How Hammerkit Came to Be
People create things. So I’ll tell you first a little about my background.
I was born in Kemijärvi, Finland in 1952 (boy, am I old =P). I got married in 1973 with Silpa. and I have two children and three grand children (soon four). I studied graphic design at Helsinki University of Industrial Arts (UIAH) from 1973 to 1978. I never graduated, since I needed to go to work to support my family.
In 1977 I got my first job as a graphic designer at a religious publishing house Ristin Voitto in Vantaa, Finland. I designed and illustrated childrens magazine, book covers, album covers etc. In 1980 we founded a design co-operative Ars Nova with some partners. In 1983 one of the partners moved to Australia and our co-operative disintegrated. I continued the business by myself. I did illustration and designed brochures and magazines and advertisements, designed some logos too.
In 1987 I acquired my first Mac and joined the vanguard of the desktop publishing revolution. My Mac II computer with 2 MB memory and 40 MB hard disk and with Viking 8 bit color monitor with amazing 256 colours was one of the first in Finland. And my Freehand 1.0 license was first in Finland. Isn’t that something =). In 1988 I was hired by BSB Finnad in Helsinki, then the biggest advertising agency in Finland. My job was to train art directors and their assistants to use computers and desktop publishing software in their work. Most Art Directors back then thought that computers are a threat to them and that use of new technology kills creativity and hoped that computers will somehow go away and disappear. Their attitude changed totally when Finland drifted into an economic recession and ad agencies started laying of people. People sticking to outdated production methods were first to go.
In 1990 there was an event in Hämeenlinna, Finland, where I heard abour Ted Nelson and project Xanadu for he first time. I already knew the concept of hypertext since I had in 1988 created an interactive presentation for the Municipality of Hausjärvi using an Mac software called Hypercard. The presentation was created using 1-bit graphics because I had a Mac Plus to run that presentation.
In 1991 I was hired by a graphic design agency Alform, Helsinki as a junior designer. From 1993 to 1995 I worked in Viestinnäntekijät Oy (communication makers in english) as an Art Director and was responsible of running a studio of 5 designers. We produced marketing material for MEK, the Finnish Tourist Board and communications and marketing services to various customers, mainly in travel business.
Introduction to web
In 1995 I participated ISEA, the International Symposium on Electronic Arts, in Helsinki. There I was introduced to World Wide Web for the first time. It was love at first sight. We’ve been together ever since,
In 1996 I designed my first website, www.nettiradio.fi, which was a web radio website with downloadable audio files. It was run by a Finnish knowledge society visionary, Veli-Antti Savolainen.
In 1996 we also started our own business Pan Design with my wife, Silpa. Our idea was to provide cross media design services. I thought and still think that there should be no deviation from corporate design rules or product brand in on-line media. The main reason to deviations was, in my opinion, that companies needed different partners to create design to various media. And these partners had different levels of willingness (or skills) to stick to the pre-defined branding guidelines. I thought that there might be demand for a design house that can provide design services to all media and thus guarantees the consistency of the company’s message. And we did lots of cool productions, too. Graphic design, magazine design, illustrations, web sites and services, multimedia graphics for events, animations, corporate design, etc...
I participated several major web-site development projects as an user interface designer.
Going deeper into the web
In 1999 we rented shared office facilities with Njet Communications and Beta Audiovisual. With Njet Communications we produced several major data-based web services to large Finnish enterprises. The guys in Njet Communications were and still are top of the world web developers and programmers. Only the company Njet Communications does not exist anymore. I worked as a project manager and concept developer and we really did great services.
While working on projects we also had discussion about the rationality of production methods of web services.
Gathering the building Blocks for HammerKit
One of the members of Njet Communication, Mr. Jani Lehtimäki - a world class software developer - started to create his own Java development programming language Anvil that was going to make development of Java applications faster and easier. And he did it with the help of funding from Tekes. Mr. Jaripekka Salminen and Mr. Simo tuokko from DeftIt Oy also participated the project. You can read more about Anvil at www.njet.org.
Mr. Heikki Luhtala, now a HammerKit guru, joined Njet later and brought his ideas of component based web application development with him. Heikki and Jani (Lehtimäki) started to develop a application builder tool with Anvil. It was called Composer. The purpose of the Anvil Composer was to enable a web designer to create and modify real applications. I was asked to design interface graphics for that tool.
Then we started think about making some business with Anvil. Njet would develop Anvil software and partners would create applications with it. We got excited and started creating business plans. We decided to create an web shop application that would be easy to update and customize. What would be the name of that application? ShopHammer of cource! You use the hammer to mould things on Anvil. Great.
We had high hopes and started to prepare for customer presentations. There was some interest in Anvil and Composer from major companies like Sonera and Satama Interactive in Finland. But it soon turned out that Composer was not mature enough as a tool for designers. We could not create the web shop that would meet our requirements. The tool was to complicated and difficult to use.
What to do? With my partners we realized that it is not going to work soon enough. We did not believe the level of usability that was required for commercial success would be reached soon. It seemed it was not possible to get the developers to make changes to meet our requirements - ease of use for end users, web designers.
