The starting history of SportID. How this service came to life.

I have a task by my mentor Dima and the task is as follows:

Please write a DETAILED history of how SportID was founded and created. How did the idea came about (by whom), what were the emotions at the time, feelings, what was the initial trigger, what were your feelings at the time. Then tell the reader how it evolved from there, the key pivotal moments, and feelings along the way. 

Please try to make as detailed account as possible touching on all aspects of the creation. From the meetings you had, the things you actually said or remember saying, to pitching events – the history of the company creation in as much detail as possible. 

The history of SportID

This is not the first time I have to tell this story and I am used to tell it in a certain ways. The thing is that people tend to forget the details as time goes by and they polish the part of the story that they are telling all over again. This means more often than not, that the actual story starts changing a bit and people who were involved remember it differently. I am quite certain that this can go to an extreme so that participants of the same events can remember things totally differently as years and decades go by. This is the reason why we always have to consider that we will never ever know the real truth about all written history.

That being said, I can start with things how I remember them happening. It must have been the seminar of Estonian Company Sport Federation in 2011. Maybe in early 2012. Our aim of making the seminar was to get participants to Estonian Company Sports Games. So we organized a sports seminar for Estonian companies to help them being active and to help us to attract participants. It was not the first one. We had done similar events before. We discussed nutrition, about sports clothing, about training, about recovery. I remember quite some of these presentations that were held by really good presenters. Most of my knowledge about sport’s clothing came from this event where Simmo Kikkas who represented Craft in Estonia told about different layers of clothes. Ott Kiivikas held a wonderful presentation about how to eat reasonably etc. Really compelling stuff.

One of the certain things were that those seminars were organized in one of the companies that was the regular participant in our games. They had a chance to present their story and their activities and we could save money by not paying for the seminarroom.

For that specific event we invited a representative from Finnish Olympic Committee to talk about Company Sport in Finland. Mareena Huuska was a lady who came and gave a lecture on how they organize things in Finland. From what I remember it was not definitely so much better than what we did but it was certainly different. One thing I remember that they were doing was a big relay-race around a park in central Helsinki. Company teams were taking part and it was promoted as a really fun event. Companies having picnic, some people running. Fun and games all the way.

Another thing promoted was that the organization was maintaining the wellness budgets of the member companies. It was not that sophisticated at all from what I remember. At that point they collected the invoices from clubs and divided those among companies. Around 10 accountants were working and they only worked with bigger companies. 1000 employees was the minimum. From that time the system has developed a lot smarter but that was how it worked on 2011.

After all the presentations we had a seminar of brainstorming. Everyone could say out loud what they were thinking that they could improve or that Estonian Company Sport Federation could improve. From previous times it was a lot like people saying that now I have huge motivation to change things in my company and I will turn things upside down and inside out and we are going to be the most hugely active company in the world. This time a lot of them were saying that they need a service like it is in Finland.

I started thinking. I asked from couple of participants if they would actually be using the service if we started one and they said definite yes. My background from the university times was that I happened to do some php programming + some web pages to earn some money. I did pretty shitty job, comparing to today’s standards but I definitely got some experience how software could work for you. So I thought that we actually do not need 10 accountants but a web service.

The thing was, that I had not written code for 7 years and I had never written a line of good code in my life. Luckily I understood that, even though I hugely underestimated the work that needs to be done. So I decided to talk to my old classmate and friend Kaarel Sikk who is a really good and talented back-end programmer and generally very-very intelligent person and understands how things in life work.

I tried to talk him into another concept back in 2002, when I programmed myself as well. What I had in mind was basically a concept of something like Facebook is today. I am quite sure that at the time maybe 1000 more guys all over the world had the idea. I had programmed something like this for my own childhood friends. We could share photos and posts among each other, we had our own profiles etc. Our own limited version of Facebook for 15 people back in 2002. So I had an idea, that this could be global and that one person could belong indeed into several this kind of subgroups like our’s.

