Archive by Author

Whither The Euro Portal

In the aftermath of the disasterous, World Online and Lycos Europe IPOs, and with softening expectations for T-Online’s mid-April IPO, web insiders are taking a fresh look at the European portal business. To industry experts, the “bigger is better” American portal model just doesn’t work over here.

Instead, new home-bred ‘affinity portals’ are rapidly increasing their traffic, focusing content to narrow ranges of interest, building loyal online communities, expanding across borders and cultures and attracting investment. In this market, analysts and experts say, focused is beautiful, and general portals are out.

Consider, a German financial portal whose 1999 profits were up 600%, and which last month brought in more traffic than the German versions of T-Online, AOL and MSN combined.

Or, a Berlin-based comparitive shopping portal that has successfully expanded into several European countries. “It’s essential for commerce players to have that kind of pan-European approach, and this multi-national focus is key,” said Noah Yasskin, Europe anaylst at Jupiter Communications, “We’ve yet to see a clear leader emerge in that sector and there are still opportunities to lock this market.”

Dooyoo, and its German rival, have several advantages over the US competition beginning to move into Europe, including knowledge of local markets, and the ability to spend, while US shareholders are currently a bit squeamish about investing in Europe.

This trend is good news for the dozens of young, ambitious European start-ups that are on the scene today. And it’s good news for their investors.

It Was Always Over Over Here
The American portal model is to make a homepage on which users feel comfortable to begin each web session – an all-encompassing, broad-based link farm and search engine which tries to allow users to find whatever it is they’re looking for on the web from a single starting point. The model holds that the more users there are online in a given market, the more the portal is worth to advertisers, who pay fixed amounts per thousand views of their ad.

But therein lies the problem with the model in Europe. The American portal model is based on a culturally and linguistically homogeneous online society. Europe, as some have noted, does not share this homogeneity.

Fragmentation In A Model Built on Unity
In other words, what plays well in Peoria doesn’t necessarily play well in Passau or Paris. It’s simple math: if every Belgian came online, you’d have a grand total of 10.1 million potential customers (in any case, only about 10% are online). And sure, Germany’s a big market with 82 million people, and 20% of them are online.

But Germans speak German.

T-Online, Europe’s largest German-language portal, has that portal market (along with Austria’s and German-speaking Switzerland’s) sewn up quite nicely, with over 7 million subscribers and 115 million monthly page views, and their upcoming IPO is highly anticipated, offering 108 million shares at a range set between Eur 25 and 30.

T-Online’s competitors in Germany have less robust numbers, and market share is being sucked up quickly. Traditional portals like MSN and come in routinely with under 30 million page views a month; gets about half T-Online’s page views, as does the portal/ISP combination AOL, with 3.4 million users. T-Online would seem to be unstoppable.

Not quite. Right next door in France, T-Online holds about as much market sway as you’d predict, not even denting the already saturated French-language portal market. There, and are the belles of the ball, with over 70 million monthly page views each, and competition is heating up from rivals, and others. The large portal situation is the same in all European countries: fragmentation in a model built on unity.

As early as October 1999, a Jupiter Communications report proclaimed the European Portal market saturated: “The window of opportunity for European portals is closed,” it said, “Europe’s existing portals will consolidate into a few multinational portals capable of aggregating audiences across several markets.”

Jupiter’s Yasskin states: “Online content is available globally but only relevant locally, so content ventures must achieve scale and value through localized and branded category-leading sites, not portal plays.”

Making A Bad Situation Worse
Nonetheless, with fierce competition for eyeballs, Europe’s large portals have been forced to add heaps of free services such as free internet access, free email and other perks. National telecoms and their competitors got in on the action as well, and now attempt to create enough offline brand name recognition to pre-win online brand loyalty.

“The trend seems to point to portal services trying to attract not ‘millions of users’ “, said Bank Julius Bär analyst Joeri Sels, “but rather ‘dozens of millions of subscribers’, which will be necessary for profitable operations.”

The market for those monstrous “Über-Euro-Portals” may be flooded, but thereE’s still plenty of room to move with such smaller ‘affinity’ sites.

The Field
Today’s “portal” has expanded to include places where users decide to start particular activities or searches on the web – so an investor would begin her search for new high-tech European investment opportunities at; a travel writer at one of a multitude of ticket sites including, or; a researcher in Cambridge at; a shopper in Milan or Berlin at or All these are sites containing links to everything about a particular subject.

Look at, whose 330,000 customers have Eur 6.75 billion on deposit, and made over 5.1 million transactions last year. Comdirect appeals to the mass-market online investor by offering links to market news from around Europe, and attracting loyal users through an innovative game called “broker poker”. With broker poker, customers create pretend virtual portfolios and compete against one another in a giant pool, the winner taking a prize of Eur100,000.

Can this work in France and the UK as well?

“Absolutely,” said Suzan Nolan, President and lead marketing analyst for Paris-based Blue Sky International Marketing, “this is a great tool for teaching investors how to invest online, and it’s also a very nice way to let experienced investors run multiple portfolios, test what they’re thinking and expand their knowledge.”

That seems likely. With 388,000 users (63,000 new customers within March 2000 alone), and 335,000 direct brokerage customers, and after-tax profits up 600% last year to Euro 13.7 million, Comdirect plans its IPO on the Neuer Markt for later this quarter.

That’s what works: “build locally, cross the nearest border and do it again” might be a rallying cry for the new breed of specialized Euro-portals. And do it fast. While big guns attempt to develop an all-round pan-European strategy, smaller and more daring internet start-ups are taking ideas and charging with them, learning from their mistakes.

Or put another way, “Load…fire…aim,” the core strategy of feisty comparison shopping portal, which now has hard-hitting and successful practical-information shopping sites in Germany, Spain, Italy and France, and plans to launch in the near future in the UK and Scandinavia.

