper and brainstorm on your/ your teams contemplation of each section.

    Happy sailing!

    Up-next:- Take out a piece of paper and brainstorm on your/ your teams contemplation of each minute.

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  • Open Source for a Startup (the Good, the Bad and the Ugly)

     This article was originally published at https://nordicfounders.com/open-source-for-a-startup-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-a531ebbd38ed#.5nuzamtkx

    Build vs buy — the usual dilemma of large companies when it comes to new product development. An engineering team needs to either build everything from in-house or use some middleware that can theoretically speed up the development. Such middleware usually comes in purely commercial (technology license purchase) as well as in open source forms.

    As a tech startup, you usually don’t have a luxury of building everything from scratch (despite an enormous appeal of such option to any engineer) and need to rely a lot on 3rd party middleware. With the initial absence of cash, it usually means relying a lot on open source.

    The following list is an example of the tools that worked great, not so great or become a bottleneck during the development of Eliademy — a platform for teachers to create online courses. It might be different for a different product.

    The Good

    Twitter Bootstrap

    We didn’t have a much time to create various buttons and dropdowns, nor implement them from scratch and make sure they work on all possible browsers. We decided to choose Bootstrap — and it worked brilliantly. You get most of the components any web page needs in a single CSS file, excellent cross-browser support, an extremely robust theming option and responsiveness out of the box. It is also distributed under the “least restrictive” MIT license. The only downside is a substantial change in class naming from v2 to v3 which requires quite a lot manual work for migration.

     

    CKEditor

    The core of Eliademy is the content teachers create. We started with our own home-grown simple HTML editor but very soon realized it would be quite a task to keep up with all feature request, let alone infamous browser compatibility. Along plethora of various web-editor middleware, CKEditor really stood out with its inline option — a way remove fixed toolbar entirely and show it depending on user’s context action. It also has an incredible amount of various plugins (full-fledged LaTeX support or media URL parsing), very lightweight, reliable and easy to maintain.

    I’d still prefer us to own completely user experience (like Medium or Evernote do), but with a “free” price tag a major update every 6 months it is arguably the best open source tool I have used.

    The Bad

    Bugzilla

    We needed a simple backlog/issue tracking tool and were reluctant on investing into one of many tools out there. After 4 years we still host our own instance of Bugzilla, but while it worked quite well as issue tracking tool it is pretty terrible when it comes to sprint planning (it is not intended to be used this way at all). Also, it is in development from 1998 and age really shows. Forget about drag and drop for file attachments, simple commenting system, user mentions or a clean UX. It is passable for startups but takes the time to get used to.

    Pootle

    I got an idea to host our own crowdsourcing localization service fromEvernote who used slightly modified version Pootle. Sadly there is not that much of a competition in the “free” category so the choice was clear. Translate.eliademy.com become the core of our volunteering community but it requires a large amount of maintenance. There is no integration with existing userbase (user need to register a separate account), almost no community management features (aside from admin setting overall permissions) and extremely slow update cycle. It works, but I’d wish for a much better system.

    Moodle

    An idea to create an e-learning platform wich would be compatible with over9 million of existing online courses was certainly great to start with. However, we wanted a decent user experience and opted out for a single page application written entirely in JavaScript. This meant the only way we can ensure compatibility is to use Moodle’s backend, which at the time was not exactly ready for such model. Existing web services API was extremely badly designed (a login call would pull all courses list along with course content) and didn’t support any caching needed for a really scalable system (in Moodle’s team defense, the average installation has 10–20 thousand registered users at most).

    Writing layers of optimization and web services APIs took the substantial amount of time, in some cases well exceeding time needed to build the same functionality from scratch. Some of the works we did were released as an open source in return.

    The Ugly

    Kaltura Community Edition

    We needed a subsystem to host private user videos, and Kaltura was chosen as the most “feature rich” solution. Sadly, one must remember that there is a big difference between a community edition and a commercial service Kaltura is offering. The former is a functioning video hosting/converting system but almost entirely lacks any admin functionality. There is no way to see all uploaded videos (which makes debugging/user support a nightmare), conversion batch, statistics or set up transcoder options. It is full of really strange limitations — you need to setup a custom Cron job to clean up DB when a video is deleted by a user, keep your eye on conversion batch etc. Worst of all it occasionally rejects uploaded videos (especially low bitrate ones — like recordings of a PowerPoint presentation) without much of debug info.

    Verdict — usable for “enterprise YouTube” applications, bad for ed tech startups.