Kaarel was then kind of interested in the project but he was more adequate than me on evaluating the amount of work that needed to be done and said that “let’s look and see and maybe one day do the project”. That day never came. But then I called him to visit me again and presented another idea 10 years later – SportID. I already had the name and it took some mind-work as well, since I imagined that this could be like a personal sports profile + wallet for every person. He kind of liked the idea and this time I had also some money to pay him, unlike the last time when I just had an idea.

Anyway, we agreed that he will work on the code, which was a bit larger WP plugin at that time (which was later totally rewamped in 2014).

SportID launched in 1. august 2012

Another huge part of the start was convincing fitness service providers to join in. I visited I don’t know how many of them to hear that they can sign their own contracts with companies and do not need our service. They did not need us and for sure they were not willing to pay a cent to us. Fortunately for us, there was Indrek Raig from Estonian Postal service who told that he is so much interested in the service to run that I can talk in the name of their company. That seemed like a genius idea and it worked. I asked from the other interested companies their permission and I got it. So now I did not represent a company SportID, but Estonian Postal Service and Airport of Tallinn and Elisa and Nordea Bank. With this permission, the doors started to open from the clubs side. We got the actual contracts with them. Things started to look much better. I was even so thankful to Indrek, that I gave him later some small shares in the company without him ever asking for these and have forgotten and forgiven all the shit that he has done after that. 🙂

Anyway, 1. August 2012 we were ready to open the doors for our first customers and launched an actual service for them. I considered that the hard work was done by then, but I guess I was wrong. But that is a set of at least dozen other stories.

Why are we doing SportID?

Being mentored means questioning and thinking about a lot of things, I do not usually think about every day. For instance, the question of why we are doing what we are doing? What is the main driving factor of SportID that we all should feel inside of us.

I can think of several reasons of how employee activity is useful for them and for their employers, but the idea of this search is to look deeper than the product itself. The product cannot be a root cause or a driving factor of why we are doing what we are doing. It can only be means for achievement.

If I start peeling of layer after layer I have come to the conclusion that the reason must be to feel joy and fun in life. To enjoy life would be a really nice driving factor and to me, it seems that this might be the main reason for human life as such.

The meaning of life?

A lot of philosophers have been searching for the meaning and I must be honest, I am not very familiar with none of their works. But I am confident, that everyone sees it somewhat differently. I believe for what I have read from some place that for instance Socrates’ meaning was to acquire wisdom as much a possible.

Having said that, wanted to control if I was right and found an answer from Quora which states that I am somewhat right. The article states that: “Thus, for him, life is meaningless if he cannot continue to seek knowledge.“

But maybe I am even more right, since the answer states: “Socrates, according to the Platonic dialogues, believes that in life we should seek eudaimonia as our ultimate end. This refers to a state of well-being, a healthy spirit, or a type of happiness. “

OK, since two great thinkers, me and Sokrates, 🙂 have reached almost the same conclusion independently from each other, let’s come back to joy of life as the main driving factor of everything. Ideally, we would like to enjoy the things we are doing in our personal and professional life. We are even willing to do the hard things and enjoy them as well. Since we a capable of feeling the satisfaction of achievement and can see how personal development helps us to new levels. Even learning new things can be pleasurable experience in the end. Forcing the formation of new circuits in our brains is the most challenging and exhausting for the brain itself and consumes a lot of energy, so it is hard to enjoy it, instead it would be only natural to avoid it. I feel that this “hard learning” is different from curiosity, which is our need to get new knowledge and keep our brains working.

Yes, we can enjoy hard things in our life

Yes, we can enjoy hard work and learning because we can see the meaning. What is the difference in the feelings of the horse that has just plowed a huge field and a farmer behind the horse? A horse is happy because it is over, the man is happy because it is done and he knows why.