The site’s draw is consumer commentary on products from toasters to blenders to computers; ratings of products by consumers help others make purchasing decisions about specific products like laptops, or children’s books.

Dooyoo’s 43,000 members (and current 49,000 product listings) think this is so ducky that the site got six million page views in February. Perhaps more important, last month dooyoo secured its second round of funding (in the “double digit millions of dollars”) and solidified plans to go public on the Neuer Markt later this year.

“Compared to the fuss over general portals these kinds of companies might not appear very distinguished,” said Christian Junk, Senior Software Analyst at Commerzbank, “but it would seem they have a very good opportunity to contribute highly specialized content offerings and grow into affinity portals.”

Bank Julius Bär’s analyst Joeri Sels pointed at a Dooyoo rival,, which bills itself a ‘horizontal one-click shopping portal’, and which is also moving fast, with sites in Spain, Italy, France, UK, Austria and Germany. Ciao recently merged with another similar German start-up, “The first step is lots about building a feeling of community,” said Frederick Paul, CiaoE’s founder and director. Ciao started with US$5MM from Wellington Partners and media house Burda, and they’re about to close their second round of about 20MM; the new company is presently valued, they say, at about $75MM, and say they’ll go to an IPO at the end of 2000 at the latest.

The Near Future
The big-is-beautiful crowd isn’t going away overnight, and the “gaggle” factor of European web investing will still follow these major players into the market. There will be more portal IPOs in the coming months, and as the numbers increase there’ll be even more consolidation. The huge players will be elbowing one another to grab the remaining sections of the general portal market.

And don’t forget the portals run by the incumbent national telecoms, which provide both huge amounts of national traffic as well as juicy, content-rich merger target grist for the ever-expanding large portal mill.

Over 12 months, as investors and especially web users become more sophisticated, the organic attractiveness of such offerings will wane. Sure, they work in the USA, with its large, culturally and linguistically homogeneous market.

Whither The Über-Euro-Portal? This trend doesn’t by any means signal the death of the giants. By incorporating local content through mergers and alliances, and working to leverage the potential of e-commerce, m-commerce and wireless-mobile services, there’s still plenty of opportunities to grow for the big guys.

As T-Online, Yahoo!, AOL, MSN as well as banks and equipment makers move in, the European portals will continue to be enthralling places to watch for both investors as well as growing numbers of European internet users.

Whiskey What!?!

“Augsburg Tower, Cessna Echo Hotel November Foxtrot is three minutes east of Sierra inbound for Runway 07, full stop landing”

“November Fox, Sierra is closed due to glider traffic in the area, do you have another request?”

My friend Kees, an American flight instructor flying with me for the first time in Europe, looked over at me, with a quizzical, amused look on his face.

“Augsburg Tower, November Fox is eight minutes east of Whisky One inbound for runway 07”

“November Fox, advise when you reach Whisky one”.

Kees glanced at the chart, and pointed at the coordinates for Whisky One. We buzzed west over the town of Augsburg, cut north, and, eight minutes later (abreast of the power tower that marks Whisky One) we turned right, along the highway, and I called back in.

“Augsburg Tower, November Fox is at Whisky one and now eastbound at 3000 feet”

“November Fox, advise when you reach Whisky Two”.

“November Fox, will call at Whisky Two”

“Hold it”, said Kees, “There IS NO WHISKEY TWO on this map.”

“Right,” I said, laughing.

“Where’s Whisky Two?”

“Sorta up there,” I gestured vaguely. “Round about halfway back from Whisky 1 and stay on the right side of the highway – the instructor pointed it out when I was on my checkride.”

“You have GOT to be kidding me,” he said, shaking his head.

Even when armed with a map, European flying and ATC procedures can still shock even a seasoned pilot like Kees.

Studying the air charts certainly helps, but European ATC has its own way of doing things, and Americans saying it’s not efficient is unlikely to result in any changes!

But that doesn’t mean you have to feel stupid if you’re unfamiliar with one of the dozens of local conventions.

When an ATC asks to do you something like head for a point that doesn’t exist on your map, throw it right back at them, politely:

“Am unfamiliar with Whisky Two and don’t see it on my map. Please give me more precise directions!”

Where Are The Nooklear Wessles?

I’d come to Severodvinsk, about an hour from Arkhangelsk, to see the submarines. An expatriate Italian bartender living in Arkhangelsk had told me I could take pictures of Soviet-built atomic-powered submarines right from the city’s harbor.

‘Course, what he didn’t mention was that Severodvinsk was a ” Closed City” – that is, off limits to foreigners even these days – because it’s a storage area for the Soviet-built atomic-powered submarines that park in its harbor. Formerly it was closed because it was a staging area for the nuclear gear that used to be transported to the islands of Novaya Zemlya, back when the Soviet Union was doing above-ground nuclear testing there.

The bartender assured me that, while the city was closed, it wasn’t ” very closed” .

After about an hour of looking on my own (I had taken bus No 3 on a three-loop tour of the city before realizing I was going in circles), I finally asked a kid where the subs were (” Excuse me, where are the nuclear submarines?” – which I pulled off with a dignity equal to that of Ensign Chekhov, who asked the same question of a San Francisco cop in Star Trek V) and was directed to a fence at the end of a long, deserted street.

The ” fence” turned out to be the entrance to some sort of naval facility, and as I passed the boundary (there was no one guarding it) I realized that from that point on, no amount of pleaded ignorance would help me if I – an American with a camera in a Russian military facility – were caught.

The water was now in sight, the subs just across the harbor from where I stood, but between them and me, moored at the docks, were two large gunships, sporting several large and rather vicious looking guns fore and aft.

