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Tony Svanström

svanstrom.com

vcard svanstrom
Unassembled epaper display Weekend work on the Zwidge project. I unfortunately found myself not properly stocked up on RPI4s, and had to temporarily dismantle another setup. Luckily these are like the computer version of lego, and it takes minutes to repurpose them back and forth between whatever is needed at the moment.
If you’ve followed me privately you know this has been coming for quite some time now; so here’s my branding update… Blue M studio (bluem.studio) Four years ago this included a floor plan, design documents, and the search for a physical location in Hong Kong. Then life happened, including local political turmoil and a whole ass pandemic. Now it is a soft launched virtual concept. Practically this is the parent brand and portal to my projects. It is that umbrella that cradles and give a shared context to what otherwise might look a bit disjointed. I’m sneaking this out prematurely because I want to take focus off my personal domain, and because I want that parent brand out there for it to make sense as aspects of it will be shown throughout the other projects. (There are also some financing/pitching decisions involved.) Zwidge (zwidge.io) The name comes from the pronunciation of the abbreviation of the non-printing character “zero-width joiner” (ZWJ, /zwɪdʒ/); which is a bit mouthful, but here simply refers to us supplying solutions that connect content creators with their information receivers without adding any extra steps in between. For a small business this could be as simple as in-store digital displays that in a toned down format automatically show relevant digital content in the physical space. Or how to best use NFC/QR-codes to up the conversion rate of walk-bys to digital followers; without just losing them among the idiosyncrasies of a third party social network’s algorithms. The exact nature of zwidge will become obvious over time, as an ecosystem of products and services are launched.
tl;dr: It’s a digital signage startup, but with a unique competitive advantage. To simplify the narrative of the project that I’ve talked openly about I’m taking the focus away from its deep tech aspects, and to the much easier to grok concept of a digital signage business. The innovative tech is still there, but it is used as a unique competitive advantage delegated to the footnotes rather than kept front and center. (I wrote an earlier blog post about the rationale behind this.) The for this business key part of the tech is a new approach to how to (re)use unstructured online data in other projects. As part of this digital signage solution that means that the source of the information to show will be existing information; primarily from a business’ existing website, or it could be from their social media accounts. Instead of me limiting how the digital signs are to be used by having an interface that forces/blocks certain data, or where they end up semi-locked to an at-installation function, they end up simply facilitating taking the business’ existing content, and priorities, and moving that into a physical space. It’s about taking the content that the business already invests time in creating, and without extra effort making it reach more people. As a founder and developer I end up doing less work, and at the same time I give my clients a much more flexible solution that requires no extra work on their part. They simply keep using their existing webinterface to their existing website/accounts; and the displays keep track of their updates. Using my own hardware boxes I’m also able to give the clients this as part of any display that best fit the situation. Ranging from off-the-shelf to bespoke (for instance integrated, or framed to fit an existing design), to repurposing existing display solutions (such as using existing displays and projectors to show company information during what otherwise would be off/idle/screensaver times). Having this separation between content, hardware, and display, opens up for more flexibility. One example of this is that an early part of the solution will be to allow people to “follow” these digital displays. Essentially allowing customers to keep an always updated copy of it in their own mobile devices. From a startup development perspective this means that I’m not locking the startup into selling digital displays, rather it can scale as a solution provider to other B2B providers. For instance, the business can expand to new regions by there enabling perhaps a PR or web design bureau to provide digital signage to their current customer base; even do their own bespoke displays. I can keep to a very lean organisation, I leverage that bureau’s existing customer relationships to create simpler sales, and that bureau get a higher customer lifetime value from their existing customer base; and their clients benefit from more services from an already trusted supplier. Just as with the tech itself we find a situation where less work actually end up with overall better results. What are the challenges? As with any early startup project the key to success (at least according to me) is to earliest possible identify and overcome the obstacles outside of your expertise and comfort. You need to “rip the band-aid off” to free yourself to spend as much time as possible taking full advantage of your own expertise. (You don’t build value by bogging yourself down with roles you’re no good at, or stressing about future unknowns you don’t want to deal with.) (1) My main personal challenge here is, as always, that I absolutely abhor doing sales. There’s just something about that out-of-nowhere in-your-face type of selling that I just can’t do, as I myself have a very negative reaction to it being done to me. It’s just not who I am as a person. Fortunately I’m comfortable with a more networking type of sales. From a startup perspective that just takes a bit longer, and is a bit more resource-intensive, than I would prefer. Which takes us to (2), that I really want to take advantage of being able to provide a wider range of displays/solutions. Which means that I must really listen to and learn from many potential clients, and therefor must find and interact with a greater number of them. Today we see a rapid growth in the usage of digital signage, because the technology and products really have reached a level where anyone can