Monthly Archives: June 2013

Sexiest Job at Sanoma: Data Scientist

During a recent webinar I gave about our strategy, Lassi Kurkijärvi (Director of Innovation & Development) was voted to have the sexiest job at Sanoma. This victory was by a comfortable margin, getting about twice as many votes as the second placed “my own job”. I agree that our Mobile Superhero has got a hot job. However, in my view, the sexiest jobs at Sanoma in the next few years will be those of the Data Scientists.

I realize not everybody will share my view and I am arguably biased due to my background (a lot of Bioinformatics in my PhD). Yet I believe there’s a big opportunity for us to be even more relevant to our customers (and make more money) by providing them more accurately with the right content and functionality at the right time, on the right medium and device and for the right price. (By customers, I mean consumers of media, advertisers, learners and teachers).

To do this, we have to make a quantum leap forward in our insights and analytics capabilities. This week I caught up with our Queen of the Quants – Ulla Kruhse-Lehtonen (VP, Customer Insight and Analytics) about insights and big data at Sanoma. She’s a brilliant addition to my team, fun to work with, fast, determined and has the brain the size of a planet. She’s building our new team and co-developing the cases with the business owners.

Ulla Kruhse-Lehtonen, VP Customer Insight & Analytics and Queen of the Quants at Sanoma

Ulla Kruhse-Lehtonen, VP Customer Insight & Analytics and Queen of the Quants at Sanoma

Ulla, why did you decide to join Sanoma?

I was immediately intrigued when I heard about the opportunity. Having always been an avid reader and a magazine buff, I was fascinated by the chance to work for a company whose business is storytelling. At Sanoma, I can combine my love for stories with data science, which is my other passion.

I’m excited by Sanoma’s wealth of consumer data and the business opportunities it provides. The media industry is currently undergoing a fundamental transformation from print and broadcasting to digital. Consumer analytics is at the centre of the transformation. Modern data mining, visualization, and machine-learning techniques provide us with strategic and operational insights as well as targeting and personalization capabilities for our current and future products and businesses. Data science helps us create unique, relevant and exciting experiences for our customers.

How is Sanoma rolling out the new data science capabilities?

The new capabilities are used to optimize consumer sales, target digital advertising, personalize services, and create strategic consumer metrics and other data-driven insights. The data science team develops the capabilities in close collaboration with the respective business and IT functions. Roll-out happens in stages. Only after verifying the performance of the new analytics capability through a pilot, will it be rolled out further. This helps us ensure the success of the new capability before making large-scale investments into technology and training people. 

We also aim at creating a culture of sharing and communicating of successes and failures in order to share best practices and learnings across units.

What is the most critical factor for making a Big Data initiative successful?

The most critical factor is to closely align data, insights and analytics activities with the company’s business strategy. It’s easy for an analytics team to keep itself busy with interesting and challenging, yet irrelevant matters. Once Data Scientists thoroughly understand the business goals and logic, they will be able to translate them into data and analytics questions and come up with unexpected, sometimes unintuitive outcomes, which may have tremendous business opportunities.

At Sanoma, the executive-level support for analytics is extremely strong, which is one of the most pivotal matters for a successful analytics transformation of a company.

What are typical challenges in Big Data initiatives?

The technical effort related to the gathering, management and utilization of data should not be underestimated. The more silo’s there are, the longer it takes to gather and utilize data across the organization. It takes successful analytics companies several years to get it right. At Sanoma, our approach is to prioritize consumer and advertiser use cases and build up the technical enablers in a clear order. It is important to constantly deliver short-term business wins while building up the long-term infrastructure to support the company’s vision.

However, in the end, technology is money and hard work, but analytics is about people’s mindset and the willingness to do things differently. Unless analytics capabilities are taken into use and the results are acted upon, there is little point to build them in the first place.

You’re building a team of Data Scientists and other data experts. How’s it going?

First group of new recruits.  In the lift at Sanoma House.

First group of new recruits. In the lift at Sanoma House.

The recruitments are going quite well. We have signed on thirteen people in Helsinki and Amsterdam. Finding the right talent is critical for the successful execution of the analytics strategy. We need skilled people to create value out of data. In addition to Data Scientists, we have established the position of the Consumer Privacy Officer and the Head of Data Asset. We have also hired Big Data Developers and Database Administrators. The openings are no longer visible on our website as we are working through the applications, but if readers of this blog are interested in hearing more, feel free to drop me an email (

In September you will have been with Sanoma for a year. Still excited about the job?