A man with a face of stone and wearing an officer’s uniform stood between me and the subs.

” Hi!” I said, with a smile, ” May I take a photograph”

The officer looked at me a and grinned, and said, ” Why not?”

There were about eight black submarines parked just across the water, but far enough away to make my photographs look as if they were taken by a spy satellite in the 1960s. Still, I got the shots.

I looked over to one of the gunships and saw on board a young woman in a pink coat looking around ear the bridge. As I walked back past the gangplank, I asked the officer if I could take a look around on bord.

He smiled again and said, ” Of course, go right up.”

I saw the bridge, and the guns, but I started to get a little nervous; my Russian’s good enough to say what I had said so far, but anything ese would be a hopeless stretch, and I wanted to get out of there fast.

On my way out, a much more senior looking officer approached me with a look of investigatory intent.

” What is he doing here?” he asked, looking at me but speaking to the officer who had let me on board.

” He’s taking an excursion,” said the first.

The senior officer looked at me, rubbed his chin thoughtfully and said to the officer, ” You know, we really ought to set up a ticket booth out here.”

What, Me Worry?

Steven Caron has time on his hands, and with unique reason. For with all the talk in the U.S. media about the dangers of Russia and the “Mafia-controlled businesses” there, the congenial 26-year-old Californian entrepreneur has such reliable Russian business partners there’s not enough to keep him busy.

“It runs itself,” Caron says of Russian Youth Hostels and Tourism, a joint venture among Caron and two Russian friends. “I mean, I can go in to work and putter around a bit, but we’ve got such a great staff that I’m not really needed there anymore.”

Caron went to Moscow in 1990 to sit in on classes at the Moscow Art Theater, a move meant to advance his first love, a career in acting. But on a visit to St. Petersburg, he found himself spellbound by the 17th-century city, so he decided to transfer there and study Russian in earnest.

Over the next 1 1/2 years Caron, along with two administrators from the Moscow Art Theater, Nikolai Travinin and Oleg Dzanagati, formulated a plan to create the first youth hostel in the Soviet Union that would operate under Western standards.

In February 1992, an exceptionally good lawyer slashed through miles of what was still the Soviet Union’s red tape and registered the joint venture in a record two weeks.

Booked Solid
Caron’s Russian Youth Hostel officially opened in June 1992, and was semi- filled throughout the year as word of its existence filtered through the backpackers’ grapevine. But most important, it opened in time to be included in budget travel guides aimed at young travelers. Since 1993, the hostel has been booked solid.

While his partners ran the day-to-day business, Caron began the gargantuan task of insinuating his hostel into the worldwide hosteling network.

“On my first visit to the hostel in Helsinki,” says Caron, “I found out that some Estonians had just set up a hostel in Tallinn. I met with them, and we all decided that we should get together and promote that route – Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Estonia – as a Baltic Triangle.”

Establishing the Triangle was fortuitous in more ways than one: While Caron insists that the Mafia in Russia is in no way as bad as it’s made out in the Western media – that it concentrates on local businesses, not tourists – it still poses a real enough threat.

“We have to be extremely careful,” he says. “We don’t advertise in the city, but we advertise in Moscow and Helsinki and Tallinn, as well as in guidebooks; anything that the ‘no-necks’ won’t read. It’s a constant battle of promoting the hostel in the West but not gaining too much publicity here in town.”

But a far greater threat than the Mafia to the hostel’s existence are the Byzantine tax regulations imposed on businesses by the fledgling Russian government.

“If they stick another tax on me, I’m going to jump out the window,” says the otherwise preternaturally calm Californian.

Big Obstacle
The tax situation has long been one of the biggest obstacles to foreigners doing business in Russia. Laws change so suddenly and frequently that accountants use the day’s newspaper to determine what taxes their clients are required to pay.

Enforcement is organized, with tax police empowered to raid businesses’ books, make arrests and freeze bank accounts. And there’s a great incentive for the tax police to find new ways of catching non-payers: They work on commission.

“One friend of mine owned a cafe in town,” says Caron. “One day the tax police pulled up outside his place driving BMWs and wearing expensive suits – they had more money than he’d ever seen!”

So far, though, the tax situation hasn’t been enough to stop Caron.

Last year he established another joint venture, with the state museum that operates what has become St. Petersburg’s trademark: the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Caron now operates concessions within the fortress, providing sorely needed food and beverage stands as well as stands selling T-shirts. And Caron is hopeful that his company will be St. Petersburg’s first distributor for Ben & Jerry’s when the Vermont-based ice cream giant begins sales in the city (the company is currently operating in Petrozavodsk, about 100 miles north of St. Petersburg).

True to Hostelling
But over time, hosteling remains the purpose to which Caron is true. He’s upset by what he considers to be unfair reporting of the dangers in St. Petersburg, pointing out that “in two years of doing this, I’ve had two guests have serious trouble on the streets; both were drunk, and both were out very late at night walking in deserted sections of town.”

Indeed, security in the city has never been tighter. Police were on practically every street corner to keep order during the Goodwill Games in July, and there’s a plan to create a “tourist police” force, similar to those in Egypt, Indonesia and, more recently, Miami, composed of multilingual police officers to assist visitors.

For his part, Caron uses his “down time” to organize hosteling in Russia and improve St. Petersburg’s tourism infrastructure. He was instrumental in creating the Russian Youth Hostel Federation, which is composed of five hostels – his own and ones in Moscow, Novgorod, Irkutsk and Petrodvorets.

Caron’s energy seems endless, and if it ever does falter, he has a precious resource from which to draw in the community of foreigners living in St. Petersburg. In a city of more than 5 million, the expatriates have managed to create a community as tight as any town of several hundred, and they all get involved.

“The ex-pat community is larger than it was, but it’s still very small and very tight,” he says.

