Rovio, the Finnish start-up creator of the famous Angry Birds game, will fly to the Helsinki Stock Exchange next week. Apparently it should be a success as the offer is oversubscribed and has just been closed despite the recent challenges the start-up had to face, as the next figure shows.
I will not comment more but just add my usual capitalization table.
I had heard about Supercell first last year, then again two weeks ago, and then again yesterday. Each time, it’s when I interacted with Finnish people, who were right to be proud of their new jewel! Supercell is the latest Finnish, therefore European success story. I had mentioned Neolane (because of its $600M acquisition by Adobe) then Criteo (which just filed to go public on Nasdaq) earlier this year, both are French and software companies. Supercell is the third high-profile start-up making the news in 2013. It is developing games just like Rovio or Mojang, two other Scandinavian start-ups.
Supercell has a meteoritic history: founded in 2010, it raised $12M in 2011, $120M 6 months ago and Softbank just acquired the majority of the company this month for $1.5B. More with my usual cap. table below. (In fact the reason I was told about the Softbank deal is because my Finnish friend had liked my new update of cap. tables data on Slideshare!)
Supercell is not so much interesting for the transactions than for its unusual (for Europe) history. It was founded by serial Finnish entrepreneurs. They have an interesting organization: people work in small teams, typically 5 people, called cells therefore the name Supercell. (This reminds me of similar structures at Apple and Google). They are very demanding with the game quality so that they launch a very small number of their developments. They celebrate failure (a stopped development) with Champagne where as they celebrate a launch with beer!
They revenues and profits are also meteoritic; just have a look at the revenue table below. Interestinggly enough Mojang is similar. “The success has turned Mojang into an overnight sensation in a matter of a few years, pulling in $90 million in profit last year on $235 million in revenue.”
I did not check how many times I blogged about Finland, but it is certainly one of the most interesting and entrepreneurial countries in Europe. However, when I attended the REE conference at Aalto University last week, I have been shocked by the talk of Risto Siilasmaa. He is not only the chairman of the struggling mobile giant, but also the founder and chairman of F-secure, a successful software start-up. If you have time, watch his talk and listen carefully. Here are may notes, hopefully correct: “Entrepreneurship should be cherished, because it will be critical of the future of the world. It is not a profession, it is a state of mind.”
“In 1924, Finland got 37 medals and 14 gold medals in the Olympics, much less in 2012. Finland was poor but at that time Europe was 25% of the world population and 33% of the GDP. In 2050, it will be 7% of population and 15% of GDP. And we will not be able to give to everyone all the wealth Europeans enjoy today. Not even talking about climate change and aging. Today, out of 100 people, 46 work in Europe including 8 in health care. In 2050, 38 will work and 18 in health care. Less than 20 will create wealth for the others. The equation does not work. European subsidies are 1/3 to coal mining and agriculture and 6% to R&D and technology. This is also meaningless. Europeans citizens need to elect leaders who have vision and courage… Entrepreneurship is making an impact and there is no point in doing small innovations when you are going to fail.”
Risto founded f-secure when he was 24 years old, but began making pocket money when he was 12. He studied at Aalto but found more negative elements than positive ones. Entrepreneurship was not valued, teachers did not value their teaching or if they taught well. “It was very disappointing”. He did not have classmates with an interest in entrepreneurship BUT he has to thank Aalto for pushing him to create a company with a friend when he began doing business. It was a consulting/project firm and he hired many Aalto alumni. He also remembers “the aversion to transfer practical skills” and an attraction for theory [something we should think about – why is that?]. “Management science was disappointing, the more complicated you were, the better (do you know what are “diseconomies of time compression?” [see next line]). CEOs never read management research, researchers want they fellow researchers only to read them, or why would not they use “lead-time” instead of the complex concept before? Whereas there might be hidden gems in research but how can CEOs know.” “Again entrepreneurship is a state of mind, which implies pragmatism, ambition, dreams, perseverance, optimism and give-up-&-start-again. It is also about a desire for results. We need to wake up, try, kill what fails and start again.” Siilasmaa quoted George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.”
Then there were Q&As about:
– The Taboo of Money. Yes, the new French president said he hates rich people. Money is a by-product, but success should be celebrated. Once you have enough, you do not need money, but it is an outcome.
– Stock options. Q: Is it accepted in Finland like in SV? A: yes but down rounds and lack of exits make stock-options less successful not less accepted.
