Alison Johnston didn’t plan to build a startup around death. An early employee at Q&A app Aardvark that was bought by Google, she’d founded tutoring app InstaEDU and sold it to Chegg. She made mass market consumer products. But then, “I had a family member who was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I thought about how she’d be remembered” she recalls. Inventing the next big social app suddenly felt less consequential.

I started looking into the funeral industry and discovered that there were very few resources to support and guide families who had recently experienced a death. It was difficult to understand and compare options and prices (which were also much higher than I ever imagined), and there weren’t good tools to share information and memories with others” Johnston tells me. Bombarded by options and steep costs that average $9,000 per funeral in the US, families in crisis become overwhelmed.

Ever Loved co-founder and CEO Alison Johnston

Johnston’s startup Ever Loved wants to provide peace of mind during the rest-in-peace process. It’s a comparison shopping and review site for funeral homes, cemeteries, caskets, urns, and headstones. It offers price guides and recommends top Amazon funeral products and takes a 5 percent affiliate fee that finances Ever Loved’s free memorial site maker for sharing funeral details plus collecting memories and remembrances. And families can even set up fundraisers to cover their costs or support a charity.

The startup took seed funding from Social Capital and a slew of angel investors about a year ago. Now hundreds of thousands of users are visiting Ever Loved shopping and memorial sites each month. Eventually Ever Loved wants to build its own marketplace of funeral services and products that takes a 10 percent cut of purchases, while also selling commerce software to funeral homes.

“People don’t talk about death. It’s taboo in our society and most people don’t plan ahead at all” Johnston tells me. Rushing to arrange end-of-life logistics is enormously painful, and Johnston believes Ever Loved can eliminate some of that stress. “I wanted to explore areas where fewer people in Silicon Valley had experience and that weren’t just for young urban professionals.”

There’s a big opportunity to modernize this aging industry with a sustainable business model and empathy as an imperative. 86 percent of funeral homes are independent, Johnston says, so few have the resources to build tech products. One of the few big companies in the space, the $7 billion market cap public Service Corporation International, has rolled up funeral homes and cemeteries but has done little to improve pricing transparency or the user experience for families in hardship. Rates and reviews often aren’t available, so customers can end up overpaying for underwhelming selection.

On the startup side, there’s direct competitors like FuneralWise, which is focused on education and forums but lacks robust booking features or a memorial site maker. Funeral360 is Ever Loved’s biggest rival, but Ever Loved’s memorial sites looked better and it had much deeper step-by-step pricing estimates and info on funeral homes.

Johnston wants to use revenue from end-of-life commerce to subsidize Ever Loved’s memorial and fundraiser features so they can stay free or cheap while generating leads and awareness for the marketplace side. But no one has hit scale and truly become wedding site The Knot but for funerals.

I’ve known Johnston since college, and she’s always had impressive foresight for what was about to blow up. From an extremely early gig at to Q&A and on-demand answers with Aardvark to the explosion of online education with InstaEDU, she’s managed to get out in front of the megatrends. And tech’s destiny to overhaul unsexy businesses is one of the biggest right now.

Amazon has made us expect to see prices and reviews up front, so Ever Loved has gathered rate estimates for about two-thirds of US funeral homes and is pulling in testimonials. You can search for 4-star+ funeral homes nearby and instantly get high-quality results. Meanwhile, funeral homes can sign up to claim their page and add information.

Facebook popularized online event pages. But its heavy-handed prerogatives, generalist tone, and backlash can make it feel like a disrespectful place to host funeral service details. And with people leaving their hometowns, newspapers can’t spread the info properly. Ever Loved is purpose-built for these serious moments, makes managing invites easy, and also offers a place to collect obituaries, photos, and memories.

Rather than having to click through a link to a GoFundMe page that can be a chore, Ever Loved hosts fundraisers right on its memorial sites to maximize donations. That’s crucial since funerals cost more than most people have saved. Ever Loved only charges a processing fee and allows visitors to add an additional tip, so it’s no more expensive that popular fundraising sites.

Next, “the two big things are truly building out booking through our site and expanding into some of the other end of life logistics” Johnstone tells me. Since the funeral is just the start of the post-death process, Ever Loved is well positioned to move into estate planning. “There are literally dozens of things you have to do after someone passes away — contacting the social security office, closing out bank accounts and Facebook profiles…”

Johnston reveals that 44 percent of families say they had arguments while divying up assets — a process that takes an average of 560 hours aka 3 months of full-time work. As the baby boomer era ends over the next 30 years, $30 trillion in assets are expected to transfer through estates, she claims. Earning a tiny cut of that by giving mourners tools outlining popular ways to divide estates could alleviate disagreements could make Ever Loved quite lucrative.

“When I first started out, I was pretty awkward about telling people about this. We’re death averse, and that hinders us in a lot of ways” Johnston concludes. My own family struggled with this, as an unwillingness to accept mortality kept my grandparents from planning for after they were gone. “But I quickly learned was this was a huge conversation starter. rather than a turn off. This is a topic people want to talk about more and educate themselves more on. Tech too often merely makes life and work easier for those who already have it good. Tech that tempers tragedy is a welcome evolution for Silicon Valley.

from TechCrunch

If elected mayor of Chicago next month, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot may pull the plug on Elon Musk’s proposal to build a high-tech rapid transit system in America’s third-largest city. In an email to The Verge, Lightfoot said her opposition to the so-called “Tesla in a tunnel” project is simple: “We don’t need O’Hare Express.” Her opponent, Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle, says if she were elected, she would put Musk’s tunnel plan “on pause.”

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle finished first and second, respectively, in the February 26th contest to succeed current Mayor Rahm Emanuel. No one received enough votes to win outright, so the pair will face off in a final April 2nd runoff election.

Continue reading…

from The Verge – All Posts

Cecilia Kang / New York Times:

Profile of FTC chairman Joseph Simons, who wants the agency to have more direct authority to oversee privacy practices and fine companies  —  WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission has no shortage of critics who say it cannot protect Americans from the prying eyes of Big Tech.

from Techmeme

Recognizing the growing trend toward providing resources to the open-source community, GIPHY, an online provider of GIFs and animated stickers, has launched “The GIPHY Celebrity Detector.” Developed by the GIPHY R&D team, the free platform is a neural network that uses deep learning model to detect more than 2,300 celebrity faces found on GIPHY, including […]

The post GIPHY Enters the Open Source Community with Celebrity Detector appeared first on ReadWrite.

from ReadWrite

If elected mayor of Chicago next month, former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot may pull the plug on Elon Musk’s proposal to build a high-tech rapid transit system in America’s third-largest city. In an email to The Verge, Lightfoot said her opposition to the so-called “Tesla in a tunnel” project is simple: “We don’t need O’Hare Express.” Her opponent, Cook County board president Toni Preckwinkle, says if she were elected, she would put Musk’s tunnel plan “on pause.”

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle finished first and second, respectively, in the February 26th contest to succeed current Mayor Rahm Emanuel. No one received enough votes to win outright, so the pair will face off in a final April 2nd runoff election.

