Monday, 23 November 2015

Not Good

There's been some pretty disturbing news about Jolla over the past few days, but the most disturbing thing is how little the company itself said about this before it happened.

It seems that if Jolla does not receive funding, the Jolla Tablet may never be delivered to people who ordered it or backed the Indiegogo campaign:
Jollan viestintäjohtaja Juhani Lassila vahvistaa lomautukset Yle Uutisille. Yrityksen kehittämä tabletti on toimitusaikataulusta myöhässä, eikä Lassila pysty varmaksi lupaamaan sen tulemista.
– Se on tavoitteena, muuta en osaa tällä hetkellä sanoa. Rahoitukselliset keinot koitetaan löytää.
...which translates as:
Jolla's director of communications Juhani Lassila confirmed the temporary layoffs to Yle News. The tablet developed by the company is behind schedule, and Lassila could not confirm whether it would ever be delivered. "It's our aim (to deliver it), but at the moment I can't say anything else. We are trying to find the financial means (to do it)."
It's a terrible shame that this is happening, but this is not the worst part of the news. Startups running out of money is to be expected, and even successful entrepreneurs have usually had failed businesses in their past purely because of how difficult it can be to get a new idea off the ground. This is a normal part of life.

The worst part is how this situation has been handled by Jolla in relation to the user community, as the community was supposed to be so important to the company and its products.

Being unable to deliver or manufacture the tablets because they have run out of money is a completely different narrative to the logisitical difficulties Jolla had told us about last month. Even an update a couple of weeks ago did not mention any financial problems, instead just briefly citing "various factors" and going on to discuss the tablet's app store. While they did issue a press release recently about company lay-offs and debt restructuring, it is couched in very corporate language, and there was no blog post to explain things in plain English.

It is difficult to believe that the financial difficulties were a surprise to the company, and it probably explains why key people like co-founder Marc Dillon left earlier in the year. Presumably Jolla chose not to mention the financial difficulties to the community. However, while it's obviously a risk with any startup or crowdfunding campaign that the money might run out, by discussing problems at the factory instead of problems with their bank account, Jolla were setting themselves up to look less than transparent.

Jolla's unique selling point was supposed to be the community it had inherited from Nokia's Maemo/Meego project, with lots of former Nokia workers behind the founding of Jolla and fans seeing it as a rebirth of Nokia's best days. This "people power" motif is visible in all its branding and dealings with the outside world, in keeping with the crowdsourced open source software upon which Sailfish is based. But while the community still exists, it has been slowly shrinking with the lack of new devices. If Jolla not only fails to deliver the tablet but also fails to give refunds, it seems likely the community will disown Jolla.

In a way it is understandable that Jolla has kept financial problems under wraps. Like any startup they need backers, as the backers can provide a lot more money than any crowdfunding campaign, and backers might have been put off investing if Jolla had publicly aired their concerns about money. However, by keeping quiet about money and only giving unrelated reasons for the Tablet's delays, it risks destroying their image as a new kind of company. If you keep bad news hidden, people will naturally wonder why you chose to hide it.

Scrolling to the very bottom of Jolla's latest blog post shows some very worried comments, for example:
...whatever happened that brought Jolla to this moment needs to be explained in full detail. Today we aspire towards to as high a level of transparency as possible. As I read all the comments I am beginning to believe that the people behind Jolla fall into the opposite camp. One of dishonesty, bad intentions and incompetence. This is so not what I thought when I read the initial crowd sourcing offering. I am saddened to think that I was so fooled, so mistaken in my initial impressions. So much has happened that is unexplained that it becomes impossible to stay hopeful, maintain belief and trust that, with what is happening in the world today, are such precious commodities.
Can Jolla survive this? What happens to Sailfish if it doesn't?

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