Absolutely! It’s great to work with talented and skilled people and to develop the data science competency here. Data, analytics, and privacy are at the core of Sanoma’s transformation and reflect the consumers’ changing behavior. Data science is cool!

Looking forward >>

I’m with Ulla on that!  I love the creativity of a media and learning company. Putting insights to work is the next generation. This is what makes these jobs so sexy.

Looking further than Sanoma – the opportunity for societies to use insights derived from big data to improve quality of life (for example through better healthcare and education) and economic performance (for example through better allocation and targeting of resources and higher productivity) is substantial; the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) estimates a potential for $ 300 bn of value creation per year in US healthcare alone.

USA is educating data scientists for the future

USA is educating data scientists for the future

However, the rate limiting factor in capturing this potential is in my view the availability of skilled Data Scientists. MGI estimates a shortage of 190,000 skilled data scientists and 1.5 m managers with sufficient analytics know-how in the USA by 2018. Probably the European challenge is of a similar magnitude.  In the USA we see Seattle (see e.g. the eScience Institute at the University of Washington and PhD program in Big Data) and New York (see e.g. the Institute for Data Sciences and Engineering at Columbia and Center for Data Science at NYU) contending with Silicon Valley to become the next hotbed for educating the data scientists of the future. 

We need more initiatives like this in Europe too. With a substantial opportunity gap on the one hand and European unemployment now estimated to be more than 26 m (with youth unemployment over 50% in some countries) data science is an area that should be prioritized for education and training. 

My advice to anyone considering education or training in data science as one of their options: go for it!  Not only will it be good for your chances of getting a job, it might even be a sexy one at a cool company like Sanoma!

Sanoma’s #contentaccelerator bootcamp: making it happen!

Participants at bootcamp

Participants at bootcamp

Last week we ran the bootcamp for the #contentaccelerator. After seven weeks of ideation and training, of building and testing minimum viable products, we sent the five winners to bootcamp to build prototypes of their concepts – to take the next step in making it happen.

On a personal note – these weeks are amongst the absolute highlights of my year. We take some of the most talented people in the organization and give them the opportunity and tools to turn their idea into a prototype. I believe in innovation by doing. Not only is this the best way to move fast and develop close to the customer. It’s also the best way of learning new skills.

Focus on delivery

The first impression of a visitor to the bootcamp is that we put the participants in a cool space and give them four days of playtime to see what they make of it. However, the fact of the matter is that bootcamp is tough and demanding. Deliverables and discipline are at the core of the way of working. Preparations for the bootcamp have been stringent. We have selected the best ideas and leaders by a competitive and transparent process. Teams with complementary skills are formed including a visual designer and interaction designer best suited to the team and assignment. Each day starts by establishing clear deliverables for that day, and we are very strict in maintaining discipline to ensure that the results can be presented at end of the day. It’s structured, focused and intense.

Five concepts turned into prototypes

The outcome of the week is that we have built five great prototypes that have been tested with customers. They include i) a content marketplace (“if content is King, come and join the other Royals”); ii) a fashionista community (“you spot the look, we spot the shop”); iii) a service to hear the news in a new way (“have you heard the news”?); iv) an educational talent discovery app (“discover the talents of your children”) and v) a learning solution that mashes up the real and virtual worlds with educational quests. It’s amazing how far the teams have been able to bring these concepts in just four days. I’m tempted to link to the promotional videos here, but it’s a bit premature to make external announcements at this stage.

Proud of the teams

I’m really proud of how the teams have performed. Not only what they have delivered as prototypes. But also how they went about it; the spirit, motivation, energy and passion – the “can-do” approach has been truly inspiring. Congratulations to the team leaders and respect for the blood, sweat and tears that you have put into the last few months. Thanks to the support teams from Sanoma and Makerstreet for helping to make it happen. And once again Lassi Kurkijärvi (@lassi, Director at Sanoma) and Joris van Heukelom (@jorisheuk, Partner at Makerstreet) have been brilliant and inspiring in leading this program from beginning to end.

Fostering an innovative culture

As we continue on this journey of discovery to the roles that Sanoma will play in the futures of media and learning, it’s of the essence that we foster our creative and innovative culture. I believe the accelerators contribute to this in several ways. Directly, we are training hundreds of people on lean development methods and building new digital business lines. Indirectly, the accelerators generate discussion about innovation in the company, with supporters and sometimes detractors too. And the discussion often leads to new initiative – to more attention for innovation – what to do, what not to do, and how?

