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Music giant buys the Norwegian company that helps thousands of students put away their mobile phones

Music giant buys the Norwegian company that helps thousands of students put away their mobile phones
Music giant buys the Norwegian company that helps thousands of students put away their mobile phones

Hold, the app that rewards you for not using your mobile, has entered into a ‘joint venture’ with Universal Music UK. According to the Norwegian founders behind it, Vinoth Vinaya and Maths Mathisen, this means that Universal Music UK and Hold AS are equal owners of the operation in the UK.

An option has also been entered into, including an opportunity to expand the partnership in all new markets where Universal Music has a presence, they say.

Universal Music Group, one of the world’s largest music companies, went public last year, and on the same day the company was valued at 45 billion euros, according to E24.

– We took a long time to land the agreement, but now we have something that could be very good. Universal Music UK has made a major investment in business development and marketing resources, Vinaya told Shifter.

In the Hold app, users get points for not using their mobile for 20 minutes at a time. These points can be used in the “Hold store”, which consists of goods and discounts – from players such as Narvesen and 7-Eleven, but also Storytel, Talkmore and Akademia.

In the app, users can also compete with friends to use their mobile phone as little as possible.

In Norway, the operation is still owned by existing shareholders, including the founders themselves, agency founder Jan Christian Fosseidbråten, Komplett Mobil founder Haakon Dyrnes via Dyrnes Consulting AS – and Kahoot founder Johan Brand via We Are Human Ventures.

The founders have nevertheless withdrawn completely from the day-to-day operations in both countries. The company is looking for a new Norwegian manager, but has got a sales and partner manager in place, says Vinaya.

– Hold was part of our master’s, and our entire career, so it was a bit sad. At the same time, we had been at it for seven years, trying to scale abroad without quite getting it done ourselves. Now the opportunity was there, with a partner we knew well, and who is very much behind Hold’s vision.

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– Many players were fighting for the same money and the same customers

Hold was established in 2015 when the duo were still master’s degree students at Copenhagen Business School, and two years later they could entice with prizes from commercial players such as Norsk Tipping and Narvesen – if you managed to stay away from the phone in the reading room or during lectures.

In 2018, they wanted to take the concept out of the country – and the schoolyard, for that matter. It was a tough trip.

– When we first moved to England in 2018, we had signed up for an accelerator without actually checking it out completely. On paper it looked fantastic, but when we got there there was a kindergarten in half the room. We were directly deceived, and then suddenly we were on the ground.

Mathisen tells of “countless coffee talks” with potential customers before it came unstuck. Eventually Hold gained partners such as Coca Cola and Coop and moved the team to an office in London.

– We were ready to launch and prepare, had done a press launch on the BBC, which was picked up by many other media as well. Suddenly we were at the top of the App store. It was going to be fantastic, but after two days we woke up to a one star rating in the App store.

The founders have previously explained in Shifter that this is due, among other things, to the fact that many parents downloaded the app for their children, when it was actually intended for students.

He continues:

– We rectified it quickly, but we constantly struggled with the fact that we were too small a team. There were many actors fighting for the same money and the same customers.

– In addition, we had girlfriends at home. Commuter life was neither pleasant, economical nor good for the planet, says Mathisen.

Found the tone with the music giant

At the same time, Hold had established a customer relationship with Universal Music UK. They ran a number of campaigns in the app, including “artist of the week”, where they promoted artists.

– Then came covid, and it became even more difficult to keep things going in the UK. We needed a partner who could scale this up internationally, and so we initiated a ‘joint venture’ dialogue with Universal Music UK, says Vinaya.

The founder says that at the time the large company wanted to focus on a younger target group. They also wanted to create a closer link between concentration and music, in addition to focusing on mental health in connection with healthy mobile use.

– We had already tested working with them, and we knew what kind of resources they could use to make this fly. At least they have a network that crushes our nursery network in London, says Mathisen.

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Universal Music is reaching for these Norwegian figures

Hold in the UK is currently run by three full-time resources, with assistance from a brand team of 50 people in Universal Music’s global partner department in England.

– Universal Music Group’s ambition is initially to achieve the same type of adoption rate and earnings per user as Hold has had in Norway, says Vinaya.

The target group is like in Norway; students and “gen z”.

– Next, the idea is to look at geographical expansion to larger markets where Universal Music has a strong presence, he says.

Universal Music UK writes in a comment to Shifter:

“We also think Hold can help with a solution to the problem of mobile phones at concerts, as many of our artists want to have a closer engagement with the fans when they play live. Our ambition is to take Hold to a global audience”.

In Norway, operations became profitable in 2020. Hold then earned NOK 4.2 million and made a profit of NOK 1.2 million. The following year, the company earned NOK 4 million and was left with NOK 656,262. The user base in Norway has also remained stable, the founders say.

– Over 50 per cent of Norwegian students use Hold today, and in the high seasons we are at around 50,000 monthly active and 10,000 daily active in Norway, says Vinaya.

– The motivation to drive Hold further was not there

Vinaya and Mathisen are now starting a new “strategic consulting company”. Tba helps established companies, such as Obos and Olympiatoppen, to build new major ventures.

Behind Tba is the group Oceans, which also owns Fosseidbråtens Los & Co, among others.

Last year, Tba launched Campr, an “airbnb for motorhomes”, with the motorhome chain Ferda behind it.

– We went from idea to launch in three months. Then we realized that we have extremely valuable learning from the journey in Hold, says Vinaya and Mathisen adds:

– We love scaling things, going from zero to one. The motivation to drive Hold further was no longer there. Now we validate new business opportunities in large companies and help them from start to finish to get into the market and reduce the risk along the way, he says.

The article is in Norwegian

Tags: Music giant buys Norwegian company helps thousands students put mobile phones

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