Continue reading…

from The Verge – All Posts

Hudson’s Bay Company CEO Helena Foulkes onstage at An Evening With Code Commerce.

Foulkes spoke with Recode’s Kara Swisher at An Evening With Code Commerce.

On the latest episode of Recode Decode, Hudson’s Bay CEO Helena Foulkes joined Recode’s Kara Swisher onstage at An Evening With Code Commerce in Las Vegas. She talked about the challenges of running retail chains like Lord & Taylor and Saks Fifth Avenue, and what the stores of the future will look like.

You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts, and Overcast.

Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited full transcript of Kara’s conversation with Helena.

Kara Swisher: I’m very excited to do this interview, we’ve got some great interviews today, also, all of them, but this one in particular, I wanted to talk to her a lot, actually. I tried to reach her when I was in the contention — allegedly — to be CEO of Uber. She was one of the names that were brought up, which I brought up, I think I did. Anyway, I want to bring up Helena Foulkes to come up and talk to us…

Helena Foulkes: Hi everyone. Hi.

Thank you. There’s so much I want to talk about. Were you in contention for Uber CEO?

I had a conversation, yes.



And? What did you think about it?

I was really early in the process. I was early in my process too, sorry.


When you broke that news it was uncomfortable at work for me.

Okay, good.

Thank you very much on that.


At that point, I think they were still thinking, and I was still thinking.

You were at CVS?

I was.

I want to start first at CVS.


To give people a sense of who you are and what you were doing there.


You ran a massively complex … speaking of …

I did.

The reason they would call you for Uber is because you ran a very complex pharmacy, all the retail operations. Is that correct?

I did.

Can you talk a little bit about what you did there?

Yeah. I went to CVS right after business school, I spent 25 years there and I had almost every job in the company. I became the president of the retail business, which does about $80 billion in sales.


We had, when I left, 10,000 stores including about 1,700 stores inside Target. Yeah, in all about 220,000 people reported to me.

Explain to me the process of going … you obviously were talking to Uber, to be CEO of something, to really run something.


Talk about how you got here.

Oh yeah, it’s like, “How do you go from that to a department store?”

We’re gonna get into why you’d want to run a department store at all, the way it’s going.

Wait, we are?


Okay, good.


How did I get there? I was never looking to leave CVS, actually. I was really happy. I loved health care. I tell people all the time that I had joined a retailer that became a health care company. For me, from a purpose perspective, I was really wedded to that, I felt like it was important work. But honestly, I got to the point where I felt like I was at this rung then waiting for the next rung was gonna be a while. I was feeling hemmed in and a little frustrated.


I started peeking around.

Peeking around. What attracted you to this opportunity?

Yeah, it’s interesting. I got a call from a recruiter and she said Hudson’s Bay Company, I had never heard of it.

Right, okay.

Hudson’s Bay, for those of you who don’t know, we own Saks, Lord and Taylor, Saks Off Fifth. Hudson’s Bay is the largest department store chain in Canada and we own three department store chains in Europe. What got me really interested, actually, was they were doing very innovative out-of-the-box things. I wasn’t sure if they made sense, but I thought it was intriguing. They had just announced the sale of the Lord and Taylor flagship building to WeWork.


Which I thought was odd and different and therefore appealing to me.

Well, why not sell it to those guys with all that ridiculous money? But go ahead.

Yeah, exactly. They looked like a company that was willing to get out of the box and that was what I was looking for.

Okay. But when you went in, you’ve done quite a lot of changing.


It’s mostly selling and shedding, it seems like.


Talk about your strategy. You’ve been there how long?

One year exactly.

One year. You cleaned out a lot. You’ve cleaned up a lot.


What was your thinking? Was that the idea when you came in was to clean the place up, or …?

I didn’t know, I didn’t go in with preconceived notions. All I knew when I went in was that these were amazing brands not doing well financially.


The year before I arrived, the company had lost $1 billion in free cash flow.


The EBITDA was half of what it had been three years before. When I started getting into the numbers, I could see where the cash was being burned, and that became a compelling place for me to focus on what to do.

Right. Where was that?

The first of those was our European business. We had bought the largest German department store, the largest department store in Belgium, and we did a startup of department stores in the Netherlands. This had all been in the course of the previous three years. It was not doing well financially. It was distracting us. I was over there a lot trying to figure it out, and it just really struck me that if there was a buyer out there, we should very open to that.

It was also very clear that … Look, I had grown up in a US-based company, we didn’t have expertise on how to run a European business. I had to let go of the first guy who was leading the European business, so I had the three reporting to me. It allowed me to get closer to it. But what was really the gem of that business was the real estate that we had bought.

The founder of Hudson’s Bay Company has an amazing eye for real estate. He really did find some gems of real estate. What we ended up doing was partnering with our No. 1 competitor and doing a joint venture where we owned 50 percent of the real estate and 50 percent of the operating business. We actually own 49.99 percent of the operating business, which allows them to be in control from a management perspective and now really I show up as a board member. Anyway, that was one big body of work.

You got off your plate.

Yep, get that off the plate.

So you really don’t operate in Europe?



We’re not anymore. Exactly.


We sold Gilt very quickly.


Gilt was a business, I can see why we bought it, it was this idea, obviously, you’re all in the space that if you’re in the apparel business you should try to have something that’s online only. I think it may have been a really good idea that was probably not well executed. When I came in, what I saw was it was a massive distraction for the Saks Off Fifth team. They were spending more time worrying about that than they were running the business. So again, we …

Worrying about what part?

Everything. I think they were worrying not so much, and this has been a common thread, not so much about how to make Gilt great, which was obviously something we needed to do, but how to look for cool integration points with Saks Off Fifth. I think that’s something I learned at CVS is, you got to really be careful and focused on where is the economic value in this partnership? For Saks Off Fifth, which is a big successful company, distractions from a small internet player, that sounded good on paper but really we’re not lifting both boats. It was not worth the effort.

Good on paper is something that everyone bought.


You had the permission to do this, presumably from the thing.

Yeah, sure.

To make that decision, to get rid of an internet part of the company that was a very narrow …

Sounds crazy, right?



No, it doesn’t at all. I think it was a mess. I think I’m still …

No, it really wasn’t that hard because it was so obvious that it was going in the wrong direction. Before I arrived, they had let go of the leader of that business. As I spoke to the person who was leading Saks Off Fifth, 80 percent of my conversations were around Gilt distraction rather than how do you optimize the Saks Off Fifth business.


Saks Off Fifth has its own digital properties.

They had bought it for $250 million, is that right?


And you sold it for what?

We didn’t disclose, but yes.

Was it 50 million?

It was less than 100.

Less than 100.


Which could be 50, for example.

Could be.

All right. Was that okay? Were you worried about not feeling like you were part of the online space?

No, I wasn’t, because actually the digital penetration of Hudson’s Bay as a whole is quite significant.

So you didn’t need to have that internet company and those internet people.

