Virtuous cycle

Bartlomiej Owczarek weblog

You are currently browsing the Virtuous cycle weblog archives for tag 'poland'.

Return to 'Virtuous cycle' home page

Witcher for consoles on hold, Widescreen Games and CDP blame each other

I was very sad to hear that CD Project RED put their Witcher console version on hold.

Original PC Witcher game was a resounding success and the console port had a chance to steer the project into a much wider market.

CDP release cites quality as a reason behind the decision, meaning specifically that a French contractor they hired for the job, Widescreen Games, didn’t deliver neither on time nor appopriate quality.

WSG in press release defends their “propriety technology” and blames CDP for missing payments.

There is an interview with CDP founder at Polygamia (Polish), in which he explains in detail quality issues with WSG and asserts payment delay were only linked to WSG missing the milestones, with last payment not to be made since the milestone was not completed and the contract canceled:

We put an enormous effort to make sure the production goes the right way, and still the plans were becoming invalid, and there were new delays? After a few such incidents, we sent a large team over to Lyon. The group consisted not only of people involved in the project, but also of technology managers from RED and Metropolis. They spent one whole week to examine thoroughly the whole project and its technology.

As a result, we found out that WSG’s promises had no grounds in reality and that the game’s premiere date and quality cannot be guaranteed. So, after a long discussion, we decided to suspend the cooperation with WSG, because we understood there is too much risk in it. And actually we haven’t paid for the last milestone, but only because it wasn’t complete and we have already started the termination of the contract.

Michal claims that redundancies and savings at CDP, though they are unpopular and generate lots of gossip, will allow the company to continue its key projects.

In any case, the situation is pretty sad. The only good news is that CDP claims that their current flagship project, kept in secret but assumed to be Witcher 2, is on track.

Smava launches as the first international P2P lender in Poland

Smava, a German social lending site, announced its official launch in Poland today.

Social lending (or p2p lending), for those unfamiliar with the concept, involves people lending money among themselves with intermediation of an Internet portal like smava.

In Poland three such sites operate already, and all of them started activity last year. I wrote about them after bootstrap meeting, roughly at the time when all three were launching, and then I organized a research between Accenture and Gemius to have some insight into how the Polish Internet users like this idea.

There is no doubt that P2P lenders like the Polish market, though, since very few countries have four players, like we now have after Smava opened.

How Smava wants to differentiate itself? I noted the following:

  • Conservative risk policy. They seem to have rather strict loan granting procedures. Scoring model was developed (and will be maintained) by BIK, the credit office. Documents and employment information are verified
  • Automatic and free of charge (from what I understood, updated: free of upfront fee) collections procedure. Other sites also claim to have collections, but perhaps it does not work as well as advertised
  • Anonymity. The parties don’t need to know each other unless collection procedures need to be launched. This would make me feel better as investor. Other players were missing this one when we compared them mid last year
  • Quantification of expected risk for the investor. Meaning one can see expected cost of risk based on borrower’s risk rating. This functionality was highly emphasized though I cannot verify how better it is that competition

Other features of the service seem in line with the market. Smava’s vice president Arek Hajduk told me, though, that the platform Germans have is 2-3 times more complex that the ones he had seen before. Arek is a P2P veteran who was launching social lending startups in Denmark (Fairrates) and in Canada (IOU).

Smava’s target group are “good” banking customers. People with poor risk profiles will be rejected and not allowed to use the site.

Down payment for mortgage was quoted as one interesting market niche, and recent experience that my mother had seems to confirm that this is an opportunity. Even if loan term of only 36 months might make the installments quite high. Banks started to demand down payment recently, and people often end up missing 10-20k euros to close their deal.

Business model is based on the fees. Borrower pays 1% of loan amount after loan is granted, investors do not have to pay. There was some discussion at the conference if the fees are not too low to built a sustainable business. Nevertheless, Smava wants to reach break-even point within three years.

What are Smava’s chances on the market?