provide it, but especially as it is available to the smaller business it is often at a basic level with a not bad but limited visual expression. You end up with a design language that is display first, and content second. Which although not necessarily always a bad thing simply lacks the finesse needed to maximise the value of your content/information. To the small business this means that you today easily can put up a huge 3500 nits (very bright!) digital display in your store’s window; but I can provide displays that are also more suitable for situations where you want a less “bright in-your-face advertising” feeling. So it’s really about letting your content/information automatically work more for you, by being able to place it inconspicuously where it can do so. Ranging from the epaper display your customer won’t even realise is digital, all the way up to the very bright display attracting attention from afar; and all of it functioning straight off your already familiar interfaces from updating your existing website and/or social media. You put in the same level of work as today, but get a much higher return on that work. And to get that right I have to listen to as many potential customers as possible, and not just try to do sales. Which is the "challenge" where I'm currently at. My next blog post will be a short introduction to the brand that I’ll be launching this under.
Update on what I for a while now have just called my project… At its core it is about removing couple of technical limitations in how the internet has functioned/evolved. They’re something that’s deep enough down in the tech to have a butterfly effect; small changes, with the potential to have a huge impact on how we view and use the internet. Including radical improvements in how we can build businesses, and simply out-compete the negative consequences of how a few tech giants today control some of the core functionality of how we connect with other people and businesses. Cheaper, better, more ethical, more innovative tech, for all. (The tech can do it, but there is always an uncertainty when it comes to how the market reacts.) I’ve been very passionate about this. Post-pandemic(-ish) I’ve geared up to get this to market, but I’ve found that no matter my approach talking about the tech and its implications is just too much of an academic/obscure subject to be relatable. Practically even the most revolutionary thing is almost always “same, but different” as something existing; and the more nonrelatable the underlying new tech, the more people keep relating the consequences/possibilities of the new tech with these already existing things. Basically I’ve been hit with a lot of references to either existing or failed projects; and that’s… problematic. When financing a startup by taking venture capital you essentially sell a piece of that startup based on an estimated future valuation of that startup. The higher the valuation, the more capital you can raise without selling away too much of the startup. This is usually done several times, often talked about as rounds, stages, or by what series’ they are at; each of which might also have its own name that sort of refers to what shape the project is in. Pre-seed, seed, series A (B, C, etc), IPO. Each time the startup get what should be a fair market-established higher valuation than before; and creating value in a startup can rely more on these rounds than actual revenue streams. Practically you sell shares with values based on future potential, balanced with the risks involved. Here’s where you end up with a potential catch-22 problem, if you were to get on this investment ladder with a too low valuation compared with the money that you need to raise. Essentially you could end up giving away too much of the business, which later on, for a bunch of reasons, could make it harder to do more rounds. It’s just harder to create a thriving startup if you can’t match the valuation with the capital needed, and still get left with enough ownership to get the right level of manoeuvrability (and personal profit) for what you want to do. This is where I ended up far from satisfied with the equation. The obscureness of the potential of the technical progress simply made the traction less than ideal for how I long-term want to develop the business side of things. Simply put, I don’t want to risk what should be a quick scaling high-reward project ending up bogged down by a faultily established business side. So I’m switching things around a bit. First of all, if this had been just any simple startup idea you probably would have just moved on to the next idea; but what can you do if you do have something that actually objectively is good, but you can’t get the narrative to fit right?! You change the narrative. In this case we have this path of [tech] -> [possibilities] -> [businesses]; so I’m switching things around to the narrative of one such business, rather than the tech, which is easier to understand/pitch. In total I would (need to) raise less capital to get going, and I can do that to a much better capital vs valuation ratio. Ending up with a much more viable business. The tech is still included in the deal, and I’m in no way designing the narrative to represent something that isn’t there, I’ve just refocused it on an aspect of the project where it’s much easier for an investor to understand the potential. This provides the capital needed to get going, and from which more businesses can bloom; with steeper valuation increases in later rounds. Same startup, but a different story. It’s a win-win-win; with me keeping more profit, the startup becoming more viable, and the early investors getting a bigger than expected return on investment. (As always there’s a risk, though; but even that is less, with a softer start.) tl;dr: Instead of talking about it as a deep tech project I’m simplifying the narrative to be about one of the business ideas the deep tech makes cheaper and easier to realise. To me, passionate about the technology and its potential, this is of course a huge change, but in general this is a fairly normal startup thing to do. While you will always be focused on the amazing uniqueness that you are capitalising on, that will always be almost like a footnote to everyone else; you don’t sell what you are passionate about, you sell what that can do for other people. My next blog post will be me introducing this simpler narrative.