Really what I thought was that there were a lot of really great technical people who we have absorbed and they’ve really helped us as a company, so there were many good things we got from the opposition, but I thought that was not a hard decision.

Not that hard a decision. Then you’ve also been closing Lord and Taylors, closing them down, and you closed the Home Outfitters stores too.

We closed the …

We’re gonna get to what you’re gonna do.

Yeah, I know, right. We closed the …

It’s always the lady who has to clean everything up.


You ever notice that?

The flagship Lord and Taylor building, we closed down and we said we will sell up to 10 other Lord and Taylors, so we’re doing that.

Why? Why?

Lord and Taylor, I think, has amazing loyalty among the people who shop there. There are not enough of them, but they’re amazingly loyal and we have incredible people working in that business. I think it’s in the toughest part of retail.

The middle?

The middle, exactly. It’s neither the high-end luxury where you can really own it, nor is the low-cost deep discount retailer.

It’s not up at Saks, it’s not down at Ross.

Yeah. We have a fairly high cost structure and I’ve brought in a new leader, she’s here today, Vanessa is the president of Lord and Taylor. She’s doing amazingly innovative things with that business, but it is handicapped by its positioning in the marketplace.

In the marketplace.


How do you change that? You have to go up or down, right? Or some way, right? You can’t really go down with Lord and Taylor.

You can’t go left. You can’t go down. I think you have to get personal and local. You have to stop saying “We’re a chain.” You have to say, “I’m in Westfield, New Jersey, and I’m going to be incredibly relevant for this market that I serve. I’m going to bring in new services, stylists, and do things that really matter to the people who live in this community.”

I used to go to the Lord and Taylor, I think it was on Northern Boulevard. I think it was somewhere like that. My mom worked at Bonwit Teller, which is another. Bonwit Teller. And we used to go to the Bird Cage, which was your chain of stores. Every time we went, I went with my two brothers, and it was … the woman would always give desserts and it was always boys’ day. And on boys’ day they got two desserts and I got one, and it was never girls’ day.

That is not right. I am so sorry, Kara.

Shockingly, sexism is around.


Even in the Bird Cage.


So if you do something with that store, you better friggin’ give girls …

Girls will get twice the desserts, definitely.

Okay good, thank you.


But I remember going to Lord and Taylor. It was a beautiful store. It was very high level …

Oh, it’s beautiful.

A lot stockings, ladies with stockings.


That kind of thing.


How do you then go up? When you go up, you hit so many, you hit — bang! — into including Saks.

Yeah, I don’t think you can go up so high. But the woman shopping our stores is really in her early 50s. She’s working. Her income is good. She’s got kids she’s taking care of. So she’s got the income and she’s looking for quality. We score way off the charts on quality.

So we’re doing a lot to really make her happy. We have overcomplicated that business, but the brand itself and the product we sell has a lot going for it.

So when you talk … I’m trying to look it up, sorry. Someone’s head’s in the way. I think it … I just want to make sure I have just plenty of time for questions.


When you think about a brand like … Why not? You haven’t closed the other things, why not just close that?

You know, look, I’ve always said everything’s on the table. Some I’m not closing off any options …

Sorry. Apologies. Okay.

No, but I think our real focus is on Saks and Hudson’s Bay.


So, the real job that I have in this business with all of the pieces that we own is to figure out where is there great upside as I think about the next …

And what’s a waste of your time.

Yeah. And Saks and Hudson’s Bay have tremendous upside.

You closed also Home Outfitters.

And we closed Home Outfitters. Yes, I have been busy closing. I hadn’t really thought about it this way till you started hitting me with all that we had.

Well, I had.

So Home Outfitters was a chain of 67 stores in Canada focused on the home. And it was also not performing well. So again, take all the …

What was wrong with that business?

It was in … Great people working in our stores but kind of “me too” products. And quite frankly, all the great products that we were selling in the stores, we had nearby in a Hudson’s Bay store anyway so we really didn’t need it.

All right, so you’re focusing on Saks and Hudson’s Bay. Talk about Saks first of all, another legendary … I have a Saks bag with my clothes.

I noticed.

My mom shops there. And I’ve been to Saks a million times.

You don’t? Don’t you shop there?

I don’t shop at all. I just have people bring me things. And then, I grudgingly buy things from Amazon. And I tried Stitch Fix, but they never get it right. I think I’ve told … I told that story here last year. When they finally, the stylist said, “You’re too simple and androgynous for us.” Which is accurate.

But I don’t like to shop. I never did. Don’t worry, it’s not you. It’s me. But what are you trying to do with Saks? I did love Saks as a store.

Saks is doing really well. In the last quarter we had over 7 percent comps at Saks. And it is a business that is, I think, really redefining luxury. And so what are we trying to do there? I would say the two big thrusts as we think about luxury are to obviously really win in digital and personalization space.

And then secondly, it’s to win from an experience perspective. And when I say experience, it means both the in-store, the online, but also services, which I think is a big important factor for all of us who have real brick-and-mortar retail is we’ve got to figure out how to get people in our stores.

So experiential?

Experiential services. So what I mean by that is if you … I would love all of you to come see the new Saks on 5th Avenue in New York. It is honestly spectacular. We opened it on February 7th. It’d been under construction all through that Christmas period, which was challenging. But we took the whole main floor and tripled the number of handbags on that floor. It is spectacular.

We took … One of the problems with the Saks shopping experience is when you walked in the store, the sight lines were tough and you didn’t know where the elevators and back escalators were.

Which was the point in the old days, right? Get lost.

Yeah, but we opened it all up.


And so it’s really bright. We got an escalator designed by Rem Koolhaas. And we have an escalator now right in the middle and it goes up to the beauty floor. And it will go down to the jewelry floor.

So the beauty floor is on the 2nd floor.

With beauty…

With windows and stuff.

And we opened the windows, so all the glorious windows on 5th Avenue had been blocked because they had the stockroom back there. So we took all that down, the sunlight is pouring in. And we have lots and lots of services. So my favorite is one called Face Gym. You can go and have your face worked out for 30 minutes.

All right.

You should do that.


You travel a lot. You’re busy.

I will never do that. Appreciate your offer.


All right. Okay.

I should stop, I should stop recommending services.

My mom will go. My mom will go.

Because I can tell, I’m not going to get a bite here.

Okay, all right.

So anyway, we have a bunch of services. We also opened a spectacular new restaurant called L’Avenue. The original L’Avenue is in Paris and this is the first outpost outside of Paris. It’s really magnificent.

That’s what, on the top floor?

That’s on the top two floors; there’s a bar and then the restaurant itself. So I think …

So services is like the idea that people want to come in and enjoy the store.

Yeah, I agree.

I think the three things that are critical for offline retail … I covered retail for seven years, actually, for a long time, so I have some knowledge of it … Is experiential, customer service, and merchandising that you can’t get on Amazon.


I mean, you could get it on Amazon, but you can’t put it together. But you don’t put it together the same way.

Yep, you’re right about that.

What other things? Okay, Face Gym, all right what else?