Hard for me to say since I don’t follow it very closely. Everyone at the conference was taking shots at Monetto, the site which a year ago was boasting to have the most secure platform. They launched late, apparently raised the expectations too high, and failed to deliver. Perhaps Smava can take their place as the “high end” P2P player. Finansowo, on the other hand, is a rather different niche, more “social” than “lending”. That leaves us with Kokos, the third player. I don’t know how well they are doing.

Smava says that financial crisis didn’t reduce the loan volume in Germany, in fact it actually increased, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

Works on smava started in March 2008, and took about 6 full time programmers to finalize. Makes me a little bit uneasy about my 3-months, 1-non-programmer startup, but hey, they probably didn’t work seven days a week.

I wish Smava best. I would consider them for the time when I will have burnt all the money for startuping, but probably their advanced risk procedures would not let me in (if they are any good).

Banks collapsing, dominos falling ever closer to Poland

In Russia when they were explaining to me why people didn’t trust banks so much (topic was triggered by the low volumes of deposits in commercial privately owned banks) they said: “there’s been a banking crisis every two years, what would you expect. People are afraid that the bank can come down and take their savings with it”.

(fot. rosendahl@flickr)

I kind of took it in as a valid explanation but never fully internalized the notion – in Poland, when selecting a bank, hardly anyone actually considers whether it’s gonna go bankrupt or not. You never hear banks falling in Poland, except for some obscure “pocket banks” in the distant past of the early days of the market economy.

Even with the lest prestigious and smallest banks, trust used not to be really the major decision factor.

Maybe that is going to change soon. Just in (gazeta.pl):

Investors wondered who would be the next candidates for bankruptcy. Commerzbank, owner of the Polish BRE Group, fell almost 23 percent on the Frankfurt stock exchange. Trading of UniCredit (strategic shareholder of Pekao) was suspended altogether on the Milan stock exchange, after they fell 9%.

In December 2007 I quoted this passage I found in FT:

(…) two giant and interlinked bubbles burst simultaneously – one in property, one in credit – leaving banks and investors on the brink of bankruptcy, some hanging on by their fingertips

That was before the balls started to drop, and the mood was cautiously optimistic then.

It sure feels like something similar with regards to banking situation in Poland right now. Things are falling apart abroad, but at home everything is supposed to be in order, except for the performance of investment funds, which keep looking for the bottom – but this is generally accepted as an isolated and contained phenomenon.

Looking into the future of Polish financial sector in the next 6 to 12 months, maybe it’s time now to calculate in some turbulence.

Back from Google Day 2008 [Poland]

I came back from Google Day 2008, organized for the second time in Poland by Google.

The scale of the event was quite impressive, even though there were some organizational deficiencies (like, everything was running late).

Just before event the started, the light-spirited Google’s logos beamed on huge screens accompanied by pompous music, reminding of the strength and confidence of today’s corporation, made peculiar impression on me (like that of seeing a child suddenly grown into a giant but still looking like a child only a very big one).

Anyway setting was nice.

But the content I saw was rather uninspiring. At least from my perspective. Maybe the idea of the event was more community/brand building, than showcasing something truly new.

First there was a video message from Cerf who told us that innovation is important, then Mario Queiroz (Google Labs) presentation from which I remember only that Google will keep on innovating if only for the reason that Internet is growing larger and that there are still some difficult problems in search, like understanding context of the query. And reminder what is the strategic idea of Chrome, for those who missed it.

Then I endured one session structured around screenshots from Google Trends and went back to do some real work today.

Still I think Google didn’t need to satisfy itself with such boilerplate content – certainly there is no lack of opportunities to say something new. Say, display Android phones (instead there were labs of… Google Maps and Youtube). Or provide insight into details of cooperation terms for startup mashups (ok, this is self-interest).

Maybe I missed some good stuff in the other workshop sessions, but judging from the agenda, I do not think so.

The best thing to do was probably networking, but for this purpose I was poorly prepared due to lack of business cards (note to myself: need business cards). But one person turned out so relevant to my current work that meeting her just like that seemed an amazing luck (and a justification for the time spent).