“The American Business Association here now has a sports committee and a social committee, and we see each other all the time – it’s amazing how close we all are, and how much we support one another.”

Obvious Western Influence
To guests at the hostel, the Western influence is readily apparent. The clean, well-lighted, five-story brownstone is guarded not by hulking security guards, but by grandmotherly types who admonish those who arrive too late at night.

Inside, while the Russian staff keeps things clean, backpackers from all over the world gather in the lobby area to do what hostelers everywhere do: drink coffee, laugh, share war stories and travel tips and make connections at the hostel’s crowded bulletin board.

To understand how Caron achieved his dream in a system fraught with pitfalls and booby-traps designed to thwart his every step, one need only look at how he relates to people.

When Caron bought an apartment last year, the seller, an emigrating Russian, took very little cash up front and Caron’s word to wire the balance to an account in the West. When the Russian arrived at his new home, the money was waiting for him.

The Russian Youth Hostel is near St. Petersburg’s Moscow Train Station off Ploschad Vosstaniya. Reservations can be made by calling Russian Youth Hostels and Tourism in Redondo Beach at (310) 379-4316 or in St. Petersburg at 011-7-812-277-0569. There is a $10 one-time reservation fee. Rates at the hostel are $15 a night including breakfast. Russian Youth Hostels also arranges visas for hostel guests.

Welcome Home In Germany!

angry-waitressIt’s the second week of our family holiday, and we have driven north from Italy, through Austria and into southern Bavaria. We decide that a lovely place to spend a night would be at the Panorama Campsite (“Directly on the Lake!”) at Prien am Chiemsee*, one of those idyllic little Bavarian towns that looks as if it has been created for GermanLand, a new theme park in Abu Dhabi.

We go into the restaurant (“Fresh fish! Straight from the Lake!”) and consult the menu. Now, I should mention that I lived in Germany for about seven years; my wife and son were both born in Munich. My German is passable, and my wife’s is native.

On the menu it says, “Pan-fried lake trout,” and describes in typically flowery German how they take a lake trout and filet it and fry it in a frying pan with butter and spices.

Another offering is “Grilled lake trout” which describes in equally flowery language how the lake trout is taken and fileted and placed on a grill over a flame. In their online menu, they say,

“To feel the Bavarian atmosphere, we offer regularly knuckle of pork and other Bavarian specialities from the charcoal grill on our cozy terrace (their translation, not mine).

One thing I hate: pan-fried fish. One thing I love: grilled fish.

My wife knows this. Whie I am back at the campervan futzing with my contact lenses or something, my wife has a conversation with the waitress, who explains the difference between the two fish dishes – they are as described in the menu.


I order the grilled fish. It arrives. It’s been fried in a pan, and swimming in butter.

We call over the waitress. “In the menu this says grilled fish,” we say, “This is pan fried.”

The waitress, her face a mask of anger, her outrage at our interrupting her evening visible through her pancake makeup, says “I’ll be back.”

Two minutes pass. She comes over to the table and now, in English, says, “The chef will be out to explain it to you.”

“Explain it to me?” I say in English. “I don’t need an explanation, I need you to take this fish back and bring me some grilled fish,” but she’s off like a shot to…

…To sit down with her friends two tables away and smoke a cigarette, and drink a beer, and bitch about the tourists.

The chef comes out – he’s actually a pretty nice young man. “A pleasant good evening to you sir and madam,” he says in formal but not smart-assed German. “I understand there is a problem?”

“Yes,” my wife says, “The menu says that this is grilled fish, but it is pan- fried, and my husband doesn’t like fried fish, doesn’t like fish cooked in butter.”

“Ahh,” says the chef, who now understands he is speaking with someone quite foolish indeed. “You see, we use the butter to esure the fish stays moist and tender. It is quite normal in Germany.”

My wife points out that she is (a) from Germany herself and (b) sufficiently literate to read the menu, on which it states that the fish is grilled, as opposed specifically to the previous entry which is fried in butter. The chef says, “I see. Well, we will make him a fish that is not fried in butter.”

Wonderful. Five minutes later the waitress comes out.

“Next time,” she says in English, “You should tell us if you have a special order,” she lectures, then turns on her heel to walk away from our reactions.

My wife and I both ejaculated simultaneously:

“Next time you should read your own menu, lady, don’t tell me how to order,” and “Next time? You silly arrogant woman, there will never be a next time.”

The next morning, as we were ready to pay at the camping ground and leave, my wife walks in and says to the chain-smoking, obviously alcoholic cashier, “Good morning, I’d like to pay, please.”

He does not look up from his desk, but rather says, “Yeah, I have a different problem now.”


Gemütlichkeit [geh-mOOT-likh-kite] (1) An environment or state of mind that conduces a cheerful mood and peace of mind, with connotation of a notion of belonging and social acceptance, of being cozy and unhurried.



Why is it that on traffic signs for ‘Prien am Chiemsee’ they abbreviate the ‘am’? Not the ‘Chiemsee’. Not the ‘Prien’. The ‘Am’ Yes, ‘Prien a. Chiemsee’. It’s an abbreviation that saves literally no space on the sign.

Warsaw’s Back. No, Seriously.

“How much,” I asked my travel agent in December 1990, “is a ticket to Warsaw””

She looked at me with an expectant grin and said, “I don’t know… . How much””

Back then, directly after the fall of the Soviet hold on Eastern Europe, traveling to Warsaw for pleasure was deemed as sensible as a current ski holiday in Sarajevo. But in the 2 1/2 years since, Warsaw and Poland have transformed to such an extent as to render them unrecognizable to returning visitors.