So, we can enjoy the work that we are doing if it provides some meaning for us and we know why we are doing it. Yet, human body, which is the only instrument that we have to use to continue the pursuit of our goals and happiness,  is not a machine that’s parts can be changed easily when something breaks down. We need constant maintenance and moving our bodies keeps our blood moving in all parts of the body, providing everything necessary starting from oxygen and fuels to our cells, so we could think and do things efficiently.

Holding steady poses (sitting behind the desk) or repeating the same movement cycles all over again (working with a machinery) does not provide the means for the body to keep good flow of supplements to the cells. Some parts work too much, some parts too little. Add a few extra kilos that we gain by not spending the consumed energy and things will become gradually even worse. If we start having pains in some parts of our body, we start worrying, we will lose focus from what we should be focusing on. We lose the joy from our life.

If we gain extra weight, we start to hate the shape of ourselves in the mirror. We start feeling that just moving our body from point A, where we are, to point B, the place we want to or need to go, starts getting annoyingly heavy. Again, we lose a big part of the joy in our life because of needless worry and dissatisfaction.

We help to keep happy

So how can SportID prevent people from this worry and lose of focus? How can we help to return to the joy of life or not lose it at all? We just need to spread the word why people should keep moving, why they should be active throughout the day and maintain their hearts and blood in good condition. This helps them to be happy in their life. This helps them to push their limits further and not give up or lose focus, which afterwards brings them more satisfaction and joy in their lives. We help the people and their employers by educating them and by providing different worthy tools so they would not lose their joy of life due to unhealthy living habits and could focus and achieve on the things that make them happy.

The cost of the employee turnover

All companies need to earn more than they spend to be successful long term. We are doing better and better each year, still we were burning some more, again.

We have been discussing the issues with the team, with investors and with my mentors. Of course one of the obvious things is that we need to earn more by acquiring more customers in Estonia and abroad and also by updating our product line to get more money from customers.

So far one of the main issues of SportID, why we are not yet profitable is the fact that we need to man our growth – meaning the more our system grows the more manpower we need. So that the costs are always ahead of the revenues. When we look that the sales number has grown remarkably then the margin is a small one, but still this needs to be reversed.

One of the problems in the last year was employee turnover. We lost no more and no less than 9 employees within 1 year. Let’s remind of how it went: Kaire, Kärt, Taavi, Artur, Mihkel, Eve, Ieva, Kristjan, Kristel. There are 11 names who are in our team now that were there also before 2018 and here I am counting in also our supporting powers like Ilme, Keijo and Sander.

There were 14 newcomers to the team 2018 and 2 of those were also among the leavers, so currently we have 12 employees who have been around for less than 1 year or so.

Recruitment is a pretty normal thing in rapidly growing companies. And like I mentioned before, we need the people to grow and we still need more. Also, it is quite normal that people leave from time to time for a new job. After all, slavery was lost in the southern part of Estonia in Livonia in 1819 – so 200 years ago.

Why is it expensive if employees leave company? There are several costs attached: recruitment costs of searching new employees and hiring them, the company loses productivity, loss of morale for the people who are staying, training and onboarding costs and the loss of knowledge and development speed within the organisation.

What is the normal rate of employee turnover? According to this article, the average turnover per month is 3,6%, which equals 43,2% on a yearly basis. The average number seems to be high and gives only 28 months of lifespan for an average employee in a company. But if we are looking what happened to SportID due to various circumstances, we see that we are even above the average of this. Turnover of 9/18 is 50% (18 being the number that started the year 2018).

Should we be a bit better and aim the average? I think not. If we believe that we are the cool employer on the marke and the place where people would want to work we should aim to keep this rate much lower than that. Maybe even 2-3 times lower than the average number.

There is an equation on that blog post that also calculates what is the cost of such a turnover for the companies. In our case, we can calculate it to be around 65 000€ and we know that some of our employees have added really a lot more to this number due to the fact that their leave was not the ordinary one and has several other costs attached. Most probably the total annual loss exceeds 100 000€ in our case. We could build a whole new mobile app with this money! Even if we would invest only a third of it to teambuilding we could still benefit a lot and also enjoy a much better environment at work.