Going our own way
I am not a man that gives up easily. I believed the idea. It is logical, it is inevitable that creation of web applications goes this way. It was evident that small and medium sized companies had all the same needs for web based tools that the large enterprises have. They sure would not be able to pay for the manual programming of services. It had to be automated or made simpler somehow. Processes have to be streamlined. These stools must be provided as an on-demand service.
Njet Communications, a company of six people, had two schools of programmers. The Java team and the PHP team. Anvil and Composer were the creation of Java team.
My company, Pan Design, however, had done all commercial projects with PHP camp, Mr. Janne Halmkrona (a rock star, a lead guitarist in CMX, a famous Finnish rockband), Mr. Hannu Paloniemi and Mr. Jani Vähäsöyrinki. Hannu and Janne had also created their own CMS system called Publishine. I designed the interface for that software.
The web services I had created with Njet’s PHP team contained many good ideas and had proved to me that programming any kind of on-line web-site builder tools was possible.
After all the idea is quite simple. By analyzing the web services you soon realize that they are built from limited set of basic elements in various combinations. So we needed to create a method of combining those elements in various ways and customizing them. Oh, and this must not require any programming skills, otherwise I couldn’t use it.
Only... programming that kind of an an-easy-to use component based application assembly platform is not so simple.
Could we do that? I believed we could. I asked my friend Mr. Mika Tanskanen, who had been participating in ShopHammer project, if he would join me in this. We shook hands and decided to do ti.
We decided to take what we already had, several cool databased applications, coded with PHP and transform them into customizable applications with updating tools.
I called to Mr. Jani Vähäsöyrinki, then in Malaysia, if this could be done and if he would want to participate. ”Sure”, was Janis reply. I love this attitude. So Jani joined our team.
I started making drafts and designing the user interface immediately. I still have them on my computer’s hard disk.
This is how I do. First I acquire information and do some research. Then I start making drafts, first with pencil and a paper. Then I use grapichs software to create wireframes or flow charts and visual prototypes of the end user views. Then we discuss about the plans with the team and I make necessary modifications to the drafts. After we have agreed what to do we start programming.
You know, back then I was quite fed up with working with IT-companies that first built the software and then, after it was totally too late and all the mistakes were done, asked a designer to ”make some nice buttons”.
My customers really loved the way I worked by proceeding from user-oriented design to production.
Few months after calling to Jani in Malaysia, in 2002, the first HammerKit application to a corporate customer was delivered, with CMS tools, access management, order management, design editor, brand manager. campaign tools and action module library. It was truly a component based application builder, back in 2002.
Starting Hammerkit Business
Opportunities started to look great for HammerKit and so Basewell Oy was founded in 2003 by me, Mr. Mika Tanskanen and Jani Vähäsöyrinki partners to further develop HammerKit and make it a commercial success.
But we made some serious mistakes in our funding. We underestimated the need for funding and tried the bootstrapping method. That turned out the be fatal to Pan Design that had funded the initial development. Business went down and Pan Design was declared bankrupt.
But we strongly believed in the idea and decided to go on regardless of the difficulties. In 2003 Mr. Heikki Luhtala joined the Hammerkit team after Njet Communications ended business and went into stealth mode. Some of he guys went to work with Nokia to develop applications for mobile phones.
We continued the development of HammerKit in Basewell, but we soon realised that the team of 4 developers with no external funding is not able to make it. We put our hope in finding either enough good customers or an investor. But we soon learned that VCs did not understand what we were doing. Business was not good. We ruined our credit history, but we insisted on going on. We were not willing to let go of the work we had done. Fortunately our team’s spirit is strong. It endured. We pushed on.
Anyhow we managed to find customers to whom we succesfully produced dynamic business solutions. Some 300 has been delivered to this day, most of them running still. We did some hard selling work around Finland with a partner Mr. Kyösti Kekkonen, Cap-Net Finland presentic Hammerkit to Finnish Telcos. Kyösti is a strong believer in HammerKit idea.
Turn of Tide
During the spring 2006 we noticed a clear shift in the markets. Suddenly our message started to get response. Especially among Finnish telcos. People started to understand us.
But Basewell had run out of cash. We saw opportunities finally emerging and the markets starting to ripen for our product. We had to find funding.
HammerKit Oy Starts Making Success
We decided to start the creation of a new business plan to raise funding for new business with Mr. Kyösti kekkonen of Cap-Net Finland. In 2006 one of our customers, ActiveInspire Ltd and member of our advisory board Mr. Kari Katajamäki accepted my request to join in the generation of a new company to give a fresh start to HammerKit.
HammerKit was founded in December 2006 by HammerKit team (Jani Vähäsöyrinki, Heikki Luhtala, Robin Lindroos and me), Kari Invest (Kari Katajamäki), Active Inspire Ltd and Tmi KK-Marketing (Kyösti Kekkonen). HammerKit Oy bought all the assets and business operations from Basewell and started the business.
In October 2007 Mr. Mark Sorsa-Leslie joined HammerKit as a managing director. HammerKi is now seeing a growing recocgition and doors of opportunities opening just like we visioned back in 2002.