Unfortunately this is all too typical of the tech scene in Finland. While there have been a few breakout successes (Rovio, F-Secure for example) and the tech talent in Finland is generally top-notch, much of the scene is dominated by a tight-knit old-boys network in the boardroom, unions and government.
Who do we have ? Jorma Ollila (again) - the arrogant twit who drove Nokia into the ground long before Elop took over. Siilasmaa, another face from Nokia. The same people involved in the Fruugo fiasco. Taxpayer money funneled through Tekes to support no-hope startups run by people who know the right people. Silly little committees - again taxpayer funded - to discuss the "future of IT in Finland" with nary a nod toward the genuinely successful startups.
The tech scene here is anemic, incestuous and poorly managed, propped up by taxpayer money through layers of government bureaucracy. Which is a shame because the tech talent is excellent. What's really needed is a more startup-friendly environment - a reduction in bureacracy, taxation reform, and a more small-business-friendly culture - but these are "hard" problems. Let's just have yet another worthless "steering group" and appoint the same guys we drink beer with in the sauna.
Every time I see something like this, I wonder- who made out with that money? Forget the commentary about why the startup idea was bust, why the website UX sucks, etc. Who made out like a bandit with $40MM in return for nothing? Whoever that is, this was a GREAT deal from their point of view.
P.S. Not surprising that government involvement plays a part in this. Sounds akin to Solyndra et al. here in the states.
Much of this comes from two unfortunate facts: Finland is far from any real markets (becoming less important thanks to the net), and there isn't much capital in the country outside of the public sector.
The latter means that the government has to be involved. Bringing in their heavy processes, risk (and therefore, succeess) aversion, and the old boys' network.
I would stay stop dancing with Tekes (state R&D funding org), and take a flight to Stockholm, Frankfurt, Paris, or London. Capitalize on successes like Rovio and emphasize that in Finland there is lots of mobile dev talent available thanks to MeeGo and Symbian getting ramped down.
I went there for a job interview in 2008. They had a vague idea of what they should do, which was more or less "revolutionize global e-commerce by facilitating cross-border trade", I guess fueled by the realization that gee, stuff is cheaper in some countries than others. They had ideas of solutions for things like shipping, price consolidation, translation and customer relations. They were also planning to take what I thought to be an insane commission per trade. I'd worked with European SMEs a lot in the past with the world's biggest search ads product, so I thought I knew what they were ready for and what they needed, and the three chats I had at Fruugo didn't really reflect this at all.
Most alarmingly, while they were in really early startup mode, they had a very front-heavy team of 'top talent' and loads of telco-pedigreed 'old boys' in the helm. I dropped off the interview process when I was told that to continue, they'll do a psychological profiling by an external consultant and that they do that for all candidates. Really. First, wow, that's expensive. Second, in a startup, the recruiting process should be all about the team and the product, not a standardized test. I told them this.
Now, I almost regret not going in for a bit more, maybe even to work with them for a while, to have a better idea of what all went wrong and if there would've been a way to save the company. Will make for a great case study, no doubt.
I'd suggest that you were very, very lucky that you didn't continue with the company. There is nothing more soul destroying than to try to fight your case in an organization of people who believe they know better than you do, even when it's clear they are running the organization into the ground.
There is nothing you could have done to save this company. It seems to have shaky foundations to start with, so the best you probably could have done was to put off the inevitable for a short amount of time.
I thought that the massive image in the center was be like a shelf, where you could see things they were promoting, and click on them. But if you click on an item you get an entire category (which was entirely missing for one thing I clicked on), and have to search again for the thing which caught your eye.
Indeed, it is supposed to be done in reverse: local niche -> global generalization
A nice canonical counterexample is Amazon, starting with just books in US and now basically doing everything.
Same deal with Facebook and Craigslist.
My quick answer? Reduce the team to the minimum needed to explore new business models, raise enough runway to keep that team going for 18 months, restructure the cap table to incentivise this core team, and treat it like any other startup. Perhaps change the name too to avoid continuity and too much press attention early on.
Of course, no one is ever given this much latitude. Existing shareholders would argue that diluting them down to almost nothing (90+% dilution) does not mean "saving the company" (they're wrong, IMHO. Shareholders and "the company" are two distinct entities). The amount of politics involved in pulling this off would be such a distraction that even if it succeeded, it would probably destroy the company's chances - and this is even before you consider the hangover from millions of euros of debts!).
So, in short, the only sensible way for people in that company is to shut it down and start another with a clean bill of health, and chalk this one up to experience.
> My quick answer? Reduce the team to the minimum needed to explore new business models, raise enough runway to keep that team going for 18 months, restructure the cap table to incentivise this core team, and treat it like any other startup.
First, find out if anybody has a problem that actually needs solving.
It sounds like they had a plausible hypothesis, that cross-border commerce is a pain for both vendors and consumers. But either the problem isn't a big one or fruugo doesn't actually solve it.
If the hypothesis is still solid, then I'd start iterating on both the vendor and consumer side to find something that does solve their problems.
If the hypothesis is false, it's worth looking to see what assets there are to see if there's another hypothesis within range. But at this point the brightest staff are probably gone, they don't seem to have much in the way of vendor relationships, the platform sounds shoddy and anyway has a lot of assumptions baked in. So if there are no real assets, then I'd put it out of its misery, but encourage the staff to pitch current investors to get seed money for follow-on startups.
Try to get the product offerings straight, eject all contries I don't currently need, repair the homepage, check my legal obligations regarding negative equity.
After all, the market they are in doesn't seam to ba a bad one, and high-level connections almost never hurt (maybe here they do, who knows...). But without the right products and what you could sum up as good user experience it won't work.
I'm just not sure if it's possible to make enough money to offset almost 40 mio in losses...
Is there some useful lesson here? I don't think iterate quickly counts. I'm sorry that thing didn't work out for them, and without some insightful analysis this article isn't interesting or newsworthy.
I think this is a special case of a big fish in a really small pond (Finland) trying to make it out into the ocean. Having said that, it underlines how adding more dumb money doesn't make you any smarter and that just makes for an ever bigger non-trivial failure in Fruugo's environment (obviously that's my biased theory confirmed).
The idea of competing with Amazon which seems to underlay Fruugo, justifies the scale of investment. To me the execution failed because it did not draw the correct lessons for Amazon's success.
Bezos's grounding in finance played a key role in Amazon's success over the long term. But more critical was that he was taking responsibility for hauling packages to UPS himself - is there any better example of a founder so focused on shipping?
It's also worth remembering that Amazon had accumulated something like $1 BILLION in losses by the time it started turning profits. €40M sounds like a huge number, but in that space, it's not all that much.
I already told this to vilpponen directly, but it's wonderful to see that this particular company is being discussed out in the public finally. Finland has (had) this weird culture where you can't publicly criticize a person who's achieved a certain "position" in the minds of masses - Mr. Ollila being one of them. I think not only is this a great lesson about funding "air" but also how the Finnish society is changing.
Happy to be a part of the change through Startup Sauna. Hopefully we can "fix" this sinking boat during the coming years.
Because they were so obviously going to succeed that there was no need to test things with users or do a gradual rollout. And they had a great plan with a big pretty chart showing the multi-country rollout, and of course you're going to follow the plan, right? I mean, it's the plan.
The idea is like going backwards from Amazon's model. While Amazon goes right to the supplier, Fruugo accesses various shops that sell a certain product from the supplier. And the design looks like someone created it with a free site generator, the whole thing just feels cheap all around.