Solu has recently raised over 240,000 USD in Kickstarter and Indiegogo crowdfunding campaigns, and has been covered in many of the world’s most prominent tech journals and newspapers. This marketing success demonstrates that attitude, authenticity and being remarkable are not just catchy buzzwords.
Fans of the BBC’s globally popular sci-fi series Dr Who – the world’s longest running sci-fi series – will know that the Doctor is always unconventional, and that he pushes his companions to the edges of, well, everything. And every so often he “dies” and regenerates.
The public face and co-founder of Solu, Kristoffer Lawson is a big Dr Who fan, and the way he leads his life echoes that of the Doctor’s.
Kristoffer previously led a team that shook up the anaemic state of online banking services; and the Holvi success story continues to spread internationally.
His departure from Holvi in early 2014 meant that Kristoffer had to once more regenerate, and he has since been exploring new dimensions with a small box; one, which like the Doctor’s Tardis, is much bigger on the inside that it is on the outside.
The physical experience of the Solu product is part of the long-term marketing strategy.
The Solu ambition is nothing less than to reset the software/hardware paradigm of personal computing; as the solutions most people are using today have roots closer to the desktop than the cloud.
Such ambition, however, needs more than a revolutionary new product – it needs to be a revolution in itself, and lead a community of fans willing to take a leap of faith.
So how has Kristoffer and his team gone about engaging their fans and generating an exceptional level of buzz with only a modest startup-size marketing budget?
Kristoffer was travelling, so I sent some questions over Facebook. Luckily, I had the pleasure to meet with Solu’s Head of Marketing Gerda Verbickaite in person in a cafe near to their Ullanlinna office.
Holvi started out as the rebellious upstart and Solu is following the same path. How do you feel your softly spoken but ‘bring it on’ attitude has helped get your startups more engagement?
Kristoffer: “It’s an interesting question regarding the ’bring it on’ style. I’ve always wanted to do those big things, and to make a change. It’s in my blood, and although it is actually really tough most of the time, I don’t think I’d truly forgive myself on my dying bed if I didn’t at least give it a try. I don’t really think of it in terms of engagement but just something I really feel I should be doing. Although those David vs Goliath stories do intrigue the media, and the general public, and if nothing else, create a debate.”
“There is a downside in that I think some people may question the credibility of being so daring, even when there is a chance of doing something truly special, and the winnings are immense if successful. I’m happy that we have, on the other hand, been able to find believers and champions along the way.”
You were able to spin a mystique around the Solu project for a long-time. What are your thoughts on this approach as opposed to being more open early on? And is mysterious something you can only really play well if you are somewhat famous already?
Kristoffer: “The mystique around Solu is definitely linked to the people involved, but we actually didn’t actively build it that way. In the early days, in particular, we kept quiet simply because there were so many things that could have gone wrong, and so dramatic changes, that we felt we didn’t want to tell the world too early, as it was quite possible we might never have reached even the point where we are today. It has been sheer willpower and a great team that has made that possible.”
“It’s too early to say whether that approach will lead us to success, but I hope so, and I do think we have a chance. We did, however, engage with groups from the tech community, and also some trusted media contacts, along the way. Just to test that we were heading in the right direction. I agree, though, that to create mystique from stealth requires that you have people involved that are known to be good at what they do, and who create interesting stories.”
Anyone who knows Kristoffer will know that there is no subterfuge in these answers; and they only go to show why social media gurus talk so much about authenticity and attitude. And when you combine these with a genuinely remarkable product or service the community engagement levels are amplified greatly – think BrewDog, Innocent Drinks, Zappos, etc.
Time and time again we see that brands with a clear attitude: What are they for? and what are they against? do so much better in social media. What is Solu for and against?
Gerda: “Solu believes that computers should look after you; and people should not have to look after their computers. So we’re for making computing much simpler; and we against people having to waste time messing around with computers when they just want to get stuff done.”
“An example from the other day. I was trying to join an online conference call when my big brand computer decided to start updating, and it blocked me for fifteen minutes! With deeper integration to the cloud Solu is eliminating that kind of annoying software interruption.”
What was the thinking behind the Paleface video?
Gerda: “We commissioned Darlings Helsinki to produce the video and they came back to us with the idea of using Paleface. But I think it was Solu’s willingness to give him the freedom to write his own words based on the Solu manifesto that made it something remarkable.”
What channels (i.e. Social media, blogs, events, etc) are working best for you and how do you decide where it is best to allocate marketing resources?
Gerda: “We have been running a series of small experiments in multiple channels, and I have been putting the key metrics into a spreadsheet to see what is working and what isn’t. For example, we could clearly see that Instagram was not working for our audience; however, Facebook has been great, and Twitter has been a useful channel for quick news and directly engaging with people. We also use email newsletters for things like the demo events and bigger updates for interested subscribers.”
“When taking an iterative approach to marketing small mistakes will inevitably be made but the overall benefits are definitely worth it, and usually they can be corrected quickly.”
In the classic technology adoption life cycle there is the notorious chasm to cross between early adopters and early majority. It’s easy to see how Solu appeals to innovators and early adopters but what’s your strategy for crossing the chasm?
Gerda: “The way we are trying to approach this is to really show that Solu is something real, right now. It started with the invite-only demos when people could get their hands on it directly, and many of them commented on their own social networks. More recently we put out a video of myself demonstrating Solu in real-time.”
“A long-term strategy that will help with this that Kris and Joona [Kallio] have been strict on the design of all Solu branded items. Both on and offline, from business cards and to even door plaques.”
The founders are determined that all Solu branded items maintain the highest quality of design, as long-term a great top to bottom brand experience will help provide reasurance and generate more word-of-mouth
Gerda: “The Solu Kickstart and Indeigogo campaigns have also been a means to validate the product and prove that there really is a community of people out there who want what we are creating. We are so proud of how successful that has been.”
So what can we learn from Solu’s approach to marketing?
Solu’s marketing success demonstrates that attitude, authenticity and being remarkable are not just catchy buzzwords.
The advent of social has shifted the rules of the game considerably, so that early stage companies can better leverage their ability to build on an authentic attitude and connect more directly with their communities in ways that established players find much harder to do.
I asked Kristoffer if Solu’s interaction design (see the use of spheres above) had in any way been inspired by the various Doctor Who Tardis interfaces (see one example below) and he said well spotted. The background imagery in the stamp is also from Solu.