Nokia Acquires Scalado [Exclusive Interview with Cofounder Fadi Abbas]
Fadi Abbas founded Scalado in Lund, Sweden in 2000. Fadi, who spends most of his time between Sweden, China, and his native country Lebanon, holds a Communication Engineering degree from Lund University in Sweeden, and a Master in Business Administration from University of Gävle (SWE), University of St. Thomas (USA) and University of Mainz(GER). Aside from Scalado, Fadi has founded and worked in a number of technology and consulting companies. Two days after Nokia completed its acquisition of Scalado, Fadi, who also occupied the position of Head of Marketing up until the acquisition, honored us with an exclusive interview in which he retells his journey and exit. Scalado's imaging technology can be found in more than a billion camera equipped mobile device according to the company.
What is Scalado and how did it come to be?
Scalado is a Latin name that means doing things with courage. It is also the name of a horse from Shakespeare's Macbeth. Scalado develops mobile imaging applications. I cofounded the company along with 3 other members 15 years ago after I arrived in Sweden to study. I first got the idea in 1998 when both myself and a friend decided to help out his mother promote her glasses shop by developing a feature that enabled users to enlarge photos of glasses without downloading them from the shop's website. The idea was a huge success, so we decided to develop it further along the years, until Scalado became a prominent imaging application company with branches in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, and the United States with 120 employees (prior to the acquisition).
Will the technicians and experts shift to Nokia and did all the founders exit?
Based on the acquisition agreement, Scalado will be owned entirely by Nokia, including the intellectual property rights, along with 50 imaging specialists and application developers. All the cofounders have exited, but Nokia has asked me to remain as Head of Marketing for Asia, Nokia's biggest market, since I possess a deep knowledge of that market. However due to my involvement in other projects, which include other major companies, I declined. Also, I don't want to give out my vision to anyone else.
Aside from Nokia devices, will we still see Scalado technologies in other smartphones?
Definitely. Scalado has several agreements which are still in effect with RIM, Huawei, Lenovo, NEC, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sony. Future technologies, like "Remove" technology for instance, will be exclusive to Nokia However.
What are your biggest achievements with Scalado?
In 2003, I became the first phlogger when I developed an application that solves the issue of limited storage in the Nokia 7650 and 3650. These handsets had 8 MB storage and could only fit 30 pictures which presented a real problem especially for travelers that didn't own a stand alone camera. The application would transfer the photos from the phone to a newly created web page when the device was connected to the internet. Sony, which was still Sony Ericsson at the time, approached us after we demoed the app in a convention in Hanover in 2003, and we've been developing smartphone imaging technology since. We worked with Sony Ericsson since we were based in Sweden. They asked us to develop a panoramic shooting mechanism for their mobile devices. We agreed at the time but we didn't know how to do it! We worked with 32 KHz processor powered devices [current smartphones can be powered by up to 1.5 GHz processors]. Storage was limited to 16 MB. In 2003, Sony Ericsson released the first line of phones that included Scalado's panoramic capturing technology: the K710, T610 and P800. The feature has been in every Sony phone since, even after it acquired Ericsson's stake.
Scalado has a different understanding when it comes to imaging. We developed Random Access JPEG which allowed any phone that is powered by a 100 MHz processor or above to process images. That move took Scalado to a higher level. We showed this technology to both Nokia and Samsung, who snapped it up immediately, and later LG, Motorola and HTC among others. By 2007, we were dealing with all major mobile device manufacturers.
Random Access also allowed us to take smaller pictures (in terms of memory usage) while maintaining quality. And while storage seized to be an issue nowadays, it is still in use in many mobile phones since it saves space for other applications.
After that we collaborated with Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and NVIDIA in developing Speedtags in 2007. SpeedTag allows you to display pictures and photos on cell phones regardless of their size. The technology also flourished on multiple devices.
We also developed a technique that allows users to save multiple photos in one click, and later choose their favorite one, based on lighting or color saturation, either right after shooting or even after uploading it on social networks. This particular technology, namdly Reliving, opened the door for us to introduce a whole set of new features like High dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI), imagine cleaning tools, real time panorama capturing, zero shutter lag, rewinding and filters. These functions transformed phones into a viable alternative to more expensive stand alone cameras. That in turn enticed companies like Nikon and Canon to approach us and collaborate on developing certain features, which was quite a challenge since working with mobile phone companies on imaging technologies is one thing, and working alongside imaging manufacturing giants is totally a different thing.
Through their research, Nokia found that regular users only require 5MP cameras. The Nokia PureView 808 only uses only high quality 5MP, and it gets rid of the waste which saves lots of space. Throughout the years, Scalado also has received many awards and recognitions.
What are the main challenges that you faced?
Initially, it was difficult to gain the trust of companies that would introduce our products to the market. The Internet landscape wasn't as smooth as it is today. Building a network of connections was also difficult, while finding investors was even more difficult. There were also a lot of hassle that resulted from the weak processors and limited storage available at the time. We survived the dot-com bubble, when a large number of companies where declaring bankruptcy, thanks to our relationship with the then Sony Ericsson.
Why hasn't Scalado achieved similar fame to say Instagram?
To be honest, our industry is centered in Silicon Valley and not Sweden. I've been wanting to move the company to San Francisco since 2007, but Scandinavian investors were risk averse and not ambitious enough for the move, so they preferred to stay at home. We did open a branch in the US, but our headquarters remained in Lund. With all due respect, Instagram doesn't offer a drop in the ocean of what we're capable of. But being in Silicon Valley paved the way for it to achieve such success, in addition to its connections with high profile executives in Facebook, which later acquired it to solidify its presence in mobile before IPO.
Who were your main competitors then?
What are your plans for the future?
We are currently working on several projects which include developing cloud based services with Google and Facebook, in addition to more projects with Nokia. We are also working on an imaging communication platform, improving image sharing on social networks, and various other interesting applications that i can't talk about right now, but ArabNet will be the first to know when they're ready.
Finally, what advice would you give to entrepreneurs and startups in the region?
There are lots of opportunities in the digital field, it's quite a vast domain. I want to encourage them to grab any opportunity they get. I'm not convinced that there can be unemployment in this specific industry. The doors are open to anyone thanks to the Internet. Try and find an existing problem that people face in any part of the world, and build a suitable app for it. I've never worked for anyone myself, as I founded every company i worked in. Found your own company!
Startups and entrepreneurs should emulate the political changes that occurred recently in the region, start a revolution for your company on social networks. Make sure you correctly utilize all free social networks to promote yourself and/or your company. Make sure all your accounts are complete and up to date, as they are the best way to connect with fellow entrepreneurs and investors. Depend on yourself at first. Work 18 hours a day, work more when you have a deadline approaching, this is what distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from the rest. You might face financial difficulties at first in your private life, but we've all been there. Don't look for an incubator early on, look for a network investor instead of a financial investor, someone who will be able promote your idea to the right people.
I would also like to invite investors and incubators to take a chance on innovative ideas in the digital field.
My final word to your readers from the MENA region is that we've had enough being consumers, we must turn into producers.