So you can have cellulite reduction. You can have your nails done. You can have a brow bar. You can have facials. We have 15 different rooms for facials and other services …

And for foods you have just the restaurant, but not a food court or something.

We do.

Like in Germany, I know there’s a …

We’re going to add more food because we have, on the 5th floor, we’ve got a small coffee bar, called FIKA, which is really nice for a little break. But one of my observations, I was just in Europe looking at some spectacular retails over there, and they have more food options on more floors. So it’s something that I’d like to do in that as well.

It reminds me even in Washington, there’s Union Market.

Yeah, yeah.

It’s really fascinating what they’re doing with retail and food at the same time. And it was packed, packed with people looking for an experiential thing.

Right, exactly.

So what do you expect to do? You have how many Saks now?

We have 40 Saks stores.


And it’s a very healthy business. We expect that to grow significantly. I’ve got big ambitions for it from both the top and bottom line.

And then the discount business?

In Saks Off 5th? Yeah, Saks Off 5th is probably in one of the best sectors of retailing right now. We’ve not been doing so well. But I see a good path for that business to turn around as well.

How so?

Because it’s almost like a textbook for everything that you would do in that category. The former team had made some other decisions, but we’re making changes.

So for example, we were buying it like we were department store retailers, which we are. But instead of being out in the market and turning that product quickly and looking for deals ourselves that we brought to customers. So we’re just making that shift. We have moved to an everyday low price strategy; we’re moving back to what people expect out of a Saks Off Fifth.

We’re bringing more Saks product into the stores. It’s a great outlet for us from product that isn’t selling in Saks. If you look at just last year, every quarter we improved our performance. I do see that business turning around.

So when you think of the idea of a department store, obviously online is still, even though you shed Gilt…

Absolutely … It’s very good for us.

How do you look at that? Because your competition is who, from your perspective?

Our competition is everyone who sells our product. But I would say there’s obviously the traditional big-box luxury department stores: Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom being the two. But you could be home buying from Net-a-Porter or Farfetch as well. So I think what we have to do is figure out …

And the RealReal.

And the RealReal? Yeah, absolutely.

They just opened a stunning store in Los Angeles.

Yeah, the RealReal is also a great retailer.

Their store looks like a Barney’s in Los Angeles.

Oh I hadn’t been at the one in LA.

The new ones. Go see it. It’s great. It’s fascinating.

So the … I’m really excited about digital at Saks because what we’re doing I think is really … It goes from this belief I’ve always had that you can never out-Amazon Amazon. Right? We’re never going to be like the best pure-play retailer.

Or data or …

What we have to do is marry digital tools with our store experience so that when you want to come in, we’ve got the right experience digitally powered for you. But when you want to stay home, you can do that, too. And so we have 4,500 stylists all across the chain, and we are giving them tools to serve their customers. We have ways for them to … For example, you’re going to be in DC, you said, this week?


So, if you were on our website searching for product, we actually have a stylist who will pop up and offer you the chance to … You can come in and try that on. Or she’ll get it to your hotel if you need it there. So it’s a real person who’s powering that digital tool.

Now, you just got here. But why do you think department stores and other retailers have been so slow in that regard? In terms of there’s all these great ideas — whether it be Stitch Fix or RealReal or something else — what’s been the … What has happened in the … And Amazon doing what it’s doing ….

Well, first of all, Saks is doing a lot of things right, so I don’t want to be critical of the business or the industry. I do think in this particular marketplace, for whatever reason, there’s been more of an inward focus than an external focus, I would say.


Looking at ourselves and our direct competitors who are exactly like us as opposed to saying, “How’s the consumer evolving?” I always like to use this term, Clay Christensen used it: “What’s the job she’s trying to get done?”

So when you think about the job that she’s trying to get done, it’s actually much more than just buying product. It’s like, I’m getting ready for my daughter’s wedding. What are all the things that are related to that? And how do we fit in and help her do that? So I think it opens your aperture.

How do you think of data right now? Because obviously, that’s getting a lot of attention. You know, Facebook did its daily “screw you person with your data, with your phone” today. Like they can now hack your phone because Facebook did something stupid. Like the data that’s being misused by a lot of these … They did, look it up. Turn off your phone thing on Facebook immediately. Just please.

But the lack of care for your data is something that I think is an opportunity for stores. For old-line businesses that think more strongly about privacy just naturally. But do you use a lot of data? Or how do you look at …?

Yeah, I’ve looked at, I’ve always believed that it’s a two-way street. People share their data if they get something useful from it. And the usefulness that we can provide our consumers with data is to know what you love and to make it more relevant and easy for you to shop with us.

So yes, we use data because we know the kinds of brands you’ve bought. And we can then recommend other things we think you’ll like, or you have a stylist and she knows that you’ve always had your eye on this particular jewelry line and something new came out. I think as long as we’re doing it in a trusted way and using that data to serve our customers, that’s the guiding principle we need to use.

The last thing is, where do the fresh ideas come from, like in an older business? How do you innovate into new things? I mean, whatever you think of these businesses like Stitch Fix or Rent the Runway or Glossier, on and on and on, they’re so interesting.

They’re great. I love that.

They do not come out of any of these stores, which used to be that to them. So how do you do that as a CEO, innovate within the company? How do you impact people?

One of the things I’ve done that we haven’t talked a lot about is, I’m really proud of the team that I have. I would say, roughly at the top of the house, half the people in the seats were there when I arrived, and half of them are new, and for me in any company, that’s how you create healthy tension, because the people who have been around are going to give you perspective, what you might be missing. But the new people that I’ve brought in didn’t come from this industry, and so they’re challenging the status quo.

So where are they from?

Well, Vanessa came from Stitch Fix, and before that she was in the department store industry. I brought in a CTO from CVS, and my head of marketing came from BJ’s, and so it’s other industries. It’s people who aren’t really wed to this particular industry, but by the way, I grew up at CVS. I was there for 25 years. You can be a challenger inside a company with longevity, and we have plenty of those as well. It’s people, I think it’s the people who are dissatisfied with the status quo and are always looking around and trying to figure out what’s new.

And last question, what do you imagine, if you’re trying to get people into stores, what would this store of the future be to you? If you had to think of something in 20 years, what does Saks look like?

Well, I think we’ll keep pushing along these …

Or Hudson’s Bay, or …

I think it’s going to feel like theater and entertainment and a place that you are going to feel this level of excitement to be at, and at the same time, the beauty of … Look, the things that we buy, there’s a touch and feel about them which you can’t get just buying online. So it’s, how do I, when you walk in that store, I know you immediately and I make it easy for you.

I will say that department stores can be hard to navigate, so how do we help you as soon as you walk in the door to find the things that are going to really make you happy.

You don’t think you should walk in and they should know you?

That’s what I mean.

I mean really know you, like, really know you.

Things start popping off of you. I don’t know how the world will …

Do you see that?

I think the world will evolve that way.

Where they just get your eyes or whatever

How they know who you are, I do.

No, really.

I mean, people are already playing around with those things, so yeah, I do think that’s going to happen.