High level support is critical to the success of any program like this. I especially liked the visits of Harri-Pekka Kaukonen (CEO) and Jackie Cuthbert (CHRO) to the bootcamp. Both are strong supporters of the program and it’s great that they are visible and transparent in that. I loved the way the project leaders engaged with them, and the different styles they used in pitching their ideas and themselves – not only using facts, figures and beautiful design, but also appealing to their emotions (“Harri-Pekka, imagine your daughters using this”; “Jackie, this will help you find more great shoes”). Definitely some natural sales talent in the room!

The accelerators have proven the case that women rule at Sanoma. All five of the first round of new ventures are led by women and four of the five teams at this particular bootcamp were led by women too. Probably the sample size is too small to draw any conclusions about this phenomenon of the superior performance of women in the accelerators. Our experience on the whole is that the participants who came with the best ideas, put the most effort into developing them and sold them most effectively, came the furthest. Is there something about the accelerators and intrapreneurship that might give Sanoma a competitive advantage by creating an innovation and venturing space that particularly appeals to women, or at least supports a level playing field for talent?

Next steps

Based on the outcomes of the bootcamp we are now working on the next steps. In some cases, we will create new ventures. In others, we will likely sponsor next steps in the local business. There is one case where we believe we might need to work with an external partner to win in the market. We are currently engaging with the various stakeholders and expect to have made agreements within two weeks.

The clock never stops ticking of course. On Monday we will launch the recruitment drive for the #commerceaccelerator that we will run in the Autumn of this year, in cooperation with a number of leading European universities. Looking forward >>.

SanomaVentures helps develop young enterprises in digital information, entertainment and education


Digital technology is driving fundamental change in media and learning markets.  Sanoma is responding to this by a) transforming core brands to play multichannel and b) building new digital brands.  I’ve recently posted about the accelerators at Sanoma and the role they play in the (early-stage) innovation portfolio.  In addition, the company has established SanomaVentures ( to support early-stage (external) businesses looking for growth funding following initial market success.

Herman Kienhuis, Investment Director at SanomaVentures

Herman Kienhuis, Investment Director

I’m enthusiastic about SanomaVentures.  I think it brings Sanoma a lot on this journey of discovery to the digital future. Clearly it will not be an answer to all of the opportunities and challenges we face, but it is an important piece in the overall puzzle.

This week I caught up with Herman Kienhuis (@kienhuis), Investment Director of SanomaVentures about their approach.  I believe in Herman and his team.  I think he’s smart and professional.  He’s proactive and takes initiative – he’s out there in the network.  He’s commercial and has sharp analytical skills, and thinks creatively about negotiating attractive deals for both parties.  And I like him – he’s a decent chap.  I respect his support for microfinancing organization and he’s very sporting with his annual Movember action.  Here’s what he had to tell.

Why was SanomaVentures launched?

We had five main reasons to go for this.  It gives us access to new sources of innovation and entrepreneurial talent.  It creates new avenues for growth.  It’s a vehicle that allows us to spread our investments across multiple new ventures, also making use of media as part of the investment currency.  And we felt the time is right, partly because of the fundamental shift in consumer, advertiser and learning behaviour and partly because of the rise of the start-up and venturing communities in our markets.

What’s your investment scope?

We focus on areas where the strategic fit with Sanoma is the strong – specifically, digital consumer services; online video and connected TV; advertising, marketing services and e-commerce; mobile & tablet apps; e-learning & personal development.

What are your investment criteria?

We invest in enterprises that are entering their first growth phase, where cooperation with Sanoma can add value through our media, network and expertise.  Within that scope we make our assessment based on five criteria namely a high quality team, revenue & profit potential, sustainable competitive advantage, international scalability and strategic fit with Sanoma.

What does Sanoma have to offer?

Typically, we invest € 100 k – € 500 k as a combination of working capital and media, with the mix depending on the needs of the enterprise.  Sometimes cash is king.  In other situations the reach and exposure of media offers a significant value to boosting the brand, engagement and conversion.  We have found both cash and media to be useful and valuable currencies.  We also bring online expertise; Sanoma has highly successful digital operations, including and in The Netherlands for example.  And access to our networks – not only advertisers and consumers, but also to other expertise.

How does the process work?

We spend a lot of time networking and orienting ourselves in the start-up community. When we identify opportunities where the fit is good we make an assessment of the venture against the investment criteria mentioned earlier.  If the opportunity is attractive we negotiate terms in preparation for decision-making by both parties.  If the investment case gets the green light, we then proceed to due diligence, contracting and closing.  The entire process typically takes about 3-4 months from first contact to closing.  We then move forward with the funding and access to media, and supporting with any agreed expertise.