So the aim for this year should be to create an environment where our people want to stay with us and bring new good hires on board as well. Everyone who thinks that they know the answer how to make things better, feel free to let me know about your ideas.

Going out to bowling and a dinner together with our team cost us roughly 300€ for the evening but was lot of fun for everyone.

These rough calculations might make us think that things are really bad. But there is a ray of sunlight showing itself between the clouds. Starting from August up to today things are looking so much better. Within the last 6 months, this turnover has been 0 and we can all feel how this benefits the whole company. So let’s continue this way and make 2019 a lot better than previous one.

PS Proofreading of the post, I got an ideal response, asking would I prefer having a hole or an asshole in the team. Sure that the first option is preferable.  This post and the resolution of it, does not count the asshole factor at all and describes a situation where all employees would be ideal at their positions and the company would not want to lose any of them. In the real world this is not always the case.

The story of SportID training diary. What? Why? The future?

Several times I have heard a question why we want to implement a training diary to our system at all? From our own team, from investors, from users.

Training diary is most probably the weirdest feature of all in SportID when we look at it. We adopted it in 2014 and it has not changed much since. Just a very simple web form. It does not generate any revenue for SportID. It is seldom used. In fact mostly only when we have campaigns some more people use the training diary. In the last Funderbeam report, one of the investors asked why the KPI is falling and I gave him a response that we have to chances, to actually improve the product or cancel measuring the KPI.

Since a lot of the team was not around when we created the diary, I will tell a bit about the background why this was made.

First of all, we have not very clearly agreed what is the main purpose of SportID. Maybe someone from the outside could say that the purpose of our organisation is that owners/investors would get more return from their investment or our employees could get payed for the job. Hopefully maybe the situation is not that bad but most probably the average person would talk something about companies paying sports compensations conveniently to their employees.

Intermission – Ando’s mention on Tuesday’s meeting about how all of our employees described the service differently. I would add that maybe that is not a disaster, since most probably all interested people were also asking from a different angle. For instance, one would answer differently when a person asks about what is SportID or another if the question is how SportID can be beneficial to our company.

Anyway, back to the purpose of the company, which is not written out on the wall. In several cases discussed, one of the most spread opinions is that SportID helps to make the users (therefore also our customers’ employees) more active. So paying a nice bonus for people to go to gym is a nice way of doing that but most probably we all agree that this is not and will never be the only way of getting people to be more active.

The reason for the diray

The aim of the diary, when created, was to have company-wide challenges so that colleagues would motivate each other. Peer pressure is definitely one of the good ways of getting people moving. To show the leaderboard of the company is a nifty feature but maybe could be more promoted and emphasized on the platform to start working like we intended. Of course we have to keep in mind that maybe it never will, despite our hardest efforts.

We have created some challenges on the diary throughout the history to get it going. Walk2Work on September’s is a good example (the current #hashtag solution unfortunately sucks). At some point, we pushed e-mail notifications to the users to advance the use of diary, but for some weird reason this stopped. Maybe the reason is that the whole transactional e-mail and newsletter system was a bit clumsy and under severe development process (we are not yet out of this). But I considered this as a good practice and in my heart I am sorry that we did not find any resources in pushing this further and correct the mistakes in those letters but instead pulled the plug.

The sample letter to all members of SportID group (Eesti Firmaspordi Liit MTÜ back then) on the 1st of March 2016.

Does the diary make us more active?

At this point we have seen that for our own employees the diary works if there is some sense put to this. Let’s say a small or not so small (Apple Watch) reward is tempting us to mark down what we have done. Does that work for other companies as well? What could be that reward in that case so would not have to buy it ourselves?

I see several possible ways of moving further with the diary and most surely they are not the only ways. One of those would be to continue with showing the top of the employees activity and push on with the rewards strategy.