    Big Blue Button

    Even though we were developing an e-learning platform we wanted to give a video conferencing/screen sharing option to all teachers (it became especially needed with Google shutting out free Helpouts in early 2015). Moodle and Big Blue Button were a frequent combination used by many campuses, thus it sounded as good idea to use the same familiar technology for the teacher.

     
    Flash UX

    It works in general, but has one giant problem, it severely outdated. Frontend is written in ActionScript (read Flash), which rules out all mobile users and occasionally causes camera/mic problems. It was still “acceptable” in 2014, but not turned into a real problem. Client session also runs in a separate UI/window which is pretty much impossible to customize aside of slapping your logo — forget about clean UX.

    Verdict — stay clear and use any WebRTC based solution.

    Magento Community Edition

    An option to charge for courses naturally needed a product description web page, integration with a payment method and some simple cataloging interface. The idea to use Magento as frontend Webstore seems very logical.

    There were quite a few issues on integration — we had to make few really ugly solution to remove the concept of the “shopping cart” (no one buys courses in bulk) or work with any usual startup payment providers like Braintree or Strype. It is also not designed to support language change on the fly, instead, you are supposed to create various locale stores and relist products for each locale. The worst part though is a stark difference between community and enterprise versions. Do you need simple purchase reporting with VAT breakdown or an option to prevent spamming product reviews? Forget about it or start paying.

     
    Good luck with sales reporting

    Verdict — we end up building lots of additional functionality on our own backend and as a result planning to phase Magento out completely in the next major product update. If you are building a web show for physical goods — maybe, for e-learning marketplace community edition is a very poor choice.


    An unsolicited piece of advice for a startup CTO — keep in mind that open source does not necessary mean free. Even though code comes for free, it has all sorts costs:

    • integration cost — time spent on making your product work with open source components
    • maintenance costs — time spent on upgrading 3rd party components and fixing bugs that usually appear right after that
    • license limitation cost — each added component requires to be compatible with your business model and other components

    Make sure you understand and communicate most of long-term limitations and drawbacks it will bring. Sometimes, after a proper analysis, building your own components is not such a terrible idea after all. On the other hand, very frequently you have a risk on reinventing a bicycle, so keep an eye on all possible middleware options out there. Some of them can save you lots of time and become the core of your own product.

    P.S. To understand the various licensing issues I highly recommend a free online course by the father of free software movement Richard Stallman. 

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  • Riku asks, "Why would early stage startups need to live by the process benefits that agility brings forth?"

     

    Riku, name changed, is a CEO of an early stage startup founded about a year a go . As an undergrad student of political science , he  didn't  participate  nor completed or learnt about technology  projects before-even at college level. He found himself awake in the reality of  being a CEO of a project which he initiated  with his friends. He doesn’t know what an agile is and before setting on a journey to explore on that Riku asks, ” Do I need to know and then live by agile?”. Unabridged, comes from a message delivered to the Facebook page of Entrepreneurs in Finland which if you haven't given your thumbs up yet is   https://www.facebook.com/entrepreneursinfinland/

    Dear Riku, you are always welcome to pose a question here. We all don't have the absolute skills required to start a business. That's why we need to help each-other as a community.

     

    Dear Riku, as you are a new comer to the technology  industry, you may not have  the grasp of the big picture. Things are changing very perpetually. Disruptive technologies are hampering the product development life cycle of SME’s as well as giant corporations. The business landscape is dynamic, competitive and exhibit very varying industry specific standards, ethics and level playing fields. Product life cycle is decreasing. Nevertheless, customers pace of requirement might alter on the spur of the moment. This and many other intertwined challenges  that are common in the industry  have  got not just only early stage startups but well established, giant and renown corporations in to a  constant need for hiring the right product/project manager who understand and exhibit the big picture. Early stage startups often don’t have the money to hire Mr /Mrs Big picture. Consequently, not just CEO's but  founder’s knowledge and application of agility would play out as an important factor in leading  any startup project as well as support investors decision when analyzing teams.   

    So, why would early stage startups  need to live by the optimum process benefit that agility brings forth?

     There are ample points with regard to the benefit of agile project management.  I’m not trying to short list only the best I presume . I’ve just only fast written down what popped in to my mind this morning.

