Interview: Jussi Hurmola, the CEO of JollaMobile (audio and text available)

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Jussi Hurmola, the CEO of JollaMobile, the company that will continue the work that Nokia started with MeeGo, but then abandoned to go with Windows Phone, sat down with me for 20 minutes this morning to answer a few questions. If you’d like to listen to the interview, then I suggest you check out the podcast I do on the side called “The Voicemail”. If you would rather read, then the following transcription is for you. It should be noted that some light editing has been done for clarity.

Stefan: The company was officially founded in October, right?

Jussi: Yes, that’s correct.

Stefan: OK, because I was on the Finnish tax site and it said you registered it in April.

Jussi: The company called “Jolla” was created in October. We reused an old company that we happened to have, but the old company doesn’t have any links to Jolla. If you look at the registries people have interesting hypothesis why it’s like that.

Stefan: I don’t have any, I was just curious. Anyway, when did you know that you wanted to leave Nokia?

Jussi: It was a long process. So … of course there was the February 11th news. We were watching what was happening, Nokia was setting up new things, but it was clear when we looked around that all these bright people, technologies, along with an almost ready ecosystem and products, there was something there that we wanted to continue. There had to be a business opportunity. Gradually we created a strategy, then at the end of last year we decided it was something we could do, so we started building.

Stefan: Just so I can confirm, you have 50 employees right now?

Jussi: Yes, we have close to 50, and we’re hiring about 5 people a week. We’re aggressively hiring and we’re trying to grow the company to 100 people by the end of the year.

Stefan: And half the employees you have right now, they come from Nokia?

Jussi: Yes, about half of the people come from Nokia, and the others … almost all of them have backgrounds in Maemo, Mobiln, or MeeGo. They come from the community as well as other companies.

Stefan: In an article that The Wall Street Journal published, they said that you said you needed to raise 10 million Euros in order to sell between 50,000 and 100,000 phones this year.

Jussi: Yes, the story goes like this: We have our first phase of financing arranged. There are different phases, let me list them: Doing the device itself, then there’s marketing, there’s manufacturing, and the ecosystem setup, etc. Phase one is doing the device, the actual product, and that requires about 10 million Euros.

Stefan: Are you commenting about how much you already have? Do you already have that 10 million Euros?

Jussi: Yes. Of course the financing is setup that we grow it step by step, but yes we have a financing plan and agreement for the first phases.

Stefan: The phone you’re talking about, it’s going to come out this year?

Jussi: Yes, we’re going to announce the phone later this year.

Stefan: Let me rephrase, will I be able to walk into a store and actually purchase your phone this Christmas?

Jussi: Our principle is that we are careful, so we don’t want to promise anything that we can not do. This is why at the moment we just said we will reveal a phone later this year.

Stefan: Yesterday TechCrunch published an article that said you want to come out with two phones. Care to comment?

Jussi: I think that was based on the interview. I was asked if we’re catering to developers or the larger public, and I said we’re definitely going for the larger public, but we also want to enable the developers and the community and enthusiasts by giving them a “developer mode” option. We want to cater to both audiences. I think this became their two devices.

Stefan: So … one by the end of this year, hopefully, and another in 2013?

Jussi: We have different things on our drawing board at the moment. We need to see how this first one does before we commit to future products.

Stefan: I know you’re not going to say anything about the spec sheet, that’s OK, but what sort of price points are you trying to hit?

Jussi: That I can not say. This information will come when we unveil the device.

Stefan: The Wall Street Journal also said you signed some contracts with some companies, specifically screen manufacturers and chipset vendors. Can you comment?

Jussi: In order to make a smartphone these days you need chipset vendor support, ODM (original design manufacturing) support, and some other companies too. We’re currently in the negotiations phase, and we’re really close to being able to communicate what partners we actually use. This is our present situation.

Stefan: So you’ll soon be able to say who you signed contracts with?

Jussi: Yes. Soon. Hopefully.

Stefan: Regarding the software, a lot of people have been asking will this new operating system of yours use the same Swipe UI that was on the Nokia N9?

Jussi: Swipe is a Nokia user interface. We are going to do a new user interface. Selecting MeeGo enables us to do something new. If we went with Android or something else then we would just be using the user interface it already comes with. So we will make a new user interface; of course we will inherit the familiar and powerful elements that MeeGo has, as we know it now, but we are not going to use Nokia’s user interface.

Stefan: Would you say then that this new UI is inspired by Swipe or is it something completely new?