Let's just say that this documentary hasn't exactly aged well, but it is, or at least is a window into, a very important part of history. Many of the people that made the internet of today possible got their inspiration from what happened in this early cyberpunk era. Personally, this documentary and the Sprawl trilogy (by William Gibson) had a huge impact on me growing up. Coming from a pre-web world, and growing up in a not so intellectual environment, any opportunity to see "my people" felt huge. Even if you couldn't connect in person, they were out there; representation, identification, and so on. There were people out there that shared my way of thinking, what I liked. Important stuff for a young nerd at the time. (And, yes, I used the word "representation" to connect this back then with how representation is discussed today; same important thing, but a different group of people.) My foundation will always be this old school nerd, always more impressed by someone making a great Amiga demo (fitting on a single floppy disk) than I'll ever be by someone only dressing themselves up in just the right things from the right fashion houses.
Update on me dropping LinkedIn and discouraging salespeople from contacting me through this website: Although far from enough data to actually be proven statistically significant it actually appears to have worked. My inbox and spam folder actually has way fewer cold emails trying to sell some (often IT/offshore) services (that I as a developer easily could code myself). I'm positively surprised; and I'll just take this as yet another sign of how LinkedIn has outlived its purpose and become the Facebook of the business world (which sure ain't no compliment).
The river Fyris
A bowl of ramen
📍Tokyo Ramen I'm "post-pandemic" back in Sthlm at least semi-regularly again. 👋 But, during lockdown I pretty much went fully vegan, and I now find it a bit of a challenge to conveniently locate good vegan food in Sthlm. Most of the time I do find the (low-lactose) vegetarian options sort of acceptable; but please drop me a line with any restaurant recommendations that you might have. :)
Tomorrow is the day that Steve Jobs passed away; and I see a lot of people getting in on the "trend" of talking about how he touched their lives. My story isn't that great, I got exactly just one e-mail from him. As a young entrepreneur I had e-mailed him at one of his addresses that hadn't quite become common knowledge yet, and his reply just said that he wanted to know more about the project I was working on. But… being a very inexperienced entrepreneur I was still in that phase where I thought it was important to not in any way talk about your idea. That even just the basic idea itself had to be vigorously defended with NDAs. So, my second e-mail didn't impress him as much, I think. In any case I didn't hear from him again. And that's my "Steve Jobs was interested in my work"-claim to fame. 😄
Deleted my LinkedIn profile. I've never liked LinkedIn, I've never taken LinkedIn seriously; and I absolutely abhor how putting on a pretty façade about your past at LinkedIn somewhow seems more important than what you're doing next in your life. (Perhaps I'll come crawling back when I miss not being able to look people up. But for now I'll try a more forward facing approach to work; and life in general.)