     

    1. Startups are in the highest level of internal as well as external uncertainty. Internal uncertainties are those that can be controlled by the PM such as scope, schedule and cost while external uncertainties are those that can’t be controlled or mitigated by the PM such as industry specific laws , markets and etc.
    2. Seldom do startups fulfill the unique expertise needed for a specific project. An agile team exhibit a culture of redirecting and assigning an already existing resources and skills as per a real time need encountered.
    3. Startups don’t have an already existing mature product lines or business practices from which a new project can be shaped. Often, startups have one flagship product or services the management of which will determine not just the project but the existence of the company.
    4. While all the primary roles in the project should be filled in with the right skill, startups may not have adequate resources to do so. Many at times, Startups rely on multiple secondary roles assigned to two or more cross functional cohesive team members. In startups, secondary as well as tertiary roles are important as it would affect and influence the operation and strategy of the startup respectively.
    5. Social or political projects are waterfall in nature. Startups don't have enough resources to waste on planing alone. In other words, a startup  can't bite off more than it can chew. Subsequently, test as you develop and refine as you iterate is a resource effective strategy   customary  in Agile project management.
    6. In startups, it's a must that you produce something. With that something that you have developed, you can further enhance based on the consumer, investor and coach analysis you have made. Remember that  starting up is always about starting something and deliver iteratively. The deadlines in maydays, sprints, milestones or whatsoever  are key measures of what you have delivered and improved.
    7. Projects may need to be terminated for uncontrolled but foreseeable reasons. Funding might dry up. Offices may be moved. Startups are so vulnerable to change that potential effects of change should be mitigated with a very holistic contingency plans. Founder or CEO who sees to the day today activities of  his/her teams won't have difficulty when making spontaneous decisions.
    8. The best menu that you have on Agile PM is Scrum where team members would  meet up to impart about  their progress and challenges in the project. Apart from cohesion, Scrum helps  all issues put out on the table for open discussion and resolution. 
    9. Startups are always looking for investors. One of the key attributes that investors would check and balance is agility of teams. Many at times, investors are well acquainted ; have had or still have  other projects, startups and business in which team and process agility are of a paramount importance. As a result, if you can't sell your team as an agile then never follow up a positive pitch feedback with an investor unless the investor is solely after your idea.

     

    Agile has a lot to offer not just only to early stage startups  but also to giant corporations. 

    Dear Riku, mentioned above are just only a few. There are lots of reasons as to why  agility is imperative for startups as well as prominent corporations comprising of different units. I suggest you take a course or two on project management  at the university while at the same time rigorously reading on Agile Project Management  which is very different from classical project management. This shall liberate you from learning by doing lots of mistakes which  can't be afforded in startups. Now that i'm moved by your questions, I will get back with similar topics for wider readership later. Hang in there Riku! 

     ____________________________________________________________________________________________________

     

    Mikael Argaw is the humble founder of  http://www.entrepreneursinfinland.net. He has a background in IT as well as PM . Integrating with his ongoing further studies, initiatives, projects and as a hobby, Michael enjoys reading  on technology, PM, Business Intelligence, Entrepreneurship, Education, Business development, and current issues. Michael is available for independent consultation - argawmichael@gmail.com

    __________________________________________________________________________________________________

     "Striving to stir positive ideas on the meeting table, blogs and groups. "

     

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  • An Open Letter to Startup Accelerators in Finland

    This article was originally published at https://nordicfounders.com/an-open-letter-to-startup-accelerators-in-finland-c7d9208722f5

     

    7 improvements that can help accelerators provide a better service

    During the past 5 years, Finland became one of the best places for startups, due to an incredible amount of work from the government, VCs, angels and various accelerators.

    I got to work with 5 different startup incubators/accelerators in Helsinki area and while in general my experience has been largely positive, learning more and more about running a business in Finland, I have started to notice few areas for the improvement which are addressed in this “letter”.

    1. Hire entrepreneurs to help entrepreneurs

    The majority of advisors we got to work with had largely a corporate background — they were consultants, program managers or bankers, but neither of them had a real hands-on experience of starting they own business. And needless to say, ability to get funding as a consultant for a large company or prepare a fancy powerpoint presentation about strategy is a far cry from a small startup needs.

    Just after Microsoft-Nokia debacle, there has been over 300 new companies created. Most of them, even the most notable ones like @Jolla, have failed. But each of those failures is also a tremendous learning experience that must be shared. After all, even @Supercell and @Rovio got where they are right now after almost a decade of making games that have ultimately failed.

    To sum up, search for people who have made a good product, but a bad business. They will be the best guys to help younger startups.

    “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
    - Robert F. Kennedy

    2. Stop focusing on business plan

    This problem is a derivative from point 1 — a typical startup advisor has consultant’s mindset. At some point we have spent almost a month with our advisor ironing out multi pages business plan, calculating addressable market and making 5 years revenue projections. A year later we have closed the company. None of the projections worked out for a very simple reason — we had no control real control over them, nor prepared a plan how to influence them. Expecting your userbase to double in month based on some statistical data, is not the same as specifying what exactly you will do to make it double.