TOP activity and rewards

Let’s imagine that there is a feature that allows our customers to set the challenge and reward. For example 1 month training points challenge. Whoever collects more training points within company group will get a reward. Let’s say a sports watch or a parking place in front of the front door for a whole month or whatever the customer-compnay is willing to hand out. The idea in implementing the activity and rewards strategy is that the SportID sports benefit is handed only to those who are active enough. A company can set a target, let’s say 8 pieces of training in a month and you will be in a compensation plan that gets 50€/month. Less than that and you will get only 25€. Could very well be a premium feature for SportID.

The TOP of SportID employees physical activity on 31st of January 2019

Company dashboard and general activity levels

This is quite a fierce filed of competition already where we see a lot of activity. Perfect example being Omron together with Japanese biggest telecom Docomo offering their healthcare platofrm

Also Withings corporate solutions or Fitbit corporate solution. If we would want to go there then for sure we are in a heavy competition situation with all trackers producers, but we might have a better solution – different manufacturers integrated. Why not? Or even tracking without tracker, which is a much cheaper option to start for companies, not that precise as a tool for measurement of course.

Fit100 app

We have made a training app together with Estonian Olympic Committee and Coop called Fit100. This is maybe not the best app ever and has brought lot of contradictory moods inside our company as well. What is it for? How does that app benefit our company or our software?

In my mind, when we agreed to develop this, was the idea that it’s fully integrated to our backend and we will develop all the features that we need for our own app in the future as well. Now it already contains several features that we planned at some point for our own app like following your friends and seeing their training feed and commenting it etc

But the reality is that the app does not fit well onto our platform and we need to keep in mind and do more development not to break it. These features used in Fit100 are not usable for our own future setup or at least this is said by Ando that there were so many compromises made by the previous developers for the sake of the speed of development that we lost all the point of why we even started with it.

The starting view of Fit100 app

The near future

In sTARTUp Day I met several companies who are interested in co-operation with this diary especially due to our corporate customer base. One of those is a startup company currently developing their MVP. The solution is planned to be a company dashboard of activity. The would want to get companies to give sports credits as a reward. The other one I met was a huge telecon corporation in Estonia. They have more B2C view to collect the training data of an individual into one place and they have an idea that people are willing to trust SportID as the service provider more than just a telecom company.

Then again Coop wants to meet and talk about the future of Fit 100 in next week. So really lots activities ahead and I am quite sure that I cannot be the only one in these discussions making the decisions. On Monday I discussed with Kestutis that most probably we would need some team that would “own” the training diary and Fit100 as products and would drive their future and development. So soon I will call for a #team_diary so that everyone who is interested in giving the input, drive this car and direct where things could go, can jump on board.

What is the benefit for SportID?

Yes, we like to be on a mission. Who does not? But where is the revenue in this? In some cases like Fit100 or possible co-operation with other companies it is still hard to say where the resources come from. So generally, there needs to be some revenue driver for us so we could be able to work on these issues.

When we started the project, the idea was that this driver is the fact that we will get a free marketing tool to companies that they can use to enhance employees’ activities and we would get them to onboard then start the upsell cycle. I am quite sure that marketing division would love this kind of tool if this is nicely made and actually interests people.

So let us continue the journey. I believe we need to set a good example to other companies with our own behaviour. So we will continue with internal training challenges on a regular basis. Reminder, today is the last day of January’s challenge. And we will gather together a group who will start to actually drive this diary as a product inside SportID. Come and join us.

BOOK REVIEW: Frederic Laloux – Reinventing organisations

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20787425-reinventing-organizations?ac=1&from_search=true

The book was recommended to me by Dima and I bought this as an audiobook. It is about the new way of building up an organization upon self-management principles. It is hard to summon the principles in a few paragraphs but I strongly believe there is so much sense in all that, so I try.