All right. Anybody get up for questions, we’ll have questions in a minute. The last question I have for you, Helena, who do you fear? What is it, Amazon? I mean, Jeff Bezos has gotten distracted lately, obviously, but he’ll be back when he settles down.

The biggest thing I fear right now is our own inability to move fast enough. It’s just the complexity, it wakes me up at night to think, “Are we moving fast enough?” Because the world’s moving so fast.

Okay, questions, questions?

Phil (audience): Let’s talk about Canada.

Helena Foulkes: Yes, we didn’t talk about Canada!


Phil: You know, the part of the continent that keeps it normal.

I like Canada.

Phil: So Hudson’s Bay, you just had a switch at the top there. Tell us a little bit about what upside you see there, because it’s a little bit like Saks. Canada is a country of frozen people at home. E-commerce is not as penetrated as it is here, and I’m just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what you see in terms of opportunity for Hudson’s Bay on that front and on the store front.

Helena Foulkes: I’m very excited about Hudson’s Bay, and I’m sure … If you’re American sitting in this audience, you’re not very clear about what Hudson’s Bay is. I was not a year ago. But Hudson’s Bay, we own 90 department stores, and basically, we’re everywhere the people in Canada are.

Akin to …

There is no akin to, that’s what’s amazing. That’s what really struck me. People in Canada feel this immense loyalty and connection to and fondness for Hudson’s Bay. They learn about it in fourth grade because Hudson’s Bay was founded by a charter from King Charles II, a land grant, so they learn about it in the history books.

We carry many more products, so it’s like, whether you need a mattress or something for your kitchen or a prom dress, you go to Hudson’s Bay. I had one woman say to me, she said, “You know, I don’t shop that often, but if Hudson’s Bay were to ever go away, I’d be really sad.” So there’s really a deep emotional bond that people have, and I’m excited because I think there’s even more that we could do at Hudson’s Bay around the same things we’ve been talking about. Experiences, services, the beauty business needs to be completely reinvented, and we’ve got, for example, a couple partnerships that are exciting.

We put a WeWork in two floors of our Toronto Hudson’s Bay store, because we love the idea of people coming to work in a department store. I think that’s really cool. It’s going to bring more bodies in the door. We had a whole FAO Schwarz partnership this year. We did a partnership where we showcased the top young designers in Canada to show the world what they were doing. So I think it’s a very exciting business. It’s more on the early stage of its growth curve, I would say, than Saks, which is clearly humming along. We have more work to do at Hudson’s Bay.

Do you imagine closing stores, or?

Right now, everything’s on the table, but there’s nothing imminent.

Okay, another question, right here.

Audience member: Helena, nice to hear from you. I’m a Canadian, I live on top of Hudson’s Bay. So I’m forced to go into a Hudson’s Bay every time I get to my parking. But what’s interesting about this is I’ve seen the evolution of Hudson’s Bay for the last 10 years. I’m very intrigued by what’s happening in the recent times where I’ve seen Hudson’s Bay partnering with more digital-native brands like Casper, and I’m seeing them more and more in the store. I’m just wondering what the philosophy behind that is, and what the go-forward strategy with that is.

Helena Foulkes: Thank you for bringing that up, it’s a great example. So one of the things that we’ve been looking at is the sleep category. It’s a critically important business, I knew it from my days at CVS. It’s one of the top issues that keep people up at night.


But we were fairly traditional up until last year, selling the traditional mattresses you would expect to find in a department store, and we knew the world was moving towards the Caspers.

And I think it’s a great example of someone like Casper saying, “Wow, Hudson’s Bay has 90 stores everywhere I would want to be, I don’t need to go open storefronts. I can partner with Hudson’s Bay and we can do something really unique together.” So we’re looking for more things like that, there are more opportunities in sleep.

But actually, across the store, isn’t it so interesting that more and more online businesses, you mentioned RealReal, are opening up stores? And I would like to be the place that they come to. So for those of you who run online businesses and think there’s a connection in-store, come reach out, because I think that’s the world that we’re going to live in. It’s going to be much more integrated.

Well, they want a presence in certain places, not everywhere. They don’t want to be hindered by lots of stuff.

Yeah, that’s fine.

KS: Right here, last question.

Courtney Reagan: Courtney Reagan from CNBC. I just have a question about what Lord & Taylor gets out of the online store that’s being hosted on Walmart’s website. It’s a little confusing, I think, when they first pitched it to us as journalists and I still don’t really understand what you’re getting out of that, or if you’re getting anything out of that. If you can share what you’ve learned from that.

Helena Foulkes: Yeah, that was one of the examples of the things that intrigued me when I got the call, because they’d already announced this deal. So the theory behind the partnership is, all the eyeballs that are going every day to, which vastly outweigh the number of eyeballs that we get on the Lord & Taylor website, and the idea that Walmart could really use those eyeballs and itself create its new positioning around a more premium brand of clothing.

So, look, I think the jury is still out and we’re both looking at it really hard and learning a lot every day and figuring out what’s working and what’s not. I think the idea is still very intriguing. I think the challenge is still, for both of us, around the execution of it, which is still not as easy as it should be.

So if you’re confused when you go, I can see why. Some of it’s walled off, for example, in a premium store, because of the way we want to treat the brands, but it doesn’t always make it as consumer-friendly as it should be. On the other hand, it’s still very interesting to me to have a partnership with someone who has that level of traffic and to figure out how we can make each other better.

I think she’s confused too. That’s my impression.

That wasn’t nice!

I think you are, it’s confusing.

No, the jury’s out, we’re still learning from it, definitely.

You can say you don’t get it, I don’t get it either. So last question, who do you, pick one retailer, online or offline, you think is doing something super cool. What do you think that is? Just one. Not one of yours.

Le Beau Marche in Paris.


It’s an amazing experience. Visually, when you walk in, there’s a new art installation every two months. They’re rotating the store, so many areas of the store are rotating every two months with a theme, so it makes it very exciting. You have to go back frequently to see what that feels like. And I think they’ve done an amazing job editing the product.

And something you don’t like?

A retailer that I don’t like?

Yeah, something that you saw and didn’t like.

Well, you know, I can’t name a particular brand, but there are many sad stores, we all walk in and you say to yourself, “Wow, retail’s hard.” And one of the things I love about the business that I’m in is that we really have great brands. We don’t have too many stores, which is fantastic, and we’re in amazing real estate locations. So I think we have a foundation from which — as long as, to your point, we’re creating great experiences, fantastic customer service, and really good digital integration — I think we have a real opportunity to win.

Yeah. You should go to Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles, too, and watch all the pop-ups there. There’s one called Golf Wang which I somehow paid $150 for a sweatshirt, but that is another story.

They got you.

Yes, they did. Thank you so much. Helena Foulkes.