    The only thing any startup needs is to find a service for which people will pay and make sure they can replicate it over and over again. Only then you need a multi-page business plan, otherwise, you are just wasting your time.

    3. Stop using the US as a reference

    Forget about multi-million valuations, growth hacking, pitching and please stop reading TechCrunch. EU is not a homogeneous addressable market of 319 million people. Each country has it is on legislative and regulatory “issues”, let alone cultural differences and languages. Finland alone has its own ecosystem, mentality, and user behavior traits.

    Focus on the home market. Make sure you have helped to use the best public funding instruments in our disposal. In Finland alone we have TekesSitra,Finpro and Team Finland, let alone constant EU-wide projects like Horizon 2020. This is where previous consultancy experience truly can shine.

    4. Share document templates

    Each startup needs employment contracts, NDAs, shareholder agreement, vesting agreements, board and shareholder meeting minutes templates.

    Getting a coherent and well-prepared set of any document needed to run a company in Finland was probably the most valuable thing we got. Sadly, we got it only from 1 out of 5 incubators we have been to. Definitely, something to improve.

    The best initiative so far, unfortunately, limited only to SHA, ishttp://seriesseed.fi.

    5. Help building a strong advisory board

    Accelerator advisors can be mistaken for the advisory board, but having people who put their sweat equity is not the same as few gentlemen “assigned” to help a startup. As a rule of thumb, any startup needs advice with finance, marketing, technology and legal.

    The best advisory board are built exclusively through personal networks, and most first-time entrepreneurs need serious help here. If you already have a network — let others to use it as well.

    6. Focus on serving startups first

    The majority of incubators in EU (and Finland in particular) are funded with public money, yet some are asking an equity stake from each admitted startup. I fully agree that a person without ownership is fundamentally misaligned with the company goals, but perhaps the procedure should be reversed. Startup owners need to decide who from the mentors shall be rewarded, instead of giving away a chunk of they company to the organization.

    7. Work with TE-office

    With a current unemployment of over 10% (and youth rate over 20%) TE office is really trying hard (sadly they don’t think much about startup needs, but that is a separate story).

    There are multiple rebates program like palkatuki and sanssi (company gets up to 50% salary back for hiring unemployed person), requalification and consultancy programs, free job board and fairs, European mobility and many others.

    None of them was ever emphasized for us as an exellect instrument to save on labor costs, not to mention helping people find a new place.


    In conclusion, I would like to say “thank you” to every single advisor we got to work with. Without you, we @Eliademy would never get this far.

    I certainly hope that some of the things I have encountered have already been addressed during the boom of accelerators in 2015 (this post is based on my personal experience between 2012 and 2014). If not, I’m happy to extend this post with new idea how to make Finland the best place to start a business.

     

     

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  • Startup Localisation Plan or How to Get Your Product Available in Multiple Languages for Free

    This article was originally published at https://nordicfounders.com/startup-localization-plan-fb3a3520069b#.affftnift

    Since the very beginning at Eliademy, we knew that we have to focus on the non-English speaking countries. But instead of talking about our “internationalization” strategy and getting help of “consultants” (we are company from Finland after all), we just went on and did it.

    I was lucky to have a bit of experience from running N9 localization project for MEA, but without Nokia paying the bill of localization experts, engineers and QA, our team needed to come to come up with a new cost-effective “startup” way. The result — roughly a year a year after launch Eliademy was available in 32 languages with a total “localization” expenditure at 110 euros. This is how we did it.

    1. Set up proper development process

    Even though in a startup you are constantly working against enormous statistical failure rate, building a product with a long term perspective in mind always pays out in the end. From day one we had a complete ban on hardcoding text anywhere in on the front-end — all messages, labels, and buttons have to be allocated via logical strings.

    For a PHP/JavaScript combination, it usually results in having a separate file with an array of string for each language — here is how english.php would look like

    $str = array(
    “button_signup_now” => “Sign up now”,
    “label_features” => “Features”);

    And a call to this particular string whenever this page is assembled:

    Keeping all English/master strings in a centralized place also helps a lot to free some time for developers since UX designer or a product manager can add new strings directly and simply reference them in the spec.

    For long term maintainability, it also pays out to follow a simple naming convention. In our case, it was always type_actionname_yourimagination.

    2. Choose the right platform

    Initially, you can manage everything just with few localization files, but as the amount of text in the application/service grows (let alone constant A/B testing of meaning), version control becomes a hurdle. This is where you need to start thinking about using a proper solution.