Google News comes to Poland, go28days goes global

I neglected to post lately because of my ongoing adventure with Rails (apparently rails 2.0 made the book I have next to obsolete, doesn’t make life easier). Nevertheless there were some interesting things last week:

First – Google News finally launched Polish site. I use the global version all the time (parallel to Techmeme for geek news) and I’m curious if it will change the landscape here in Poland. My feeling was that we have still quite a limited set of web news sources for GN to make serious impact – even though some very rich sources have such a crappy web presence (I mean rzeczpospolita), that having GN figuring their updates instead of us might increase the readership significantly.

Second – go28days opened an English version of their site and even got covered by techcrunch.

I would love to see more companies go global. Given how few of them do, go28days might deserve more praise than they got (was there actually a Polish company covered by techcrunch before…?)

Tomorrow, actually today, Google Day 2008 (if I manage not to oversleep it).

I’m going to try Rails on EC2

I’m not exactly in a stage of getting into technical details, but I already kind of decided that I will switch to Ruby on Rails for development of the current project.

Reasons: learning rails would probably be no harder than staying with PHP and learning framework like Zend, which is where I stopped last time.

And RoR promises much improvement with time-to-market.

Having sort of decision on rails, I wanted to have an initial idea of available hosting options, also for the needs of a “back of an envelope” business case.

I’m very happy with my current provider, progreso, but sadly they don’t support rails on shared servers, yet. If I wanted to host with them, I would have to buy a dedicated server anyway.

But as far as dedicated servers are concerned, Amazon’s EC2 looks much more attractive (at least at a first glance).

As for pricing, basic virtual servers are cheaper than in case of progreso (like, $70 a month excluding bandwidth and additional storage).

Additionally, path to hosting Rails applications on EC2 seems already well-beaten. For example here: Deploy a Ruby on Rails app on EC2 in five minutes. There are even Polish startups (shoptrix) who chose this solution.

And of course the most advertised benefit of using EC2 is the ability to increase capacity on pay-as-you-go basis, by easily launching new virtual servers when necessary.

City shops my data around as if there was no tomorrow

About a week ago I made the first step to formally become an entrepreneur – I went to the municipal authority of Warsaw (my district, actually) and applied for registration.

This was the first and only place that got the tip of this development, but I already received an unsolicited (but personalized with the data I gave to the office) offer from ING SME banking, and another from an accounting office.

Authority apparently has quite a liberal policy of sharing official information.

One conference to present them all [CEE markets]

Gemius is preparing for this year’s Internet CEE conference. It will take place in October.

(picture above of work on a promotional clip for the conference)

I did not participate in the last year’s event personally, so I cannot say anything about networking opportunities during the conference.

But I browsed the materials, and found them really interesting. Presentations from every nearby country, lots of data. I could get an overview of the whole region (from the point of view of web activities) based on this one conference.

Report: social lending in Poland

Report from our research on social lending in Poland is now publicly available.

You can download it from Gemius webpage:

English version of the report

Polish version of the report

The research was an idea I had after February Bootstrap meeting devoted to social lending. Initially I thought of writing a simple article, but then decided that it would be cool to have some original primary data. So I asked Gemius (leading Internet research agency in Poland) to participate, and then involved Accenture as well.

Below a couple of comments and slides from the report. (read more…)

Now Provident accuses social lending sites of unfair competition

See article in Gazeta Prawna. Provident, provider of home-delivered and rather pricey cash loans, accuses Monetto, a social lending startup, of unfair comparison of interest rates on its loans.

If Provident’s goal was to give social lending additional publicity, then it greatly succeeded. Average reader will remember from the article that you can get cheap loans on the Internet and that Provident is expensive and therefore afraid of social lending sites.

Fortunately for Provident, Gazeta Prawna is probably read by a tiny percentage of their target customer base.

Kokos will cooperate with Allegro

Kokos, one of the social lending sites in Poland, announced that it started cooperation with Allegro, the dominant online auction player (through antyweb).

According to the research that we did (Accenture and Gemius), this is a rather promising idea for Kokos – Allegro is the top site that potential borrowers actively use (i.e. visit at least once a week):

(there is similar data for potential investors, among which Nasza Klasa has better penetration)

The full report will be public shortly, also in an English version.