The bleak state-run shops half-filled with poor-quality foods have been replaced with sleek specialty shops offering inexpensive and high-quality products from Europe, Asia and America. The department stores, formerly unfilled with what P.J. O’Rourke once generously described as “Ken and Barbie clothes blown up to life size,” are now packed with the latest in European and, yes, Polish, fashions.

The buildings themselves are in the process of being cleaned and restored, bringing an instantly recognizable contrast to the dark, gray and dingy image that the name “Warsaw” conjured in post-war imaginations. And while Warsaw has not been known for its fine cuisine for decades, a proliferation of restaurants and cafes prompted even the normally reticent New York Times to run a recent article titled, “Dining Well In Warsaw … Yes, Warsaw.”

While it has improved to the point of being a viable and enjoyable tourist destination, it would be irresponsible to portray Warsaw as a beautiful city. True, the Stare Miasto, or Old City, was painstakingly and beautifully restored after World War II, but for the most part, Warsaw was reconstructed to the Soviet specifications that some would argue realized Hitler’s dream of forever eradicating the city from the face of the Earth.

Biting the Bullet
But walking through the Old Town, and witnessing the care and love that went into its precise reconstruction (teams working round the clock using original blueprints and even old paintings to match every detail as closely as possible), one can grasp a sense of the pride and love for a city that played such a crucial role in the Poles’ decision to “bite the bullet,” taking reforms in one fell swoop as opposed to the gradual measures employed in the rest of Eastern Europe and now in Russia.

It was as if no hardship could stop the Poles from reclaiming their city, even if half of it was not as they would have envisioned it. Once this is understood and felt, the visitor can see Warsaw as the sum of its parts and truly appreciate what the city has to offer.

Today’s Warsaw is an exciting, vibrant city offering both cultural attractions and the draw created by its very transformation. And while some aspects of life here can still leave a Western visitor shaking his or her head and saying, “How can that BE”” these occasions are becoming rarer every day.

Service levels in hotels, restaurants, museums and shops are now essentially equal to those in their Western counterparts, and the currency is stable to the point that one will not be inconvenienced at all by the law requiring all transactions in Poland to be carried out in the zloty (while the country’s currency reform, which will slash four zeroes from the currency to put it on a parallel with the current deutsche mark’s value, has not yet occurred, the exchange rate hovers at a predictable level in the area of 16,000 zloty to the U.S. dollar).

Getting There
Warsaw’s brand-new and exceptionally sensible airport is served by almost every major carrier in the world, as well as by LOT, the state-run airline. LOT has now completely refurbished its transatlantic (and a good deal of its European) fleet with Boeing 767s, and in-flight service is quite good. Visas are no longer required for Americans (or almost anyone else, for that matter), so customs is no longer a lengthy procedure.

When getting from the airport to the city center, there are three options: Limousines can be booked inside the airport terminal at LOT Air Tours for about $50 U.S., taxis wait outside the terminal building in a line (average price from the airport to the city center is $15 U.S.) and for the more frugal traveler, a very reliable city bus makes the trip to the center every 15 minutes.

You must buy a ticket (billet) for each passenger and for extra baggage as well. They are available from the newsstand in the arrival terminal, and currently cost about 50 cents U.S. Walk outside the terminal, one lane past the taxi stand, and wait for bus 175. You must validate your ticket by placing it in the small, silver ticket punchers on the walls of the bus (Punch both ends). It’s basically the honor system, but plainclothes police officers regularly ask to see your ticket, and can impose an on-the-spot fine should you not have one.

Within the city an excellent public transportation network of trains and taxis makes car rental almost unnecessary. Bus maps are available at hotels and service is frequent and inexpensive. Taxis can be tricky, as most drivers don’t speak English and have been known to take advantage of a foreigner. Each of the luxury hotels has taxis with English-speaking drivers, but you will pay about double for the service.

If you know some Polish, or if you have your destination written down, getting a city taxi is very simple. All taxis are metered, but because of the collapse of the zloty, the number on the meter must be multiplied (currently by 600 times). Look for a sign on the dashboard indicating the multiplier to calculate your fare.

Where to Stay
Unlike many of its Eastern European counterparts, Warsaw is packed with hotel space, ranging from the downright cheap ($21 for a three-person room without bath in Hotel Harenda) to the spartan yet comfortable midrange ($50 for a double with bath and breakfast at the Hotels Warszawa, Metropol and Saski), to the frighteningly expensive (more than $1,000 for the Marriott’s Presidential Suite). The city’s luxury hotels, the Marriott, the Holiday Inn, the Victoria and the new Bristol, Sobieski and Mercure, offer Western service and appointments as well as fine restaurants, and all are equipped with satellite television and telephone. The Marriott and Victoria have been the hotels of choice for visiting businessmen for the last several years, but the Sobieski offers slightly lower prices and very comfortable rooms (double including breakfast, $226 per night). Reservations for these hotels can be made with the hotels directly or at U.S. offices of Orbis, the Polish State Travel Service.

Tourist Information
There are now two reliable English-language sources of tourist information and local news: The Warsaw Voice, a well-written weekly newspaper, and Warsaw What, Where When, a monthly tourist information magazine packed with practical information. Both are available in all hotels, and some restaurants catering to international clientele.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising, and many organizations are offering tours of the Warsaw Ghetto; check with Orbis, LOT Air Tours or hotel concierges to find out exactly what’s on during your stay.

Warsaw’s main tourist attraction is the Stare Miasto, easily reachable by taking bus 175 to the end of Krakowski Przedmiescie. Maps of the city and the Stare Miasto are available in every hotel, and a full-color version is published every month in the centerfold of Warsaw What, Where When. The center of the Stare Miasto, the Old Town Market (Rynek Starego Miasta), is breathtakingly beautiful, and during the summer months the restaurants that line the streets spread out huge sidewalk cafes offering Polish specialties, good coffee and drinks.

