Tag Archives: Consumer Media

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 (www.sanomaventures.com) 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 Kiva.org 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 NU.nl and Kieskeurig.nl 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

Why Sanoma is sponsoring intrapreneurship

In the Autumn of 2012 Sanoma launched the first in a series of innovation accelerators – the #mobileaccelerator – to foster intrapreneurship at the company. In the next three posts I would like to share with you why we took this initiative, what we have done so far and what we intend to do next with the accelerator program.

About Sanoma

Sanoma is a front-runner in consumer media and learning in Europe, employing more than 10,000 professionals in some 20 countries, with the purpose of helping people to access, enjoy and understand the world. In 2012, the Group’s net sales totalled € 2.4 bn and the company is listed on the NASDAQ OMX in Helsinki.

Background to the initiative

Media and learning markets are undergoing fundamental transformation, enabled by digital.  Consumers are driving change; always connected, consumers increasingly expect content to play at the time and on the device and with the interactivity of their choice.  Advertisers are shifting their spending from inputs into buying measurable outcomes.  And in learning – teachers, pupils, headmasters and parents are looking for new solutions that raise educational standards and support learning and teaching.  These are the three domains of opportunity (consumers of media, advertisers and learning) which are shaping the transformation of Sanoma.  But to be successful in capturing new opportunities, the company needs to find ways to innovate faster and be more agile than in the past.

Enter the Innovation Accelerator

With this purpose we developed the Innovation Accelerator program, under the leadership of the inspiring Lassi Kurkijärvi (@lassi, Director of Innovation & Development at Sanoma) in cooperation with the excellent Joris van Heukelom (@jorisheuk, Partner at Makerstreet).

We have two main goals for the overall program – i) to build new business lines in the three domains mentioned above (usually “mobile first”) and ii) to develop new skills in the organisation that will support the core business in the transformation journey to the digital future.  An accelerator typically comprises several phases including ideation, training, developing minimum viable products and prototyping of the winning concepts at bootcamp. The ultimate winners are then given the opportunity to establish new ventures as intrapreneurs, but I will share more on that next time.

How will new ventures prosper at Sanoma – do they have a competitive advantage over independent start-ups?

We’re still too early into the series to call on this, but we’re optimistic. The Sanoma brand is reputable and helps to open doors to consumers, advertisers and schools.  Easy access to media gives an operational and cost benefit.  We have high levels of expertise in many areas, not only digital development, but also legal, financial and HR, not to forget significant expertise in content, advertising and learning markets.  We have access to an international network, which can help to open up the world of opportunity (scale is critical to success in digital).  And we can provide secure funding to the new ventures in their formative period.  All-in-all a potentially powerful springboard that we believe can boost the prospects of a new venture.  We will have to strike the right balance between entrepreneurial freedom and access to the resources of the corporation for this to work, but with care and attention this should be achievable.

Do the innovation accelerators offer benefits to the core business too?

Maybe the bigger benefits will actually be to the core business in the short-medium term. We expect that some of the ideas generated might help to inspire new developments at our core brands.  We are training hundreds of people on “lean” development methods, teaching them new skills that can be used in the core business.  In addition, the program and the ventures arising from it are a great way for Sanoma to source, motivate and retain entrepreneurial talent.  And through this process we are building a bigger network in the start-up community, which helps to further boost innovation, including an innovative culture.  I reckon this helps to affirm Sanoma as a cool and innovative media and learning company.

Next posting: how does an accelerator at Sanoma actually work and what have we done so far?

I would be interested to hear about other companies that have been sponsoring intrapreneurship.