Jussi: It’s inspired by many things. There are great examples out there in iOS, in Android, and in the N9. I personally like the N9 the most. I’m influenced by it, and I think we’re influenced by it in our designs.

Stefan: You mentioned Android. Have you heard about companies like Xiaomi, who make their own custom Android ROM called MIUI, or how about the Amazon Kindle Fire? Why choose to go and create a brand new operating system as opposed to taking Android and skinning the top?

Jussi: Xiaomi, I know them very well. We have been going to China every month. There’s Meizu, Xiamoi, there are many people who put custom user interfaces on top of Android. It’s still a followers game. Xiamoi’s game is also based on price competiton. We want to lead in technology and lead in UI, that’s our business. We don’t want to copy them.

Stefan: You said you’ve been going to China every month. Has that been for the past few months?

Jussi: Since last year.

Stefan: Do you guys have a patent portfolio?

Jussi: We are creating our IPR (intellectual property rights) in the UI area and also a couple big technologies. Of course we are a small company, so it takes some time to grow it. We definitely need it (referring to IPR).

Stefan: Can you quantify how many patents you have currently?

Jussi: Not at the moment.

Stefan: There’s been a lot of confusion regarding patents from Nokia. Have they given you any? Are they licensing you any? What’s the situation there?

Jussi: Nokia actually answered these questions yesterday because TechCrunch was speculating that Nokia “gifted” us some IPR. I can say that Nokia doesn’t “gift” IPR.

Stefan: Can you talk more about the “Nokia Bridge” program? What is it and how has that helped you guys?

Jussi: As far as I understand, specific to Finland, it was a project setup because Nokia has been letting go so many people. They set it up to help people cope with the situation. We have been open with Nokia, so Jolla wasn’t a surprise for them, and their response to us hasn’t been a surprise either. We were able to cooperate with them in setting up our company. At least that’s what Nokia Bridge means to me.

Stefan: Do you think that the average consumer out on the street cares about open source software on their phone?

Jussi: That’s a good question. One week ago I would have answered no, but judging by the response we’ve been getting, even from the normal media, such as Iltalehti in Finland, they covered MeeGo and open operating systems. So I’m slowly changing my opinion that maybe open source might have some impact.

Stefan: I’m specifically talking about the larger audience. There will always be people who are into open source. I mean the really large audience, as in several hundreds of millions of people.

Jussi: I guess they don’t care much. And if you’re talking about open source operating systems, Android is based on Linux, so it’s a fact these days that devices are made with open source components.

Stefan: Which countries are you targeting for your first product?

Jussi: That I can only say when we reveal the device.

Stefan: Here’s a big question I have. Why did you choose to reveal Jolla right now instead of waiting until you had a phone or an operating system to show?

Jussi: Last week there was a lot of news concerning MeeGo and PR 1.3 for the Nokia N9. People started speculating if this was the end of the story. Is this the end of the line? Will there be anymore hope? If you look at our first tweets, what we basically wanted to say is that MeeGo is not dead. We got such a tremendous response from Twitter and the online community and even traditional media that we didn’t have a choice but to just go with it.

Stefan: Is your goal to become a handset vendor or is your goal to be purchased by a handset vendor that currently exists?

Jussi: We want to grow our own business. These days there are companies which are setup to be sold, but we want to create our own business. We want to create our own company.

Stefan: Now for the applications problem. When you launch your phone it’s going to have almost zero apps. It’s not going to be competitive with Android and iOS. How do you plan on dealing with that?

Jussi: I believe that we have an answer for this, and I understand that you can not seriously sell a smartphone if you don’t have a sufficient application offering, but I can’t tell you what our plan is until we announce our product.

Stefan: Are you familiar with the Apple story around Steve Jobs, how he got kicked out, started his own company called NeXT, and then Apple bought NeXT and used their software to bring Apple back to life? If the Windows Phone plan goes to complete shit, and Nokia don’t sell any, would you be open to getting acquired by your former employer?

Jussi: Creating an ecosystem and a platform is about cooperating. It’s not about going alone. Basically what we’re doing right now is creating partnerships and building efforts around MeeGo and Jolla. So I’m open to all cooperation. There are different forms of cooperation of course, but the key is to grow the ecosystem. That means we’re inviting different people in different forms.

Stefan: You said you’re hiring about 5 people a week, so what sort of people are you looking for?

Jussi: At the moment we are hiring designers, graphical UI designers, system developers, and application developers.

Stefan: So you’re not looking for any non-engineering folks?