Within very short walking distance of the Old Town Market square are castles, cathedrals, a synagogue and the Swientajanska Cathedral, which was spectacularly restored and houses catacombs that contain the remains of Polish royalty.

Walking from the Stare Miasto toward the city will take you down Warsaw’s most beautiful street, ulitsa Nowy Swiat, or “New World” street. This is a grand, gently curving boulevard that also has been restored to its pre-war splendor and is lined with fashionable shops, boutiques, restaurants and cafes.

Right in the center of the city, near the widely despised Palace of Science and Culture (a “gift” from the people of the Soviet Union), is a huge market packed with kiosks, selling everything imaginable from clothes to appliances to bootleg cassette tapes of Western music. Off to the side of this market is an amusement park with kiddie rides and two giant bunkers that look like tennis courts, which house a Western supermarket and more kiosks.

If you’d like to buy some Russian souvenirs, be they military paraphernalia or Soviet-made appliances, head out to Ten Year Stadium in Praga (on the other side of the Vistula river from the center of the city), where tens of thousands of Russians gather in a makeshift market to peddle everything they own. It’s an amazing sight, and a visit will offer an insight as to just how desperate the situation in Russia currently is. In all major shopping markets guard your wallet: Pickpockets are everywhere.

The city’s major department stores are located right near the center on Ulitsa Marszalkowska, and all are well stocked with Western and high-quality Polish goods.

Warsaw as a Travel Center
Warsaw’s location at the border of Eastern and Western Europe makes it an ideal travel base for jaunts into Europe, Eastern Europe or Russia. Air fares from Warsaw to the rest of Europe are very reasonable, and there is daily service to all European capitals and many European and Eastern European cities. In addition, Warsaw offers a major rail link to Eastern and Western Europe, with daily train service to many capitals. The daily overnight rail service to the Czech Republic, Vienna and Budapest is charming and enjoyable, on clean, well-appointed trains. It is worth getting a first-class compartment, which comes complete with a sink and closet. Currently, an overnight ticket from Warsaw to Prague costs about $50 U.S.

Air tickets can be purchased at one of the city’s new privately owned travel agents, through LOT at the Marriott Hotel, or though offices of Orbis. Train tickets can be purchased at POL-RES on Jerzolimskie Avenue 44 (near the Marriott) or at the Warsaw Central Train Station, directly across the street from both the Marriott and Holiday Inn hotels. If you go to the train station, walk upstairs opposite the main ticket counters (you’ll see the crowds) and look for a sign saying Medzonarodowicz Billety. If you get hungry while buying your ticket, there’s a Chinese restaurant right next to the ticket counter.

Warsaw has indeed come a long way in the last three years; it is, despite its economic and political problems, a genuine success story in the transformation from a Communist to a free-market society. And the change in the people themselves is readily apparent to anyone who visited two years ago.

Shops and restaurants now welcome potential customers with a cheery “dzien dobry,” or “good day,” as opposed to the stone-faced looks one used to receive. When shopkeepers don’t have a particular item, they no longer say “nie ma,” or “there isn’t any,” before looking away and dismissing a customer, but now say, “I’m terribly sorry, but I don’t have it now.”

And Warsaw residents, always thoroughly proud of their city and their culture, seem visibly happier, now that they are once again able to show their city in all its wonderful, albeit somewhat scoffed, glory.

Visiting The Front Lines

The future is wireless, or at least that is what Nokia, Ericsson and a host of startups and network operators are earnestly hoping. But the quick success of 3G – The Third Generation of mobile telephony – is more than profitable icing for these companies; it has now become a matter of survival….

This article, which ran in the February, 2001 issue of Tornado Insider magazine, looks at the overall climate in European development of 3G, and then explores how each of Europe’s largest telecom networking manufacturers, Ericsson and Nokia, is coping with the challenge.


For some time, both Ericsson and Nokia have vigorously embraced the role of global industry hothouse by developing new divisions and enhancing old ones to deal with the 3G challenge. But it is about more than money.

“For a fraction of what the operators spent on 3G licenses, they could buy 10 application startups to help with rollout,” says Martti Malka, a partner in Nokia Venture Partners, which is independent from parent Nokia. “It’s not the money; it’s the business model, and the successful operator is going to look to third parties to come up with the innovative business propositions.”

Resources for innovation, too, are only part of the problem. Ericsson has established itself as a curious anomaly. The heavily bureaucratic, press release-driven monolith commands a sensational ability to introduce and gather support for industry-wide protocol initiatives, like Bluetooth and OSGI, its home gateway protocol. Nokia, meanwhile, has made huge progress in end-user customer loyalty through its desirable handsets, capturing 30 percent of the worldwide handset market. Nokia is claiming great gains in GPRS and 3G networking contracts as well.

Nokia and Ericsson realize that in order to give their customers, the operators, the return they’re demanding, they must aggressively court small startups working on applications, services, and hardware for 3G. They’ve partnered with VCs for some, and will continue to do so for others. They have also spent considerable time and money making sure that when 3G rolls out it will live up to the hype.

Enter the startups
“We know we have to develop this market and the key issue is getting the right applications,” says Bengt Larsson, marketing manager for Ericsson Business Innovations (EBI), an independent subsidiary of Ericsson. “It’s not until we have the applications on board that we will see the 3G market take off.”

Nokia Venture Partners, with $500 million under management, concentrates on early stage mobile Internet companies, and looks specifically toward those creating enabling technologies. A perfect example is AVS Technologies, an Espoo, Finland, company whose MVQ (motion vector quantization) method is a high-end video compression and transfer technology that compresses video streams 10 times more effectively than RealPlayer or Windows Media.