Thank you.

from Recode – All

Kodi media player depends largely on repositories and addons that you install to stream your favorite content. Kodi, as it is, is a but a media player that doesn’t come with any content pre-installed in it. If you’re unsure about the how Kodi works, here is a brief article on Kodi that you can refer to. Personally speaking, my experiences with Kodi […]

The post How To Fix Kodi Not Working Issues? 5 Troubleshooting Tips appeared first on Fossbytes.

from Fossbytes

A new report from Macotakara (via Apple Insider) says that Apple likely isn’t going to change up its next iPad, noting that it will likely keep the same enclosure and will retain Touch ID and a headphone jack.

The report comes from a supplier, which says that the screen size hasn’t been determined, but that it could be bumped up to a 10-inch size. The supplier also notes that this year’s model could be announced alongside an update to the iPad Mini, which has also been rumored to look pretty much like the prior version.

When it was released last year, the basic iPad wasn’t a radical change from its predecessor — it featured a 9.7 inch screen size, had Touch ID, cameras, an updated processor, and added support for the Apple Pencil. This…

Continue reading…

from The Verge – All Posts

Kodi media player depends largely on repositories and addons that you install to stream your favorite content. Kodi, as it is, is a but a media player that doesn’t come with any content pre-installed in it. If you’re unsure about the how Kodi works, here is a brief article on Kodi that you can refer to. Personally speaking, my experiences with Kodi […]

The post How To Fix Kodi Not Working Issues? 5 Troubleshooting Tips appeared first on Fossbytes.

from Fossbytes

With the smartphone operating system market sewn up by Google’s Android platform, which has a close to 90% share globally, leaving Apple’s iOS a slender (but lucrative) premium top-slice, a little company called Jolla and its Linux-based Sailfish OS is a rare sight indeed: A self-styled ‘independent alternative’ that’s still somehow in business.

The Finnish startup’s b2b licensing sales pitch is intended to appeal to corporates and governments that want to be able to control their own destiny where device software is concerned.

And in a world increasingly riven with geopolitical tensions that pitch is starting to look rather prescient.

Political uncertainties around trade, high tech espionage risks and data privacy are translating into “opportunities” for the independent platform player — and helping to put wind in Jolla’s sails long after the plucky Sailfish team quit their day jobs for startup life.

Building an alternative to Google Android

Jolla was founded back in 2011 by a band of Nokia staffers who left the company determined to carry on development of mobile Linux as the European tech giant abandoned its own experiments in favor of pivoting to Microsoft’s Windows Phone platform. (Fatally, as it would turn out.)

Nokia exited mobile entirely in 2013, selling the division to Microsoft. It only returned to the smartphone market in 2017, via a brand-licensing arrangement, offering made-in-China handsets running — you guessed it — Google’s Android OS.

If the lesson of the Jolla founders’ former employer is ‘resistance to Google is futile’ they weren’t about to swallow that. The Finns had other ideas.

Indeed, Jolla’s indie vision for Sailfish OS is to support a whole shoal of differently branded, regionally flavored and independently minded (non-Google-led) ecosystems all swimming around in parallel. Though getting there means not just surviving but thriving — and doing so in spite of the market being so thoroughly dominated by the U.S. tech giant.

TechCrunch spoke to Jolla ahead of this year’s Mobile World Congress tradeshow where co-founder and CEO, Sami Pienimäki, was taking meetings on the sidelines. He told us his hope is for Jolla to have a partner booth of its own next year — touting, in truly modest Finnish fashion, an MWC calendar “maybe fuller than ever” with meetings with “all sorts of entities and governmental representatives”.

Jolla co-founder, Sami Pienimaki, showing off a Jolla-branded handset in May 2013, back when the company was trying to attack the consumer smartphone space. 
(Photo credit: KIMMO MANTYLA/AFP/Getty Images)

Even a modestly upbeat tone signals major progress here because an alternative smartphone platform licensing business is — to put it equally mildly — an incredibly difficult tech business furrow to plough.

Jolla almost died at the end of 2015 when the company hit a funding crisis. But the plucky Finns kept paddling, jettisoning their early pursuit of consumer hardware (Pienimäki describes attempting to openly compete with Google in the consumer smartphone space as essentially “suicidal” at this point) to narrow their focus to a b2b licensing play.

The early b2b salespitch targeted BRIC markets, with Jolla hitting the road to seek buy in for a platform it said could be moulded to corporate or government needs while still retaining the option of Android app compatibility.

Then in late 2016 signs of a breakthrough: Sailfish gained certification in Russia for government and corporate use.

Its licensing partner in the Russian market was soon touting the ability to go “absolutely Google-free!“.

Buy in from Russia

Since then the platform has gained the backing of Russian telco Rostelecom, which acquired Jolla’s local licensing customer last year (as well as becoming a strategic investor in Jolla itself in March 2018 — “to ensure there is a mutual interest to drive the global Sailfish OS agenda”, as Pienimäki puts it).

Rostelecom is using the brand name ‘Aurora OS‘ for Sailfish in the market which Pienimäki says is “exactly our strategy” — likening it to how Google’s Android has been skinned with different user experiences by major OEMs such as Samsung and Huawei.

“What we offer for our customers is a fully independent, regional licence and a tool chain so that they can develop exactly this kind of solution,” he tells TechCrunch. “We have come to a maturity point together with Rostelecom in the Russia market, and it was natural move plan together, that they will take a local identity and proudly carry forward the Sailfish OS ecosystem development in Russia under their local identity.”

“It’s fully compatible with Sailfish operating system, it’s based on Sailfish OS and it’s our joint interest, of course, to make it fly,” he adds. “So that as we, hopefully, are able to extend this and come out to public with other similar set-ups in different countries those of course — eventually, if they come to such a fruition and maturity — will then likely as well have their own identities but still remain compatible with the global Sailfish OS.”

Jolla says the Russian government plans to switch all circa 8M state officials to the platform by the end of 2021 — under a project expected to cost RUB 160.2 billion (~$2.4BN). (A cut of which will go to Jolla in licensing fees.)

It also says Sailfish-powered smartphones will be “recommended to municipal administrations of various levels,” with the Russian state planning to allocate a further RUB 71.3 billion (~$1.1BN) from the federal budget for that. So there’s scope for deepening the state’s Sailfish uptake.

Russian Post is one early customer for Jolla’s locally licensed Sailfish flavor. Having piloted devices last year, Pienimäki says it’s now moving to a full commercial deployment across the whole organization — which has around 300,000 employees (to give a sense of how many Sailfish powered devices could end up in the hands of state postal workers in Russia).

A rugged Sailfish-powered device piloted by Russian post

Jolla is not yet breaking out end users for Sailfish OS per market but Pienimäki says that overall the company is now “clearly above” 100k (and below 500k) devices globally.

That’s still of course a fantastically tiny number if you compare it to the consumer devices market — top ranked Android smartphone maker Samsung sold around 70M handsets in last year’s holiday quarter, for instance — but Jolla is in the b2b OS licensing business, not the handset making business. So it doesn’t need hundreds of millions of Sailfish devices to ship annually to turn a profit.

Scaling a royalty licensing business to hundreds of thousands of users is sums to “good business”, , says Pienimäki, describing Jolla’s business model for Sailfish as “practically a royalty per device”.