– Values: they should come from parents not from school. Now it is true some leaders succeed with strange values, such as “cult leader”. Not easy to blame them when they are successful but then how do we align this with values… not easy.
– Research on entrepreneurship again: if a paper is not complex, it is not accepted, too bad! CEOs read 300-page books with 1 idea, unfortunately. So you need to select teachers with the right values & ambition. Why not entrepreneurs? There is a book about picking the right people. Google it…
The REE conference was rich in quality speakers but nothing close to Siilasmaa. I noticed some good things such as “being an entrepreneurs is making an impact. Just like scientists or artists, it is about do you want to be remembered. Therefore we should “expose as many people as possible to entrepreneurship and hope that diversity will induce wealth. Again it is about a Darwinian process. And we should also be aware that entrepreneurship is not just about satisfying needs, but also answering to frustrations and desires.
I was less convinced about the fact that creativity can be taught (but I am not creative so maybe I should follow such courses!), about the idea that customers may be better to fund your start-up than investors (it is not my experience but I might be biased) or even that teaching can replace the state of mind. But there was a funny analysis that I restate my way: “If 100 students follow a course, 10 may launch a company, 5 will fail because they did not listen / learn, 4 will survive because they learnt the tools to avoid fatal mistakes, and 1 will succeed because he did not fully listen and did it his way on top of surviving.”
Let me finish with something loosely related. As you may know if you a regular visitor here, I love to put cap. tables of start-ups when available (at time of an exit), and here is F-secure.
Last week, I had lunch with Pekka Roine. This follows my trip to Finland (and my recent posts) where many people advised me to meet this Finn living in Switzerland. He described himself has bbb = big, bald, and bearded… so I answered back I was gg = grey hair and glasses so that we could find each other on the EPFL campus.
We have one thing in common: we spent some time at Stanford University and he told me something about it. He mentioned this experience was great for 3 reasons,
– the least important one is that Stanford has the best professors in the world,
– the second least important is that when you are there, you know at least 200 people who are like you, so you are not isolated,
– but the most important is that you are away from home and it gives perspective and new horizons.
Pekka worked for DEC before the company disappeared and experienced the best years of the company. Then he became an independent since 1994 and he has been on the board of 25 companies and also helped in launching 2 VC firms, PTV and Conor.
So we discussed how to help our entrepreneurs. He believes in Israel and its incubator model where people who know how to run them select 2-3% of the best projects and follow them closely. He told me about this guy who failed his 1st start-up, M&Aed the 2nd, IPOed the 3rd so felt qualified to run an incubator. Good point!
I am not a big fan of incubator, someone had told me if I meant incinerator, but with a model where the Yozma tools were privatized with the right incentives and people, this is a different story. So is this a way to solve the unsolvable, this chicken and egg problem that we do not have enough role models and entrepreneurs following the right models. Pekka believes in exchanges with Israel, I believe in the Go West which has similarities. There has to be a way we can convince our decision makers at the academic and national level, and we should not stop trying because we are RIGHT, Pekka! We need to create high-growth companies which are the places for the future jobs for our kids.
There is no doubt that Finns and Finland were inspiring for me!
A small addition: I just discovered (I mean on November 13) this article from the Helsinki Times, following an interview I had given during my trip.
The main lesson I got there is that small countries such as Finland, Switzerland or Israel need to be open countries. Nokia is a good example of what a small country can achieve but the company is also worrying Finns at the moment as it is losing some traction to Apple and Android. So Finland needs to look for more fresh air. That’s probably why Finland is so open to new ideas from Israel or the USA. You should just check my post of yesterday to see how both countries have been references for Finland.
At Aalto, I particularly liked a few experiments such as
Will Caldwell is heading a large piece of the effort with his colleagues and I met many passionate people including Pauli, Teemu, Panu, Jari, Paolo, Ramine, Matalie, Juha, Kristo and my apologies to the ones I forget…
Internationalization does not mean just sending people or businesses out but attracting people in. I was very interested by a recent report, the Silicon Valley Journey, Experiences of Finnish IT Startups from Dot-Com Boom to 2010, on Finns based in Silicon Valley, the experience of which should be used. There is an awareness that we never know enough about how SV is performing and our ecosystems (students, entrepreneurs, investors and support) should always know better about it. And it also means attracting international VCs something Israel (and Switzerland by the way) has been quite good at.