For its part, EBI, as well as main divisions of Ericsson such as its Mobile Location Services, work closely with small startup companies developing applications that would eventually work with an Ericsson 3G network. For instance, Ericsson Mobile Location Services works and co-markets with It’sAlive, a startup games-maker funded by Speed Ventures in Stockholm. It’sAlive just rolled out its first product, a location-based game called BotFighters, in which SMS messages appear when opponents are in firing range.

BotFighters is currently running in Sweden on regular public networks. “Ericsson would welcome any application developer who would like to try out a 3G application to come and use it on our demo network in Kista. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can actually test 3G applications in a practical environment,” says EBI’s Larsson.

The first step taken by application startups is a visit to the Ericsson and Nokia developers’ websites, which allow any company to register to receive technical specifications, assistance, emulators, and limited access to the developers’ community for the particular product in which they’re interested. Companies that push past that point and go for a more formal partnership, like It’sAlive, are given co-marketing support and access to live research and development projects, not out-of-the-box technology.

While Ericsson and Nokia are both taking to their roles with gusto, developing deals with laundry lists of third parties from startups to global players, there are subtle differences in their approaches. The following profiles look at the efforts by each of the vendors, and compare and contrast their approaches.

VFR Sectional SUA Symbology

Staring at an American VFR Sectional, it’s nice to know what to look for in the category of, “Things denoting places I shouldn’t be”. Here’s a primer:

MOAs On VFR Sectional charts, an MOA is denoted by a hatched magenta line surrounding the area. On the inside cover or bottom margin of your sectional, you’ll see a Special Use Airspace (SUA) section legend. MOAs are listed at the bottom of this legend, separate from all other SUAs, in magenta ink, along with the altitude at which and time the MOAs are used and the controlling agency. The altitude listed on the sectional refers to the “floor”, or lowest altitude, of the MOA, and the MOA will extend to but not include flight level 180 unless otherwise indicated on the chart.

Warning Areas Warning Areas are marked with a hatched dark blue line on sectionals, and listed in a section combined with SUAs other than MOAs. Next to the Hatched Blue line on your chart will be a number (for example, on the Jacksonville, FL sectional, a large one is W-497A). This refers to the SUA legend, where you will see the Warning Area, the affected altitudes, times of use, and controlling agency information.

Restricted Areas Again, denoted by a hatched dark blue line and referring to the SUA legend in the margin, Restricted Areas are numbered (see R-2932 on Jacksonville Sectional), and the SUA legend contains affected altitudes, times of use, and controlling agency information.

Prohibited Areas Again, denoted by a hatched dark blue line and referring to the SUA legend in the margin, Prohibited Areas are numbered (see P-47on Dallas-Ft Worth Sectional or P-56 on Washington Sectional), and the SUA legend contains affected altitudes, times of use, and controlling agency information. Many are continuously restricted, supplemented by NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen) issued from time to time expanding the territory covered. For example, during the Presidential Inauguration or the 50th Anniversary of NATO, the P-56 area was expanded to cover essentially the entire Washington, DC area.

Venture Fever Hits Scandinavia

As recently as three years ago, “venture capitalism” in Scandinavia meant lending 50 bucks to your friend Soren – the one who’s fond of the racetrack. And even though Scandinavia is known throughout Europe as a hotbed of really smart people making exceptionally sexy technology, until recently entrepreneurs were, in essence, good technicians who didn’t understand commercialization.

Let’s fast forward. In the past year, more than 60 VC firms and incubators have been formed in Stockholm alone, a combination of professional VCs, as well as groups of angel investors, who have bundled themselves into unions. Many are local players, but some are international capitalists coming from the US, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands.

Last summer, did a feature on Swedish VC firm e-Chron, which had established a contest and networking event for Swedish startups called the E-Challenge. At the time, the founders said they were starting the event because of “the slow and difficult process of getting venture funding in Sweden.” E-Chron wanted to make it easier for startups to grow by bringing together entrepreneurs and the support industries that surround them, such as VCs, professional service providers and larger ICT corporations.

Since then, the VC industry has ballooned in Sweden and elsewhere in Scandinavia, in large part due to the fact that wireless is the flavor of the month. In fact, the whole VC vibe is more sophisticated and connected, with large sums of money available and a clear keenness to do deals.

VC firms are forming alliances in order to share resources and expertise, in an aim to fund more deals and better serve existing portfolio companies. One such alliance is the Global Venture Alliance, bringing together 2m Invest, Telenor Ventures and Ledstiernan. Schmooze sessions are also on the increase with events like the invitation-only Sockerbiten (“sugar-bite”), which offers a clubby atmosphere of VCs exchanging ideas and business cards and just, well, talking to one another.

Why all the hubbub? “Greed,” said Niclas Carlsson, CEO and Founder of e-Chron. “People look at this old, socialistic country and then Altitun sells for $860 million – people go crazy.”

Okay, he admitted, it’s more than greed; it’s an attitude shift as well. Scandinavian VCs agree the most important change in the last two years is that entrepreneurs are more mature. They’re packaging themselves better, making it easier for VCs to invest. However, entrepreneurs also have a lot more capital to choose from.

“It’s definitely easier to start up here than ever before, and absolutely easier to start up here than even in other areas of Europe,” said Panu Mustonen, CEO of Springtoys, which makes games and entertainment software for mobile phones and PDAs. Springtoys recently closed its first round of funding, which included a 15 percent stake taken by Eqvitec and a 20 percent stake taken by Sonera.

Some investors say the draw of Scandinavia is that there are so many competent small enterprises in the region feeding off the well-established market of the larger players, especially in the wireless sector. “The proximity of Ericsson and Nokia, and mobile in general, has done a lot,” said Jukka Hayrynen, a partner at Helsinki-based Eqvitec. “When we built our technology fund in 1997, people said, ‘technology – that’s so narrow.’ Now they say, ‘technology, that’s so darn broad.”