“The success we have had in the Russian market has populated us a lot of interesting new opening elsewhere around the world,” he continues. “This experience and all the technology we have built together with Open Mobile Platform [Jolla’s Sailfish licensing partner in Russia which was acquired by Rostelecom] to enable that case — that enables a number of other cases. The deployment plan that Rostelecom has for this is very big. And this is now really happening and we are happy about it.”

Jolla’s “Russia operation” is now beginning “a mass deployment phase”, he adds, predicting it will “quickly ramp up the volume to very sizeable”. So Sailfish is poised to scale.

Step 3… profit?

While Jolla is still yet to turn a full-year profit Pienimäki says several standalone months of 2018 were profitable, and he’s no longer worried whether the business is sustainable — asserting: “We don’t have any more financial obstacles or threats anymore.”

It’s quite the turnaround of fortunes, given Jolla’s near-death experience a few years ago when it almost ran out of money, after failing to close a $10.6M Series C round, and had to let go of half its staff.

It did manage to claw in a little funding at the end of 2015 to keep going, albeit as much leaner fish. But bagging Russia as an early adopter of its ‘independent’ mobile Linux ecosystem looks to have been the key tipping point for Jolla to be able to deliver on the hard-graft ecosystem-building work it’s been doing all along the way. And Pienimäki now expresses easy confidence that profitability will flow “fairly quickly” from here on in.

“It’s not an easy road. It takes time,” he says of the ecosystem-building company Jolla hard-pivoted to at its point of acute financial distress. “The development of this kind of business — it requires patience and negotiation times, and setting up the ecosystem and ecosystem partners. It really requires patience and takes a lot of time. And now we have come to this point where actually there starts to be an ecosystem which will then extend and start to carry its own identity as well.”

In further signs of Jolla’s growing confidence he says it hired more than ten people last year and moved to new and slightly more spacious offices — a reflection of the business expanding.

“It’s looking very good and nice for us,” Pienimäki continues. “Let’s say we are not taking too much pressure, with our investors and board, that what is the day that we are profitable. It’s not so important anymore… It’s clear that that is soon coming — that very day. But at the same time the most important is that the business case behind is proven and it is under aggressive deployment by our customers.”

The main focus for the moment is on supporting deployments to ramp up in Russia, he says, emphasizing: “That’s where we have to focus.” (Literally he says “not screwing up” — and with so much at stake you can see why nailing the Russia case is Jolla’s top priority.)

While the Russian state has been the entity most keen to embrace an alternative (non-U.S.-led) mobile OS — perhaps unsurprisingly — it’s not the only place in the world where Jolla has irons in the fire.

Another licensing partner, Bolivian IT services company Jalasoft, has co-developed a Sailfish-powered smartphone called Accione.

Jalasoft’s ‘liberty’-touting Accione Sailfish smartphone

It slates the handset on its website as being “designed for Latinos by Latinos”. “The digitalization of the economy is inevitable and, if we do not control the foundation of this digitalization, we have no future,” it adds.

Jalasoft founder and CEO Jorge Lopez says the company’s decision to invest effort in kicking the tyres of Jolla’s alternative mobile ecosystem is about gaining control — or seeking “technological libration” as the website blurb puts it.

“With Sailfish OS we have control of the implementation, while with Android it is the opposite,” Lopez tells TechCrunch. “We are working on developing smart buildings and we need a private OS that is not Android or iOS. This is mainly because our product will allow the end user to control the whole building and doing this with Android or iOS a hackable OS will bring concerns on security.”

Lopez says Jalasoft is using Accione as its development platform — “to gather customer feedback and to further develop our solution” — so the project clearly remains in an early phase, and he says that no more devices are likely to be announced this year.

But Jolla can point to more seeds being sewn with the potential, with work, determination and patience, to sprout into another sizeable crop of Sailfish-powered devices down the line.

Complexity in China

Even more ambitiously Jolla is also targeting China, where investment has been taken in to form a local consortium to develop a Chinese Sailfish ecosystem.

Although Pienimäki cautions there’s still much work to be done to bring Sailfish to market in China.

“We completed a major pilot with our licensing customer, Sailfish China Consortium, in 2017-18,” he says, giving an update on progress to date. “The public in market solution is not there yet. That is something that we are working together with the customer — hopefully we can see it later this year on the market. But these things take time. And let’s say that we’ve been somewhat surprised at how complex this kind of decision-making can be.”

“It wasn’t easy in Russia — it took three years of tight collaboration together with our Russian partners to find a way. But somehow it feels that it’s going to take even more in China. And I’m not necessarily talking about calendar time — but complexity,” he adds.

While there’s no guarantee of success for Jolla in China, the potential win is so big given the size of the market that even if they can only carve out a tiny slice, such as a business or corporate sector, it’s still worth going after. And he points to the existence of a couple of native mobile Linux operating systems he reckons could make “very lucrative partners”.

That said, the get-to-market challenge for Jolla in China is clearly distinctly different vs the rest of the world. This is because Android has developed into an independent (i.e. rather than Google-led) ecosystem in China as a result of state restrictions on the Internet and Internet companies. So the question is what could Sailfish offer that forked Android doesn’t already?

An Oppo Android powered smartphone on show at MWC 2017

Again, Jolla is taking the long view that ultimately there will be appetite — and perhaps also state-led push — for a technology platform bolster against political uncertainty in U.S.-China relations.

“What has happened now, in particular last year, is — because of the open trade war between the nations — many of the technology vendors, and also I would say the Chinese government, has started to gradually tighten their perspective on the fact that ‘hey simply it cannot be a long term strategy to just keep forking Android’. Because in the end of the day it’s somebody else’s asset. So this is something that truly creates us the opportunity,” he suggests.

“Openly competing with the fact that there are very successful Android forks in China, that’s going to be extremely difficult. But — let’s say — tapping into the fact that there are powers in that nation that wish that there would be something else than forking Android, combined with the fact that there is already something homegrown in China which is not forking Android — I think that’s the recipe that can be successful.”

Not all Jolla’s Sailfish bets have paid off, of course. An earlier foray by an Indian licensing partner into the consumer handset market petered out. Albeit, it does reinforce their decision to zero in on government and corporate licensing.

“We got excellent business connections,” says Pienimäki of India, suggesting also that it’s still a ‘watch this space’ for Jolla. The company has a “second move” in train in the market that he’s hopeful to be talking about publicly later this year.

It’s also pitching Sailfish in Africa. And in markets where target customers might not have their own extensive in-house IT capability to plug into Sailfish co-development work Pienimäki says it’s offering a full solution — “a ready made package”, together with partners, including device management, VPN, secure messaging and secure email — which he argues “can be still very lucrative business cases”.

Looking ahead and beyond mobile, Pienimäki suggests the automotive industry could be an interesting target for Sailfish in the future — though not literally plugging the platform into cars; but rather licensing its technologies where appropriate — arguing car makers are also keen to control the tech that’s going into their cars.