Jussi: Probably soon, but at the moment we have sufficient non-engineering people. Getting our product done is our main focus.

Stefan: What would you define as success for Jolla?

Jussi: For us it’s to be in this game. In order for us to be in this game we need to be big enough. It’s very difficult to be small in this market and in this industry. We need to have significant enough mind share, technology share, and ecosystem share in the smartphone market. Then we’ll have succeeded. Which means we can continue.

Stefan: Can you quantify any of that?

Jussi: We need to have enough percentage points.

Stefan: More than Windows Phone, hopefully. (laughs)

Stefan: Fun question: Average age of your employees? At Nokia it’s quite old.

Jussi: Average age, I don’t know. We have quite a variety of ages. Our oldest guy was at Nokia for 25 years, in engineering. Our youngest designers come straight from school. We try to keep a balance so we cover both ends: stability and experience; innovation and spirit.

Stefan: In the TechCrunch interview you said “we’re confident we can do it again.” By that you mean you want to build a company as large and as well known as Nokia?

Jussi: I was referring to our device. The team that we have, we have built ecosystems, we have built platforms, we have built devices. Building a company, you can never repeat that. It’s always a different story.

Stefan: You also told them that you have “big partners”. Care to comment?

Jussi: Not at the moment.

Stefan: After Nokia said no to MeeGo, Samsung picked up where they left off and started Tizen. Would you be open to working together with that team?

Jussi: We have been following Tizen, but I don’t really understand their situation. There’s a Tizen association, and a Tizen distribution, and the code is not exactly open, and Bada is somehow mixed in. If I had a better understanding of what was happening I’d be able to comment, but right now I’m in a fog about Tizen. I know they’re all about HTML5, and we are following with great interest what they’re doing with HTML5, but we also know that HTML5 is very fragmented. There’s no specifications, and Google and others are working on that technology, so let’s see.

Stefan: How do you intend to manage the distribution of your products?

Jussi: There are three channels. Depending on the area, there are operator channels, like in Europe and the US for example. Then there are retailers, they are big in Asia. And finally there’s the new emerging open channel where you can basically sell your devices online to anyone in the world. These three, we’re looking at them. But of course in the beginning we’re going to need strong partnerships with the operator channel and with the retail channel to get our presence out.

Stefan: In the WSJ interview you said: “With all respect to Apple’s operating system and Android, the market is ready for something new. As I see it, there are user segments that have been left unserved.” Which user segments are you talking about?

Jussi: I think it will become quite clear when we launch our product.

Stefan: Last question: What do you think about the recently announced Firefox OS?

Jussi: Let’s see what happens. I haven’t paid much attention to that.

  • Atlant

    Thanks for that interview! It was more informative than most of the press coverage so far.

    Best wishes to Jolla; it has always been clear to me that Nokia’s future should have been Maemo/MeeGo. It was a shame they brought in the shill from Microsoft who burned the corporation to the ground but I’m glad to see that Maemo?MeeGo/etc. lives on, Elop or not.

    By the way: third question from the end: I think you meant “distribution”, not “distortion”. ;-)

    • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

      Thanks for spotting that typo. It’s been fixed.

      • Dashesy

        It might be mis-translation, was the word at the end of “If the Windows Phone plan goes to complete …” intentionally chosen?

        • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

          No, I actually said “shit”. It’s a big boy word, and I’m a big boy.

  • http://antoinerjwright.com Antoine RJ Wright

    Nice interview; loose and conversational, while being informative. The range of questions you had Stefan was slick as well.

    If they have something that impresses you, that will be something worth seeing. 

    • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

      I can’t wait to see what they’re working on. And as for the interview style, I literally just read off a list of questions I compiled the night before. Several of the questions came courtesy of friends who @ replied me on Twitter.

  • http://techweez.com/ @martingicheru

    Nice interview that, this would be one device I can’t wait to buy once it’s out, I am using a windows phone device, but would replace it with a meego device.
    Now, on the speculating bit, and I quote from Jussi’s response on the applications question:

    “I believe that we have an answer for this, and I understand that you can not seriously sell a smartphone if you don’t have a sufficient application offering, but I can’t tell you what our plan is until we announce our product.”

    Would they be considering to have a way to port either Android or Nokia apps to Meego? He says they already have an answer to this, and knowing well, Nokia N9 had a lacking of some sort, and these guys knowing that they would need this OS as it’s their baby, might have gone ahead to work on a way to cure this. Can’t wait to know what the response would be.