    There are few choices out there. You can build your own interface (like the guys from UserVoice), get a commercial Transifex or even integrate with pay-per-view services like Localize.js. Problem is that all of them require a bit of a financial contribution.

    After doing some research we decidet to use Pootle — it is open source, relatively lightweight (Python/Django), has a pretty straightforward UI and requires a minimum level of maintenance. It is build for the web and has few very basic community management tools that got handy a bit later. What is most important Pootle absolutely free to use.

    The only downside — it requires a certain degree of integration even though it support PHP arrays (and many other forms) our of the box. If you don’t want to manage localization files manually, you will need to make a script that picks up.php string files from your codebase and send them to Pootle; and vice versa script to get new translations back to the code. Later one can be done as an automatic pull request just to make sure new translations don’t accidentally break your production code. Pootle documentation extensively covers all of it.

    As a result, you get a self-hosted public platform (translate.eliademy.com) that allows virtually anyone to contribute a word, a sentence or the whole new language for your product.

    3. Get the first example out

    Launching a localization website for a service that was used only by a few thousand naturally didn’t result in anything. We needed something to give it a push. I took a lead of getting Russian translation out, a couple of my colleagues started to work on Finnish and Spanish versions.

    However, running localisation completely in-house turned out to be quite a time intensive and usually prevented us from focussing on the product development. Then we got another idea — reach out for a professional localization agency and ask for a quote. Here it is important to remember that while such agencies charge per word, they staff is usually located in the country of their language. And in our case, while the quote for Swedish translation was well over 1000 euros, a professional Polish localization would cost almost 10 times less. At that point of time we started to get lots of traction from eastern Europe, so paying for it was a no brainer.

    Still I was not entirely happy with the amount of overhead such approach needed. Normally we would follow 2 weeks sprints, thus, we needed to create strings for all new features, send them (along with changes to existing ones) to localization agency, get the .po file back and upload it manually, run scripts to sync it, release it and only then ask localization team to check that all strings a look corret in the context of application. We stopped because something completely unexpected happened.

    4. Build a community with tech support

    Since no one from the founding team had much of prior experience of being an online course instructor, we had to build a lot of functionality mostly by having a dialog with our users. We had a completely open roadmap, were asking for a lot of feedback and were very honest about all limitations. As a first 6 months passed, people started to notice the amount of help and personal attention they were getting from a completely free service.

    In rainy october of 2013, roughly 8 months after our launch, I got a message from an informatics teacher, it said the following:

    • School kids in Czech Republic can’t use platform in English
    • You platfrom is already available in Polish
    • Maybe I can help?

    That was it — a commitment from a single person to provide completely voluntary help in return for our service. It was a the actual start of our community. After we got Czech localization out and published a story about it, offers of help started pouring in. And by the end of 2013, we had our platform available in over 30 languages.

    5. Set up a process for you community

    Getting a commitment from volunteers does not mean you can count as on your employees. Almost each person who helped up over this year required a certain amount of help — a crash course on dynamic variables in the text (“don’t translate anything appended with a % sign, don’t add extra spaces”), basic how-to for Pootle and constant follow up.

    Right now our community localization process works like this (we try to be as agile as possible):

    • Once a project gets at least 60% of all text translated it get added to production
    • Every 2 weeks we sync all changes in English master file and updates for existing localizations
    • Notify volunteers about changes and ask to check translations on production environment
    • Repeat
     
    Current project progress report from Pootle

    With every new language, we publicly say “thank you” for each person who helped us getting it out of the door and are not shy about asking new users for help as well.

    This approach is far from perfect because we can’t expect constant commitment and as a result some languages don’t get updates for few months while others are kept in constant 100% sync. Another problem is dialects (we still occasionally get remarks for Kuopio-based finish localization) or disputes over correct use of certain words between users. I’d would love to have a dedicated localization coordinator for each language, but we are not there yet.

    However, complaints actually get more people engaged in helping making service better and better and with every user who reports a typo we usually get a new volunteer.


    Inconclusion, making Eliademy available in multiple languages increased the adoption of your services drastically. According to Google Analytics in the past 30 days Eliademy was visited by people from 179 countries (there are 196 in total). No internationalisation plan involved.

    Running a crowd localization project is also by far the easiest way to start working with your community. Engaging users into active contribution gets your service a lifetime evangelists — each person who ever helped us with translation reccomended us to their peers and brought some users in return.

    The most important thing you can do as a public service is simply admitting your limitations. Even though we don’t offer professional grade localization, community effort works well enough for most of our users. 80/20 rule always works.

    I am certainlty hope our model can be replicated by any software as a service company.

     

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