“They really want to make sure that they own the cockpit. It’s their property, it’s their brand and they want to own it — and for a reason,” he suggests, pointing to the clutch of major investments from car companies in startups and technologies in recent years.

“This is definitely an interesting area. We are not directly there ourself — and we are not capable to extend ourself there but we are discussing with partners who are in that very business whether they could utilize our technologies there. That would then be more or less like a technology licensing arrangement.”

A trust balancing model

While Jolla looks to be approaching a tipping point as a business, in terms of being able to profit off of licensing an alternative mobile platform, it remains a tiny and some might say inconsequential player on the global mobile stage.

Yet its focus on building and maintaining trusted management and technology architectures also looks timely — again, given how geopolitical spats are intervening to disrupt technology business as usual.

Chinese giant Huawei used an MWC keynote speech last month to reject U.S.-led allegations that its 5G networking technology could be repurposed as a spying tool by the Chinese state. And just this week it opened a cybersecurity transparency center in Brussels, to try to bolster trust in its kit and services — urging industry players to work together on agreeing standards and structures that everyone can trust.

In recent years U.S.-led suspicions attached to Russia have also caused major headaches for security veteran Kaspersky — leading the company to announce its own trust and transparency program and decentralize some of its infrastructure, including by spinning up servers in Europe last year.

Businesses finding ways to maintain and deepen the digital economy in spite of a little — or even a lot — of cross-border mistrust may well prove to be the biggest technology challenge of all moving forward.

Especially as next-gen 5G networks get rolled out — and their touted ‘intelligent connectivity’ reaches out to transform many more types of industries, bringing new risks and regulatory complexity.

The geopolitical problem linked to all this boils down to how to trust increasing complex technologies without any one entity being able to own and control all the pieces. And Jolla’s business looks interesting in light of that because it’s selling the promise of neutral independence to all its customers, wherever they hail from — be it Russia, LatAm, China, Africa or elsewhere — which makes its ability to secure customer trust not just important but vital to its success.

Indeed, you could argue its customers are likely to rank above average on the ‘paranoid’ scale, given their dedicated search for an alternative (non-U.S.-led) mobile OS in the first place.

“It’s one of the number one questions we get,” admits Pienimäki, discussing Jolla’s trust balancing act — aka how it manages and maintains confidence in Sailfish’s independence, even as it takes business backing and code contributions from a state like Russia.

“We tell about our reference case in Russia and people quickly ask ‘hey okay, how can I trust that there is no blackbox inside’,” he continues, adding: “This is exactly the core question and this is exactly the problem we have been able to build a solution for.”

Jolla’s solution sums to one line: “We create a transparent platform and on top of fully transparent platform you can create secure solutions,” as Pienimäki puts it.

“The way it goes is that Jolla with Sailfish OS is always offering the transparent Sailfish operating system core, on source code level, all the time live, available for all the customers. So all the customers constantly, in real-time, have access to our source code. Most of it’s in public open source, and the proprietary parts are also constantly available from our internal infrastructure. For all the customers, at the same time in real-time,” he says, fleshing out how it keeps customers on board with a continually co-developing software platform.

“The contributions we take from these customers are always on source code level only. We don’t take any binary blobs inside our software. We take only source code level contributions which we ourselves authorize, integrate and then we make available for all the customers at the very same moment. So that loopback in a way creates us the transparency.

“So if you want to be suspicion of the contributions of the other guys, so to say, you can always read it on the source code. It’s real-time. Always available for all the customers at the same time. That’s the model we have created.”

“It’s honestly quite a unique model,” he adds. “Nobody is really offering such a co-development model in the operating system business.

“Practically how Android works is that Google, who’s leading the Android development, makes the next release of Android software, then releases it under Android Open Source and then people start to backboard it — so that’s like ‘source, open’ in a way, not ‘open source’.”

Sailfish’s community of users also have real-time access to and visibility of all the contributions — which he dubs “real democracy”.

“People can actually follow it from the code-line all the time,” he argues. “This is really the core of our existence and how we can offer it to Russia and other countries without creating like suspicion elements each side. And that is very important.

“That is the only way we can continue and extend this regional licensing and we can offer it independently from Finland and from our own company.”

With global trade and technology both looking increasingly vulnerable to cross-border mistrust, Jolla’s approach to collaborative transparency may offer something of a model if other businesses and industries find they need to adapt themselves  in order for trade and innovation to keep moving forward in uncertain political times.

Antitrust and privacy uplift

Last but not least there’s regulatory intervention to consider.

A European Commission antitrust decision against Google’s Android platform last year caused headlines around the world when the company was slapped with a $5BN fine.

More importantly for Android rivals Google was also ordered to change its practices — leading to amended licensing terms for the platform in Europe last fall. And Pienimäki says Jolla was a “key contributor” to the Commission case against Android.

European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, on April 15, 2015 in Brussels, as the Commission said it would open an antitrust investigation into Google’s Android operating system. (Photo credit: JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images)

The new Android licensing terms make it (at least theoretically) possible for new types of less-heavily-Google-flavored Android devices to be developed for Europe. Though there have been complaints the licensing tweaks don’t go far enough to reset Google’s competitive Android advantage.

Asked whether Jolla has seen any positive impacts on its business following the Commission’s antitrust decision, Pienimäki responds positively, recounting how — “one or two weeks after the ruling” — Jolla received an inbound enquiry from a company in France that had felt hamstrung by Google requiring its services to be bundled with Android but was now hoping “to realize a project in a special sector”.

The company, which he isn’t disclosing at this stage, is interested in “using Sailfish and then having selected Android applications running in Sailfish but no connection with the Google services”.

“We’ve been there for five years helping the European Union authorities [to build the case] and explain how difficult it is to create competitive solutions in the smartphone market in general,” he continues. “Be it consumer or be it anything else. That’s definitely important for us and I don’t see this at all limited to the consumer sector. The very same thing has been a problem for corporate clients, for companies who provide specialized mobile device solutions for different kind of corporations and even governments.”

While he couches the Android ruling as a “very important” moment for Jolla’s business last year, he also says he hopes the Commission will intervene further to level the smartphone playing field.

“What I’m after here, and what I would really love to see, is that within the European Union we utilize Linux-based, open platform solution which is made in Europe,” he says. “That’s why we’ve been pushing this [antitrust action]. This is part of that. But in bigger scheme this is very good.”

He is also very happy with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) — which came into force last May, plugging in a long overdue update to the bloc’s privacy rules with a much beefed up enforcement regime.

GDPR has been good for Jolla’s business, according to Pienimäki, who says interest is flowing its way from customers who now perceive a risk to using Android if customer data flows outside Europe and they cannot guarantee adequate privacy protections are in place.

“Already last spring… we have had plenty of different customer discussions with European companies who are really afraid that ‘hey I cannot offer this solution to my government or to my corporate customer in my country because I cannot guarantee if I use Android that this data doesn’t go outside the European Union’,” he says.

“You can’t indemnify in a way that. And that’s been really good for us as well.”

from TechCrunch