As I'm talking with people about my project I'm trying out a great number of different approaches, to try to find what makes it the easiest to understand for most people. So I thought it fun to over time perhaps share a few more of these old and new approaches; like this one (which is an unfinished one not shared before): Let's say that you're a local startup mentor/investor keeping track of a great number of local businesses. Every day you (ideally) spend a couple of hours looking at some of these businesses' websites to stay on top of how they perform as far as updating web stores, blog posts, and so on. To speed up this process you could take your list of web addresses and go to an app developer that make you a unique social network-like app in which you see all these website/-shop updates, in a similar way as you would see posts on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Your own app to give you a quicker way to review all updates, as well as being able to set up notifications for some of the updates. However, you could not have an app developer build you that app without giving him your list of web addresses. That is because there's no way to in code do things like: 'from("example.com").get("blog")'. Extracting information from a website, especially when there's no room for error (such as when looking up a phone number, opening hours, or physical address), actually is impossibly hard to do without a manual, hands-on, process for each and every website. When we casually surf the web our brains are automatically doing a lot very complex pattern and context analysis for us to understand what we're looking at; and computers don't even come close to being able to do the same. (AI/ML etc is nowhere near being able to provide a general solution to this problem.) This means that for you to get that unique app, allowing you to stay on top of all the businesses' updates, your app developer would have to manually check the code within each and every business' website, and then write his own unique code for how to extract the data to process and make it available to you. This hard technical limitation is very integral to how the internet has evolved. The example of an investor with a list of websites is highly specific, and a bit forced, but we have a parallel in how most of us today "follow" businesses in our social media apps. So in a very generalized sense we are all that investor in how we want to keep track of the updates from some sources; and this inherent technical limitation is what's forcing us to do that through these third party social network's manipulated feeds. An example from my own life would be that as I try to keep a vegan diet I want to be updated about changes to the vegan menus at especially my local restaurants. For this to happen today the restaurants would have to not only update their menus, but also post about that on social media, where I would have to follow them (even though most of their updates would be about their non-vegan food), and where I would have to be a bit lucky to actually get that specific update relevant to me (as the so called reach of a business' social media posts' often can be as low as 10% of their followers). That's just not practical, especially not with all the noise/information overflow if I were to follow any and all businesses just to get a few rare relevant posts. Without this technical limitation I could by now instead simply have told my digital assistant (such as Siri or Alexa) something like "let me know when this website changes their vegan menu". Not only that, but I could also have used different types of qualifiers; such as me only wanting those updates when I'm geographically within a certain distance, or at specific times during the day. All in all allowing me to get a summary "vegan update" from lots of restaurants as I enter different areas/cities/countries. Personally I would probably primarily use this to simplify sticking to a diet, but it could also be about craft beers, sales of favorite brands, police updates, traffic reports, bird watching communities, friends' blogs, influencer updates, travel shows; or anything else. But, there's this underlying technical limitation that's keeping us from having apps/Siri-functionality like this. And that's what I'm working on changing.
Dear salespeople and recruiters: No, just no! But, let's play a game: Guess what I value my daily rate at and transfer your contact details with 10% of that amount (through Revolut ↑), and I'll give you up to an hour of my time in a video call; as long as you don't lowball. 😁
Let’s address some feedback I got from that earlier post about my project… First of all, that last thing about me “thinking” that I’ve got something good going on is a case of “Nordic humility”. The project came out of about a decade’s worth of fundamental research; and is absolutely solid, both technically and feasibility of implementation strategies. A short recap of an important core-part of the tech: It makes it possible for computers to live work with multi-source information in ways that today either aren’t possible, or not practical (as in it not passing any reasonable cost-benefit analysis). And the questions I got were primarily about (1) how an implementation might look from a user perspective, and (2) what a business case might be. I’ll get to both by expanding on my previous example of digital information kiosks/signs. From a consumer perspective this tech could be used in information kiosks/signs (such as at malls, transportation hubs, hypermarkets, museums, and so on), resulting in much “smarter” content/results; fundamentally due to such signs with this tech more easily can work with live information from hundreds of sources, straight from the authoritative sources themselves. (No stale data, and no third-party services manipulating the results to promote ads or “sponsored” content.) Simply put: The signs have lots and lots of more data to work with; and it’s always the most up-to-date data. Long-term this means that a user could not only look at/use such information kiosks, but also simply could touch their phones to a small information point (or just scan a QR-code) to have all this information (and live-searchability) available in digital assistants such as Siri and Alexa. So with your phone touching/scanning something by the entrance to a mall it can start answering any question you might have about stores and products, and even rearrange a digital shopping list based on what stores have what. Short-term almost the same would be possible, but instead of a deep system-wide integration it would simply open a webpage/PWA, via which the same things could be possible (and such a webpage could of course optionally launch a more specialised native app, if the user already has one installed). So a consumer perspective is that you could contactlessly scan your phone somewhere, and get this one-page smart search/guide to a huge collection of relevant information; which might be anything at a mall, an airport, a branded neighbourhood, a city, a nature reserve, or anything else. And a simple business case, that would of course be to be able to provide such solutions; with the HUGE unique competitive advantage of being able to quicker and cheaper build more advanced solutions than what’s available today. In a more “traditional” current-day type of way I could also essentially add a layer on top of this tech to provide a client with a simple unified API to what is hundreds of otherwise differently formated sources of information. Practically nearly eliminating the costly need for backend developers in many startups/projects. Getting some projects market-ready in weeks rather than perhaps more than a year. And… I would call that the tip of the iceberg of possibilities.
