Tämä on ensimmäinen kirjoitus Avoimen yrityksen tiimin tuoreelta kolmannelta jäseneltä, Niklas Begleyltä. Niklaksen vastuulla on Kassin vieminen kansainvälisille markkinoille, joten postauksen kielenä on tälle blogille poikkeuksellisesti englanti.
This post will serve a couple of purposes. First of all, it is a chance for me to introduce myself in a more or less formal way. Secondly, I hope to put into words some of the thoughts I have had since I joined Juho and Antti in developing Kassi. Thirdly, I want to discuss my plans and the challenges I see ahead of us in bringing Kassi to international markets and developing the product as a whole.
So, to cut to the proverbial chase, my name is Niklas Begley and I am the latest addition to the Kassi team. I am studying Business in Trinity College Dublin, and my role in our organisation is helping take Kassi to international markets, starting from Ireland, and developing the product to fit specific local needs. I come from a Finnish/Irish background and although I currently reside in Dublin, I grew up in Helsinki and have a strong connection with Finland. Entrepreneurship has been a fascination of mine for a long time now and for years my goal was to work on an online project such as Kassi. I wanted to create something that could be universally seen as useful, something that would help people every day and become part of their lives.
Kassi turned out to be an amazing opportunity and I am extremely excited about working with Antti and Juho. Coincidentally, during my time in university, when looking at advertisements for used course books in campus bathrooms, I came up with a very similar concept myself. I wanted to create a service that would connect students so that they could share resources within their student communities. College life is constantly changing and a platform like this would allow for resources to be shared among the users, making the whole community more efficient.
Obviously Kassi is much more than a marketplace for university students. It is a service that has the capacity to cater to a much wider audience than specifically students. Neighbourhood communities, medium sized companies or other organisations can all benefit from Kassi in different ways, whether it is by sharing a ride to work, lending a power drill to a neighbour or selling old furniture.
However, a mistake many startups and even larger companies make is rely too much on untested assumptions about their customers. Are the above examples cross-cultural universal truths or are they only applicable to specific regions or groups with certain cultural properties and expectations? That is essentially what I want to talk about in the context of web startups.
Geography Online and Expectations
When people describe the changes in business practices brought by the Internet, attention is usually drawn to how the whole world is completely connected and services do not have to be constrained by physical boundaries. Online services do not need to worry about logistics or tariffs for each market area. Google, Facebook and Twitter are not geographically bound to specific regions and they are able to serve a huge variety of users with virtually no restrictions. This is the usual premise for any web or software startup. The goal is to try to capture a market that is not bound by a region, but to reach a larger user base that is connected by a common need or online culture.
However, there are online businesses that are geographically bound. This obviously happens when your product or service is connected to something physical and stationary. A prime example would be the Finnish eat.fi service that lists information about restaurants in major Finnish cities. Users can find opening hours, menus and special offers listed on an interactive map of their city showing all the restaurants in the area. While the service can be accessed by anyone, their customer base is clearly limited by geographical barriers and the cost of expanding into new areas is much higher than with traditional web services, which essentially have no cost due to the openness of the Internet. In order to grow, the business needs to capture a whole new physical market instead of growing their existing online market. Market research needs to be done, local customs need to be understood and the service’s underlying assumptions need to be tested in the new environment. Maybe the new market has a higher concentration of small businesses that are not ready to use online advertising or maybe your new prospective users have slightly different needs compared to your previous ones. Maybe the local market simply works differently to what you are used to, making your service more or less pointless.
Online culture and customs are becoming increasingly more universal, which means that virtual products like software are also becoming more or less universal, but when online services are connected to the physical world, that universality does not apply directly. The above questions can really only be answered by going out and talking to potential users and advertisers and ultimately understanding the customs and needs of the area you are expanding into.
Kassi is a geographically bound service and we embrace it. We believe it is one of our key strengths. By focusing on communities, we are able to provide a service that is strengthened by the trust between the members of these existing groups. Users are not simply anonymous shadows in a cluster of faceless usernames, but they are instead connected by a common entity. This opens countless possibilities for the service, but it also means we need to recognise that we deal with a very diverse user base and the service needs to be able to deal with that. We are not working with a specific type of user found around the world; we are dealing with a variety of different types of users all with different needs, priorities and expectations.
One concrete example of this I came across right away before I even officially joined Kassi. In Irish universities, post grad students and recent graduates often offer tutoring services, which are called “grinds”. They advertise their teaching services on noticeboards around universities through which students can find a grind for their subject. Kassi is obviously a perfect place for students to find the perfect mentor to help them in their studies. Not only can the information be easily accessible, students can rate their tutors and comment on their teaching methods so that it will be easier for future students to make a sound decision on which grind to pick. Since this kind of behaviour does not occur in Finland, at least to the same extent, without local contact it would have been almost impossible to predict.
This example may seem trivial, but the fact is that as Kassi grows and starts reaching new types of users, these kinds of examples will keep coming up. A key feature of a successful startup is agility and the ability to adjust your product on the go by testing different theories constantly. Sticking religiously to a business model that does not work, no matter how perfectly it may have been planned, leads to disaster. Instead, we learn.
Our plan in Ireland is to introduce Kassi in the major universities in the coming academic year, as well contacting other potential customers. Much of the year will be focused on market research and opening pilot communities but by next spring we hope to have a number of Kassi communities running in Dublin and all over Ireland. On a more long-term note, we hope to take the service even further around the world and make Kassi a global phenomenon.
In the meantime, Kassi will be turned from a project into a service as we officially launch our company.