    • http://shmerl.blogspot.in/ Shmerl

      There are many Qt applications which can be rather easily ported to Mer (Jolla is basing their OS on Mer, which is the community continuation of MeeGo: http://merproject.org

      I think that’s what he was referring to.

      • Mich Protani

        have read all the question???
        jolla will come out with a NEW OS based on MeeGo
        but i think jolla never come out with MeeGo Harmattan 1.2
        and the swipe UI of N9 will not implement at the same mode.
        Jolla will developt a new Interface but not a Swipe N9 Interface
        and will there a original UI like he told

  • http://shmerl.blogspot.in/ Shmerl

    I hope they’ll make some statement about not using their IPR (i.e. patents) in aggressive fashion. I.e. open source community doesn’t appreciate abusive patent practices. Using patents for defensive purposes (against patent trolls and patent aggressors) is OK, but to be the patent aggressor (like Apple and MS, and lately even Nokia) is not.

  • Reggie

    Great interview Stefan! Thanks!

    • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

      Thanks Reggie!

  • Someone

    Yeah, great interview, very informative.

    Really hyped out for this! The only thing for me to look for in the mobile market!

  • Dashesy

    Great interview,  I maybe one of those user segments that have been left unserved, let me do actual computer work with my phone, connect to big screen. Good luck.

  • Marin

    Nice interview Stefan. You do know they have no chance in hell of making it. They could be acquired eventually but like the Android gaming console, this is more a fun possibility than something that will actually make a difference in people’s lives. 

    • http://shmerl.blogspot.com/ Shmerl

       Those who give up from the start for sure have no chance. Those who don’t give up ever have the most chances ;)

    • http://www.intomobile.com/ Stefan Constantinescu

      To tell you the truth, yes, the odds are stacked against them, and yes, I do believe they’ll end up being bought out, but hey, just like webOS crashed and burned … at least it introduced some new user interface elements that the larger players ended up incorporating into their respective platforms.

    • Anonymous

      If all Jolla need to sell is 50K-100K of devices to break even, why do they have no chance of making it? These guys know for sure how many N9 devices Nokia sold, and the best estimate we have is that it was well in excess of 2m, so if that’s the kind of market they’re going after they’ll do much better than break even. And if the N9 hadn’t been killed at birth, marketed properly, and sold in first-world markets rather than the back of beyond, it would have sold in even greater numbers of that there is no doubt.

      Just remember that not everyone wants to be a part of the iOS or Android crowd, and the jury is still out on Windows Phone ever succeeding, although Microsoft will lose a fortune ensuring it doesn’t actually fail. And not everyone cares about having access to 600K apps, just having access to the decent ones (probably less than a few hundred in all reality) will do for me so if they can accomplish that, I’d be more than happy. Anything else will be just gravy.

      I firmly believe there are gaps in the current smartphone market for small and innovative companies to fill, so if Jolla can design a new smartphone that is at least as good as the N9 (and for just €10m) then I think they’ve got a fighting chance of becoming a sustainable business – I’m really surprised you’re so dismissive of their chances (not least because as a contributor for intomobile aren’t you supposed to be somewhat neutral?)

      Disruptive is an over used phrase these days, but maybe that’s what Jolla can be for the smartphone industry, proving you don’t need to be one of the “big boys” to compete in the smartphone game if you’ve got the right know-how and right attitude on-board.

    • Anonymous

      If all Jolla need to sell is 50K-100K devices to break even, why do they have no chance of making it? These guys know for sure how many N9 devices Nokia sold, and the best estimate we have is that it was well in excess of 2m, so if that’s the kind of market they’re going after they’ll do much better than break even. And if the N9 hadn’t been killed at birth, marketed properly, and sold in first-world markets rather than the back of beyond, it would have sold in even greater numbers of that there is no doubt.

      Just remember that not everyone wants to be a part of the iOS or Android crowd, and the jury is still out on Windows Phone ever succeeding, although Microsoft will lose a fortune ensuring it doesn’t actually fail. And not everyone cares about having access to 600K apps, just having access to the decent ones (probably less than a few hundred in all reality) will do for me so if they can accomplish that, I’d be more than happy. Anything else will be just gravy.

      I firmly believe there are gaps in the current smartphone market for small and innovative companies to fill, so if Jolla can design a new smartphone that is at least as good as the N9 (and for just €10m) then I think they’ve got a fighting chance of becoming a sustainable business – I’m really surprised you’re so dismissive of their chances (not least because as a contributor for intomobile aren’t you supposed to be somewhat neutral?)

