PART TWELVE | The future of Open Innovation

The future of Open Innovation A discussion with Erkka Isomäki, founder of Viima. Author: Simon Schoop, Managing Director 4-advice At 4-advice we use Viima as an idea management tool and love it! We also found Viima´s blog very interesting, so I decided to get in touch with Erkka, in order to exchange thoughts on Open Innovation. After discussing ideas on how to further develop Open Innovation approaches, we decided to share his insights with you. I have worked with a range of idea management solutions. There are all sorts of different kinds of software with different flavors, features and business models. When we found Viima, we found a lean solution with a clear and easy-to-understand user interface. We believe that specific tools serve specific purposes. For the 4-advice Open Innovation community, we decided to use Viima. Simon: Erkka, you developed the idea management platform Viima. Why does the world need Viima? Erkka: Our founding team had developed a software for team collaboration (task management, time tracking and communication) following a traditional approach and competing with software like Slack or Trello. We participated in an accelerator program and realized that no one was happy with traditional idea management systems. So, we asked ourselves how to involve customers in developing software. Doing this in Finland, we realized that there is much more need for internal innovation support. Simon: When initially testing Viima, I was positively surprised about the free version for up to 50 users. It contains a lot of features that most of your competitors only offer in paid versions. What is your rationale behind offering a wide feature set to your non-paying customers? Erkka: Our goal is that for up to 50 users, we want to provide the best free tool out there. On top of that we provide additional paid features for users who are willing to pay for a little bit more structure and customization. What is very beneficial, is that we get lots of insights from the free users and hope that they will promote our software. Simon: So you eat your own dogfood by asking your customers for feedback to improve Viima in Viima. How much quality feedback do you get?  Erkka: We actually get a lot of feedback in the tool, but also in follow up conversations via e-mail and telephone. The quality of the feedback is very good. We remove bias by rating ideas from customers and – of course – we also use Viima for our internal ideation too. Simon: You talk about the dimensions of Open Innovation in your blog. You also mention the six key success factors of Open Innovation. Could you please explain how you see the value of Open Innovation? Erkka: I see a huge value in Open Innovation –  even larger organizations get significant benefits from it. There are two key aspects: Firstly, you can improve the target you are trying to achieve. And secondly, you increase the awareness and commitment of stakeholders. For example, when Lego is collecting feedback from people aged 5 to 99 with Open Innovation in a publicly open sense, they get a wide coverage from different perspectives. There are two different ways to do Open Innovation: Intercompany ideation between two or more companies helps them to develop a shared agenda or mutual products, or to improve their supply chain. In intracompany ideation, e.g. Pixar,  wanted to cut down on production cost and so held open workshops with all employees to get great ideas which helped them to improve efficiency. One of our customers, Yle, a Finnish broadcasting company, used Viima as a platform for their Open Innovation project. They collected ideas which they evaluated and developed further, before having a public voting on those ideas. Also, IF, the largest private & corporate insurance company in Finland uses Viima. They do not only see Viima as a tool but as a way of working. Simon: My belief in Open Innovation is the reason that I am doing things like intercompany innovation in the Innovation Think Tank. How can Viima support international cross-company, cross-industry Open Innovation groups like the Innovation Think Tank? Erkka: We had one case that is quite closely related to this. It had participants from  different industries like machinery, technology etc. who were generating ideas regarding Internet of Things related use cases – the challenge is not on the software side but rather on the specific goal of the Open Innovation activity and how it is facilitated. There needs to be long term benefits for it to work. Simon: Intercompany Open Innovation activities are difficult to fund, but I am convinced that people who experience trust and great, creative workshop formats will either recommend 4-advice or will come back in another way. Especially given today´s recommendation and network based economy. Which roles will Freemium based business models play in the near future for SaaS solutions like Viima? Do you see other business models with high relevance? Erkka: The Challenge with freemium models is how to convert customers from free to paying customers. You need a clear understanding on how to launch a free version and how to make the conversion. Customers need to see the value before they commit to convert.  We use the Freemium model because Viima is very scalable and the great ease of use makes customers convert when number of users grow bigger. In addition, new customers don´t put in too much strain on our infrastructure, so we are able to manage that. The world will continue to be more open and transparent. Therefore Open Innovation will gain more traction. Simon: How do you see the future of Open Innovation in the next three to ten years? What will remain, and what is likely to change? Erkka: I think the world will become more open and transparent. And in that sense Open Innovation activities will gain more traction. What the actual format will be, is hard to predict. But the last years give a clear indication and the fact that digital natives becoming decision makers will help a lot. Nevertheless, there are still very large intercultural differences – so there will not be one point in time when everyone is going participate in Open Innovation. Simon:  I have taken a course at MIT regarding Service Design Thinking. Steven Eppinger has great ideas and methodologies about sustainable product and service innovation. This is a topic I am passionate about and want to help develop further in Germany. How can you help with making product and service innovation efforts more sustainable? Erkka: I have got three key ideas. Firstly, many of our customers including large corporations find this is an area they need to improve on: Viima has often been used to create ideas on how to become better in Corporate Sustainability, CO2 footprint or environmental friendliness of operations. Secondly, sustainability related criteria are incorporated in the process of how the ideas are evaluated – those criteria can easily be integrated in order to map ideas against sustainability criteria. And finally, customers told us that they reduce the need for travel by using Viima, because they can generate ideas from their offices all around the world, thus reducing their CO2 footprint. United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), a customer of ours, was able to engage their local members from 80 countries around the world.   Simon: Other idea management vendors are long established in the German speaking markets in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. What are your plans with Viima for those markets?   Erkka: Viima, in Finnish, translates to a fresh, cool breeze. We want to bring more fun into innovation activities in the German markets. We get lots of new sign-ups on a daily basis from the German speaking markets. Everybody wants to go to the United States. But we believe that focusing on neighboring countries is something we can really succeed in. The User Interface is currently being translated into German. Germans value high quality in engineering – like here in Finland – so we think this will be highly appreciated in Germany. If you are not embarrassed to show your product to the customer, then you are just about right. It´s the execution that really matters. Build, measure, learn – an Eric Ries mentality. Simon: Last but not least, what were your most surprising experiences in founding Viima and bringing it to market? Erkka: We have had quite a smooth ride. Surprises that happen within a startup, are daily business. What’s challenging is that you’re not in sync with large organizations, where half year delays are commonplace. On the positive side, we were delighted that from the very beginning that very large organizations trusted us early on. All of our customers came from new contacts we made. We gained a lot of trust from the early days on. Our great team and team spirit, really helped us to get through the difficult times when the only thing that keeps you going forward is your belief you’re doing the right thing.  Another very positive experience is that inbound marketing has really yielded great results – for example by filling our blog with interesting content. We do not invest in targeted advertising. When I look back, I have to say that you do not need to know everything in at the start, but it´s great to see what you are capable of from the beginning. It´s the execution that really matters. Build, measure, learn: An Eric Ries mentality. We coded the tool for two weeks when we started selling it. If you are not embarrassed to showing your product to the customer, then you are just about right.

