Sendandsee is a Finnish startup. Not by age, but by ethos. The company is older than most non-startups, but they have never lost the promise of super fast growth if only the pieces would fall into place. Now they might just be about to do that.
I had a chat with the founder Aape Pohjavirta and he told me the exciting Sendandsee story. I may get some dates and events a bit wrong, but am sure you can parse the story together. In 1996-1997 Aape and a few other people got an idea that there might be something there in mobile. You still remember what mobile was in -96? Yep, this was the mobile experience back then and we were on the top of the world here in Finland.
2001 saw the emergence of the color screen phones and Sendandsee got the idea to license photos from leading image companies including Getty Images to push through the mobile. In May 2003 they got the first ones into production. In October 2003 they invented the mobile publishing concept and made Symbian and Java clients that in mind. This does not sound like much now, but back then they basically single handedly proved that this was technically possible. This was also when Sendandsee came out with mobile magazines which they sold for €2 a piece. This mobile publishing innovation landed the company on Newsweek cover sometime in 2005. This is also when XML came into the picture, Sendandsee was able to update the content on the mobile magazines and got all the big Finnish media companies to buy in.
In 2006 Finland was not big enough anymore and the company fly to Germany to build a mobile portal for a German MVNO.
When the €2 a piece model did not seem to work (App Store anyone?), in 2005 the company moved into advertising paid model. That was not a silver bullet either, but the company kept looking and tweaking their model until they thought they got it. Based on usage analysis from m:metrics they realized that sports news had to be it. That’s big and that’s global, right? Soon after that they were talking to ESPN and signed the deal. Long story short, they soon realized that regardless of the potential there was not enough money to be made from mobile advertising at the time.
So what to do? They had the best mobile publishing platform under the sun and a target market that was going money wise nowhere. During a lunch in late August a friend of Pohjavirta’s threw the idea of education in air. Sendandsee started looking at the space and to its surprise found out that there was no one using the mobile Internet for delivery of education on a bigger scale. This lead to an idea of using their platform and adding the world famous Finnish elementary school curriculum to it, thus in effect resulting in a mobile elementary school.
For a reality check they decided to use their existing relationship with Qualcomm who had just announced a deal with America Movil. Sendandsee sent a proposal for a basic educational system for approval for commercial production, certain that it would never pass. To their surprise, the next day they received approval.
As Pohjavirta put it: “It became apparent that this was a true innovation – combine existing technology, service creation competence and existing commercial relationships with the mobile value chain with educational content.” What was starting to take shape was world-leading mobile education platform.
Sendandsee decided to focus all efforts on becoming the leading supplier of mobile educational services. They had failed to become the market leader in the mobile publishing niche they had invented and wanted to show that they had learned from the failure. The secret sauce for world domination had to contain embracing the mobile operators’ business model and support from two unholy trinities: technology industry and the world’s biggest religions.
Understanding the size of the opportunity, Pohjavirta started circling the big players to make it happen and was able to receive support from Microsoft, Qualcomm and even Apple, that has no such official partners. Not only that, he was also able to get the same support from the World Bank, and organizations close the Vatican and the Islam.
The services that Sendandsee creates include basic education for numeracy and literacy and health-related information. Exactly the kind of content that is required to be delivered to the over 72 million children who have no access to schools and the 600 million girls of this planet that need support in gaining access to education. Those very children that have access to mobile devices before they have access to new schools.
Seven months later there are Sendansee run projects for Afghanistan, India, all of Latin America –other markets too. The goal of the project O as it is called, is to be global in two years.
So what to make of the opportunity? Sendansee is building a global platform on something that every single person needs when they are starting their journey on this planet. To start out with, they have a market of 72 million children who have no access to schools and the 600 million girls of this planet that need support in gaining access to education. What’s more is that these children create their first digital identity through Sendansee’s software, which, judging by the importance of Facebook, is not an insignificant asset. As the Internet will continue its quest to create a global platform for information, communication and trade to those areas where the infrastructure hasn’t allowed such platform to exist before, Sendansee will grow in importance as a company, but also as a enabler of a better life for those 72 million children who have no access to schools. Sendansee is what hacking the education should be at its best.
As the sun is setting for Nokia, another one might be on the rise. Finland’s not done with mobile yet.