Things were very similar in Jyväskylä, though it is quite far from the main capital city, Helsinki. Just three examples:
– the mentors such as Jussi Nukari, also an author of “Launching Your Software Business in America”
– the entrepreneurship courses given by Sharon Ballard from Arizona (who also challenged me about the efficiency of the SBIR program in the USA, something I had/have been skeptical about 🙂 but this is another story!). Sharon is bringing a typical American attitude to European students. And what I liked there is that it was not just Finnish students, but a group of international young and enthusiastic people!
My thanks here to Juha Saukkonen who invited me to JAMK and who may have forgotten he was the 1st person to mention the Victa report to me, and thanks to all his colleagues, Asta, Mari, Heikki, Sharon, Jussi, Kari, Marko, and… Juha, Juha, Juha and Juha again.
Any negative lesson? I feel a recurrent issue about critical mass in Europe. Any country, any region, any city in Europe is trying to promote innovation and they must do it. But are we taking the risk of diluting the effort by not taking strong decisions on a few hot spots, as we do it by the way for education, research or even sports or arts? I do not have any good answer and we all know we have to try and try again. But the USA have one SV only even if they have other clusters in Boston, Triangle Park, Seattle, or Austin. But we do not have our Silicon Valley in Europe. So how much are all these efforts efficient is a tough question?
I spent 5 days in Finland in mid-October and I came back with interesting lessons. But before writing about these in my next post, I would like to come back on the Israel situation which interestingly enough has been a strong model for Finland. I had discovered the Victa report (you may see my older post) a few years ago and during my trip, Will Caldwell who had invited me to Helsinki offered me his book Attracting Foreign Investment into Early-Stage Finnish Technology Companies. An Examination of Different Investment Modes Including Case Study: Comparing High-Tech Investing Environments in Israel and Finland.
One of the strong features of the Israeli situation is how international their start-ups are. This includes international investors and also the fact that most start-ups have a US presence very early in their development. (They have fully digested the Go West I mentioned in my post of yesterday). And finally, the M&A and IPO ouputs are a by-product of all this. Will’s book was published in 1999 so it could look old, but it is not. Let me just show you a number of examples: one striking element which is not about Israel is a comparison of what entrepreneurs need and what local business angels (in Finland) can bring.
The discrepancy which appears was an argument for the need of international VCs. This may still be the case!
Now more about Israel. The country is known for its great success with high-tech start-ups and here is what Will was showing:
– Table 6: Israel had more start-ups on Nasdaq than Europe as a whole. One may claim Europe has local stock exchanges but it would not change the success measure.
– Table 5: The M&A activity mostly by US companies (of course). You could compare to my table about European M&As in my book.
– Appendix 4: the Mkt. Cap. Of all Israeli Nasdaq companies in 1998.
The results are obviously impressive but if you look closely at the volatilities, it also showed that the Israeli situation was diverse. Below, I just did an update of his tables.
One final table I steal from his book is a comparison of what entrepreneurs claimed in the business plans and what really happened. Not surprising but I had not seen it so often.
Now my updates of his tables: I looked at these public companies again. I used the Nasdaq web site and Wikipedia and then Yahoo and Google finance. So here are the updated values of the companies which were public at the time and the new public companies. I have not done stats yet, but the basic description of all this is good enough I think!
I am not the only one complaining about the weakness of Europe in terms of start-ups. Juha Ruohonen compared in his report VICTA (www.tekes.fi/en/document/42911/victa_pdf) the situation of Finland and Israel and he reaches similar conclusions to mine: not enough growth companies, a lack of ambition, and too many lifestyle companies.
His comparison table is self-sufficient:
And his analysis of the reasons for problems are:
Finally his conclusions: There is a clear need in Finland:
To create a viable high-growth ecosystem
To multiply the number of VC capable growth companies
To eliminate the waste of resources to lifestyle companies
To provide a viable platform for fast international growth
To increase the corporate involvement and the number of corporate spin-offs/-outs
To better facilitate the transformation from research project into a fast growth start-up.
This can be achieved by:
shifting focus from quantity into quality
moving from project-based development to efficient long-term structures
creating structures to enable success of commercial players
attracting much more international talent into Finnish early-stage community.
My comment: you can replace Finland by Europe and the analysis is the same. Solutions are complex no doubt but I would add that betting on youth, on risk taking is essential (the “Stay Foolish, Stay Hungry” explained by Jobs, see the July 07 post) and that international exchange must also include discovering what exists abroad.