The future of Open Innovation

A discussion with Erkka Isomäki, founder of Viima. Author: Simon Schoop, Managing Director 4-advice

At 4-advice we use Viima as an idea management tool and love it! We also found Viima´s blog very interesting, so I decided to get in touch with Erkka, in order to exchange thoughts on Open Innovation. After discussing ideas on how to further develop Open Innovation approaches, we decided to share his insights with you.

Source: Viima

I have worked with a range of idea management solutions. There are all sorts of different kinds of software with different flavors, features and business models. When we found Viima, we found a lean solution with a clear and easy-to-understand user interface. We believe that specific tools serve specific purposes. For the 4-advice Open Innovation community, we decided to use Viima.

Simon: Erkka, you developed the idea management platform Viima. Why does the world need Viima?

Erkka: Our founding team had developed a software for team collaboration (task management, time tracking and communication) following a traditional approach and competing with software like Slack or Trello. We participated in an accelerator program and realized that no one was happy with traditional idea management systems. So, we asked ourselves how to involve customers in developing software. Doing this in Finland, we realized that there is much more need for internal innovation support.

Simon: When initially testing Viima, I was positively surprised about the free version for up to 50 users. It contains a lot of features that most of your competitors only offer in paid versions. What is your rationale behind offering a wide feature set to your non-paying customers?

Erkka: Our goal is that for up to 50 users, we want to provide the best free tool out there. On top of that we provide additional paid features for users who are willing to pay for a little bit more structure and customization. What is very beneficial, is that we get lots of insights from the free users and hope that they will promote our software.

Simon: So you eat your own dogfood by asking your customers for feedback to improve Viima in Viima. How much quality feedback do you get? 

Erkka: We actually get a lot of feedback in the tool, but also in follow up conversations via e-mail and telephone. The quality of the feedback is very good. We remove bias by rating ideas from customers and – of course – we also use Viima for our internal ideation too.

Simon: You talk about the dimensions of Open Innovation in your blog. You also mention the six key success factors of Open Innovation. Could you please explain how you see the value of Open Innovation?

Erkka: I see a huge value in Open Innovation –  even larger organizations get significant benefits from it. There are two key aspects: Firstly, you can improve the target you are trying to achieve. And secondly, you increase the awareness and commitment of stakeholders. For example, when Lego is collecting feedback from people aged 5 to 99 with Open Innovation in a publicly open sense, they get a wide coverage from different perspectives.