Today I got my EU Digital COVID Certificate (2/2 vaccinated; Comirnaty/Pfizer–BioNTech).
A short intro/teaser to what my main project is all about… My project is technically fairly simple, but conceptually it can be a bit of a brain-twister; which is due to it solving a technical limitation that feels like it shouldn't even be able to exist in a world where we know that all data is constantly tracked, collected, processed, and so on. The easiest way to explain it is to start with a simplified problem: Imagine wanting to call your local customer service at the H&M clothing company. If you know that their domain name is "hm.com" you can go to their website, where you without too much trouble will find their contact information. So how come that you can't just type "hm.com" into your voice calling-app, and have it automatically grab the correct phone number from the hm.com website? Well, that's actually a super hard problem (for a computer). Our brains are awesome at completely automatically analyzing patterns and context; and without that computers can't easily traverse the web to cherry-pick the information that we need. And the implications of that are HUGE. Just think about how we today are using "@businessname" to follow businesses through third-party social networks, and imagine what would happen if we instead could follow any information from a business directly from their website (i.e. "example.com"). There would be no third-party manipulating what we get, and we as information-consumers get to choose ourselves if we want to follow their blog, their photos, their offers, their supply/webstore, and so on, or perhaps only their opening hours. Much greater information efficiency becomes possible, when/if we want it. So practically there has been a very real, and very hard, technical limitation that has kept us from getting social media-like apps that allow us to "follow" any source, rather than just the posts put into, and filtered through, third party, commercial, social networks. And it's the same with information kiosks/signs; they simply can't live access all relevant sources of information. For instance, such a sign at a big mall cannot be a thin and easily implemented layer that answer questions with live data from all the individual stores' own websites. So they can't show the customers a compilation of all the stores having exactly the products they are looking for. The information just isn't easily available like that; even though it manually is, to a human. I'm fixing things like that. And, no, I'm not using AI. It's a new approach, naturally completely open and decentralized; and based on technology simple enough that it could have been part of the web when it launched three decades ago. Sometimes it just takes the right perspective, the right idea, at the right time, to create some magic; and that's what I think I've got going on here.
The world isn't quite at post-COVID yet, but as we're somewhat approaching some sort of return to normality I'll be updating this website. In the meantime… As usual I'm available to consult within the areas of technology strategy and business devevelopment; especially supporting startups and SMEs as a tech expert. I'm also starting to look at returning to some international work again, but right now that's kept "by request". (Due to recent developments in Hong Kong I will not be returning there, nor to China; which also includes stopovers. Taiwan is ok for now.) Also, I'm looking at putting together some simple to use tech. products/packages helping small B&M businesses do some COVID-adaptations to how they work. (Currently getting feedback from local businesses; and if anything comes from that it'll be announced here.)
Sometimes you forget important details when 3D-printing; and have to apply a bit of brute force. 😆
3D-printed cased, brutally modified with drill.
This is of course why we always do about a gazillion trial runs; because there's always something that has to be adjusted as a design goes from concept to production.
The river Fyris at night Winter darkness, pandemic, and work 7 days/week; and in the middle of it all, suddenly there's this beauty. I needed that. :) Also, this time of year marks where we start getting longer days again. Right now the sun sets about 6 hours after sunrise, with the weather most days being just a grey uni-cloud; but 6 months from now there will be 18 hours between sunrise and sunset.
Verifying the quality of the 3D-printer, that we'll be using to print the "cases" for the hardware I'm designing for a project. (Currently using stock RPI0, as can be seen in the second picture.)
3D printed case
Tiny computers, high resolution display, 3D printed case
The river Fyris
📍(🦠🔐): Uppsala (🇸🇪)