Orange to bring iPhone to Poland?

See here:

PARIS (Thomson Financial) – France Telecom’s Orange is “in discussions” with
Apple Inc. to sell the iPhone outside France, where it has distributed it since
November.

CFO Gervais Pellissier said the company is in talks with Apple on the
subject, in particular with regard to Spain and Poland “among others”.

Let’s hope so, I don’t like the idea to buy a hacked phone.

But meanwhile, I’m busy enough not to have time for anything. Hence no posting. I even worked on May long weekend, can you believe it.

The only exception is playing with my new mac. I’m typing on it right now. Hopefully I will have time to post about first impressions & issues.

Search in CEE: Google is an underdog in some countries

Antyweb quoted the Next web article about search in Russia. What’s interesting in Russian search? It is not dominated by Google:

Most European search markets are dominated by Google and there seem to be no real local competitors. In Russia however, a fierce battle for the search query’s of the consumers is going on. Yakov Sadchikov from Quintura even mailed me that “the Russian search engines are coming.”

Reasons? Commenters point at different character set and language peculiarities (for example different grammatical cases).

Thanks to friends at Gemius I had an opportunity to read some interesting stuff about Internet markets in other CEE countries.. and Russian case is not the only one, even though in most countries Google rules the market.

In Czech Republic, for example, Seznam.cz has approximately 60% share in search. But, Google search is gaining share there.

“Other” search engines have also significant share in Ukraine, Slovenia and Estonia.

In Poland, on the other hand, Google has 90% of the market, grammatical cases notwithstanding.

Poland in El Reg, again, thanks to Kaczynski

After trams abusing teenager from Lodz, now Kaczynski made it to theregister with his opinion against conducting polls on the Internet:

I am not an enthusiast of a young person sitting in front of a computer, watching video clips and pornography while sipping a bottle of beer and voting when he feels like it (Reuters)

Some UK commenters actually appreciated depth of his thinking:

This is the first time I’ve ever heard a politician who seems to “get” the internet!

Regardless of his politics he seems to understand the internet a million times better then our “masshup/wiki/blogging/youtubing” obsessed bullpoop artists known as MPS.

…unlike most of Internet users in Poland, as Register observes:
The news will no doubt infuriate the country’s netizens, should they actually notice it through their booze and porn-addled haze.

Monetto partners with Nasza Klasa, should they go with Goldenline instead?

More recent post: Nasza klasa and facebook

Monetto was kind enough to send me their press release, announcing partnership that they concluded with Nasza Klasa (Polish equivalent of classmates, but more of a Facebook phenomenon in terms of popularity).

Not that I could do anything with the material while in the Ukraine, but still a point for their PR.

One curious thing is the homepage screen shot they attached to the press release.

20082008 Monetto homepage.jpg

Some static elements are evidently in a “draft” state at the moment, and it’s not clear if the core functionality (transactions) has the same status. Placeholder for press snippets shows that Monetto has really high hopes. Folks at bankier should take note.

20080205 Monetto napisaonas.gif

Back to the main point. From the press I understood that:

  • Monetto signed letter of intention with Nasza Klasa regarding the partnership, which will work as the following (in my understanding) –
  • Users of Nasza Klasa will be able to “confirm” their profile using Monetto capabilities (more info on blog entry: “test” money transfer and sending ID scans by email)
  • Additionally, NK user will be able to indicate on his profile that he wants lend/borrow money
  • Nasza Klasa hopes that it will improve credibility of the service (validation of profiles) and reduce problem of fake profiles
  • Monetto hopes that users redirected from Nasza Klasa will in part get interested in P2P lending and use its intermediation
  • The actual contract between two sites has not been signed yet

Meanwhile the release was picked by Gazeta Wyborcza, which reprinted it, without hesitating to spin the point about raising Nasza Klasa credibility to describe it as a site which “more and more often raises mixed feelings”. Get over it, Gazeta.

But in the end they comment that the deal has a high potential for both sites and can harm competitors a lot and especially kokos.pl.

My first thoughts on the deal below.

(read more…)

Next Page »