There are two different ways to do Open Innovation: Intercompany ideation between two or more companies helps them to develop a shared agenda or mutual products, or to improve their supply chain. In intracompany ideation, e.g. Pixar,  wanted to cut down on production cost and so held open workshops with all employees to get great ideas which helped them to improve efficiency. One of our customers, Yle, a Finnish broadcasting company, used Viima as a platform for their Open Innovation project. They collected ideas which they evaluated and developed further, before having a public voting on those ideas. Also, IF, the largest private & corporate insurance company in Finland uses Viima. They do not only see Viima as a tool but as a way of working.

Simon: My belief in Open Innovation is the reason that I am doing things like intercompany innovation in the Innovation Think Tank. How can Viima support international cross-company, cross-industry Open Innovation groups like the Innovation Think Tank?

Erkka: We had one case that is quite closely related to this. It had participants from  different industries like machinery, technology etc. who were generating ideas regarding Internet of Things related use cases – the challenge is not on the software side but rather on the specific goal of the Open Innovation activity and how it is facilitated. There needs to be long term benefits for it to work.

Simon: Intercompany Open Innovation activities are difficult to fund, but I am convinced that people who experience trust and great, creative workshop formats will either recommend 4-advice or will come back in another way. Especially given today´s recommendation and network based economy. Which roles will Freemium based business models play in the near future for SaaS solutions like Viima? Do you see other business models with high relevance?

Erkka: The Challenge with freemium models is how to convert customers from free to paying customers. You need a clear understanding on how to launch a free version and how to make the conversion. Customers need to see the value before they commit to convert.  We use the Freemium model because Viima is very scalable and the great ease of use makes customers convert when number of users grow bigger. In addition, new customers don´t put in too much strain on our infrastructure, so we are able to manage that.

The world will continue to be more open and transparent. Therefore Open Innovation will gain more traction.

Simon: How do you see the future of Open Innovation in the next three to ten years? What will remain, and what is likely to change?

Erkka: I think the world will become more open and transparent. And in that sense Open Innovation activities will gain more traction. What the actual format will be, is hard to predict. But the last years give a clear indication and the fact that digital natives becoming decision makers will help a lot. Nevertheless, there are still very large intercultural differences – so there will not be one point in time when everyone is going participate in Open Innovation.

Simon:  I have taken a course at MIT regarding Service Design Thinking. Steven Eppinger has great ideas and methodologies about sustainable product and service innovation. This is a topic I am passionate about and want to help develop further in Germany. How can you help with making product and service innovation efforts more sustainable?

Erkka: I have got three key ideas. Firstly, many of our customers including large corporations find this is an area they need to improve on: Viima has often been used to create ideas on how to become better in Corporate Sustainability, CO2 footprint or environmental friendliness of operations. Secondly, sustainability related criteria are incorporated in the process of how the ideas are evaluated – those criteria can easily be integrated in order to map ideas against sustainability criteria. And finally, customers told us that they reduce the need for travel by using Viima, because they can generate ideas from their offices all around the world, thus reducing their CO2 footprint. United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), a customer of ours, was able to engage their local members from 80 countries around the world.

 
Simon: Other idea management vendors are long established in the German speaking markets in Austria, Switzerland and Germany. What are your plans with Viima for those markets?
 
Erkka: Viima, in Finnish, translates to a fresh, cool breeze. We want to bring more fun into innovation activities in the German markets. We get lots of new sign-ups on a daily basis from the German speaking markets. Everybody wants to go to the United States. But we believe that focusing on neighboring countries is something we can really succeed in. The User Interface is currently being translated into German. Germans value high quality in engineering – like here in Finland – so we think this will be highly appreciated in Germany.

If you are not embarrassed to show your product to the customer, then you are just about right. It´s the execution that really matters. Build, measure, learn – an Eric Ries mentality.

Simon: Last but not least, what were your most surprising experiences in founding Viima and bringing it to market?

Erkka: We have had quite a smooth ride. Surprises that happen within a startup, are daily business. What’s challenging is that you’re not in sync with large organizations, where half year delays are commonplace.

On the positive side, we were delighted that from the very beginning that very large organizations trusted us early on. All of our customers came from new contacts we made. We gained a lot of trust from the early days on. Our great team and team spirit, really helped us to get through the difficult times when the only thing that keeps you going forward is your belief you’re doing the right thing.  Another very positive experience is that inbound marketing has really yielded great results – for example by filling our blog with interesting content. We do not invest in targeted advertising.

When I look back, I have to say that you do not need to know everything in at the start, but it´s great to see what you are capable of from the beginning. It´s the execution that really matters. Build, measure, learn: An Eric Ries mentality. We coded the tool for two weeks when we started selling it. If you are not embarrassed to showing your product to the customer, then you are just about right.

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