Such a flourishing of technology startups can only benefit regional VCs, who are seeing an increasing demand for specialized expertise. Local VCs have the ability to concentrate on specific niches, learning the ropes of a particular business space.

In Finland, the amount of money available has made it difficult for some VC firms to find enough partners to manage their range of portfolio firms effectively, said Mustonen. That means VCs who really know a specific sector are in demand. “If I were a venture capitalist myself,” he said, “I would concentrate only on exactly what I know best; if you understand the sector, can limit yourself to just five companies and concentrate on building their businesses, you’ll make a killing in this city.”

Joining together with other VC firms is one way to concentrate efforts and expertise. “There’s a real attempt to get together and gear our resources,” said Kim Bach, vice president at 2m. Joint activities such as co-investing, sharing knowledge, extending buying power and working with shared databases could help VC firms “reach critical mass in sectors faster than we ever were able to before,” Bach said.

VCs Eye Location-Based Startups

With UMTS license bids in Germany in full swing [2000], there’s tons of hype about the coming of the mobile Internet. Signs are encouraging that the new mobile Internet will in fact allow VCs to look at some rapidly emerging technologies that will indeed change the way Europeans use information.

And right now, the smart money is betting on location services. VCs are saying they’re the coming killer app on the UMTS-powered mobile internet. The character string “m-” is currently as in vogue as was the character string “e-” two years ago. The space is heating up quickly, but there’s room for many.

“We haven’t yet invested in the end-application space, but I’m certainly personally very interested in finding some good, solid business plans in the area,” said Peter Boehringer, Investment Manager at 3I in Munich, which currently invests in location infrastructure company, Cambridge Positioning Systems.

“These are great applications that allow businesses to super-target their marketing and sales to very specific areas without wasting a lot of money. And the user likes it, too, because they get noticed and start getting offered things they really want and can use. Up to now no one’s been able to address this really local market on a broad scale.”

Great. So in the near future, as we’ve all heard, if we’re within five minutes’ walk of a Starbucks, our phone will beep telling us that a) a friend of ours happens to be nearby, and b) if we’d like to get together and have a coffee, we’ll get $1 off a large half-caf-mocca-skim-chocca-no-fat-triple-latte –if we show up in the next ten minutes.

There are two sides to the space, both interesting. There’s infrastructure technology – companies like Cambridge Positioning Systems, which develop the technology that can do the positioning systems and report locations of users. Cambridge’s Cursor system compares the relative times of arrival of signals between base transceiver stations and the actual handset and can thus extrapolate a user’s location within 50 meters or so. Cursor has already undergone trials working with companies including the AA, Vodafone and Maxon.

And then there are other companies, such as iProx that are developing means to use the positioning data for end-commerce applications.

“iProx is a very interesting company,” said Martin Fiennes, Investment Manager at Top Technology Limited, a UK VC firm, “and we’ve indirectly invested in them through Brainspark. Iprox is developing a series of applications and my personal view is that I don’t know which of them will become the killer app, but I’m confident that one or more of them will.” iProx received seed funding of US$1 million in April, and is presently in the middle of an interim round of funding, looking for £3 to £5 million.

“The trick is,” said Ravi Kanodia, Iprox co-founder and Chief Operating Officer, “if you know where the people, stores and places of interest are, then you can be quite clever with the technology, for example by letting people know when their buddies’ phones are in the area without their actually “asking” for it, through our use of intelligent profiling. You have to be capable of following millions of users but you mustn’t send the traffic bandwidth through the roof or require millions of supercomputers to process.”

There are barriers.

First, the technical: telecoms believe that the location data it can provide are the crown jewels in their collection of services, and they’re not only not willing to let those go cheaply, they want to have total control over them. This brings up the issue of just whose data it is – it isn’t the operator’s location, it’s the user’s location, and it could well be argued that the user may indeed own the rights to his location signal.

But it would seem that this first barrier is less of a problem than it might seem: true, different telecoms use different technology, and have in the past refused to share it with their rivals. But companies offering end-use applications will have the opportunity to act as a ‘Switzerland’ – a middle ground interface offering cross-platform services. This has benefits for both telecoms and users: for example, SMS usage became what it is today only after the telecoms allowed it to became a cross platform tool.

“I think that rather than the services being controlled by the operators,” said Sandeep Kapadia, Investment Associate at Prime Technology Ventures in Amsterdam, “what we’ll see is something similar to the web-based portals, and similar to what NTT DoCoMo is currently doing: synergy of multiple applications. There will be hundreds of available applications, from hundreds of companies, and the operators will take a cut.”

Another barrier is, naturally, that this brings up the old privacy bugaboo in a major way. Privacy laws and etiquette varies throughout Europe, and, as 3i’s Boehringer says, “Not everyone wants their movements tracked.”

But VCs agree that solutions to the legal as well as the privacy issues are on the horizon, perhaps as early as this coming autumn. Users probably will be able to selectively give permission to m-marketers to allow them to receive, say, certain types of offers. Or use Iprox’s much touted “buddy system”, which tracks the movements of a group of friends, constantly vigilant for the opportunity to beep any two and tell them they’re in close proximity to one another.

And the legal issues are currently under review throughout Europe as well. It is to the advantage of all parties to come up with a solution to any legal barriers as quickly as possible.

One last thing: this is an entirely Euro-phenom. US-based mobile systems are simply too creaky, too convoluted and frankly to pre-m-historic to even contemplate such a system without major investment. With this technology, Europe clearly leads the way, and things are moving fast – so fast that searching the internet for companies in the space will likely be an unrewarding activity.

“We’re talking about something that’s moving fast,” said 3i’s Boehringer, “way too fast for Internet here.”