How is SanomaVentures organized?

We launched in The Netherlands, with two Investment Directors (Antoine Hendrikx and me), an Investment Associate (Sjoerd Huitema) and access to two Legal Directors (Marije van Akkerveeken and John Vogel).  In the meantime we have also extended the concept to Finland with Investment Director Ville Varis.

Have you closed many deals?

To date we’ve made investments in nine ventures: Vault79, a designer fashion auction; Fashionchick*, a fashion storefront; VirtuaGym, an online fitness platform; Peerby, a local P2P sharing platform; Scoupy, a mobile couponing app; Truly Yours, a beauty products discovery subscription; brandkids, a kids fashion e-commerce platform; Nosto*, e-commerce personalization and recommendation tools; and Fosbury, a passbook campaign management tool.   We see a lot of potential and promise in these investments and are proud to be working with these entrepreneurs.

Good start.  See any challenges ahead?

Sure, opportunities and challenges always go hand-in-hand. A couple of areas come to mind.  In the first year we have been focusing on making the initial investments.  Moving forward we have to combine scouting and deal-making with supporting the growth of the ventures – that’s a more complex task.  Also, we expect that about half of our investments will fail – we will have to make tough calls on which ventures should get additional funding and where to take a loss.  Given the relatively early stage of these ventures those calls might not always be clear-cut.  Maybe the first year was the easiest; now the hard work starts.

How do you look back on the first year?

From a professional perspective, I think we have been successful in establishing the SanomaVentures brand in the market.  We’ve made some very promising investments.  We’ve built a good investment team and established strong links to some great entrepreneurs.  And there’s been a positive buzz about SanomaVentures, both inside and outside the company.  From a personal perspective, it’s been an exciting and demanding period in setting this up, well worth it.

Thanks for the good update Herman.

*The investment in Fashionchick was made prior to the establishment of SanomaVentures and the investment in Nosto was made by the Finnish team

What’s next in the accelerator pipeline at Sanoma?

I have recently shared my views on why Sanoma is sponsoring intrapreneurship and how we deploy innovation accelerators. In this post I would like to explain the next steps we are taking with the accelerator program.

#commerceaccelerator goes to college

One of the three core customer groups served by Sanoma is the advertiser: we provide effective solutions to advertisers based on our reach and consumer insight. We plan to further boost our innovation in this domain by running a #commerceaccelerator in the Autumn this year – an accelerator with a difference.  The core process and principles of earlier accelerators remain in place.  But this time we intend to work with a group of leading European universities; about half of the participants will be students. We believe this will further enrich our idea and talent pools and give opportunities to potential new employees.

#contentaccelerator goes to bootcamp

Feedback at the end of a day at bootcamp.  Thanks for the photo Lassi.

Feedback at the end of a day at bootcamp. Thanks for the photo Lassi.

Earlier this week we selected the five concepts that will go to the #contentaccelerator bootcamp to be built as protoypes. They include i) a service to hear the news in a new way ii) a content marketplace iii) a fashionista community iv) a service to help parents to discover the talents of their children and v) a learning solution that mashes up the real and virtual worlds.  Project leaders will join us for four days in Amsterdam, coming from Poland, Belgium, Finland and The Netherlands to build their prototypes and to make their pitch to establish a new venture.  Congratulations to them on having won a place and good luck to them in Amsterdam!  We are all super-excited about the bootcamp and I expect that we will create one or more new ventures as a result.  I feel energized and upbeat just writing about it.

#mobileaccelerator goes to work

Four “mobile first” concepts have received funding as new ventures following the #mobileaccelerator and we are prototyping a fifth concept too. The teams for these ventures were formed at the beginning of April and given funding and coaching for an initial period of 12 months.  At the end of that period we will decide whether to boost, continue or terminate the venture.  Alongside the intensive coaching, we track the progress against Key Performance Indicators at the end of each quarter.  The first round of these formal reviews takes place at the end of June.  The teams are enthusiastic and are moving forward fast.  I am very curious what we have learned and what the results are – where we stand in our goal of bringing these new ventures to market.

Thanks for joining us

So that’s where we stand today with the innovation accelerators at Sanoma.  I would really like to thank everyone who has joined us on this journey so far and helped to bring it to life, either as a participant or facilitator.  Respect to you for standing up and showing your ambition.

This is the final posting in the series.  Thanks for reading.