The author has studied several of this “new type” organizations. In these org-s everybody has equal power as well as equal responsibility. Everybody is free to contribute in the areas where they feel most beneficial and where they feel their heart belongs. How it works in most important aspects of the company’s everyday life? Just a few examples and ideas that I have filtered from the book.

Decision making process

Everybody is free to make the decisions that are needed – no matter how big or expensive. There is only one ground rule and mechanism that control how this works – the person taking the decision should before consult with at least one fellow team member who understands the issue. The decisions do not have to be unanimous, in fact they almost never can be for different reasons and still everyone can make them, but like I mentioned they have to be discussed with other team member(s) upfront.

NB! What is a decision in this context is not explained. To reply to a customers e-mail or not is also a decision. In fact, every action is followed by some type of decision, but actually in lot of the cases you are just following the previously agreed principles of action (that we will respond to customers e-mails, for instance). To my mind decision-making in this context is needed when something new and previously unagreed arises.

Power and responsibility

Since everybody is free to make decisions, this also means that everybody in the team has full power and full authority. The author of the book states that if everyone has power rather than only one person (the CEO), this empowers the whole organization. Everyone can feel important and that their input really matters.

Also, the responsibility in this case is not a zero-sum game. Everybody is fully responsible for everything that happens, since everybody has their own say or possibility to influence the outcome. If the decision was made by colleague in our team, what did we do to prevent this happening? If it was made in other teams, did we care enough to join that team and give our input?

Conflict situations

The conflicts between team members are solved mainly in three phases:

  1. One team member tells another that he has problem with something (perhaps the other person regularly fails to deliver their promises). Team members discuss among each other and find the resolution.
  2. If this phase fails, they call in a third team member as a mediator for the conflict.
  3. If this phase fails there will be made a commission of team members that debate the issue and find out a solution.

Hiring and firing

All hiring is made by the team that needs a new team member, not by CEO or HR department. This type of organizations don’t even have an HR dept.

Firing is handled like all other conflicts. Usually team members understand the reasons and most probably do not feel the right motivation anyway to continue. Firing is a very rare case, since everyone can generally find a place in the organization where they can do what they enjoy and where they are valuable. Usually employees in these organizations also do not slack off due to the fact that they enjoy their work environment too much.

The structure of company

There are no mid-level managers in this type of companies. There are teams inside company for different purpose and tackling different issues. Everyone can actually be in these workgroups/teams where they feel most beneficial and most motivated. Teams can have leads but all members of teams are equal and bear equal power and responsibility. CEO is just another employee and in workgroups/teams is just another team member.

The main tasks of CEO, outside these groups, are to represent a company in public and to be a link between owners/board and employees to make sure the board and owners understand the principles how these type or org-s work and would not kill these practices.

Teams are not usually operating on some pre-fixed budget. It is assumed that team members are responsible and all expense is made for the sake of getting the results and revenues will follow.

Meetings

There are almost no team meetings. Meetings are organized within team ad hoc, in case the need arises.

The purpose of being

The driving purpose for these organizations is not profit. It has to be something more meaningful the team. To heal some big problem in the world is a great purpose but actually to create and carry enjoyable work culture and jobs is also fine. The profit is needed to fulfill that purpose and keep activities sustainable.

The results

The business results of these teams are not at all average. Generally, this type of companies are still hugely profitable and this is the reason in several organizations why boards and investors also accept this (in case this was not their initiative) – since the company is not working for profit but for a purpose.

Why they are not more dominant in the ecosystem? In lot of times Usually board and investors are eager to cancel these type of setup right after there is recession in economy and the economic results are not that good.

Summary

To summarize this interesting book, I would tell that I liked most of these ideas a lot and they made sense to me. They cannot be implemented with one huge campaign but gradually most of this is doable. I would definitely recommend the book. Especially for Kadri (How does our most titled psychologist think about it from organization psychology point of view) and Mehis. But also to others who are interested in how organizations should and could work.