      Disruptive is an over used phrase these days, but maybe that’s what Jolla can be for the smartphone industry, proving you don’t need to be one of the “big boys” to compete in the smartphone game if you’ve got the right know-how and right attitude on-board.

      @Stefan: Good interview.

      • Marin

        The problem is that it’s a battle of elephants and there’s not really such a thing as a nice, small sustainable handset maker. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be or that there can’t be but I think the odds are really stacked against them. 

        Still, if the odds aren’t against you, you’re probably not aiming high enough. 

        Also, I don’t work for IntoMobile any more and even if I did, I call em like I see em. 

        • RubenStein

          I bet the same thing was said about Apple and Microsoft when they first got into the market against Juggernauts like IBM.

          The free market is like the jungle, survival for the fittest even a Lion that was top of its pride can wind up being eaten by a park of hyena’s when its old and frail.

          And some how simple defenceless creature manage to thrive and populate.

          SImilarly if Apple or other like it companies drop the ball they will be cannibalised just like Nokia leaving room for startups like Jolla to thrive.

          • RubenStein

            Sorry, just noticed several typo’s..I was sleepy when I wrote this.

        • NordicByNature

          your view is limited to your personall relatively small bubble you live in.  Alone in china is a gazillion of unknown small phonemanufacturers that actually do make a business.    Even if jolla doesnt succseed in america (few foreign manufacturers succseed there where consumers are so nationalpatriotic that it hurts, and the religion about hubbart.. eh.. i mean jobs is so strong)  However, jolla could make good business alone in china and other emerging markets – and meet their financial targets w/o selling a single phone in our western (euro/us) hemisphere.   
          Also quite possible is, it becomes a “communityphone” – sold over internet hyped by a few tweets and idealistic staff and fans   – everything can happen.  Finnland has a lot of now jobless but high qualified engineers – and a steady stream of linux infected developers.
          Innovation can birth a new company anytime.
          Give it a chance.
          Diversity is spice of life, we should not talk it dead – we should support them even if there is a chance of failure.   Monopoles are bad for all of us.   There is only one direction to go, forward.

      • Raja Varma

         FYI Nokia has sold 1.2 M N9 & N950. In this Q2 alone. Think what would have happened if they have promoted it.

  • Anonymous

    I’m pretty excited by all of this stuff. I think the main problem is that hardware design has become so specialized for the OS running on the device. It would be great if you could just load Firefox OS or MeeGo or webOS on any old smartphone, just like a Macbook can run any variety of OSes, but even then the screen sizes and hardware buttons may not match what the OS expects.

    I’ve had mixed feelings about Android. At first, I loved it because it was open. Then I realized it’s not so open, and I was bummed out. Then I thought about just how good it was, and it’s still open to some extent, so I’ve been using that fact to justify my advocation of Android.

    But if these guys can deliver a compelling design with a good core experience, I could care less about how many apps iOS or Android have, so long as the essentials are met well. I have a tablet- I don’t use my phone for anything too advanced anymore. If I could run Qt and GTK applications on a phone (for once), I would be incredibly pleased. Although I do feel HTML5 will become even more central in universal mobile application development as Mozilla’s Web Device APIs go upstream.

  • N9 Fan

    But what about n9?? :(

  • Ahmad

    Well, did she say she is going to support the Nokia N9?

    • Anonymous

      She?
      Sounds like you haven’t done much reading/research.
      Have fun….

      • http://twitter.com/robotnO robotnO

         :)

  • FgM

    Would be nice if ever they were also delivering their OS for N9 and older N900 stuff… This might allow a faster growth of their new community

    • Anonymous

      would encumber them far too much, they need to be quickk/nimble, no legacy crud.

  • dividebyzero

    LOL Tizen.

    What I want is a handset that is able to run a Linux-based system pretty much similar to what we run in any desktop. Android is not like this, and Tizen is definitely not this. This is what Maemo and MeeGo were, and this is what I hope these guys are going to do.

    I didn’t  know what was going to be my next smartphone. I was almost surrendering to Android. Now I know I’ll get whatever comes out of Jolla!

  • Jepp_2006

    i really enjoy reading the conversation….such a nice interview…i have gotten all the information i need from them….im very hopeful for jolla to succeed…i have bought n9 despite the fact it has no guaranteed support from nokia…very glad there’s jolla.

  • http://twitter.com/roy_willow Roy Willow

    “There’s Meizu, Xiamoi, there are many people…” It should be “Xiaomi” not “XIaomoi” ;P

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